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Tonto Trail: South Kaibab to Bright Angel, AZ

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Guide 62 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Northwest > South Rim
4 of 5 by 22
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Difficulty 2 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance One Way 4.3 miles
Trailhead Elevation 4,025 feet
Elevation Gain -372 feet
Accumulated Gain 435 feet
Avg Time One Way 2 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 5.75
Backpack Connecting Only
Dogs not allowed
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
21  2019-03-08
Bright Angel - Tonto - South Kaibab
18  2016-12-24
Grand Canyon Christmas
3  2016-04-08
South Kaibab Trail
7  2015-04-22
Bright Angel to South Kaibab via Tonto
14  2015-03-16
Bright Angel Trail
27  2014-11-27
Clear Creek Trail - GCNP
16  2013-12-13 Hippy
15  2013-06-22 Hippy
Page 1,  2,  3,  4
Author HAZ_Hikebot
author avatar Guides 16,882
Routes 16,052
Photos 24
Trips 1 map ( 6 miles )
Age 22 Male Gender
Location TrailDEX, HAZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Mar, Apr, Oct, Nov → 9 AM
Seasons   Spring to Autumn
Sun  6:15am - 6:27pm
Official Route
9 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Popular Loop Option
by HAZ_Hikebot

This section of the Tonto Trail is primarily used as a loop from South Kaibab trailhead to Bright Angel trailhead. It is a good day hike for those in proper condition. However it is a demanding hike because of the lack of shade from the South Kaibab trailhead to Indian Gardens. Expect little shade on the South Kaibab portion and no shade on the Tonto. Due to the extreme conditions, this hike should NOT be attempted once the temperatures reach 100 degrees. Even the most fit of people have experienced medical problems (even death) during these conditions!

Everyone needs to carry water! A common mistake is not carrying water and not carrying enough water. When hiking in a group, each person should be carrying water; carrying for the group is a common mistake. Always remember to eat as well as drink while hiking, you will be using alot of energy when hiking the canyon.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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2018-07-14 HAZ_Hikebot
  • Grand Canyon Use Area Boundaries - Dynamic Map

One-Way Notice
This hike is listed as One-Way.

When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

Most recent of 20 deeper Triplog Reviews
Tonto Trail: South Kaibab to Bright Angel
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Had this in the works for a few weeks. My wife had an early morning flight for work out of Phoenix, so I was up at 2:30 AM at our lodging. Made plans to visit my son's new dorm room at NAU the same day, but he had class until 3 PM. That left me with almost 12 hours to fill in, so decided to do a quick trip to the Grand Canyon. The drive up I-17 went without a hitch and made great time to the South Rim. An unexpected bonus was being greeted by a sign saying that the park had free admission, so was able to save $35.

I've been closely monitoring the weather and was 50/50 on hiking this with the weather we've been having this week. But got to the park and while it was going to be a toasty day, still only a few degrees over my comfort zone. Between little traffic coming up and fast service from the GC taxi, it put me 45 minutes ahead of schedule. For that I'm thankful because if I started when I had planned to, it would have been a different experience.

I knew the story of the day would be the heat, so used the hike as a training hike and kept a brisk pace to try and be out of the canyon by noon. Got down to Tip Off and had put myself another 10 minutes ahead of schedule. From there hit the Tonto trail for the first time, loved this trail and thankfully about 20% of it was in the shade while I was on it. Kept making good time and only had two spots where the trail crossed a drainage that slowed me down about 30 seconds while I figured out where to pick it up again Gained another 10 minutes, which put me 20 minutes total ahead of where I wanted to be.

