The unique geologic features, panoramic views and peaceful solitude of Kaibab National Forest can’t quite be found anywhere else. Kaibab is home to javelina, bobcat, cougar, pronghorn antelope and more. This sprawling wilderness is located on the Colorado Plateau, and boasts nearly 1.6 million acres of prairies, plateaus and canyons. The Grand Canyon itself runs directly through the center of the forest.
The elevation in Kaibab is varied, it ranges from 3,000 feet to 10,418 feet at the top of Kendrick Mountain. At lower elevations, sagebrush and prairies dominate. As you go higher, you’ll find forests filled with trees such as spruce, aspen, fir and ponderosa pine. The very highest elevations feature plants like cliffrose, Gambel oak and sagebrush. There are some fantastic photos of various projects and terrain in the forest here.
In the early 1900s, bison were introduced in Kaibab. This was part of a ranching operation with the goal of crossbreeding them with cattle. As a result, you can still see bison there today. Technically, the state of Arizona owns these bison, and issues hunting permits within the forest.
There are quite a few archeological remnants in the forest just south of the Grand Canyon. Most of these remains are somewhere between 800 and 1,200 years old. The Cohonina and Kayenta Anasazi peoples inhabited the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Both appeared roughly 1,300 years ago. However, these civilizations strangely disappeared about 900 years ago.
Kaibab National Forest—North and South
In a way, Kaibab National Forest is two distinct forests. Although they are managed as one, they are distinctly different from a geological and ecological standpoint. They are roughly separated by the Grand Canyon. The story of their history was two separate stories for quite some time. For some time, they actually were two separate forests.
North Kaibab was included in the lands withdrawn from the public domain in 1893, and was initially included with the Grand Canyon Forest Reserve. In 1906, over 600,000 acres of this land was set aside as the Grand Canyon Game Preserve. Then, in 1908, the forest reserve north of the Grand Canyon was renamed Kaibab National Forest. In 1919, the remaining land became the Grand Canyon National Park.
Originally, North Kaibab consisted of two separate ranger districts, both with headquarters that were quite remote. In 1972, the Forest Service combined these districts, and moved the district ranger station to the town of Fredonia.
North Kaibab is all one district, the North Kaibab Ranger District. It is just over 1,000 square miles, and located on the breath-taking Kaibab Plateau. The climate here distinctly different than South Kaibab. It is a highland climate where snow is commonplace.
The North Kaibab district is home to the remarkable Route 67, the North Rim Parkway. Big Springs Cabin is located in the district as well. The cabin is roughly 30 miles from Fredonia and about an hour’s drive from the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Big Springs Cabin is one of many cabins that are part of Arizona’s “Room with a View” Cabin rental program.
DeMotte and Jacob Lake Campgrounds are two of the most popular campgrounds in this northernmost district.
South Kaibab covers nearly 1,500 square miles, and includes part of the largest contiguous pine forest in the world. The historic Route 66, the Great Western Trail and the Arizona Trail all run through portions of South Kaibab.
Williams Ranger District
There are four large lakes within the Williams Ranger District—Cataract, Dogtown, Kaibab and White Horse. These lakes provide fantastic opportunities for camping, hiking and fishing.
Williams District has many volcanic mountains as well as the headwater tributaries of the Verde and Colorado Rivers. Elevation ranges from 5,500 feet to 10,418 feet on Kendrick Mountain, the highest point in Kaibab National Forest.
Tusayan Ranger District
The storied Grandview Lookout Tower is in the Tusayan district. Grandview is a steel lookout tower built by the Conservation Corps in 1936. In addition, the site of the tower is now a trailhead for the Arizona Trail.
Tusayan is also home to the Coconino Rim and Red Butte. The milder elevation changes here make it one of the forest’s favorite spots among hikers.
Wilderness Areas in Kaibab National Forest
There are four wilderness areas in Kaibab—Kanab, Kendrick Mountain, Saddle Mountain and Sycamore Canyon. Combined, these wilderness areas cover about 115,000 acres.
Kanab Creek Wilderness
Kanab Creek Wilderness is located in North Kaibab Ranger District. In addition, it is home to Kanab Creek, a major tributary of the Colorado River. Here, the Kanab and Kaibab plateaus exhibit a secluded, sprawling canyon system. Nature has displayed it’s spectacular imprint here with a maze of unique shapes into the surrounding rock. In this region, plant life is intermittent at best. However, riparian growth in the creek bottom is an exception.
Trails leading to this region exist, but most are not maintained and are poorly marked. This makes the area a true wilderness — quiet, largely untouched and desolate.
Kendrick Mountain Wilderness Area
On the eastern border of the Williams Ranger District, lies just over 6,500 acres called Kendrick Mountain Wilderness Area. Kendrick Mountain was designated as a wilderness area in 1984, and actually extends into Coconino National Forest.
In 2000, the “Pumpkin Fire” left a significant mark on the wilderness. In order to return the wilderness to the state it was before the fire, the forest service sometimes allows cattle to graze near the trailhead for Kendrick Mountain Trail.
Saddle Mountain Wilderness
Saddle Mountain Wilderness Area is 41,143 acres that received it’s wilderness area designation in 1984 under the Arizona Wilderness Act. The wilderness is located in North Kaibab Ranger District. This area includes the Saddle Mountain summit and the Saddle Mountain Trail
The nearly 7-mile Saddle Mountain Trail provides a lesser known way to access the Grand Canyon. The trail begins in low-valley scrubland, but climbs over 1,000 feet through actual forests. The prize is a spectacular view of the Grand Canyon.
Sycamore Canyon Wilderness
Williams Ranger District is home to Sycamore Canyon Wilderness, a 56,000 acre tract. The wilderness actually extends into the neighboring Prescott National Forest. It is relatively small, but home to a wide variety of wildlife. For example, Ring-tailed cats, rattlesnakes, scorpions, canyon wrens and hermit thrushes are all creatures that have adapted well to life in this area.
Sycamore Canyon Wilderness includes it’s namesake canyon as well as the Sycamore Rim Trail. This is an 11-mile trail, most of it relatively flat. Much of it winds through ponderosa pine stands, although it occasionally crosses lovely meadows and mesas.
Visit Kaibab National Forest
Kaibab is one of the most special places in the American Southwest. Visit one of the Wilderness Areas, fish in White Horse Lake, or stay at Hull Cabin. Kaibab National Forest will give you an experience to remember, no matter how you choose to enjoy it.