Wy wife Wendy and I have been hiking in the Grand Canyon for close to 25 years. We have hiked both the Bright Angel and the South Kaibab Trails hundreds of times each. At the writing of this article we have completed just under (40) Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim’s. We presently reside in the Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim and hike below the Rim 3-4 times a week. Quite often, we are asked “Which is the better trail to hike?” This is a difficult question to answer without personal knowledge of the hiker. Therefore, here is an outline of the trail characteristics so that you may choose for yourself.
You do not need a permit to “day hike” on any trail in the Grand Canyon. You also do not need a permit if you have a reservation and are a guest at Phantom Ranch. However, you will need a backcountry permit if you plan on camping below the rim. The Backcountry Information Center’s phone number is: 928-638-7875.
The Bright Angel Trail has the better access as it is located in the Grand Canyon Village. You may walk west along the mezzanine from Bright Angel Lodge past Kolb Studio, veer towards the Rim and you’re on the BA Trail. You may also access the trail from behind the mule corral above the Hermit’s Rest shuttle station.
You cannot park at the South Kaibab Trail, it is accessed by the shuttle bus system or by parking at one of the view parking areas on Highway 64 or by a small parking lot just east of the turnoff to Yaki Point, (approx 1/2 mile walk). Parking at the South Kaibab Trail parking area will result in a fine as the Park Rangers patrol the parking lot daily. However, the shuttle bus does arrive every fifteen minutes and is a pleasant stress free method of commuting out to the South Kaibab Trail. Shuttle bus’s depart early morning and into the evening hours, there is even a Kaibab Express shuttle that departs from several lodges. Check The Guide (GCNP newspaper) for seasonal departure times.
Many day hikers, backpackers and Rim 2 Rimmers choose to start their hike on the South Kaibab and finish on the Bright Angel. In that manner they do not have to wait for a shuttle bus after they’re finished hiking on the South Kaibab. As the Bright Angel Trail has the easiest access, it is naturally more crowded. However, the BA Trail does offer convenience for a hiker that simply wants to walk a few hundred yards below the Rim. zodiac signs elements
The Bright Angel Trail has numerous shelters, water stations and rest rooms along it’s corridor. This is due to the fact the that Grand Canyon Water Pipeline meanders back and forth along the trail. (The water for the South Rim is actually piped from Roaring Springs near the North Rim). There is shelter, water and restrooms (no flush) at the 1.5 mile, 3 mile and Indian Gardens along with restroom only (no flush) at Pipe Creek Beach, with a shelter a couple hundred yards up the trail. In addition, Pipe Creek itself offers opportunities for water, but it is NOT recommended and it must be filtered as mules pass through the creek daily. The BA Trail also offers more opportunities for shade from the searing Arizona sun. The trail itself follows the lower portion of Pipe Creek into Indian Gardens with shade coming naturally from the steep canyon walls and Cottonwood trees.
The South Kaibab Trail does not have any water stations or shelters on the trail. There is a water station located at the trail head on the South Rim, so make sure you carry a full ration of water with you on departure. There are restrooms (no flush) located at Cedar Ridge and near the junction of the Tonto Trail at “The Tipoff”. Shade on the South Kaibab Trail is a commodity – there are no shade trees along the trail. Occasionally you will find shade along the numerous switchbacks, but be prepared for full sun any time of year.
By far the South Kaibab is in much better shape than Bright Angel. As of the writing of this article (Fall 2011), the GCNP and several volunteer groups have spent countless hours grooming the trail. The main two causes of trail degradation is weather, (from monsoon washouts and snow) and mule traffic. Mules carrying guests and supplies back and forth to Phantom Ranch cause extensive damage to the trail. Generally, the result is large scooped “buckets” where the mules step over “water bars” (diversions running perpendicular to the trail). The result for the hiker is stepping to the side or over these “buckets”, which are frequently filled with mule urine. It is in a word – disgusting. The Bright Angel Trail has hundreds of these “buckets” which make negotiating the trail awkward. The fact that a few hundred mule riders each month cause most of the damage to the trail system is a subject of debate for folks that frequently hike the Bright Angel or South Kaibab corridor trails. Recently, the GCNP has cancelled mule day rides to Plateau Point on BA trail to reduce the degradation.