Then got to Indian Gardens and joined the teeming masses at the water fountain to soak my hat and a bandana along with cooling off my face & neck. Double checked my water situation and made steady time up the climb on Bright Angel. Felt a bit off, but just put my head down and cranked up the hill. On the way up I finally saw one of the pink rattlesnakes the canyon is known for. Rather large and well fed. Finished before lunch time and hit the road to spend the afternoon with my son who just started his freshman year at NAU.
Tonto Trail: South Kaibab to Bright Angel
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Bright Angel to South Kaibab via Tonto
finally started checking out the tonto trail. on the way down bright angel i decided to go out and see plateau point again. i haven't been out there for 12 years :o

beautiful spot for lunch then headed back and took the tonto east. nice stretch of trail with some fantastic scenery and zillions of blooming cacti.

got my butt kicked up the south kaibab but enjoyed it just the same.

wonderful hike and great weather for a quick getaway to the grand canyon :y:
Tonto Trail: South Kaibab to Bright Angel
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I had a few things I wanted to check out in and around the Bright Angel area and wanted to get back to the canyon before it got too hot. Headed down BA at about 10am. It was pretty crowded near the top as expected. Not much ice left, maybe about 200 yards or so within the first 2 switchbacks but its covered with dirt. I wore bald sneakers with no traction device and didn't have any problems.

At the bottom of the corkscrew I walked up Pipe Creek about 1/2 mile until I was stopped by a waterfall. Went back to the junction and then picked up the Old Bright Angel Trail which starts just west of where the current trail crosses Pipe Creek (at the bottom of the 'screw). Took this up to the current trail, crossed over and then up to the Tonto Trail. Both of these sections of OBA are still in good shape and are easy to follow. This was my first time doing the lower section.

Took the Tonto east to Pipe Creek again and then boulder-hopped up Pipe until I was stopped by the Redwall. Did some investigating of the Redwall and Muav layers for Tse-An-Sha Cave but didn't find anything. Along the Tonto I spotted a big tailing pipe a few hundred yards off trail. Found a good-sized mine at the top of the pile. Lots of mouse droppings inside so I didn't go in. Plus it's illegal. Headed out via Tonto to Bright Angel. Not nearly as many people in the evening. Finished with a Navajo Taco at Maswik.

2 liters
Tonto Trail: South Kaibab to Bright Angel
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I finished November in the exact way I started the month, climbing out of the Grand Canyon. Karl myself and John headed to the Clear Creek area for four days.

Day 1:

We did not rush out of town on Thanksgiving day. I had to drop the dogs off, Karl was feeling a little under the weather and there was no reason to rush to the Canyon, as we had lined up a short opening day and were not stressing the after ten start time. The highlight of day one was the Miner's route and Tamales at Phantom Ranch. I found the Miner's Route to be pretty cool and was happy I decided to make the short detour with John. We met Karl at Phantom for a long lunch and then headed for the Clear Creek Trail. We camped at Sumner's Creek area, the starting point for Brahma, were treated to a great sunset and were probably all in bed by 8:30 p.m.

Day 2

I woke up thinking Karl and I were heading off for a Brahma attempt, but it was very clear from the start he was in no shape for that, his flu/cold effects were still lingering. I was excited to give Brahma a shot and was happy to have Karl along because of his experience, but it was evident that we just needed to get him to Clear Creek where he could relax for nearly two days if he wanted to. The hike to Clear Creek was great, seemed to go by pretty quickly. John and I explored up Clear Creek while Karl stayed back at camp. We located the well known set of Indian ruins, and I snapped a picture of the less visited site near Cheyava Falls(which were dry as expected). The ruins were in the exact location mentioned in Butchart's book, however, without positive identification I was not ready for the commitment to explore further, but upon review of picture it is definitely them. Therefore, I will be returning. We enjoyed a nice couple of hours under the party lights, a slightly warmer night and a good night's sleep.

Day 3

I got the crazy idea of getting up early and heading back to Brahma for at least a quick recon, then dry camping Saturday evening and enjoying a shorter hike out Sunday. Karl, although not looking the greatest, thought he might be up for at least a trip to the break in the red wall and John was actually good with the plan. He would stay at Clear Creek for most of the morning exploring some side canyons and then meet us back at the Sumner Creek/wash area later in the afternoon. So Karl and I headed back to Brahma a day later and with a little bit more of a time crunch. Clear Creek Trail can seem to drag on a little, but the first section climbing out of Clear Creek or dropping into Clear Creek is a real gem and I really enjoyed the trail and area overall.

