Hiking into the Grand Canyon is an unforgettable experience. No photos or videos can capture the sheer vastness of the place, nor the overwhelming, almost eerie beauty that you can enjoy from any of the best day hikes in the Grand Canyon.
While reaching the floor of the Grand Canyon is a bucket-list item for many, time, hiking skill, and the advance planning that hiking to Phantom Ranch requires often keep visitors from adding it to their hiking accomplishments.
Luckily, though, the popular Grand Canyon South Rim offers plenty of Grand Canyon day hikes to enjoy, whether you are looking for a fairly quick morning hike or an all-day affair.
Remember, though: there are no easy hikes into the Grand Canyon!
If you’re up for a challenge, though, here are the best day hikes at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to enjoy.
Table of Contents
- How We Structured This Grand Canyon Day Hiking Guide
- Grand Canyon Rim to Rim Hike in One Day: Is it Possible?
- Grand Canyon Day Hikes from South Kaibab
- Grand Canyon Day Hikes from Bright Angel
- More Day Hikes in the Grand Canyon: South Rim
- Which is Better, Bright Angel or South Kaibab?
- Essential Tips for Day Hiking in the Grand Canyon
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How We Structured This Grand Canyon Day Hiking Guide
This guide to the best day hikes into the Grand Canyon covers hiking trails at the South Rim of the canyon ranging from 1 mile to 14 miles in length.
With one exception, noted below, every one of these hikes is an out-and-back trail.
The distances mentioned are the round-trip totals.
Grand Canyon Rim to Rim Hike in One Day: Is it Possible?
While it’s technically possible for some very experienced hikers to complete the Grand Canyon rim to rim hike in one day (a whopping 21+ miles), it is extremely discouraged by the National Park Service, and for very good reason.
Trained athletes and extreme hikers will find other guides and suggestions online for completing that hike, but this isn’t the blog post for that–and if you’re a casual hiker just looking to enjoy the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, you absolutely should not attempt it.
Luckily, you don’t need to get anywhere near the bottom of the canyon to be astonished by the sheer size and scale of the Grand Canyon, or even to glimpse the Colorado River!
Grand Canyon Day Hikes from South Kaibab
All of the Grand Canyon day hikes in this section take place along the South Kaibab Trail.
They are listed in descending order, with the shortest hike first, and they compile.
So, for example, if you plan to hike to Cedar Ridge, your hike will also include Ooh Aah Point.
Ooh Aah Point
One of the most popular short hikes in the Grand Canyon, Ooh Aah Point delivers you to a stunning viewpoint with plenty of boulders to perch on and admire it from.
It’s also a short time commitment.
If you’re primarily hiking via the Bright Angel Trail but have an extra morning at the Grand Canyon, we highly recommend taking the time to head over to South Kaibab and experience Ooh Aah Point.
If you continue past Ooh Aah Point to descend to Cedar Ridge, you’ll experience increasingly dramatic views of the Grand Canyon, including some of my favorite views on the planet!
Don’t underestimate this hike: the distance may be short, but for average visitors to the Grand Canyon who are in decent shape but are not generally avid hikers, this makes an excellent stopping point.
There is also a composting toilet at Cedar Ridge.
Cedar Ridge not far enough?
If you make it all the way to Skeleton Point on South Kaibab, you’ll be rewarded with your first glimpse of the Colorado River (turn left/west at Skeleton Point to find it)–not to mention the stunning views along the way.
However, at more than double the distance of Cedar Ridge, Skeleton Point definitely qualifies as a challenging Grand Canyon hike!
If you make it all the way to The Tipoff (also written as Tip Off), you will feel well and truly swallowed by the canyon: the views are stunning, you can see pieces of the Colorado River as well as potentially hear it, and you’ve reached the point where you can consider turning left to continue on the Tonto Trail (more on that combined hike below).
However, be warned: the phrases of choice in trip reports for this hike are “brutal” and “no joke”–especially when it comes to those photogenic but painful switchbacks back toward the South Kaibab trailhead.
They may have seemed fun while climbing down in the morning, but they will be painful to ascend in the afternoon!
