The North Kaibab Trail: Map and Tips for Day Hikes into the Grand Canyon

Your Grand Canyon experience doesn’t have to end with snapping a few photos of the majestic views at the rim. Why not take some time to hike down into the Canyon, on a trail like the North Kaibab Trail?

It’s 14 miles from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon all the way down to Bright Angel Campground on the Colorado River. But you don’t have to go that far!

If you’re not a hardcore hiker, it’s perfectly fine to go down a few miles and come back up — provided that you’re prepared for the heat, dry conditions, and elevation gain.

north kaibab hike
Heading into the Canyon via the North Kaibab Trail. (NPS)

Let’s go over everything you need to know to tackle the North Kaibab Trail.

Want to bring along a detailed hiking guide and map? I recommend the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map on Amazon, which has maps of all the Grand Canyon hikes.

This article will provide the following helpful info:
-Map and basic info for hiking any portion of the North Kaibab Trail
-Advice on how far to hike into the Canyon
-Photos of some of the hike’s highlights
-Tips to stay safe from the NPS and from my own experience on the trail

All photos by Quirky Travel Guy, except where noted.

grand canyon north rim hiking trail

Map and Basic Info for the North Kaibab Trail

The North Kaibab Trail is located at the North Rim on the Canyon. That’s the less popular side, as most tourists go to the South Rim.

The cool thing about the North Rim is that it sits 1000 feet higher than the South Rim, so it has more forested areas with fir and aspen trees, and it gets a fair amount of snow on this side.

IMPORTANT: The North Rim is closed from December 1 through mid-May, due to winter weather.

Here’s a map of the trail from the NPS brochure:

north kaibab trail map
Map of the North Kaibab Trail from the North Rim down to Bright Angel Campground.

You can see that the trail descends past Supai Tunnel and Roaring Springs down to the Manzanita Rest Area.

From there, you could turn around and head back to the top for a single-day hike. Or, if you’re planning to camp for a night or two, continue on to Cottonwood or Bright Angel Campground.

The most extreme hikers will then continue up the other side of the Canyon, following South Kaibab Trail all the way up to the South Rim. That’s an epic journey, but it’s beyond the scope of this article.

How Far Should You Hike? Day Hike Distances on the North Kaibab Trail

How far do you want to hike from the North Kaibab Trailhead? You can do a short hike that only takes an hour and covers 1.5 miles, or you can spend the entire day going deeper and deeper into the Canyon.

Quick Summary: Advice for North Kaibab Trail Day Hikes
-If you are not a hiker or have limited mobility, don’t go beyond Cococino Overlook (0.7 miles each way.)
-Adults in normal shape should be able to hike as far as Supai Tunnel. That’s 1.7 miles each way, with 1500 feet of elevation gain. Expect to need up to 3 hours.
-Only experienced mountain hikers should proceed beyond Redwall Bridge.
-Bring lots of water and start as early as possible to avoid the heat!

Here are the exact distances from the North Kaibab Trailhead to various points of interest. Data according to the National Park Service:

Destination from North Kaibab Trailhead
(8251 ft elevation)
Distance (one-way / roundtrip)Time needed (roundtrip)
Cococino Overlook (7450 ft)0.7 miles / 1.4 miles1 hour
Supai Tunnel (6800 ft)1.7 miles / 3.4 miles2-3 hours
Redwall Bridge (6040 ft)2.6 miles / 5.2 miles4-6 hours
Roaring Springs (5220 ft)4.7 miles / 9.4 miles6-9 hours
Manzanita Rest Area (4600 ft)5.4 miles / 10.8 miles8-11 hours
Cottonwood Campground (4800 ft)6.8 miles / 13.6 miles2 days
Bright Angel Campground (2480 ft)14.0 miles / 28.0 miles2-3 days

Most day hikers from the North Rim won’t want to go beyond Redwall Bridge. Very fit hikers could reach Roaring Springs, a 9.4-mile roundtrip trek with more than 3000 feet of elevation gain on the way back up.

You can see that the walk to Cottonwood Campground is 6.8 miles one way, which is a perfect day hike for those who plan to camp there overnight. You’d be looking at 3400 feet in elevation gain the next day when you go back up.

kaibab cottonwood campground
The trail levels off a bit between Manzanita Rest Area and Cottonwood Campground. (NPS)

The first time I hiked the North Kaibab Trail, as someone who was just a casual hiker, I only went to the Redwall Bridge area. It was about 2.5 miles each way, with roughly 2200 feet of elevation gain. And I felt exhausted!

If you are not someone who regularly hikes mountain trails with substantial elevation gain, don’t push your luck and try to go past Redwall Bridge, because the hike back up in the heat will be rough.

Remember that the hike back up will take twice as long as the hike down inside the Canyon.

Typically, it is very hot on this trail, and it only gets hotter as you go deeper into the Canyon. Be prepared with all of the usual hiking essentials: sunscreen, hat, protein-packed snacks, and more water than you think you’ll ever need.

The National Park Service goes to great lengths to warn casual tourists about the dangers of hiking into the Canyon. Many tourists don’t realize how difficult it is to hike here, and end up needing rescue.

The NPS cautions, “Over 250 people are rescued from the canyon each year. The difference between a great adventure in Grand Canyon and a trip to the hospital (or worse) is up to YOU. DO NOT attempt to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day, especially during the months of May to September.”

grand canyon north kaibab trail hiking
Hiking inside the Canyon on the North Kaibab Trail.

FAQs About Hiking the North Kaibab Trail

Where can I find water on the North Kaibab Trail?

