Want to know what it takes to hike the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail? For starters, you are in for one of the toughest hikes in the Grand Canyon, as well as the entire United States! This guide will outline exactly what to expect when hiking from the North Rim to the South Rim on these two inner corridor trails.
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Guide to Hiking the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail
This epic 24 mile hike is otherwise known as a Rim to Rim hike. While there are multiple ways to complete a Rim to Rim hike (hiking from the North Rim to South Rim, or vice versa, South Rim to North Rim), hiking from the North Kaibab Trail to the Bright Angel Trail is largely considered the most recommended route, and is the most popular among Rim to Rim hikers.
If this is your anticipated route, then you are in the right place. Let’s get to know each of these 2 inner canyon (also called Grand Canyon corridor trails) trails a little better. But first, a few basic things to know about the logistics of the North Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail.
Quick Facts on Hiking the North Kaibab Trail to the Bright Angel Trail
Length: 23.5 miles roundtrip point to point
Rating: Very Difficult
Elevation Gain: 5,574 feet
Estimated Time to Complete: 12 – 18 hours
Dog Friendly: Nope!
Permits Required: Permits / reservations are not required for a day hike. You can reserve National Park campgrounds or Phantom Ranch for overnight trips.
What to Know Before You Go
Location: the North Kaibab Trail is located on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. The Bright Angel Trail is located on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.
Hiking route of the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail
Driving Distance Between the North Kaibab Trailhead and Bright Angel Trailhead: 5 hours
As you can see in the map below, it is not a straight shot between the North Kaibab Trail and the Bright Angel Trail. The 5 hours of driving time between these two trailheads is an important thing to consider when planning the logistics of your hike.
Driving route between the North Kaibab Trailhead and Bright Angel Trailhead
National Park Entrance Fees: $35 per vehicle (good for 7 consecutive days)
Hours: Grand Canyon National Park is open daily, 24 hours a day (the North Rim roads close in the winter).
Best Time of Year to hike from the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail: late spring ( mid May – end of May) or early fall (mid September – mid October). My personal favorite time is the beginning of October.
Closest Cities to the North Kaibab Trailhead:
- Jacob Lake to North Kaibab Trailhead: 1 hour
- Fredonia to North Kaibab Trailhead: 1 hour and 30 minutes
- Kanab, UT to North Kaibab Trailhead: 2 hours
Closest Cities to the Bright Angel Trailhead:
- Tusayan to Bright Angel Trailhead: 15 minutes
- Williams to Bright Angel Trailhead: 1 hour
- Flagstaff to Bright Angel Trailhead: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Closest Airport(s) to Grand Canyon National Park:
- Grand Canyon Airport
- Flagstaff Pulliam
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
Logistics of Hiking the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail
Because these 2 trailheads are 5 hours apart, it is important to have a plan in place for your logistics. You will have to utilize either a driver, or a shuttle service.
Using a Driver:
On the Rim to Rim hikes that I have completed hiking the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail, my group has used a driver:
- Use a driver to take you to the North Rim
- Driver drops off at the North Kaibab Trailhead
- While the hike from the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail is happening, driver drives from the North Kaibab Trail to the Bright Angel Trail (approximately 5 hours), and waits for the hike to finish and for hiker(s) to arrive at the Bright Angel Trailhead.
- Driver takes hiker(s) from the Bright Angel Trailhead to final destination
Using a Shuttle Service:
The Trans Canyon Shuttle is the recommended shuttle service to use, for those that do not have their own driver. This shuttle service is exceptional and highly reliable.
- Park car near the Bright Angel Trailhead
- Reserve shuttle service to take hiker(s) from South Rim to the North Rim
- Hike the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail
- Finish the hike and pick up car again where you parked it near the Bright Angel Trailhead
*the Trans Canyon Shuttle service can also assist you in hiking the opposite direction, South to North.
One Day or Multi Day?
As mentioned previously, this incredibly challenging and rewarding hike is better known as a Rim to Rim hike. You can complete this hike in 1 day, as this guide will show you how, or as a mutli-day, overnight backpacking trek.
