Bright Angel hiking trail in the Grand Canyon: the complete guide
Bright Angel Trail is the most popular hiking trail on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
At 19.6 km long and with 940 m of elevation change, this is not an easy hike and requires a certain level of fitness.
To help you prepare for this great adventure, here is our practical guide to Bright Angel Trail.
What is Bright Angel Trail?
Bright Angel Trail is the most used hiking trail in the Grand Canyon.
It leads hikers down into the depths of the canyon, following in the footsteps of the local Indigenous people (Havasupai), miners and pioneers.
In addition to postcard-worthy scenery, the trail offers a number of amenities such as vault toilets, resthouses, and drinking water during the summer.
The Bright Angel hike is therefore an excellent choice when you visit the canyon as part of your Western USA tour.
- Starting point: Bright Angel trailhead on the South Rim
- Distance: 19.6 km round-trip
- Elevation change: 940 m
- Time: 9 to 12 hours
- Level: difficult
Description of the trail
1.5 Mile Resthouse (2.4 km / 1 to 2 hours)
Here you are at the start of your adventure. Near the start of the trail, you'll see a building right on the rim of the canyon. This building contains a small museum, a gift shop and a bookstore. If you'd like to learn about the history of the trail, be sure to pay it a visit!
The pavement quickly ends as you begin the descent into Bright Angel Fault. This section can be windy and is quite steep.
You'll notice many holes in the rock walls as you go down. These were used for blasting out the trail along the cliffside.
A short way into the hike, you'll pass through the first tunnel, dug in 1930. You can see the trail stretching out below you like a ribbon.
This is when the switchbacks begin. You'll encounter close to one hundred of these along the trail! After 1.2 km, you'll pass through the second tunnel. There are nice views of the different layers of rock that make up the Grand Canyon in this section.
After 2.4 km (or 1.5 miles), you'll reach the first resthouse, 1.5 Mile Resthouse. It's a small stone shelter on the right, reached by a set of steps.
Just after the resthouse is the first water refilling station.
3 Mile Resthouse (4.8 km / 2 to 3 hours)
Once you're ready to go on, continue along Bright Angel Trail.
Stay to the left, avoiding the small side trails along this section.
As you make your way down the canyon wall, the trail is 1.20 m wide and there's no steep drop, so you won't be walking right along the cliff edge. However, it's important to remain alert.
About 5 km from the start, you'll reach the second resthouse, 3 Mile Resthouse.
Like the first one, it's on the right and offers toilets and a water filling station in summer.
Indian Garden (7.2 km / 3 to 4.5 hours)
The next section is more demanding as this is where most of the switchbacks can be found. It is known as Jacob’s Ladder.
After this series of switchbacks, the trail levels out as it approaches Indian Garden. Soon you'll see fragile vegetation areas. These are fenced off and it's important to respect the signs and stay on the trail.
Keep going along the trail until you reach a junction where you'll have two options: continue straight towards Plateau Point, or explore Indian Garden.
Go left to explore Indian Garden. The fertile land around Garden Creek has been cultivated since 300 AD.
Western tourists began visiting the area in 1890. The last native Havasupai inhabitants were forced to move in 1928.
Today, Indian Garden features a ranger station, toilets, picnic areas, a campground and a water refilling station (available year-round).
Plateau Point (9.8 km / 4.5 to 6 hours)
Return to Bright Angel Trail towards Plateau Point, as mentioned above. The trail starts to wind down towards the Tonto Platform, the plateau that separates the inner gorge and river from the upper canyon.
Depending on the time of year, Garden Creek might be flowing next to the trail.
After leaving Indian Garden and crossing the creek, Bright Angel Trail continues towards Phantom Ranch and the Colorado River.
The trail quickly turns to desert again as it moves away from the creek.
Keep right at the junction with the Tonto Trail. Soon you'll come to a water tank.
You're nearly there! It's just a few more minutes to the viewing platform.
You'll recognize it by its metal fence. You have reached Plateau Point! Get out your camera to capture the fascinating scenery and the view of the Colorado River, 1,300 feet below!
The return trip involves hiking back out the way you came in. Be prepared for a far more demanding hike, as it is uphill all the way.
WATCH OUT FOR mules!
For more than a century, mules have been transporting gear, supplies and people in and out of the Grand Canyon. There are many of them on the trail and it is quite possible that you will encounter some during your hike. Several recent accidents have resulted in injuries to hikers and the death of some mules.
To ensure safety for yourself and the animals, please respect the following rules when encountering mules on the trail:
- Step off the trail on the uphill side away from the edge.
- Follow the directions of the mule handler. Remain completely quiet and stand perfectly still as they pass.
- Do not return to the trail until the last mule is at least 15 meters past your position.
Bright Angel Trail map
Camping on Bright Angel Trail
Have you always dreamed of sleeping in the Grand Canyon?
As mentioned above, if you want to go to Plateau Point, it is strongly recommended that you spend the night there so as not to wear yourself out.
It's possible to pitch your tent at Indian Garden. This campground is considered backcountry camping. You will therefore need a backcountry permit.
A basic permit is $10 US plus $8 US per person.
To obtain your permit, you must go to the Backcountry Information Center at 1 Backcountry Rd, Grand Canyon Village.
For more information abut backcountry permits, click here.
What to bring
This hike is challenging. You'll need to be in good shape if you want to do the full hike.
The trail is not recommended for young children. If you're taking a family trip to the American West, it's best to turn around after the second tunnel.
Here's what you'll need to hike the Bright Angel Trail:
- Hiking shoes or boots with good ankle support.
- A hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
- Crampons and trekking poles if you plan to do the hike in winter, so you don't slip on the way down.
- Sufficient water. Although there are water filling stations in summer, it's best to bring extra water as there may be water station closures. Be sure to check the alerts page before you go.
- High-calorie, salty snacks to keep your energy up.
- Your camping gear if you're camping at Indian Garden.
When to go
Bright Angel Trail is accessible year-round. However, you must be adequately prepared for the weather. A good way to do this is to pay attention to the weather for Grand Canyon Village.
In the winter, bitter cold, ice, and snow is not uncommon. If there is snow in the village, the trail may be covered. There may also be ice, especially on the upper part of the trail. Crampons and trekking poles are a must.
In the summer, it gets hot. While the canyon walls offer some shade at the beginning of the trail, the section from Indian Garden to Plateau Point is exposed, so protect yourself from the sun. The temperature rises about 1 degree Celsius for every 100 metres that you descend, so you can expect to gain about 12 degrees Celsius on the way to Plateau Point.
So if the temperature is uncomfortably high at the trailhead, it is best not to attempt to reach the Colorado River.
Getting to the trail
To get to the trail by shuttle, go to the Visitor Center and take the blue shuttle bus (Village Route) westbound. Get off at the last stop (Hermits Road) to reach the trailhead. It takes about twenty minutes.
The shuttle bus operates year-round from 5 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. It runs every 30 minutes, except early in the morning (between 6:30 and 7:30), when it runs every 15 minutes to accommodate hikers who want to make the most of the cooler early morning temperatures.
If you're driving, the Bright Angel Lodge parking lot is about 5 minutes from the trailhead. In high season, arrive early or you could spend a lot of time looking for a spot.
Park entrance fee
To do this hike, you will need to pay the Grand Canyon National Park entrance fee.
This is $35 US per vehicle, including all passengers. Park admission is valid for 7 days.
If you intend to visit 3 or more national parks during your trip, I strongly advise you to purchase an “America the Beautiful Pass”, which provides admission to all American national parks. It is valid for 1 year and costs $80 US.
You're now ready for your Grand Canyon adventure!
If you have any question or suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments section below.