A Virtual Hike in the Grand Canyon

Down the South Kaibab and Up the Bright Angel Trail

Click on the thumbnail pictures to view them at full size

Because of the great response from my story about hiking down and up the South Kaibab in 2002, I thought I would post a set of pictures and descriptions from both major trails into the canyon. For a hike I made in mid-February, 2003, the weather looked very promising the day before so I bought extra film so I could shoot 8 rolls of film. Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate being fairly overcast, not conducive for Kodak moments. I returned on April 13th for the sole purpose of taking pictures under fairly clear skies. The map at the left (taken from an excellent article in the Arizona Republic, "From Couch to Canyon" shows my exact route starting down the South Kaibab to the Colorado River, onto Phantom Ranch, and then returning to the rim via the Bright Angel. The total distance for this hike was 16.7 miles! My plan was a 5 hour hike, which was nearly an hour slower than the hike in February. However, I did not have the camera equipment and did not go to Bright Angel Campground and on to Phantom Ranch.

I ended up with 196 pictures and after long extensive editing, I finally whittled it down to the best 194! I've put these pictures together in the hopes of providing a virtual hike into the Grand Canyon since I have pictures from nearly the entire trail. But anyone who's been there will tell you they don't really do the place justice. I'm afraid my most appreciative audience will be those who've had the privilege of hiking these spectacular trails and will get a trip down memory lane.

The topographical maps show a more detailed view of the route and they are numbered to show the approximate locations where the pictures were taken.

The Superhighways

014 - Overnight hikers on the South Kaibab Trail.The South Kaibab and the Bright Angel trails have been aptly called the "superhighways" into the Grand Canyon. These two trails are basically identical in terms of their raw composition. They are at least three feet wide, but almost never wider than four and are lined with rocks which help to both mark the trail and to keep hikers on it. They are maintained trails so they are closed from time to time usually because of rain damage.  Though the look and feel may be the same, there are important differences which every would-be canyon hiker should know.

The South Kaibab Trail (SK) is said to be a ridge trail whereas the Bright Angel Trail (BA) is a ravine trail. The views on the SK of the overall canyon are much better. The trail is high and there are no trees to get in the way of the view which you can clearly see in the pictures. The downside becomes readily obvious to anyone attempting a hike during the summer: no shade! Not only does the BA offer relief from a relentless sun, there is water available midway at Indian Garden. During the summer months there is also water available at the One and a Half and Three Mile Resthouses. There is absolutely no water available on the SK! Finally, the SK is steeper and almost 300 feet higher. For these reasons it is also recommended that hikers go down the SK and back up the BA.

Obligatory Disclaimer

Are you planning on visiting the Grand Canyon? Are you actually contemplating a hike into the Canyon? If so you should read the following disclaimer.


Start down the South Kaibab Trail

How can you describe the view from the South Kaibab Trail? If I had to level it down to one word it would be "spectacular." That's what I think when I look at these photos. When you are actually there at the canyon on the trail, however, it practically leaves you speechless. Words cannot adequately describe it. But as nice as these pictures are, even they are inadequate! They don't capture all the colors and they definitely do not purvey the magnitude of its size. The sight, the sounds, the smell, and the feel of the trail overload your senses.


Map 1, Pictures 1-46


The map above gives the overall route for the hike. The map at the left shows a more detailed view of the first part of the hike. I have numbered the pictures on the detail maps to indicate the locations where they were taken. Most of these locations are fairly accurate, but there are some that I must admit are just "best guesses."

Click on the map to view it full size.

Click here if you want to see the entire map showing the entire route with the pictures marked, but be warned the JPG image is 845K.


001 - Just off the bus in the parking lot of the South Kaibab trail head. 002 - There is a short path from the parking lot to the trail head. 003 - Informational Signs which are worth reading.

Unless you're hiking during the winter months, the road to the South Kaibab trail head and Yaki Point is closed to vehicles. You must board a bus at the Visitor Center that leaves at 20 minute intervals. In the very early morning this bus is not generally crowded and most of the riders are doing an overnight hike. I generally like to start earlier, but this was a picture hike and I wanted maximum sun so I'd planned for an equal 2:30 on each side of noon. Our bus was packed and it pulled into the parking lot at 9:25. There is a short path from the parking lot to the actual trail head.  For me, this is when the real excitement begins. There is a mule corral to the right, but there were no mules to be seen. Presumably, they were all in the canyon. During the summer months there is a water spigot, but I would never depend on this!  You should have all your water bottles filled before you board the bus. 

The signs at the trail head should be mandatory reading, but many never seem to even give them a glance. "DO NOT ATTEMPT to hike to the river and back in one day!" "No dogs." "PLEASE CARRY OUT YOUR TRASH" But there is humor to be found: "You don't write on your walls at home (do you?)" "Eat!" Eat?! Forget that diet you might be on. Here on the trails of the Grand Canyon, eating is a very good thing. In fact, you can't eat too much! You're body is going to need all the nourishment it can get. A related sign is, "Don't Feed Wildlife." That's right, don't do it! Save that food for yourself! :)

I didn't need to read the "Eat!" reminder. I know very well the importance of fueling the body. Just before departing for any canyon hike, I eat a very large breakfast. My plan this time was a five hour hike and my wife, Cindy, would be waiting for me at the top of the Bright Angel Trail at 2:30.

