The Grand Canyon is easily one of the most mesmerising and exhilarating hiking destinations in the entire world. Most visitors to the Grand Canyon take in the sites from the rims, but for the truly adventurous, a hike on the Bright Angel Trail allows you to witness this natural wonder from a different vantage point and experience the Grand Canyon from within its depths.
The Bright Angel Trail is extremely challenging both from a physical and environmental standpoint and demands careful preparation and bringing the right gear. But the payoff is so worth it. After starting your hike down the Bright Angel Trail from the Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim, you will immediately be greeted with a rapid descent down the canyon wall. These switchbacks down the South Rim continue for several miles, providing stunning and unobstructed views over the canyon below. You will pass several Resthouses before the trail begins to level off just outside Havasupai Gardens Campground (formerly Indian Garden Campground).
Havasupai Gardens Campground is one of my favourite spots on the Bright Angel Trail. It is a surprisingly lush oasis in the heart of this desert canyon and a stark difference from the red rock canyon walls on the way down.
Need to Know
Length: 19 miles / 30 km
Time: 12-15 hrs
Park: Grand Canyon National Park
Car Access: Bright Angel Trail is accessible by car, and parking is available at the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in Grand Canyon Village.
Fees: Entry passes (valid for 7 days) for access to the South Rim are $35 per vehicle.
Map: Bright Angel Trail maps can be found on the National Park website.
There is a gentle creek and shade from clusters of tall, green trees here, and it is one of my favourite break stops on the entire 19 miles of the Bright Angel Trail.
After departing Indian Garden Campground, you will continue alongside the creek until you come to a spot where the trail switchbacks steeply down even further into the heart of the canyon.
The next major landmark is the big one, and one of the major rewards for completing this hike – the Colorado River. After crossing the Colorado River, you will officially have made it to Bright Angel Campground and the turnaround point of a Rim to River hike.
Bright Angel Campground is another canyon oasis, much like Havasupai Gardens Campground, making it a rewarding end to this section of the hike. Bright Angel Creek runs like a small lifeline through this campground, sustaining surprisingly verdant trees and canyon life. My favourite place to take a lunch break is at the shores of Bright Angel Creek, in the shade of the trees, listening to the soothing rush of the water. It is also a great place to take your shoes and socks off and soak your feet in the cold and gentle current before heading back the way you came, crossing back over the Colorado River, and proceeding with your long march back up to the top of the South Rim. Make sure you stay to the right of the split after the bridge over the Colorado River, as the left trail will take you up the South Kaibab Trail instead of Bright Angel.
You will have elevation gain and switchbacks to contend with as you make your way up to the next respite of Havasupai Gardens Campground again. Take things slow and carefully here, making sure to hydrate frequently and protect yourself from the elements.
Havasupai Gardens Campground will be a welcome sight and a perfect final rest stop before the real challenge – tackling most of the elevation gain on the last few miles of the Bright Angel Trail. Just as those first couple miles coming down were a steep and quick descent, coming back up them will be slow and gruelling. A Rim to River hike is unique because it saves the most challenging part of the hike for the very end, when your legs are feeling the burn.
Keep in mind that you will have two places to stop after Havasupai Gardens Campground as you ascend the imposing South Rim: 3 Mile Resthouse and 1.5 Mile Resthouse, both offering bathrooms and water refills. As you plug along, don’t forget to occasionally stop and take in those views and maybe even spot the now-distant patch of green below that is Havasupai Gardens Campground.
A final push past both Resthouses will have you emerging back at the Bright Angel Trailhead, having completed one of the toughest hikes in the country. If you’re craving even more challenge, maybe next you can take on the Grand Canyon’s Rim to Rim hike, an epic trek from North Rim to South Rim (which also utilises part of the Bright Angel Trail).
Need to Know (continued)
When to visit: Spring and Fall. It is not recommended to hike the entire Bright Angel Trail in the summer months due to the hazardous temperatures in the canyon. Winter can see snow and ice, making the steep trail dangerous.
Path Taken: Bright Angel Trail trailhead (short walk from Grand Canyon Village parking lots) – Mile-and-a-half Resthouse – Three Mile Resthouse – Havasupai Gardens Campground (Mile 4.5) – River Resthouse (Mile 7.7) – Colorado River suspension bridge (Mile 9) – Bright Angel Campground (Mile 9.5) – Havasupai Gardens Campground at (Mile 14.5) – Three Mile Resthouse (Mile 16) – Mile-and-a-half Resthouse (Mile 17.5) – trailhead / Grand Canyon South Rim (Mile 19).
Water: Potable water is available at Mile-and-a-half Resthouse, Three-Mile Resthouse, and Bright Angel Campground between the end of April / start of May and the beginning of October. However, from the middle of October until the start of May, only Bright Angel Campground has water available. River Resthouse does not supply water at any time. Owing to the remote nature of these locations, the availability of drinkable water is not guaranteed, so visitors should bring an alternate method for water treatment.
Restrooms: Visitors will find toilets at Mile-and-a-half Resthouse, Three-Mile Resthouse, and River Resthouse.
Have you visited Grand Canyon National Park? Got the Bright Angel Trail on your bucket list? If you have any stories, updates or corrections, please let us know by commenting below.