Bright Angel Trail
Key information: Bright Angel Trail
- This outstanding hike drops deep into the world’s most famous canyon.
- Revel in huge views across the vast canyon; enjoy the changing colours and fantastic shapes of the cliffs, buttes and spires. Enter another world with wildly varying ecosystems as you plunge deeper into the gorge.
- A magnificent (if over-popular) shortish walk or long return day walk. (Don’t descend further than you can climb back!)
- Walkopedia rating93
- Natural interest18
- Human interest5
- Negative points3
- Total rating93
- Note: Negs: Crowding
- Length: Up to 16 miles
- Maximum Altitude: 2,510m
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, a World Heritage Site, and geological heaven. It is hard to overpraise the canyon’s raw, outlandish shapes and formations: they are justly famous. The sheer size of the Grand Canyon is astounding.
The Bright Angel Trail is one of two wide and well-constructed “corridor” trails (along with the South Kaibab Trail: both constructed as mule trails) down into the Canyon from the South Rim that are good options for novice walkers (some say the Bright Angel is the best) – but can be hugely crowded.
Revel in huge views across the vast canyon; enjoy the changing colours and fantastic shapes of the cliffs, buttes and spires. Enter another world with wildly varying ecosystems as you plunge deeper into the great void.
Beginning at the south rim trailhead right by Grand Canyon Village, the trail makes a quick descent, on endless beautifully constructed switchbacks inside the deep canyon-recess of the Garden Creek, from the cool(ish) forest of the rim, tumbling eight miles down to the Colorado, from the Kaibab limestone of the top, passing through nine mostly sandstone layers of the Canyon.
Pass various lookouts, which can make logical turn-rounds. The trail becomes less steep as it reaches the Garden Creek canyon floor. Indian Garden is a delightful canyon-bottom oasis, with green trees and running spring water. Most people stop at Indian Garden, but you can continue on to the Colorado, dropping steeply down the inner canyon, and a suspension bridge that allows access to the North Rim - only recommended for the super-fit and very experienced, unless you plan to stay down there.
If you think you have the legs, do make the level, 3 mile round trip from Indian Garden to Plateau Point, for dramatic and magnificent views of the Colorado river.
The return hike is a long slog, but much assisted by the brilliant construction of the trail.
How far down you walk is optional: there are various points along the way with great views, where you can enjoy the magnificence of the Canyon below the rim then get back up without excessive suffering. It is a magnificent (if over-popular) long return day walk to Indian Garden, if that is what you are seeking. This is a beautifully constructed and maintained trail and, in our experience, one of the least painful ways anywhere to gain/drop significant height. (We barely noticed our limbs after descending some 3,500ft in 2.5 hrs on the South Kaibab to the Ti-off, and climbed the Bright Angel from Indian Garden in 3hrs with tired legs. But we are experienced hikers.) That said, this is still tough walking if you go a significant way down: don’t underestimate it, limit how far down you go to the reality of your fitness. Remember that you have to get back to the rim: “Descending is optional; ascending is compulsory”, as the signs say, approximately. Dropping on to the Colorado river is not recommended as a day walk.
The South Kaibab and Bright Angel are the most famous of all trails and commensurately crowded, so, if you are an experienced walker and like (relative) solitude, you will want to consider other alternatives.
If you are a strong walker, consider the Grand Day Loop, in our view the best day walk in the Grand Canyon. 13-16km of visual rapture. Descend the South Kaibab Trail to the Tip-off. This is the better descent, as the trail follows a ridge most of the way down, so has superb and wide views. Traverse from the Tip-off to Indian Garden (on the Bright Angel Trail) on the brilliant Tonto Trail, which is beyond delightful; then it is the long ascent of the Bright Angel Trail back to the Canyon Village.
This is tough walking in hot, dry conditions. Come fully prepared, including carrying plenty of water.
The Cicerone guide has good information on this walks. Find this and other books on Amazon.
See our Grand Canyon page for much more on the canyon, and detailed practical information.
WILLIAM MACKESY'S ACCOUNT
of this walk
Here is our climb of the Bright Angel, as part of the Grand Day Loop:
Back at Indian Garden, some water and mental strength gathering, then it is the tough 4.5 mile (3,200 ft) slog back to the South Rim.
The first miles or so is actually pretty easy, a steady climb up the pretty, if mid-afternoon hot, Garden Creek Canyon. Dry grasses shine in the sun. Then the trail steepens and starts to climb above the canyon floor in wide loops rather than switchbacks.....READ MORE
Other accounts: share your experiences
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Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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