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Epic Grand Canyon Hike down South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch and up Bright Angel Trail

For Christmas this year we had planned on visiting my parents in Arizona and doing some side trips to the Grand Canyon and other National Parks in California. However, as the vacation date neared and Covid cases continued to increase in California, we had to amend our travel plans and predominately stay in Arizona. My oldest daughter had agreed to do the 18 mile, one day Grand Canyon hike with me. I had done several weeks of running stairs and often with a full Camelbak, while my daughter had done some training. She reminded me she was taking 18 hours this semester and was pretty busy. I’ll give her that, she was very busy at college.

Leaving Bright Angel Lodge early in the morning

We stayed at the Bright Angel Lodge on the rim of the Grand Canyon where the Bright Angel trail begins/ends right behind our cabin. That was nice knowing we wouldn’t have to manage any vehicles after a long day of hiking. The morning shuttle was what we had to manage in order to get to the South Kaibab Trailhead. I would say we woke at 5:30 am, but I am not sure how much I really actually slept since I was so excited for this epic hike. Anyway, we caught the first blue shuttle right outside the Bright Angel Lodge at 6:00 am. This shuttle goes through the rest of it’s route and dropped us off at the Visitor’s Center at 6:25 am, just in time to catch the orange shuttle at 6:30 am, which would take us to the South Kaibab Trailhead. As we rode the orange shuttle to the trailhead, the driver was very friendly and pointed out the headlamps of the earlier hikers that could be seen on the South Kaibab Trail switchbacks.

Ready for this awesome hike

As soon as we got off the shuttle, we hit the restroom, then began to look for the huge stone Kaibab Trailhead marker, like the one we had taken pictures with the night before at the Bright Angel Trailhead. After groping around in the darkness with only our headlamps for light, I couldn’t only find it so I took a quick pic of the signboard of the Kaibab Trailhead, which apparently is the only trailhead marker at the trailhead. At the time, I was kind of disappointed that I couldn’t find the large stone one I had envisioned in my head.

The elusive South Kaibab Trailhead marker

When we started down the trail the temperature was hovering right about 32 degrees with winds up to 25 mph on the rim. The dust was blowing everywhere and it looks like it was snowing when the dust blew in front of our headlamps. We didn’t want to be hanging out on the rim too long with all of this going on so we began our journey into the abyss of the canyon.

Headlamps on the trail
One of the first pictures we were able to take as the sun started to light things up in the Canyon
Our first glimpse of the beautiful Canyon walls as the sun started to rise

For the first 30 minutes of the hike we had the headlamps on and we definitely needed them since the canyon was pitch black and the trail footing was sketchy in spots, due to the mule trains rutting out the stairs. Making things worse was the fact that we were moving in complete darkness and dust was constantly blowing around and in our eyes. Once we could see pretty well without the headlamps, we took them off and began to enjoy the incredible views the canyon was offering us. We were going pretty slow down the trail, but didn’t want to miss out on a lot of the experience by going too fast.

Couldn’t beat these views to start our day in the canyon

The views on the South Kaibab Trail were absolutely the best part of the entire hike in my opinion, but part of that could have been the time of day when we were on the trail. The sunrise cast beautiful colors onto the canyon walls and we were just beginning our day, not 8 hours in and climbing switchback after switchback like at the end of the Bright Angel Trail climb out of the canyon.

Ooh Aah Point
Incredible sky and canyon views to begin the day near Cedar Ridge

As the trail continued to descent down switchback after switchback, the views continued to change as we went through layer upon layer of different rock formations and changing colors.

O’Neill Butte in the center of this view
Cedar Ridge
We were having a lot of fun on this hike
Switchback after switchback
Enjoying using those trekking poles
Descending further into the canyon
A great day for a hike
Tip Off for a quick break

At Tip Off, the views were stunning in every direction, while there was a small shelter to take a break and grab something to drink.

Resting her legs at Tip Off and getting a snack
Tip off had some of the best views

After leaving Tip Off, you get to see the first glimpse of the mighty Colorado River and the Inner Canyon Gorge.