Either way, you will want to make sure that you have properly trained for hiking a Rim to Rim hike. Even more so if you plan to attempt it in one day. The reasons couldn’t be more clear than this warning from the National Park Service ITSELF:
“Hiking to the Colorado River and back in one day is not recommended due to long distance, extreme heat, and a nearly 5,000 foot elevation change”. – NPS
That quote comes straight off of a warning sign you can find on the Bright Angel Trail, accompanied by a picture of a vomiting male hiker.
That being said, it is completely possible to complete a Rim to Rim hike from the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail, when done responsibly. But you must undertake this challenge with serious commitment and intentionality. You MUST be willing to:
- Be honest with yourself – know your foundation, your abilities, your limits, etc.
- Train intensely
- Be completely familiar with both trails
- Invest in the right gear
Hiking the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail in One Day
Why would you want to hike this trail in ONE day?
- Less gear to carry
- Less logistics to plan
- No permits / reservations
If you hike in one day, you only need the necessary day hiking essentials. Additionally, there are less logistics to plan and/or reservations and permits to secure, and that can be a big appeal to many. Campground and Phantom Ranch reservations can be difficult to score.
Hiking the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail Overnight
If you want to stretch out this hike, there are multiple overnight accommodations along both the North Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail. You can access reservation info for campgrounds HERE.
Campgrounds on the North Kaibab Trail:
- Cottonwood Campground
- Bright Angel Campground
Campgrounds on the Bright Angel Trail:
- Havasupai Gardens Campground
- Phantom Ranch is a rustic lodge adjacent to the Bright Angel Campground. Reservations are difficult to attain and occur through a lottery, but if you are lucky, this is a once in a lifetime accommodation at the very bottom of the Grand Canyon, next to the mighty Colorado River.
How to Get to the North Kaibab Trailhead
Depending on where you are staying on the North Rim, you may have a bit of a drive to reach the North Kaibab Trailhead.
North Kaibab Trailhead Location:
There is parking, bathrooms, and water at the North Kaibab Trailhead.
North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail at a Glance
Length: 23.5 miles roundtrip point to point
Rating: Very Difficult
Elevation Gain: 5,574 feet
Estimated Time to Complete: 12 – 18 hours
The following graphics will help visualize the details of the North Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail:
Full Trail Report on the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail
This trail report covers what to expect on all 24 miles of the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail:
Mile 0: North Kaibab Trailhead
Make sure to take advantage of the bathroom at the trailhead, and ensure you are starting with plenty of water.
The North Kaibab Trail starts in a beautiful forested setting adorned with aspens, before delving quickly into the red rock canyon. The descent is quick and steep, and you should be able to keep a quick pace during this initial descent.
Expect temperatures to be cold to chilly, depending on what time of year you are hiking. In October, my personal favorite month, you can expect freezing temps on an early morning start, so consider bringing layers based on your comfort preferences. I know that I will warm up quickly as soon as I get moving, and as the canyon warms during the descent, so I usually just tough out the freezing temps in my shorts and tank for the first few minutes, but that’s up to you. I just hate carrying extra weight for the rest of the hike.
Mile 0.7: Coconino Overlook
Coconino Overlook is the first of many breathtaking vistas. Enjoy this beautiful spot for a second before continuing down.
Mile 2: Supai Tunnel
Cross through this brief tunnel chiseled from the canyon wall. There are bathrooms and water here, but I would continue on keeping a healthy pace, unless you absolutely need to stop. After passing the Supai Tunnel, you will encounter the Redwall Bridge, before arriving at Roaring Springs.
Mile 4.7: Roaring Springs Day Use Area
A small day use area with bathrooms, but no water. Another few tenths of a mile and you will hit the Manzanita Rest Area.
Mile 5.1: Manzanita Rest Area
Consider a brief stop here as needed. There are bathrooms and water at this rest area.
Mile 6.5: Cottonwood Campground
The first campground on the trail. There is water here, but no bathrooms. After Cottonwood Campground, the environment begins to morph from canyon walls to canyon floor. The steep grade levels out slightly from Cottonwood Campground to the Colorado River. The canyon walls also begin to converge together on the canyon floor, creating a unique section of trail full of “subway” tunnels, gentle streams, and staggering walls.
