Bright Angel Trail

  • Difficulty
  • 28.5km
  • 1328m
  • 10-11.5h
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Completing this trail in one-day is only for the fittest of all hikers.  We debated including this hike, as it is so dangerously tough.  Better yet consider getting a backcountry camping permit and staying at the Bright Angel Campground!

As the most “rim to river” trail in the park, the Bright Angel Trail sees a lot of traffic from inexperienced hikers. Luckily there are several water stations along the way, and the trail is quite well graded. Be warned, however, as any trip to the river and back is extremely strenuous.

Getting there

Park anywhere in the Grand Canyon Village and walk towards the Bright Angel Hotel. Just west of the hotel is the Bright Angel Trailhead, where there are pit toilets and a water refilling station.

elevation

Total Gain: 1328m

About

Type of Hike Out and Back
Crowd Levels High
Route Signage Excellent
Toilets At Trailhead, four along trail
Family Friendly No
Backcountry Campgrounds Yes, permits required
When to Do Spring and Fall, avoid summer heat

 Detailed Description

From the trailhead follow the crowds down the wide, well graded path. You will soon pass through a tunnel in the rock, a very popular place for photos. Don’t worry; as you continue to hike the crowds will certainly thin, granting you more breathing room. As the switchbacks continue you will soon have fantastic views down into the canyon, giving you a perfect view of where you are heading!

The first 4 miles of the trail are the steepest; with relentless switchbacks winding their way beside cliffs down an impossibly steep slope. There are rest shelters and water refilling stations located 1.5 and 3 miles down the trail, though these are typically more useful on the way up! If you are looking for a shorter hike, going down to the 3-mile rest house and back yields the best bang for buck, with fantastic views and “only” 2120 ft. of elevation change.

Once you have descended the hellish 4 miles of switchback, you will hike along a much more level trail leading down towards the Indian Garden Campground. This well shaded oasis yields the last drinking water until the river, and marks the approximate halfway point (in terms of distance) for getting down. Camping here must be arranged in advance, as permits have to be acquired from the Backcountry Office.

Once past Indian Gardens, the trail remains relatively level until you reach another smaller set of switchbacks. These are approximately half the length of the ones you just did, so they’ll feel like nothing! You will relentlessly descend all the way down to the river, where you are then given several options for where to mark the end of your hike.

The River Resthouse is the obvious contender, as it’s the first you’ll see that offers washrooms and some shade. You can also go a little ways further down to a small beach to wash your feet in the fast flowing Colorado River. We recommend, if you have the energy, to continue for another 1.5 miles or so along a mostly flat trail to the silver suspension bridge that crosses the Colorado. From here there are the most picturesque views of the steep inner canyon. After an undoubtedly long rest, prepare yourself for the way up.

Insider Hints

  • An extremely popular long day hike or backpack is to descend the South Kaibab and ascend the Bright Angel Trail. If camping, do so at the Bright Angel Campground, though a backcountry permit is required.
  • Head up the well signposted trail to the canteen at Phantom Ranch to grab a snack or a cold drink (with ice!). Though outlandishly expensive, we think lemonade has never tasted sweeter.
  • It is impossible to emphasize enough how important it is to start early. Starting to hike at 3 AM is not uncommon.
  • All the signs at the trailhead suggest eating copious amounts of salty, carbohydrate dense foods. We find that a can of Pringles of similar chips fit the bill in the most perfect way for these long hikes!
  • Another option for a solid, 4th grade day hike is to descend to Indian Garden then traverse along the mostly flat trail to Plateau Point. Though this has high mileage (12 miles round trip), it has much less elevation gain than going all the way to the river – “only” 3080 ft.