Trail Description : South Kaibab Trail
The South Kaibab Trail is the alternate superhighway into the Canyon, the primary one being the Bright Angel Trail. Both of these trails are well maintained and offer some spectacular views of the Canyon. The Bright Angel Trail has the advantage of offering a considerable amount of shade (depending on the time of day) of which the South Kaibab Trail offers virtually none. I personally enjoy the views along the South Kaibab more. It's much more open because it follows a ridge line out into the Canyon rather than descending through a fault line and drainage as the Bright Angel does. Make sure you have at least 2 quarts of water per person with you before heading down the South Kaibab Trail. You may (will probably) need more during the heat of summer.
The South Kaibab / River / Bright Angel Trails make for a good loop hike. If you would like to do this you should plan to go down the South Kaibab and up the Bright Angel. This way you get the more rewarding views offered by the South Kaibab on the way in and the shade and water of the Bright Angel on the way out. If you plan to do this you should make reservations for overnight accommodations at either Bright Angel Campground or Phantom Ranch.
An ambitious day hike and one that I recommend heartily is to go down the South Kaibab Trail, then west along the Tonto Trail to Indian Garden and up the Bright Angel. This trip should not be attempted in the summer months as it is difficult to carry all of the water you will need and you won't find any until you get to Indian Garden, 8.8 miles from the trailhead. My wife and I did this trip in October once and it was perfect. This was her introduction to the Grand Canyon. Nice guy, huh?
The South Kaibab Trail was constructed by the National Park service in the early 1900's to compete with the privately owned Bright Angel Trail and offer tourists a free access trail to the inner canyon and the Colorado River.
No camping is allowed along this trail. The only camping allowed along the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails is at Indian Garden or at Bright Angel Campground. You need a Backcountry Reservation for a site.
The trailhead for the South Kaibab Trail is located out at Yaki Point, off of the Desert View Drive. Fred Harvey offers shuttle service from the Bright Angel Lodge to Yaki Point for about $3 per person.
Mileages are as follows (one-way):
The trail is well maintained all the way to the river. Interpretive signs along the trail identify the major geological periods of the rock formations that you pass through along the way. The upper section of the trail cuts through the Kaibab Limestone (245 million years old). Following this the switchbacks then take you through the Toroweap Formation, the Coconino Sandstone and finally the Hermit Shale (286 million years old) which brings you to Cedar Ridge. Cedar Ridge has some interpretive fossil exhibits and offers a spectacular view of O'Neil Butte. Chemical toilets are available here.
If you continue on from Cedar Ridge you will pass through the Supai Formation (286 to 320 million years old). Following this a set of switchbacks will take you down through the Redwall Limestone (320 to 360 million years old). A short distance after the Redwall descent ends you will arrive at the Tipoff and the junction with the Tonto Trail. The rocks here belong to the Temple Butte Limestone (360 to 408 million years old). You can head west from here along the Tonto Trail for 4.2 miles and arrive at Indian Garden. If you head east for 18 miles you will arrive at Cottonwood Creek, just below Horseshoe Me sa.
If you continue down the South Kaibab trail you will pass through a series of rock formations that comprise the Tonto Group (505 to 570 million years old). Below the bottom layer of this formation, the Tapeats Sandstone, lies the Vishnu Schist, which dates back some 2 billion years. The missing geological ages between the bottom layer of the Tonto Group and the top of the Vishnu Schist is known as the "Great Unconformity" and represents ages when these missing rocks were eroded away. After travelling about 2 miles through the Tonto Group and Vishnu Schist you will arrive at the Black Suspension Bridge and the Colorado River.
To reach Phantom Ranch, Bright Angel Campground and the North Kaibab Trail continue on over the bridge. The trail that leads off to the west is the River Trail which will bring you to the Silver Suspension Bridge in approximately 1 mile or to the Bright Angel Trail in 2.7 miles.