Even with moving camps and Karl battling the Ebola we were still staring at the base of the first climb within the distinct crack of the red wall just afternoon. However, I kind of sealed the fate for the rest of the day by wasting nearly 45 minutes looking for a climbing route right up the center of the crack. I literally made three different attempts. Karl watched and yelled out occasional tips, but nothing about it made sense to me. Joe said it was tricky but nothing crazy and I found myself in what I would call a "crazy" position. In fact, my fight or flight kicked in and left me worthless for a good ten minutes, but I jumped right back up and gave it another shot before I accepted defeat. We then hung out in the remaining shade ate some lunch, I was pining a bit about what the whole situation, but we both agreed to head back. About 30 feet into our hike back, Karl and I almost simultaneously noticed a distinct cairn on our left and then what looked to be a great route up. Duh! The route was clear as day. Rather then dwell over the several mistakes I had just made and the easy ways I could have avoided them, I just shot up the route. There was rope secured in a few spots along the way, but obviously not necessary, as one was tightly secured making it unusable from below. I found the climbing and scrambling to be fairly easy, especially, after having tried to free climb up the pour over area in the beginning. It felt so great to reach the top of that little break, the views from the saddle were truly breathtaking and it was a very exhilarating experience for me overall. A modest feat to many, but a very satisfying experience for myself. From there I continued on route and decided to go until a 2:30 or 3:00 p.m. drop dead time. I realized quickly that the first little climb through the break hardly means you are there. I was on and off the route and generally rushing too much, along with probably climbing too much, the latter further reinforcing that I should just head back and call it a successful recon, which I did. Besides I had kind of irresponsibly left Karl behind in the crack and just yelled down that I would turn around by 3, about half way up the second climb I heard him yelling from saddle area that he would wait for me. I was starting to feel like I was holding the guy hostage and I knew he was not feeling well so I headed back. I assured Karl that I was good to go from the saddle and he could return to camp. Meanwhile, I headed out towards Sumner Butte and tested my mettle a little on the narrow land bridge connecting it to the larger terrain features. Returned to camp, Karl was there, John was there and all was good.

Day 4:

Living by the old adage that men walk quicker out of battle then into battle we all made great time out Sunday morning. Even with a stop at Phantom Ranch I don't think anyone took longer then 4.5 hours to reach S. Rim and vehicle.

This was just another very satisfying Canyon trip, great company and a great destination. I feel the bug for the canyon even more now after my modest first ascent up just a crack in the wall. But I gained some good experience, got a much better understanding of the area and feel pretty good about knocking it out completely with more time and planning.
Tonto Trail: South Kaibab to Bright Angel
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Hippy and I went in search of some ruins we read about in Tomasi's book. We headed down BA and then went east on the Tonto and passed Burro Spring. We continued another half mile and then went off trail into a basin. According to the book we had to continue below the Tapeats and head south. We ended up exploring the basin and found a separate set of ruins that included a Matate. We were very excited about the find because we just stumbled onto it when Hippy found a pot shard. Our time was running short so we decided to start the hike out the SK trail. We'll have to return another time to find the ruins mentioned in Tomasi's book.
Tonto Trail: South Kaibab to Bright Angel
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Decided to up this triplog now that I'm awake...basically I'd read about some ruins off the tonto at the base of the Tapeats and I wanted to go find them. I read there's some "intense scrambling" involved so I thought it better not to go alone. Smart decision but not entirely necessary. The scramble down the breaks in the tapeats was nothing major in my eyes, its steep and scree covered but the line was easy to follow and once you know where you're going you've got it made!
In a place entirely opposite of where we expected to find anything I nearly stepped on a black and white pottery shard that pretty much screamed itself into focus.
After that other shards, some knapped flakes, the metate and other beautiful relics came clearly into view.

As much cool stuff as we did find, looks like we'll be heading back again soon to find the REAL deal down there in the Tapeats...fascinating place the Tapeats...always something neat be it ruins, pottery, flakes or other knapping station evidence and best of all...dead things!! :y:

And now, the weather:
Snow down to Indian Garden and a few tiny patches along the Tonto east of there.
Snow down to the Supai on South Kaibab but not on trail until well above Ooh Ahh Pt. Lots of snow in Chimney on SK but not much ice, TONS of traction device tracks on DIRT and snow but SO not necessary as of today. :lol: tourists.