Note that there is a composting toilet and an emergency phone located at the Tip Off.
Grand Canyon Day Hikes from Bright Angel
All of the hikes in this section take place along the Bright Angel Trail.
They are listed in descending order, with the shortest hike first, and compile.
So, for example, if you plan to hike to Indian Garden, your hike will also include the 3-Mile Resthouse.
Hiking to the Bright Angel 1 1/2-Mile Resthouse delivers plenty of Grand Canyon hiking favorites in a very quick package: switchbacks and sweeping canyon views are in abundance!
The Bright Angel trail is a bit greener than South Kaibab, we personally feel slightly more closed in at the beginning of this trail vs South Kaibab–but the emphasis on slightly. This is still day hiking in the Grand Canyon, after all!
You’ll also pass two very small tunnels on this hike, which are fun additions to the experience.
If you’d like a longer hike than the 1 1/2-Mile Resthouse, you can double your distance by continuing to the 3-Mile Resthouse!
The trail continues to be beautiful, and heavy on switchbacks, as you make your way deep into the canyon.
As one of the most popular hikes in the Grand Canyon, you can expect to continue sharing the route with plenty of other hikers (not to mention mules), but crowds are a bit thinner than in the first 1.5 miles.
One of the most popular day hikes at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, Indian Garden (also called Indian Gardens) is the name of a delightfully shaded campground and ranger station found along the Bright Angel Trail.
The garden makes a convenient place to rest, have lunch, and take a break before turning back to ascend out of the canyon again.
Want to push past Indian Gardens?
Head another 1.5 miles down the trail (luckily a fairly standard walk at this point), and you’ll reach Plateau Point, where you can admire absolutely beautiful views of the Colorado River before turning back.
Make no mistake, though: this is an extremely challenging Grand Canyon day hike, and those switchbacks as you head back up the trail are a killer!
If you plan to hike to Plateau Point, get an early start and pace yourself.
More Day Hikes in the Grand Canyon: South Rim
Grand Canyon Rim Trail
By far the easiest Grand Canyon day hike option from both a hiking challenge and simply logistical point of view, the Grand Canyon Rim Trail is the only trail in this guide that doesn’t descend into the canyon, rather running along the top.
You can hike any portion of the trail, making this a build-your-own experience, and parts of the trail are paved and ADA accessible.
Walking from the Grand Canyon South Rim Visitor’s Center (where parking is available) to nearby Mather Point or Yavapai Point for sunset is very popular, and for good reason!
However much you like!
South Kaibab + Bright Angel Via Tonto Trail
This is the first Grand Canyon day hike we ever personally experienced, and while it was an intense physical challenge–Jeremy may or may not still refuse to forgive me for talking him into it–it was absolutely unforgettable.
It’s also the only hike on this list that is not an out-and-back trail.
At the time we completed this hike, we only had one day to spend at the Grand Canyon, and wanted to see the most we possibly could!
By hiking down South Kaibab all the way to The Tipoff, you can then turn onto the Tonto Trail, which will cut across the Tonto Platform (mercifully delivering several miles of mostly-flat hiking) before intersecting with Bright Angel shortly past Indian Garden, allowing you to experience the 2 most popular Grand Canyon hiking trails in one day.
We were virtually alone for most of our time on the Tonto Trail, with the exception of some stupendous wildlife sightings, including a bighorn sheep that startled us by bounding right across the trail not 20 feet ahead of where we were.
We wouldn’t want to complete this hike during the hot summer (we experienced it on a beautiful day in December), but I would love to do it again one day!
About the Hermit Trail + Grandview Trail
While the overwhelming majority of people completing a Grand Canyon day hike from the South Rim use some combination of the Bright Angel Trail, South Kaibab Trail, and/or Rim Trail, there are two other trailheads at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon that bear mentioning.
Hermit Trail and Grandview Trail both provide a variety of hikes that are very challenging, much more so than the already steep Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails.
If you’re not an experienced hiker in steep, desert conditions, these are almost certainly not the hikes for you.