The BOX is not an “official” landmark on the North Kaibab Trail, but it is extremely important to be aware of its location. The BOX is the section of trail between Cottonwood Campground and Bright Angel Campground. It is called this because of the converging canyon walls that begin to press together. In the summer, this creates stifling heat and skyrocketing temperatures. The BOX is considered one of the most dangerous sections when hiking the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail, because it is considered one of the hottest sections.
So how do you handle “the Box”?
One of the best strategies is to be out of it by 10 am, when the temperatures can rise quickly (even in the spring and fall, but especially in the summer). This is another reason why it is important to consider an early morning start, so you can be through this portion of the hike by mid morning.
Mile 7.9: Ribbon Falls Spur Trail (Optional – not recommended for 1st timers)
Just before Mile 8, hikers will encounter the option side trail to Ribbon Falls. While this is a beautiful waterfall to behold in this desert environment, I do not recommend adding on the extra couple miles for a first time Rim to Rim hiker. 24 miles is challenging enough on its own.
Mile 13.7: Bright Angel Campground
Bright Angel Campground is a pretty happening place, relatively speaking! It’s where the North Kaibab Trail meets with Phantom Ranch, Bright Angel Creek, the Colorado River, the junction of the Bright Angel Trails and South Kaibab Trails, and the Bright Angel Campground.
This area here at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is one of my favorite spots along a Rim to Rim hike. It’s quite shocking to see civilization here, in the form of a small outpost. You can grab a cold lemonade, dip your feet in the frigid Bright Angel Creek, enjoy lunch or a snack, rest, change into a fresh pair of socks, and just enjoy the people watching and camaraderie in this welcoming and surprisingly shady environment!
Enjoy this moment, because the toughest part of the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail is coming up next! Make sure to fill up on water and use the bathrooms here before departing.
After departing Bright Angel Campground, you will leave the North Kaibab Trail as you cross the Silver Bridge over the mighty Colorado River. As you traverse this iconic metal bridge, you can literally feel the power of the river below!
Immediately after crossing the Colorado River, you will see signage for the junction of the Bright Angel Trail and South Kaibab Trail. You will want to head to the RIGHT to take the Bright Angel Trail, and begin your journey up the South Rim.
Why not take the South Kaibab Trail up? Simply put, there is no water on the South Kaibab Trail, so I would never recommend ascending it on the latter part of a Rim to Rim hike.
Mile 15.5: River Resthouse / Pipe Creek Beach
After heading RIGHT at the junction following the Silver Bridge crossing, you will continue to take the Bright Angel Trail as it parallels the Colorado River on the right, through some patchy sections of sandy trail. The first landmark after the Colorado River crossing will be River Resthouse and Pipe Creek Beach.
There is a bathroom at River Resthouse, but continue on if you don’t need it. Also, don’t attempt to enter the water from Pipe Creek Beach. It’s not that kind of beach!
*The Devil’s Corkscrew
Again, this is not an “official” landmark, but it perhaps one of the more challenging sections on the Bright Angel Trail, and it helps to be aware of it. The Devil’s Corkscrew is a series of exposed switchbacks that climb up to Havasupai Garden Campground. It can get quite warm here, especially later in the day. Be sure to hydrate, use sun protection, and considering soaking your shirt or a cooling towel in the small streams that populate this area as often as you can.
Mile 18.7: Havasupai Garden Campground
Havasupai Garden Campground is a welcoming respite after climbing the Devil’s Corkscrew. It is a literal oasis in the canyon, with a gentle stream and shady, verdant trees. Take a break here, you will have earned it. Make sure to fill up on water and use the bathroom as needed. You have one big, gnarly climb left after this. The “Jacobs Ladder” series of switchbacks begins shortly after leaving Havasupai Garden Campground, as you climb the final few miles up the South Rim wall past the 3 Mile and 1.5 Mile Resthouses.
Mile 20.2: 3 Mile Resthouse
You’ll be climbing the switchbacks now. You may not need the water or bathroom break at this point, but you may just need a quick breather here. You’ve got just 3 miles left, but there’s a lot of climbing and elevation gain involved.