Thanks 9L for letting me drag you into this, it's great to finally have someone who can keep up with me and isn't afraid to explore away from the beaten path!! : rambo :
Tonto Trail: South Kaibab to Bright Angel
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South Kaibab - Tonto - Bright Angel
I had some time to waste while Hippy was working so I decided to make this loop hike. I started a little before 1pm and cruised down South Kaibab. The weather was very pleasant and most people I passed were heading up. I reached the tip off and then turned west on the Tonto. I took a break around Burro Spring. I'm bummed because I just found out there are some ruins in that area. I'll have to return another time. After the break I continued on to Indian Garden and then grinded back to the rim and was up top around 5pm. This was a nice and easy hike.
Tonto Trail: South Kaibab to Bright Angel
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Met up with 7 friends at SK TH, we headed down to Cedar Ridge at 7pm and had a picnic, watched the sunset, we flipped on 3 sets of party lights and pulled out some glow sticks and created what is now known as "Cedar Rave". The huge full moon began to rise and just before it peeked over the rim we all decided to move on.

Jack, Kim, Ranger Robb and Erin left us for the rim, the two Joes, myself and Emily lit up SK as we pranced down to the Tonto.

I'd only been on tiny bits of Tonto before and I love it!!

Hiked mostly by the moon, party lights went off well before IG, saw tons of critters :D
Stopped at IG to soak our feet in the creek, a tradition with me :) watched a dozen bats swoop down above our toes to snatch bugs off the waters surface.

Headed up BA, the moon was hidden by the rim by the time we reached 3 mile rest house.

Looking back at the canyon all painted and glowing in the moonlight is one of those things you just have to experience for yourself, no words can describe the sheer beauty.

By now all my trail mix was settling wrong and the last 2.5 miles up were misery for my poor stomach. Note to self check expiration dates on trail mix and cliff bars!!! :sk:

Either way, beautiful hike. Glad I finally got to experience this, made it even better being with good friends under the full moon.

