South Kaibab Trail- South Rim to Cedar Ridge
Total Mileage- 3.8 miles
Total Elevation Gain- 1307 feet
Total Elevation Loss- 1307 feet
In the last three years I have been to the Grand Canyon four times and hiked each time I have been there.
The most extensive hike was the famed Escalante Route, a 33-mile backcountry bucket list trip that we did over 3 nights and four days, in 2014. I have also been able to swing up to the Grand Canyon each of the last three years as I finished some house building missions in Mexico.
Last year my oldest daughter and I hiked from Grandview Point to Horseshoe Mesa and back, which was also the last leg of the Escalante Route trek.
This year as we left Mexico my two daughter along with three other adults and three kids made our way to Grand Canyon National Park to do a day hike from the South Rim along South Kaibab Trail down 1300 feet to Cedar Grove and then back out.
Being that this particular group ranged in age from 8 to 42 and also had a variety of strength, stamina, and hiking experience, we pretty much allotted five hours for the trek. While I started the GPS at the very beginning of the South Kaibab Trail, we parked at the Visitor’s Center and walked to the trailhead which was about 2.5 miles one way on the Greenway Trail. By the end of our time we had hiked about eight miles total (5 from Visitor Center to South Kaibab Trailhead and back and then Trailhead to Cedar Grove and back). If you want to take a nice stroll along the south rim I would suggest parking at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and following the Greenway Trail to the trailhead. It has really nice views and provides a leisurely walk over paved trail. Of course I always recommend going beyond the rim. Rim shots are nice but there is nothing like jumping into the canyon.
The late March weather was perfect. At the rim it was about 55 degrees F and only got up to just above 60 degrees at Cedar Ridge. The skies were crystal clear and magnificent blue. With us being between 7200 feet and 5900 feet, the UV radiation levels were higher than what we are accustomed to in Indiana. I have read reports that indicate for every 3000 feet of elevation change there is a little over 10% gain in UV radiation. That put us at about 20% more than what we are used to and, as a result, several of us ended up with red ears, noses, and faces. Note to self, remember the sunscreen next time.
The trail itself is fine and powdery with a lot of wear. Compared to Grandview Trail, South Kaibab is significantly more friendly to the casual hiker and for younger kids. This trail should be no problem for younger kids or older adults, just have a pace that works for you, take plenty of breaks, and drink plenty of water. Also, if you attempt any trail in the Grand Canyon, please understand that in the summer months the temperatures can be sweltering. You can expect that for every 1000 feet you descend, the temperature will increase about 5 degree F. Make sure you take plenty of water with you, but don’t be tempted to drink the majority of it on the way down because you will need it more on the way up.
When weighing whether we should hike South Kaibab or Bright Angel we decided that, while Bright Angel was a bit more shaded, South Kaibab had better views. It was a great trade-off because we started early enough that our entire trek down the switchbacks was in the shade. Even at that, I still recommend using some sunscreen. The two most notable spots on South Kaibab is Ooh-Aah Point and Cedar Ridge. The hike one-way to Ooh-Aah point and Cedar Ridge is 0.9 miles and 1.5 miles, respectively.
Ooh-Aah Point is the point along South Kaibab where you get your first wide view of the canyon and it is spectacular. It certainly beats the views from the road. Even if you have no intention on going further into the canyon, it would be worth your while to at least hike down to this point for the view.
Cedar Ridge, for me, is a point along Kaibab where I feel like you are starting to get into the heart of the canyon. The most prominent landmark feature in this area is O’Neill Butte. After taking restroom breaks we hiked to a wonder point where we sat down for about 45 minutes and had a snack and a great view of the Butte. There were quite a few people in the Cedar Ridge area, as this is a relatively easy hike for casual and day hikers, but most of the day hikers, it seemed, stayed closer to the restrooms and Cedar Ridge signage, which allowed us to have a bit more solitude while taking in the view. If you had a late start or if you are hiking in the summer, an attempt to the river and back out is not advised. The Cedar Ridge area also has toilet facilities.
The hike out for us went extraordinarily well. We averaged 1.7 mph on our way down, and a shocking 1.9 mph on the way out. The kids completely rocked it! With that being said, don’t plan on the hike out being easy. If you are a beginner or casual hiker, I would plan twice as much time for coming out as I had for going in. So if it took you 1.5 hours to get to Cedar Ridge, I would plan 3 hours to get out. This is a really, really liberal number… but I really think you should take it seriously. Understand that you will be between 5900 and 7200 feet above sea level and the oxygen level is about a quarter less than at sea level. You will be out of breath hiking out and you will stop frequently to catch your breath and take a water break. But listen, it is worth it! You get a chance to hike INTO THE GRAND CANYON! And 99% of people NEVER take the opportunity to do that. So embrace it and enjoy it!