Cool view of the river
My favorite part of the Kaibab Trail
Beautiful section of Kaibab Trail
Someone has to help keep the boulders from rolling down into the canyon
Black bridge is coming into view
Tunnel leading to Black bridge
Looking upstream from the Black Bridge
Just after crossing the black bridge
After crossing over the black bridge to the north side of the canyon
Indian ruins at the base of the canyon
The shortcut trail down to Boat Beach
Might be the most remote beach we have ever visited

After crossing over the black bridge, we walked along the north side of the Colorado River past the Indian Ruins and found a shortcut trail down to Boat Beach. Once at the sandy beach area, we pulled our shoes and socks off and waded out into the river. The river water was cold, but not nearly as cold as Lake Superior in July. There was another hiker at the beach and he asked us to record him jumping into the icy water. I thought about it for a short second, then decided I didn’t want some serious chaffing on the hike out of the canyon. I was still gauging what kind of climb it was going to take to get both of us out of the canyon without pushing it too hard.

Just had to dip our feet in the Colorado River

After trying to get all the sand off our feet and putting on stinky socks and shoes back on, we started up the Bright Angel Canyon to Phantom Ranch for a midday lemonade.

Phantom Ranch cabins were decorated for Christmas

Phantom Ranch was incredibly beautiful and a welcome sight at the bottom of the canyon. The cottonwood trees still had yellow leaves on them, while the beautiful boulder filled Bright Angel Creek ran down the length of the Bright Angel Canyon. It seemed like the clock had been turned back to mid fall with all the leaves still so colorful.

Phantom Ranch was so pretty
Might be the toughest journey for a $5 lemonade

After the delicious $5 lemonade, we loaded our backpacks to our backs and started the ascent out of the canyon.

Silver bridge to take us back over the Colorado River and onto the Bright Angel Trail

The silver bridge rattles every time you would step on one of the 4 foot sections. It took some getting used to, but it was quite obvious that this bridge was very sturdy.

View of the mighty Colorado River
Look back after crossing the Silver Bridge
Pipe Creek on Bright Angel Trail

From the Colorado River the Bright Angel Trail pretty much follows Pipe Creek, where the trail crosses back and forth over it several times. There was a small amount of water coming down the creek, but a few times we had to use stepping stones to get across without getting our feet wet.

Mules headed down the Bright Angel trail to Phantom Ranch

The only mules we saw all day were when he had just about reached Indian Garden. We saw plenty of mule droppings on both the Kaibab and the Bright Angel trails however. Just after stepping aside for the mule train, we saw a small cave across Pipe Creek, so I went over it check it out. It was man-made and only went about 10 feet into the rock formation, but abruptly stopped for some reason.

Found this cool cave on the way up Bright Angel Trail
Indian Garden was a great place to get off our feet and grab a bite to eat

Indian Garden provided another much needed break, where we could grab something to eat and get off our feet for awhile. It was hard to believe the temperature was 90 degrees, especially when we were freezing at 6:00 am waiting for the bus in 25 mph winds.

The temperature hit 90 degrees according to this thermometer at Indian Garden
3 mile Rest House

A quick stop at 3 mile Rest House afforded us more breathtaking views looking back at the many switchbacks we had already climbed.

1.5 mile Rest House

We stopped at 1.5 mile Rest House, but as you can see from the picture, it had more steps to get into it. We climbed on in and took another break from the climb to enjoy more water and more BLOKS energy chews.

Yep it sure it good to get off your feet at this point
The climb out of the canyon on the Bright Angel Trail
Bright Angel switchbacks
Lower Tunnel on the Bright Angel Trail
Upper tunnel on Bright Angel Trail

This girl did a great job of tackling this monumental hike without much training, but she got her second wind once we hit the upper tunnel.

Post hike pic
Bright Angel Trailhead post hike

Once we reached the top of the canyon, we were greeted by our family and took the ending poses with the Bight Angel Trailhead marker. This epic hike was a phenomenal experience with unmatched beauty throughout the whole hike. We will definitely be doing this hike again and will be looking forward to the opportunity to return to the bottom of the canyon.


Published by Outdoor Adventures Fitness

Wishful World travelers

27 thoughts on “Epic Grand Canyon Hike down South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch and up Bright Angel Trail

  1. I am so impressed at your 18-mile hike with your daughter. Thank you for sharing this, since I won’t be doing it! Can you recommend a shorter hike at the Grand Canyon? We moved to AZ the week before Christmas.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Gorgeous photos and such a memorable hike with your beautiful daughter. My daughter and I still talk about our hike to Observation Point in Zion NP that we did a few years ago. I know I’m not up to doing that entire GC hike, but may run it by my daughter to hike to Tip Off and back. That might be doable! Thanks for taking us along on this epic hike.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Wow! Incredible hike, great pictures. As a father with an 8 year old girl I get weepy at the idea of hiking with my daughter when she’s in college. So wonderful that you could explore a beautiful section of creation with someone you love.

    Liked by 1 person

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