What an awesome backyard!
Tonto Trail: South Kaibab to Bright Angel
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Took me a couple hours to get going on this hike - I was tired and not feeling motivated to do it. Finally convinced myself to get going by thinking about how many people I told I was doing it, and by the fact that I knew I would feel better once I was out there.
Started down from SK trailhead just after 9:30 a.m. Only the top few switchbacks of the Chimney were icy - took the Microspikes off, and wondered if I was carrying them for no good reason ... wouldn't find out until many miles later, when I ascended the BA.
I made it to Cedar Ridge in 27 minutes and took a four minute break.
Below CR, I started to encounter the infamous Spring mud ... varies in consistancy from wet and sloppy to thick and goopy. Saw my first people in the form of a small muletrain.
From CR to Skeleton Point took 35 minutes - took an eight minute break.
From SP down the red and white switchbacks, I would pass by a dozen or so female backpackers on their way up - they seemed to be part of a group, but I didn't talk to them. Also on the red and whites, I shed my fleece layer and went to swap my beanie for a baseball cap - and discovered I had forgotten it! This would become very annoying for the 3/4 of the day that it seemed I was hiking into the sun.
From SP to the Tonto junction took me 32 minutes. Stopped for break and to fuel up, and was surprised a moment later to see a woman - a ranger, as it turned out - approaching on the Tonto. She said hi, then went over by the toilets to take her break. I finished eating, used the restroom and took off my thermals ... hiking in shorts now! :)
I started the Tonto westbound, and looking back a few minutes later saw Ranger Betsy headed my way - obviously hiking back to IG. As much as I adore rangers, I really didn't want anyone a few minutes behind me on what I had anticipated would be another glorious solo stroll across the Tonto, so I slowed down and eventually stopped to let her pass. I was taking photos and she offered to take one of me, but I said no thanks, I have plenty!
From the start of Tonto to Burro Spring took 44 mins, then about 14 more to reach Pipe Creek.
I descended to the creek and enjoyed exploring the slickrock area just above the pouroff - the water was running clear and cold through small falls and pools, and it was so beautiful and peaceful I wished I could have stayed all day. Took a 38 minute break and reveled in the sunshine and warm temps ... about 70 degrees!
Hiking time from Pipe to Indian Garden was an hour and two minutes.
IG was completey deserted - nobody in the day use area or the campground. 35 minute break.
From IG up Jacob's Ladder and to 3 Mile Resthouse took 43 minutes. 13 minute break, put baselayer back on top.
Saw two backpackers headed down below 3 Mile, and a solo female bakpacker above it. The only people I would see on the entire BA!
From 3 mile to 1.5 mile, the trail was a disgusting mess of mud.
Stopped at 2 mile corner for an 8 minute break to eat and send some texts - got my fingers cold.
From 3 mile to 1.5 mile took 40 minutes. Stopped there for ten minutes to use restroom, put on my fleece, strap the Microspikes on, and put handwarmers in my gloves.
From 1.5 mile to the top was 95% ice and packed snow ... was glad I had carried the spikes all those miles after all.
Reached the trailhead 53 minutes, at 5:59 p.m. Texted Kristi for a ride back to the SK to pick up my car, and made it home just after dark.
Fantastic day! Just a tad sore today.
Tonto Trail: South Kaibab to Bright Angel
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Glorious day for a long hike in the Canyon, so I finally got to cross this one off my list.
Saw about a dozen groups of deer and elk on my way to the SK trailhead.
Only saw about a dozen hikers and two small groups of mule riders on the way down the SK. I passed two ladies a liitle ways before Skeleton Point, then met them again as I was finishing my break at the Point - one told me that they were admiring my "antelope-like gait" - I had to laugh, and told her "going downhill, maybe!" ... uphill is another story.
Took another short break at the Tipoff, then set off across the Tonto.
The Tonto Trail - or at least this short portion of it - is pure joy. And I didn't see another person on it.
Burro Spring had a small, dark trickle. Pipe Spring Creek was flowing a bit more, and much clearer ... caught a tiny Red-spotted Toad there.
It was pretty toasty in the sun along the Tonto - I wouldn't want to hike it when it was much warmer out!
The green trees and sound of the creek were very welcome as I approached Indian Gardens. Petted a frog. Had a long break, lunch, soaked feet in the creek, explored the day-use area, and went in the info center.
My pace up the BA was slower than normal - as expected with 10+ miles already behind me.
My stupid knee began to ache at two-mile switchback, and with about a mile to go, my muscles started to tighten up.
The temp had dropped considerably by 1.5 mile resthouse, and I was chilly the rest of the way.
Took me close to an hour to shuttle-bus my way back to the SK to pick up my car, and I cranked the heat on the drive home.
Went to Tusayan for food - burger and fries never tasted so good ... I could have eaten two of each! Came home and sat with a bag of frozen veggies on my knee while I drank a couple of beers ... life is grand! :D

Map Drive

To South Kaibab Trailhead
From Flagstaff head west on I-40 for 30.4 mi to SR-64. Turn right/north and follow SR-64 55 miles to the park. You will receive a map & information at the GC park entrance.

You can only reach the trailhead by free-shuttle or taxi. Parking is available at several lots. There is a lot a mile from the trailhead on the east drive. If you are there early you can use this lot (it fills up fast) and hike the two miles there and back.

Express hikers' shuttles directly from Bright Angel Lodge and the Backcountry Information Center to the South Kaibab trailhead depart daily at:
March 7:00 a.m., 8:00 a.m., and 9:00 a.m.
April 6:00 a.m., 7:00 a.m., and 8:00 a.m.
May 5:00 a.m., 6:00 a.m., and 7:00 a.m.

NPS Note: The South Kaibab Trail is located near Yaki Point. Due to the popularity of this area and extremely limited space, parking is not permitted at the trailhead. Hikers must use the park's free shuttle bus system to reach the trailhead. Every morning, several hiker express buses leave from the Bright Angel Lodge and then from the Backcountry Information Center (times vary depending on the month). Otherwise, hikers will need to take the village bus (Blue Line) to Canyon View Information Plaza and transfer to the Green Line. South Kaibab trailhead is the first stop on the Green Line.

From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 235 mi - about 3 hours 42 mins
From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 340 mi - about 5 hours 12 mins
From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 88.1 mi - about 1 hour 33 mins
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