“They look like birds,” giggled my daughter as we rounded a rock outcropping and looked down on our destination another thousand feet down the South Kaibab Trail. This is as easy hike with the kids. Wide and smooth on the decline to the first breath-taking overlook, this popular Grand Canyon National Park hike takes us well below the rim and far out onto a deep-canyon overlook.
Like a colorful flock sunning on the sun-bright orange rocks, hikers sit on the Canyon’s natural sand¬stone slab benches taking in the view at Ooh-Ah Point just above Cedar Ridge.
The less than two-mile round-trip hike is a good way to take the kids and get below the rim of the Grand Canyon. Fewer than one-quarter of all Grand Canyon visitors drop below the edge for a walk into Earth’s geologic and human history. Every couple of hundred feet, the canyon color changes notching time travel back another couple of hundred million years.
Erica and Michael whisked past me the last hundred feet to find their place on the sandstone bench. As we settled down to take in the view, we heard our perched neighbors tittering in French, German, English, and Japanese. We all enjoyed the warm sun, the view, the Canyon’s enormity, and this spectacular work of Nature.
The trek to Ooh-Ah point offers a dramatic below-the-rim view reachable by even young hikers. The Park Service calls this one of the best views for such an easy hike. The elevation drops steeply at first, almost 200 feet in the first third mile. A series of switchbacks accompanied by cliff-hanging drops greet you at every turn. There are plenty of places to stop, rest, and take in the panorama. The trailhead is paved at its steepest point and then changes to gravel for the bulk of the hike. There are several places where steps are carved into the sandstone.
Getting to the trailhead
There is only one way to reach the South Kaibab Trailhead—the Orange Shuttle. Pick up the free shuttle at the Grand Canyon Village Transit Center and ride the 10 minutes in comfort to the South Kaibab Trailhead. It’s the first stop after the transit center. No vehicles are allowed to drive to either the trailhead or adjoining Yaki Point.
Grand Canyon hiking tips
- It takes twice as long to hike out as it does to hike down. Be aware of how much time is available for your hike.
- Know your limits, although the trail is well-developed to the point and well-traveled, the Kaibab Trailhead is 7,2600 feet elevation, and Ooh-Ah Point is at 6,660 feet. That means you are have a 1,200-foot elevation change – 600 feet down and up.
- There are water and flush toilets at the shuttle stop on the rim, but no water or toilets along the trail until Cedar Ridge, about 45 minutes past Ooh-Ah Point.
- For each member of the hiking party, carry one liter (quart) of water for each hour. Children need at least one-half quart per hour; adults up to 1.5 quarts per hour. Ooh-Ah Point is a leisurely three-hour hike, even though it’s less than two miles. This means, a family of four should split two gallons of water between them.
- Water is your best fluid, although after the hike, electrolyte replacement drinks and salty snacks are good. Avoid sugar and other sweetened drinks, including power drinks with sugar or sweetener substitutes.
- Sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and caffeine contribute to dehydration.
- Although I wouldn’t recommend it, the trail is smooth enough that many of the hikers heading to Ooh-Ah walked in flip-flops and sandals. I was in smooth-sole athletic shoes, and found the gravel a little slick at times, making me grateful for my trekking poles—despite Erica and Michael’s ribbing me about them. Next time, hiking boots or lugged soles, along with the trekking poles for me.
- The switchbacks are safe, but set a safety rule for “no running.”
Between October and May
- Wear clothing in layers. The weather can change rapidly at the canyon with temperatures rising or cooling rapidly. It tends to be cooler on the rim than when you drop below. You will perspire, even when cold, so the layer closest to your body should be able to wick moisture away, otherwise you’ll be cold and damp while hiking.
- Even in winter, the Canyon air is generally dry, so be aware of potential for nosebleeds with children.
- If it has snowed, do not attempt the trail without crampons or shoe-spikes (available at the store in Grand Canyon Village). Trekking poles are also recommended to maintain balance.
Tips for making the hike fun
- The geology of the Canyon changes four times during the short hike. Take time to stop and look at how each stone stratum sits one-on-top-of-another like building blocks. Let family members handle the different color rocks and see the differences in color, texture, and weight (Remember, removing rocks from National Parks is illegal; never toss a rock over the edge).
- You cut through 280-million years of history with the Kaibab, Toroweep, Hermit, and Coconino formations. At Ooh-Ah Point, you’ll be sitting on top of the Supai group, 385 million years old. The black rock clearly visible at the base of the canyon along the Colorado River is over 1.7 billion years old.
- If the wind is gentle, at Ooh-Ah Point, you can hear the sounds of Eight Mile Rapids north and east of your position. Have your children sit quietly and listen to the roar of the river and the echoing of ravens, hawks, and eagles in the sky.
- After the hike, the shuttle takes you to Yaki Point, where, if energy permits, it’s worthwhile walking to the overlook.