Potable water is available at the trailhead, Supai Tunnel, Roaring Springs, the Manzanita Rest Area, Cottonwood Campground, and Bright Angel Campground.

These water stations are turned off in the fall (exact dates vary, it depends on temperatures.) And sometimes pipes can burst. So don’t rely on these stations. Bring your own water!

Where can I find bathrooms on the trail?

The trailhead has toilets, Supai Tunnel and Roaring Springs have pit toilets, and the Manzanita Rest Area also has a toilet. Cottonwood Campground has a restroom building.

What time of year should I do the North Kaibab Trail?

As noted, the North Rim is closed for almost six months, from December to May. So you have no choice but to do this hike in either summer or fall.

canyon north rim

What time of day should I start hiking?

As early as possible! By 10 am, it’s very likely that temperatures will start to get very hot. Rangers advise trying to avoid the trail between 10 am and 4 pm, as summer temps can exceed 100 F.

To do the North Kaibab Trail right, you really want to start by 6 or 7 am, so you can get as far as possible while it’s still cool.

What should I bring on the hike?

Bring everything you’d want on any hike: first aid kit, sunscreen, a hat, and a jacket (layers are always good).

Ideally, you’d have a map of the trail on your phone, although this trail is well-marked and pretty busy, so it’s hard to get lost.

And bring lots of protein-packed snacks and more water than you think you’ll ever need.

How old is the North Kaibab Trail?

Believe it or not, this trail was created in the 1920s. The South Kaibab Trail at the South Rim already existed, and the goal was to create a similar trail at the North Rim.

kaibab retention wall
A retention wall on the trail deep inside the Canyon. (NPS)

Do I need a permit for the North Kaibab Trail?

Nope, unless you plan to camp overnight inside the Canyon. A backcountry permit is required for overnight activities in the Canyon. But day hikers do not need any permits.

What Will You See Here? My Experience on the Trail

The first time I hiked the North Kaibab Trail, I was visiting the canyon with my friend Jason. We spent a couple hours hiking the North Kaibab Trail from the North Rim.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have an entire day to go all the way down to Manzanita Rest Area. We had just enough time to go just beyond Supai Tunnel, near Redwood Bridge.

We started around 10 am, which is much too late to do any serious hiking. You just don’t want to be hiking down into the canyon during the middle of the day, when temps can get crazy hot.

The top of the trail passed through lush green spaces, with trees and shade all around. This is not what you imagine when you think of the Grand Canyon!

kaibab trail

But it didn’t take long before the trees disappeared, temperatures rose, and the bright red rock of the canyon appeared.

Certain points of the hike were so unforgiving, with absolutely no shade, that when we finally reached the Supai Tunnel, we hung out there for a while in the shade for some relief.

This was the view looking out from the Supai Tunnel, a narrow tunnel you’ll encounter 2 miles down the trail.

grand canyon supai tunnel
View of the famous Supai Tunnel!

We followed the trail past the Cococino Overlook and the Supai Tunnel, so it was between a 4 to 5 mile roundtrip.

The hike back up was rough. It was pretty much straight up, and we had to stop for frequent rest breaks. Our primary motivation was this elderly lady we lovingly called “grandma” who was right on our tail most of the way.

As much as we admired her level of fitness and stamina, we couldn’t live with ourselves if we let her beat us. So whenever she got close, we high-tailed it. I’m proud to say we beat her out of the canyon by a good 20 seconds!

Tips for Hiking at the Grand Canyon

Don’t try to hike down to the bottom and back in one day! The Canyon’s official site makes this point repeatedly in red text, saying “under no circumstances” should you try this.

Don’t hike during the hottest hours. Most people who take the full hike to the bottom of the canyon leave early in the morning (we’re talking 7 am or so), rest during the hottest hours, and continue when it starts to cool down.

The temperature within the canyon can be 30 degrees hotter than at the rim. I didn’t hike all the way down to the river, and I still noticed a big temperature difference from a couple thousand feet of elevation.

Take water! Lots of it. The park recommends at least one gallon per person per day, but even that seems inadequate.

There are some purified drinking water stations at various points within the canyon, but having your own supply is the best way to protect against dehydration and heat stroke, two of the bigger dangers in the park.

Even for our modest day hike, we ran out of water on the way back out and had to tap into the supply of a fellow hiker. You’ll drink more than you think!

If you plan to stay overnight in the canyon, bring water purifier tablets or a filtered water bottle so you can rely on creek water if needed.

For long hikes, bring toilet paper. There are a few toilets in the canyon, but you never know if they’ll have TP on hand!

Aside from that, you’ll need to follow typical backcountry etiquette by burying or carrying out the payoff from any bathroom breaks.

Don’t get intimidated by the distance. While most of the North Kaibab Trail is winding and hidden, at certain points you’ll be able to see miles straight down. You might find yourself becoming discouraged at just how far you still have to go.

That structure in the middle of this photo is a foot bridge on the trail past Supai Tunnel. There’s nothing like the Grand Canyon to make you feel really small.

grand canyon foot bridge

-There are folks who ride mules on this trail down into the canyon, forcing all the hikers to stop and move off the path (it’s required) when they pass by.

Don’t get discouraged or resentful when you’re huffing and puffing working your butt off, and these mule-riders stroll past like royalty.

Don’t rely on cell phone service, because chances are you won’t have any. Even at the rim, service can be spotty. Hike with a friend and stay together!

-Keep your eyes open for wildlife, including California condors! These endangered birds are massive and often fly around the North Rim and South Rim looking for tasty animal carcasses to munch on.

-Check out the NPS’s Grand Canyon Hiking FAQ for more information.

Would you ever hike into the Grand Canyon on the North Kaibab Trail?