Mile 21.7: 1.5 Mile Resthouse
Now you’re “halfway” up the South Rim wall. Take a breather here as needed. There’s water and bathrooms again, like the 3 Mile Resthouse, if you need. Just one last push to the trailhead.
Mile 23.2: Bright Angel Trailhead
And you’ve made it! All the way from the North Kaibab Trail to the Bright Angel Trail, across the most massive, grand, imposing, and beautiful canyon in the world!
Estimated Timeframe for Hiking the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail in One Day
If your goal is to hike the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail in one day, it is extremely helpful to have an intended timeframe in mind, and not just “wing it”.
Depending on what time of year you hike, conservatively plan on about 13 hours of daylight in the inner canyon trails. That should give you the foundation for an estimated timeframe. To build in the specific “muscles”, you will want to train months in advance, in order to help determine your anticipated hiking pace.
Below is an example of a recommended timeframe for hiking the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail, otherwise known as the Rim to Rim hike:
- Start at North Kaibab Trailhead: 5 AM
- Brief Stop at Cottonwood Campground: 7:30 AM
- Arrive Bright Angel Campground and Break: 10 AM
- Depart Bright Angel Campground following Break: 11 AM
- Brief Stop at Havasupai Garden Campground: 2 PM
- Arrive Bright Angel Trailhead: 6 PM
Advantages of Hiking North to South on the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail
There are 2 main advantages to hiking North to South, from the North Kaibab Trail to the Bright Angel Trail:
- Elevation Gain
The North Rim is about feet higher in elevation than the South Rim. Simply put, that means less elevation gain if you hike down the taller rim, and up the shorter rim. While there is no easy way to deal with the elevation gain (no matter which direction you go), I personally appreciate the difference that little bit makes at the end of a very long, grueling day.
The second factor to consider is accessibility. Finishing on the South Rim and the Bright Angel Trail means immediate and easy access to amenities including lodging, dining, parking, larger towns, etc.
While I don’t love the South Rim’s more touristy, commercialized, and busier vibe, I do appreciate that I can finish the Rim to Rim hike and immediately check into my accommodations and be showering and resting within minutes of finishing. There are also many places to eat right by the Bright Angel Trailhead.
Alternatively, if you finish on the North Rim, there are no immediate amenities nearby. In fact, the closest sign of civilization to the North Kaibab Trailhead is the North Kaibab Lodge, about 2 miles from the trailhead. Unless you have arranged transportation, for many North Rim finishers, that means possibly hiking an extra 2 miles after finishing the trail. There are definitely pros to hiking South to North (finishing on the less crowded, beautiful, and rustic North Rim), but you have to consider what your priorities are, and if you really want to add on the extra elevation gain at the end. For first timers, that is not usually a recommendation I would make.
Gear Recommendations for Hiking the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail
For a full list of recommended gear for hiking the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail, visit this post, which includes a handy Rim to Rim packing list download.
Checklist Before Hiking the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail
- Select date
- Make necessary arrangements (lodging, shuttles, etc.)
- Get necessary hiking gear
- Complete your hiking training plan (like my recommended 16 week plan)
- Familiarize yourself with both trails
- Healthy carb load
- Rest and easy cross train the week before
- Check gear
- Check NPS website for last minute alerts (you’re gonna wanna know if water is shut off on the trails!)
- Check the weather
- Let someone know your plans (consider leaving a “Hiking Safety Contact Form” in your glovebox or console)
- Finalize logistics (lodging, shuttles, etc).
And there you have it, everything you need to know to complete this unforgettable hike from the North Kaibab Trail to the Bright Angel Trail!
Want to experience the awe inspiring hikes of the Grand Canyon, but not ready for the full Rim to Rim hike? Check out the shorter version of the Rim to River hike!
Hiking the North Kaibab Trail to the Bright Angel Trail is a goal that must be done with intentionality and responsibility! Did you know I offer coaching services to help you develop and stick to a training plan customized for you? Take a look below, and FILL OUT THIS FORM to get started today!
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