004 - First look down the South Kaibab. 005 - It does not take long to get a great view. 006 - Switchback along the limestone wall.

007 - Switchback along the limestone wall. 008 - The end of the limestone switchbacks. 009 - Looking back up at the limestone switchbacks.  They are nearly invisible..

Digitally modified sign!  Click for a larger view.010 - The top of the trail is crowded with day hikers.The hike begins and you serpentine down a series of sharp switchbacks in the limestone wall. The switchbacks are absolutely necessary because the limestone cliff is very steep. As you go down it is worth several looks back towards the top and you are amazed how invisible the trail is. Though you share the SK and BA trails with the mules, a sign near the start lets you know who has the right of way:

"When Mules Pass Stand Quietly and Follow Mule Guides Instructions."

011 - What a view!  Looking at Pipe Canyon. 012 013 - The trail against the backdrop of Pipe Canyon.

As you can see looking out, it does not take long to get a great view of the canyon.

014 - Overnight HikersThese are typical Overnight hikers.

I must tell you I really admire the overnight hikers. I am not one of them. They carry a lot of weight and despite this they're in great spirits for the most part, even the ones that are coming out! More than just a few have expressed jealousy when they see me practically running by them carrying only my water bottle and camera equipment.


015 - The Ooh-Ahh Point!  O'Neill Butte at the center.The Ooh-Ahh Point! Well, I think it's the Ooh-Ahh Point. Looking at pictures on the web, there seems to be some difference of opinion as to the exact location of the Ooh-Ahh Point. The confusion is very understandable since there is no sign and plenty of view locations qualify as Ooh-Ahh scenery. The main object in this photo is O'Neill Butte. For many, it is the symbol of the South Kaibab because it is visible for almost half the trail. You can always tell where you are on the South Kaibab if you spot this landmark. From this spot you can see a lot of the trail. This is really a fabulous section of trail from here to Cedar Ridge. (If you click on the thumbnail at the right, you can click on the large picture to see the trail marked.)


016 017 018 - Overnight hikers just past the Ohh-Ahh Point.

019 - What are these people just standing there looking at? ;) 020 - Day hikers coming down just above Cedar Ridge. 021 - Approaching Cedar Ridge.

022 - We must be at Cedar Ridge.  That's what the sign says! 023 - Cedar Ridge is the recommended stopping point for a day hike.

Cedar Ridge is a relatively flat area about 1.5 miles from the trail head and 1000 feet below. It is the recommended stopping point for a day hike on this trail. There is a rest house and there are hitching posts for the mules. I've seen Cedar Ridge crowded with people and virtually deserted. It seems to be related to the time of day. The later in the day, the more crowded it is mainly because of the day hikers.

PIC-024 PIC-025 026 - Approaching O'Neill Butte.

It has been my experience that you really start to feel you're in for a long hike when you've arrived at O'Neill Butte and begin to transverse its slopes.  You've already gone a long way and the river is still no where to be seen! 

027 - Approaching O'Neill Butte. 028 - One of just a handful of trees on the SK. 029 - Passing underneath the peak of O'Neill Butte.

030 - The first mules on our virtual hike! 031 - Mule's stopped and pointing into the canyon. 032 - One mule wide trail.

The trail's width can be said to be one mule wide! The mules are the professional climbers on the trails and they have the undisputed right of way. Take note the mules are always pointing into the canyon when they stop for safety reasons. 

033 - A long fairly straight section one the backside of O'Neill Butte. 034 - Another great view.  You can see a section I call the long switchbacks. PIC-035

036 - Looking behind at the backside of O'Neill Butte. 037 - Hard to see, but it's a California Condor. 038 - A look back at the straight section toward O'Neill Butte.

039 - Skeleton Point.As you traverse the side of O'Neill Butte and circle to the backside, the trail levels off considerably, providing a brief break in the relentless spiral downward into the abyss of the canyon. Don't let this fool you because one of the toughest sections is ahead just beyond Skeleton Point, clearly marked on the trail with a sign. Why do they call it Skeleton Point? I dunno. I've never seen a skeleton there; not even a single bone. Maybe it's because if you go further, the trail threatens to turn you into a skeleton! The park service is pretty good about cleaning up after any dead carcasses... ;) But that joking aside, heed the warning. If you're doing a day hike, you should probably go no further. If you're taking the virtual hike, you might also heed this warning because to go further there is a lot of clicking left to go!

 YES! I'm physically fit enough to click through the rest of the virtual hike. I've got enough fluids and snacks here at the monitor to make it through okay. Continue the tour...
 NO! I've had enough. Take me back to the home page. 


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