Hike The South Kaibab Trail To Skeleton Point

Hike the South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point

In This Guide
  • Turn-by-Turn Hike Directions & Video
  • What to Expect on the Hike to Skeleton Point
  • Tips on Weather, Parking, and Planning for the Hike
Distance6 miles (9.7 km)
Hike Time3-4 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)2,060 feet (628m)
Highest Elevation7,260 feet (2213m)
Fees & PermitsNational Park Entry Fee
Dog FriendlyNo
Park Website (?)Grand Canyon National Park
Park Phone928-638-7888
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The hike on the South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point is one of the quintessential day hikes in the Grand Canyon South Rim. It offers incredible iconic views, a twisting (and well maintained) trail winding around and over natural features, and views of the Colorado River. This day hike, recommended by the Parks Service, is a must-do if you’re looking to hike the South Rim.

Don’t forget to check out my Grand Canyon hiking tips here!

Where is the South Kaibab Trail?

The South Kaibab Trail is located by Yaki Point on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, about a 10 minute drive from the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center. But you can’t park at the trailhead, which is closed to private vehicles.

Shuttle Bus to South Kaibab Trail

Orange Loop Diagram
The Orange Loop Shuttle Bus runs year-round to the South Kaibab Trailhead.

Where Can I Park for the South Kaibab Trail?

If you don’t want to take the shuttle bus, you can park a short walk away from the trailhead. Parking in these areas is legal, but you have to walk about 15-20 minutes on an easy path or roadside to get to the South Kaibab.

Alternate Parking South Kaibab Trail

Gear for the Hike

Even though the South Kaibab to Skeleton Point is only 6 miles, it’s a “hike hike,” and I recommend having proper hiking gear when doing it. That means trail runners or hiking boots, trekking poles, and at least 1 liter of water, preferably 3L.  Taking some snacks will help keep your energy up for the trip back. If it’s hot out, try some energy gels which are easier to get down in high temperatures.

There is no water along the trail; you have to bring all of your water with you.

The weather in the Grand Canyon can be extreme. In the winter, bitter cold, ice, and snow is not uncommon. So pay close attention to the weather for Grand Canyon Village. If there is snow, the South Kaibab Trail can be covered. In those conditions micro-spikes and trekking poles are a must. There can be ice on the upper parts of the trail.

And of course, in the summer, it gets hot. There’s not much shade on the hike, so protect yourself from the sun. The temperature rises about 5.5F for every 1,000 feet that you descend. So you can expect Skeleton Point to be about 11F warmer than the trailhead at the South Rim. In the hot months of summer, this hike is not a good idea during midday.

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La Sportiva Spire

I try a lot of hiking boots and shoes, and there are some great options out there, but the La Sportiva Spire is the best combination of comfort, protection, low-weight, and durability. They are waterproof, and the high cuff keeps debris out without the need for a gaiter. Time tested over thousands of miles. Use them with a two-layer sock system to end blisters for good.
Reviews & Lowest Prices: WomenMen

Osprey Talon

On a medium or longer hike I recommend a pack like the Osprey Talon 33 (men) or Osprey Sirrus 36 (women) which is a little bit larger. These packs are on the upper end of the (35L) daypack range, but they only weigh a small fraction more than a pack with less capacity. Having the extra space gives you more flexibility and means you don’t have to jam things in there. I use the space for things like extra layers in the winter, extra water on desert hikes, and even a tent & sleeping bag on overnights.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Mini fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing. Read my review and see the lowest prices and reviews at REI.

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated January 2020.See All of My Best Gear Picks Here

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point Trail Maps

The South Kaibab Trail is what the Parks Service calls a corridor trail. The corridor trails are heavily used and actively maintained. The South Kaibab Trail is the second most popular trail after the Bright Angel. It’s built with a standard gradient (overall) of 10% and has a standard width of 4 feet wide. What that means in practical terms is that, while it’s a tough trail, it’s never too steep and never so narrow that you’re walking on a precipice.

Overview Map

South Kaibab Overview Map
This map gives you a rough overview of the hike (in yellow). Although the South Kaibab Trail continues down to the Colorado River, the Parks Service doesn’t recommend going past Skeleton Point on a day hike (and either do I).

