North Kaibab Trail
Distance: 28 miles round-trip to the river; 10 miles round-trip to Roaring Springs
Duration: 3–4 days to the river; 6–8 hours to Roaring Springs and back
Elevation change: 5,770 feet to the river
Trailhead: 1.5 miles north of Grand Canyon Lodge at a large parking lot
The good thing about North Kaibab is that it’s a popular corridor trail—patrolled, wide, and well-maintained, with piped water available seasonally. The bad thing about North Kaibab is that it’s a popular corridor trail—to the point of being congested with backpackers, day hikers, mule trips, and the occasional ranger on foot or mule.
Because this trail offers so many hiking options, from a short excursion below the rim to a multiday backpack trip to the river, it’s possible for nearly everyone to experience the magic of being drawn into the canyon’s stony embrace. The trailhead parking lot often fills up by late morning, but you can arrange for a shuttle from the lodge or walk to the trailhead via the Bridle Path.
North Kaibab Trail descends into Roaring Springs Canyon, which joins Bright Angel Canyon at approximately five miles. If you plan to hike to the river, make reservations well in advance for Phantom Ranch, or get a permit for Bright Angel Campground, or Cottonwood Campground. With an early morning start, day hiking to Roaring Springs is possible though strenuous. Less experienced hikers can make a shorter descent, perhaps to Coconino Overlook (1.5 miles round-trip) or the Supai Tunnel (4 miles round-trip).
Even a short hike below the rim will give you a different perspective of the canyon as you pass through different geological layers and life zones. From the rim to the Supai Tunnel, high-country vegetation is predominant, with ponderosa pine, firs, and aspen giving way to Gambel oak, New Mexican locust, and wild rose. Past the tunnel, vegetation shifts to piñon pine, juniper, manzanita, and cliffrose.
At the Redwall limestone layer, the trail crosses a bridge over Roaring Springs Canyon before heading deeper. Listen for the sound of Roaring Springs—you’ll hear it about a mile before you reach it (at 4.7 miles). The springwater needs to be treated, but if you hike another mile to the pump house, you’ll find piped water and a picnic table. This is the point of last return if you are day hiking.
At seven miles, Cottonwood Campground has water and a ranger station. Backpackers will spend the night here or at Bright Angel Campground (mile 14). Past Cottonwood Campground, desert vegetation predominates—yucca, cactus, and catclaw. At 8.5 miles, a short spur leads to not-to-be-missed Ribbon Falls, an oasis shrouded in ferns, columbine, and monkeyflower. The waterfall drops 100 feet onto a mound of travertine, creating a refreshing spray.
The main trail continues down Bright Angel Canyon, which narrows at the Box, becoming a maze of schist. After zigzagging across the creek several times, the canyon opens up again. The Clear Creek Trail junction is at 13 miles, signaling your approach to Phantom Ranch and, 0.5 miles beyond, Bright Angel Campground.
© Kathleen Bryant from Moon Grand Canyon, 5th Edition