Trail: Bright Angel Trail - Grand Canyon National Park
Length (approx): 9.6 miles (round trip to Indian Garden Campground and back)
Difficulty: Moderate to Extremely Difficult (depending on turn-around point)
Water: Every 1.5 miles*
Elevation Loss & Gain (approx): 6,120 ft (3,060 ft in each direction)
Route Finding: Easy
Time: Minimum 4 Hours
Recommended Gear: Hiking or Trail Shoes, Hydration Pack, Trekking Poles, Wide Brimmed Hat, Sunblock, Electrolyte & Salt Replacement Food & Drink
Disclaimer: Although the Bright Angel Trail is considered by many to be the "starter trail" or "tourist trap" trail in the Grand Canyon, it can be extremely dangerous if not given the proper respect. Under no circumstances do we recommend novice hikers or those in poor physical condition attempt the entire 9 + mile round trip hike to Indian Garden Campground. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD ANYONE ATTEMPT THE 19 MILE HIKE TO THE COLORADO RIVER AND BACK IN ONE DAY.
Attempting this hike in June, July or August can be deadly if you're not prepared. It is not recommended that this hike be attempted from 12pm - 4pm during those months. Although temperatures at the South Rim may be pleasant, they can rise rapidly once in the Canyon. It is not uncommon for temps to be 90+ degrees fahrenheit at Indian Garden Campground in the summer.
Hiking the Bright Angel Trail
The Bright Angel Trail is the Grand Canyon's most popular trail. It is relatively well maintained and is accessible just west of Bright Angel Lodge on the South Rim of the Canyon. Whether you are just looking to get below the rim, or are an experienced hiker looking for a bit of challenge, the Bright Angel Trail has something to offer. Those with unsure footing or ankle/knee problems are strongly encouraged to use trekking poles. Depending on the time of the year, ice may be present on the trail especially in shadier spots. please be aware.
Section 1: Rim to Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse
It is best to think of this hike as having three sections. Section one starts at the trailhead and descends approximately 1.5 miles to the Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse. This section of the trail gets the most use and can be very crowded during peak times. Here the trail is a series of seemingly never-ending switchbacks at varying degrees of steepness. Though as you descend down the trail, you really start to get a sense of the Grand Canyon's scale. If you look towards the north and down to the bottom, you'll see the green oasis of Indian Garden Campground and trail out to Plateau Point. An experienced hiker should be able to cover the first 1.5 miles in 45 minutes or less depending on conditions. But, most people should plan on about an hour to this spot. Don't rush, take your time, look around and enjoy what you see.
Once you reach Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse, you'll find water*, shade and restrooms. It is here that novice hikers are encouraged to head back to the top. While the hike down may not have appeared all that entirely difficult, look up and remember YOU ARE HIKING out. At this point you will have descended about 1130 ft in elevation. There's no magical helicopters or mules coming to get you.
Section 2: Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse to Three-Mile Resthouse
If you decide to carry on to the next resthouse, you will begin to notice crowds dissipate a bit. Bright Angel Trail remains much the same, but you start to really get into the redwall limestone that the Canyon is famous for. As you approach the Three-Mile Resthouse, the switchbacks become a bit more steep but shorter until finally flattening out into nice run up to the shelter. The resthouse and restrooms are basically the same as before but usually a bit less crowded.
Again, take your time here, get some water and replenish your body's salt and electrolytes. It is here you should really contemplate turning around if you are feeling any sort of fatigue. You're now almost 2000 ft lower in elevation than when you started.
Section 3: Three-Mile Resthouse to Indian Garden Campground
Ok, you're feeling good and want to keep going. Good! Because if you do, you will , in my humble opinion, hike down into the best campground in Arizona.
After the Three-Mile Resthouse, Bright Angel Trail continues to flatten out more. This section of trail is again 1.5 miles to Indian Garden, although this is the one part of the trail that it doesn't SEEM like 1.5 miles.
As you enter into the campground, please stick to the day-use areas. The campsites are for overnight use only. In the day use areas you will find water, restrooms and shade in abundance. Here you will also find Garden Creek where you can splash some clean, refreshing water on your face, or maybe even soak your feet to cool down.
Once you've spent some time at Indian Garden and taken in the sights, it will be time to hike back out. If it is afternoon time, it is best to wait until the sun has dipped behind the canyon walls (somewhere between 3:30 & 5:00pm depending on the time of year). The trail will be mostly shaded at this point and it will make for a much more pleasant hike out. Again, take your time on the way out and rest when needed.
If you plan correctly and use caution, you will be rewarded with some of the most amazing views and one of the best hikes in the Grand Canyon.
Notes: Backcountry permits are needed for any overnight stay in Indian Garden Campground or Bright Angel Campground. Should you be on the trail when one of the famous Grand Canyon mule trains comes by, please move safely to the inside of the trail and follow any directions the mule team leaders might give to you. Salty snacks and electrolytes are vital, they will help you much more than plain water. WATCH YOUR PACK AROUND THE SQUIRRELS. They will chew through it to get to whatever food you have. Do not feed the squirrels. The entrance fee into the Grand Canyon is $30 U.S. per car. It is good for 7 days.
*Water: From late April or early May to early October, potable water is available at Indian Garden Campground, Three-Mile Resthouse, Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse and the South Rim. From mid-October to early May, water is only available at the South Rim and Indian Garden campground. Also, the pipeline in the Canyon is notoriously prone to breaks and water may not be available when it should be. Please check before you start down the trail.