Interactive Map

Click To View Map

Hike the South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point Map Downloads

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Fenix 6 Pro

I’m a big fan of GPS watches to follow my GPX track (which I also use as a sleep, wellness, and fitness tracker) and my current watch is the Fenix 6 Pro Solar (full review here). I load my GPX tracks onto the watch to make sure I’m in the right place, and if not, the onboard topo maps allow me to navigate on the fly. It’s pricey but it has a great battery, accurate GPS, and tons of functionality. If you want something similar without the maps and big price tag, check out the Garmin Instinct which is a great buy (prices on REI and Amazon) and does a lot of the same things.

Hike Landmarks

Landmark DistanceElevationToilets
Ooh Ahh Point0.96660no
Cedar Ridge1.56120yes
Skeleton Point35200no

Elevation Profile

South Kaibab Elevation
You have about 2000 feet of descending and then you climb back out. The steepest parts are in the beginning and are eased with switchbacks.

3D Map

Hike The South Kaibab Trail To Skeleton Point 3d Map
The trail descends above Pipe Creek Canyon, then coming out at Ooh Ahh Point which offers views to the east. From there you go down and around O’Neill Butte to reach Skeleton Point.

Mules on the South Kaibab Trail

Mule Train On South Kaibab Trail
A mule train from Phantom Ranch makes its way back up the South Kaibab Trail. Photo Mac H

Okay, so there’s good news and bad news about mules on the South Kaibab Trail. The bad news is that you might have to deal with them, the good news is that there are nowhere near as many mules here as there are on the Bright Angel Trail. The mules on the South Kaibab only supply (and haul out the trash) for Phantom Ranch; there are no tourist rides here. The mules leave at variable times, usually around mid-morning. A train leaves from Phantom Ranch around the same time. When I do the hike to Skeleton Point at sunrise, I’ve never had to pass mules in either direction.

If you are passing mules head-on, stand to the side of the trail and follow the mule handler’s instructions. It can be scary to pass mules on a narrow trail, but they do it all the time, so don’t sweat it. If you need to overtake the mules, it’s a bit tougher. You’ll be stuck behind them dodging poop until the handler lets you pass.

Mules aren’t aggressive, but they can bite. Keep your hands to yourself. Don’t try to pet or feed the mules.

South Kaibab Trail FAQ

South Kaibab Trail 12
Can you hike all the way down to the Colorado River and back on the South Kaibab Trail? Technically you can, but the Parks Service doesn’t recommend it. They’ve put a cute illustration of a vomiting hiker here to make the point clear.

A Quick South Kaibab Trail Brief

Paiute Indians Timothy Osullivan
“Kaibab” is the Paiute word for the Grand Canyon and means “mountain lying down”  (which you could also interpret as upside-down mountain). Photo Timothy O’Sullivan

