The Kaibab National Forest offers a variety of rewarding and challenging trails for day hikes or extended backpacking trips. Hikers and riders will find solitude, wildlife viewing and scenic views aplenty throughout all three districts on the forest.
The terrain on the South Kaibab is mostly gentle with a few scattered mountains and hills. Much of the terrain is in the 7,000-foot elevation range and ponderosa pine is the dominant cover. Poisonous snakes are occasionally encountered among the pines and pinyon-junipers and black bears are occasionally seen at higher elevations around Bill Williams, Kendrick, and Sitgreaves Mountains. Although one should always be careful in the backcountry, the environment in the Tusayan District poses few hazards to hikers. The terrain is gentle and rolling, for the most part, and the vegetation is open and park-like with very little underbrush to hinder travel or get in your way when you get a chance to see some of the abundant wildlife. Short day trips are the most popular way to hike this district, since opportunities for overnight backpack trips are limited by the lack of an extensive trail system and the scarcity of sources of potable water; still, this is an excellent place to enjoy quiet, secluded cross-country travel or hiking on old roads that are seldom traveled.
Challenges on the North Kaibab include steep, rugged terrain, primitive trails, and lack of water; however, among the rewards are spectacular views of towering cliffs and magnificent canyons. Several trails lead into the Grand Canyon National Park. Overnight hiking or camping in the Park requires a permit from the National Park Service: for information, call or write Back Country Reservations at the Grand Canyon National Park.
Some of the trails on the Kaibab are best suited for the experienced hiker but there are trails for the novices too. The difficulty is a function of trail condition, alignment, steepness of grades, gain or loss of elevation, the type and number of natural barriers that must be crossed - and, of course, the physical condition of the hiker. A few of the trails rise high enough that the hiker may encounter sudden changes in the weather. Winter-like snowstorms may occur as early as September and as late as May with a corresponding drop in temperature. Summer temperatures may be quite warm and afternoon thunderstorms occur frequently in July and August, especially in the vicinity of mountain peaks. It is best to avoid mountaintops or ridges, open areas, or shallow caves during storms. Take shelter in a boulder field, in forested areas away from tall trees, or in your car.
You may find water along some trails, but it is not recommended for drinking. Always carry plenty of water for each hike, at least 1 gallon per day per person. In addition to water, days hikers should have plenty of sunscreens, a long-sleeved cotton shirt, sweater, hat or cap, and a small first aid kit in their pack. Throw in a couple of large trash bags: they make excellent emergency rain gear, will keep you dry if you have to sit or lie on wet ground, and warm you up in a chilly wind. Take along a signal mirror too: it will enable you to signal passing aircraft in case of an emergency.
For safety reasons, it is best never to travel alone. Leave a copy of your itinerary at home and at your starting place (if a back-country register is available). When traveling in a group, make sure that no one leaves without saying where that person is going and for how long. Many trailheads are located in isolated areas: always lock your car, be aware of your surroundings. Watch out for loose or slippery rocks and logs, cliffs, steep grades, and inclined hardpacked snowfields where a misstep can cause a slide or fall. Use your best judgment and never take chances.
With the exception of those that are in wilderness areas or are otherwise posted, trails can be used for mountain bike travel and horseback riding - if the terrain is such that it will not endanger livestock. Be sure you have adequate maps on hand. Forest maps are conveniently available at both Visitors Centers for a nominal fee.
Whether you are out for a day trip or on a week-long expedition, it is important to practice low-impact hiking and camping. Here are a few suggestions:
- Stay on trails; cutting across switchbacks causes erosion.
- Step aside when encountering riders; refrain from making sudden moves because it frightens livestock.
- Bury human waste in soil at least 6 inches deep and a minimum of 1/4 mile from sources of water and drainage bottoms; burn toilet paper (carefully) or pack it out with other garbage.
- Wash 1/4 mile away from water sources.
- Practice the "leave-no-trace" ethic: pack out all garbage (animals dig up garbage).
- Tie horses to a picket line; tying directly to trees removes bark and damages roots.
- Erase all signs of campfires, including the rock ring, or better yet, bring along a stove and forego the fire.