For those who are experienced, though, these trails offer an opportunity to experience a much quieter Grand Canyon day hike, which can be a magnificent experience.
For safety information and tips, you can read the National Park Service recommendations for the Hermit Trail and Grandview Trail (of the two, the Hermit Trail is considered the less strenuous, but neither should be underestimated).
Keep in mind that these trails are not as closely maintained as Bright Angel and South Kaibab.
Which is Better, Bright Angel or South Kaibab?
As the 2 most popular South Rim hiking trails, Bright Angel and South Kaibab often get compared.
If you only have time to hike one, you really can’t go wrong with either–but personally, we prefer South Kaibab.
The South Kaibab trail has more dramatic views of the canyon in our opinion, but it’s also steeper and has less shade.
Both trails are incredibly beautiful, though, so don’t worry too much about choosing between them if you only have time for one during your Arizona road trip!
Essential Tips for Day Hiking in the Grand Canyon
Remember: “Down is optional. Up is mandatory.”
One of the biggest challenges of day hiking into the Grand Canyon is managing your expectations–unlike the vast majority of challenging hikes, the toughest part of hiking in the Grand Canyon is the second half of the hike.
As you start to ascend out the canyon, you’re already tired–probably more than you realize, as it’s easy to lose track of the challenge as you happily descend from viewpoint to viewpoint–and the hardest part of the hike is yet to come (you may like having a set of trekking poles with you to climb up, too).
Set realistic expectations with yourself when planning your Grand Canyon hikes, and remember the NPS warnings: “Down is optional. Up is mandatory.”
Bring more water than you think when hiking the Grand Canyon.
It’s heavy but important: the NPS recommends about a gallon per person, per day when it’s hot outside.
… and snacks.
Snacks are essential to keeping up your energy when hiking long distances in the Grand Canyon.
Trail mix is a staple for a reason: options like nuts and dried fruit are perfect.
If you’re completing one of the longer Grand Canyon day hikes, bring a hearty lunch along with you!
Pack toilet paper.
There are limited composting toilets available along these trails, including at Cedar Ridge, The Tipoff, and at Indian Gardens.
However, toilet paper is not a guarantee.
A small pack of tissues thrown into your bag can be a lifesaver here.
Watch the clock.
Don’t get caught in the Grand Canyon when it gets dark!
Leave yourself more time than you think to ascend out of the canyon: the NPS estimates that the average hiker ascends out of the canyon at a rate of about 1 mile/hour.
Check the temperature carefully.
Per the National Park Service website, you can expect it to be roughly 5.5 degrees warmer than the temperature at the rim for every 1,000 feet you descend into the Grand Canyon.
Keep this in mind when planning your Grand Canyon hikes!
Depending on the season, you’ll absolutely dress in layers for your hike.
Don’t count on having cell phone service in the Grand Canyon.
… because you almost certainly will not.
Carry a paper map.
When you enter Grand Canyon National Park, be sure to ask for a trail map in addition to the standard NPS brochure: unlike many national parks, the NPS brochure for the Grand Canyon does not include information on hiking trails.
However, there is a detailed hiking map that can be provided, and it comes in handy on the trail to keep track of your distance via various viewpoints and formations that are clearly marked.
Bring plenty of sun protection.
Generally speaking, most of the shade that you experience on these day hikes in the Grand Canyon is primarily based on where the shadows fall at different times of the day, rather than tree cover (though it’s worth noting that Bright Angel offers more shade than South Kaibab, including at Indian Garden).
Don’t count on being shaded for the bulk of your hike–a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen are highly recommended.
Turn around when you’re ready.
Though we’ve included common stopping points in this guide, there’s absolutely no rule that says you “have” to reach the 3-Mile Resthouse or Cedar Ridge, for example, in order to complete your Grand Canyon South Rim day hike.
If you’re ready to turn around at any given point, absolutely do so.
It is both the healthy option (remember, the challenge really starts once you start climbing out!), and nothing to be ashamed of: hiking into the Grand Canyon for any distance is a challenge, and any Grand Canyon hike something to be proud of accomplishing!