Rim to Rim logistics getting you down? Try this shorter loop that will take you into some beautiful and less trafficked areas of the Grand Canyon.
Many people love taking the Rim to Rim hikes, and we’re planning to do that too – but this trip was much easier to plan because we didn’t have to leave our cars on one Rim and shuttle to the other. I organized a hike for the Early Rise Hikers hiking group that took us down the South Kaibab trail, across the Tonto trail to the Bright Angel trail (Tonto intersects Bright Angel at Indian Garden) and then returned on Bright Angel to the rim.
Accommodation is available on the South Rim through a site dedicated to Grand Canyon National Park Lodges. These lodges book up quickly, especially in spring and fall, the most popular times for hiking into the Canyon. Alternatives are hotel accommodations in nearby Tusayan or Williams.
Permit and Transportation
You will need a Grand Canyon permit or National Parks Pass which you can purchase in advance or at the gate.
We met at the South Kaibab trail head at 7:00 am, which meant getting on a shuttle to that point. Cars are not allowed in the South Kaibab trail head parking lot. Shuttles are free, and I boarded one outside the Bright Angel Lodge at 6:00 am, with a surprisingly high number of other hikers – be sure to plan ahead. The National Park Service publishes shuttle times here.
If possible, leave your car near Bright Angel Trail and take the shuttle from there to South Kaibab, for ease of pick up when you finish this loop.
For information on what to take with you, have a look at Grand Canyon Day Trip: What’s in My Backpack?.
Details as follows:
- Starting elevation at South Kaibab trail head 7260 ft.
- Hike the South Kaibab trail down to “Tip Off,” which is the junction with Tonto Trail (4.4 miles, down 3260 ft).
- Take the Tonto trail to Indian Garden (4.6 miles, net down 200 ft)
- Return to the South Rim via the Bright Angel trail (4.9 miles, up 3060 ft).
Although this adds up to a grand total of 13.9 miles, our devices were telling us it was more like 14.5 – perhaps we were not traversing the trail as the crow flies.
The main reason for starting down South Kaibab and ending up on Bright Angel is the water situation. South Kaibab has none. So we hiked South Kaibab down with our packs full of water, and the possibility ahead of refilling our bladders and bottles at Indian Garden and at the Three Mile Rest House. It appeared to us that the water at the Mile and a Half Rest House had been permanently shut off, though the restrooms were still open. See the National Park Service Bright Angel Trail Map for details of these stops.
South Kaibab to Tip Off
The South Kaibab trail is steep, and for a good distance is comprised of a million steps made for mules. In April we found that between the logs defining the edges of many steps the mud had been rutted out by repeated mule and human traffic. These factors made strong calf muscles, solid over-ankle hiking boots, and hiking poles, all highly valuable.
Somewhat challenging, yes, but the beauty of the trail and surrounding landscape is well worth the effort.
Tip Off is hard to miss – it’s a wide open space with a restroom facility and hitches for mules. This is where, if you sniff around a bit, you’ll find the Tonto trail heading to the east. If you continue north on South Kaibab, you’ll end up at the Colorado River.
The Tonto Trail
There’s no question that there is some magic in coming upon the Colorado River after descending into this Grandest of Canyons. However, the beauty of the Tonto Trail is nothing to sneeze at, and especially if you are a repeat traveler to the Canyon, it’s worth exploring.
As you can see on the map, the Tonto trail takes you quite a bit south towards the South Rim, skirting around a large rift before heading further east and meeting up with the Bright Angel Trail at Indian Garden.
Indian Garden and Bright Angel Trail
Indian Garden is a great place to regroup, have a little lunch, refill your water bladder/bottles, and prepare mentally for the 3000+ ft. climb ahead. The name is appropriate: Indian Garden is strikingly verdant, even after a hot summer, with tall trees that contrast with the low scrub surrounding the Tonto trail, and the more stark vegetation around Bright Angel.
It’s not hard to see how to get to the Rim from Indian Garden – just go up. But if you are momentarily confused, there are signs, and usually plenty of people gathering here who will gladly point the way.
Finally as you ascend Bright Angel you are rewarded with heavenly views!