How To Hike the South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point

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Video Directions

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Turn by Turn Directions

South Kaibab Trail 1
If you’re walking in, the trailhead is by the shuttle bus stop.
South Kaibab Trail 2
There are toilets by the shuttle bus stop. The mule pens behind the toilets house the mules used to supply points inside the canyon.
South Kaibab Trail 3
The trailhead is down the paved path from the shuttle stop. The only place to fill up with water is by the sign on the right.
South Kaibab Trail 4
Head down the paved path and then bear left at the end.
South Kaibab Trail 5
This is the official start of the trail.
South Kaibab Trail 6
The beginning of the trail is well developed and easy to follow. You get a lot of tourists walking down onto this section to take pictures.
South Kaibab Trail 9
The one thing about this trail is that the views are constantly breathtaking. Every twist and turn opens up a new view and vista that’s incredible.
South Kaibab Trail 10
After the beginning switchback or two you’ll head down a series of steep switchbacks that unfold beneath you. You can also see the great condition of the trail. It’s wide and easy to follow.
South Kaibab Trail 11
Continue down the switchbacks until the section ends and becomes more of a traditional trail.
South Kaibab Trail 13
The trail levels out a bit and you get a break from the steep descent.
South Kaibab Trail 14
There are some great views of the different rock layers that make up the Grand Canyon on this stretch, directly across Pipe Creek Canyon. From top to bottom: Kaibab Limestone, Torroweap Formation, Coconino Sandstone, Hermit Shale, and the (bigger) Supai Group. This article on the geology of the Grand Canyon is worth reading if you want to understand what you’re looking at.
South Kaibab Trail 15
Soon you’ll see Ooh Ahh Point in the distance. Ooh Ahh Point is the top of the Coconino Sandstone layer of rock.
South Kaibab Trail 17
Welcome to Ooh Ahh Point where you start to get views to the more remote eastern section of the Grand Canyon.
South Kaibab Trail 16
There are a few places to soak in the views around Ooh Ahh Point but take care, the fall from here is hundreds of feet.
South Kaibab Trail 18
Continue down the South Kaibab Trail. Here’s a great example of a cobbled section which can be very slick in the rain but helps prevent trail erosion.
South Kaibab Trail 19
The trail starts to wind around Yaki Point into the open. The big butte in the distance is O’Neill Butte. You’ll be hiking down and around it shortly.
South Kaibab Trail 20
This next section is one of my favorites as the South Kaibab makes its way down the spine of the ridge.
South Kaibab Trail 21
Soon you’ll see Cedar Ridge below you.
South Kaibab Trail 40
Keep your eyes open for slabs of rock with holes in them. These were the original holes drilled when they blasted the trail out of the cliff wall with dynamite.
South Kaibab Trail 22
Welcome to Cedar Ridge where you can take a break and use the toilet if you need to. The trees offer shade but take care to respect the areas marked off as a fragile habitat. This flat area used to house an exhibit of Grand Canyon fossils.
South Kaibab Trail 23
The toilets are off to the right as you center the Cedar Ridge area.
South Kaibab Trail 25
The trail continues on the far end of the flat area towards the right.
South Kaibab Trail 24
The trail is easy to spot once you’re on the edge. Avoid the smaller use trail on the left of the Cedar Ridge area. From here on out you’ll be hiking through the Supai Formation.
South Kaibab Trail 26
The rest of the hike to Skeleton Point is long and cruising-friendly.
South Kaibab Trail 27
When you get to the saddle, make the hard right to continue down the South Kaibab.
South Kaibab Trail 28
The trail makes its way around the east side of O’Nell Butte, named after early explorer Bucky O’Neill. He was a colorful character who dabbled in mining, ran for Congress, fought for women’s right to vote, and eventually died as part of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in Cuba. O’Neill is the main character of a TNT movie called “Rough Riders” and is played by the great Sam Elliot.
South Kaibab Trail 29
After the butte you’ll see the trail unfold ahead of you towards Skeleton Point in the distance.
South Kaibab Trail 32
And here you are, Skeleton Point!
South Kaibab Trail 31
The South Kaibab Trail continues down to the river on the right, but the overlook area is along the cliff to the left, past the hitching rail.
South Kaibab Trail 33
From the overlook you’ll get some sweet views down to the Colorado River.
South Kaibab Trail 34
The South Kaibab Trail heads further downhill from Skeleton Point, but don’t do that as a day hike, which is the recommendation of the Parks Service. Instead turn around to begin the climb out.
South Kaibab Trail 35
Luckily the beginning of the climb out is gradual. See the top of the canyon in the distance? Yea, that’s where you’re going.
South Kaibab Trail 36
Make your way back up along O’Neill Butte.
South Kaibab Trail 37
And from there back to Cedar Ridge.
South Kaibab Trail 38
From Cedar Ridge the trail gets steep again.
South Kaibab Trail 39
And then even steeper. Don’t forget to take breaks and soak in the views.
South Kaibab Trail 41
After Ooh Ahh Point you’ll climb the ladder of switchbacks to the rim. They’re tough, but it’s mentally doable taking it one switchback at a time.
South Kaibab Trail 42
BOOM! You did it! As you walk off the trail into the throngs of tourists you can feel especially proud for taking the time and energy to really see the Canyon up close.

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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