The Bright Angel Trail Guide for Hiking and Camping
It’s one of the most famous trails at one of America’s most famous National Parks. Bright Angel Trail is a favorite hike for visitors to the Grand Canyon. But don’t be fooled.
Despite the easy access and beautiful views, this trail can be very challenging. And, it’s also one of the most rewarding ways to experience the Grand Canyon in a way few others do.
Join us as we head down the trail and talk about this amazing hike. Let’s explore!
Bright Angel Trail
Bright Angel Trail is considered one of the top trails at Grand Canyon National Park, and indeed in the entire National Park System. It winds its way down from the soaring South Rim to the rushing Colorado River and across to Bright Angel Campground. It’s a journey nearly ten miles long that drops more than 3,700 feet in altitude.
Miners working claims in the Canyon initially established the route that became the Bright Angel Trail in 1891. However, paths in the area had been used by Native Americans for thousands of years. After realizing the Grand Canyon’s tourism potential, legal battles over the trail swirled for decades. Finally, the National Park Service formally took it over in 1928.
It quickly became a park favorite due to its easy access, just steps from the Bright Angel Lodge.
The trail offers very demanding hiking, primarily due to the steep descent and ascent into and out of the Canyon. The National Park Service provides water, toilet services, and emergency phones at several stops along the way.
How Long is Bright Angel Trail?
Bright Angel Trail is 9.5 miles long from the South Rim trailhead to Bright Angel Campground, just across the Colorado River.
From Rim to the River Resthouse, on the near side of the Colorado River, is eight miles one-way. There are several common turnaround points earlier on the trail that provide for hikes between a third of a mile and nine miles round trip.
Can You Hike Bright Angel Trail in One Day?
People do hike the trail one-way in a single day. However, the National Park Service strongly discourages hikers from attempting the strenuous round-trip in one day.
In addition to the overall distance, Grand Canyon National Park can experience extreme temperatures during parts of the year, and water is not always available.
Most importantly, the return trip can be significantly more difficult than the trip down to the river, and many hikers don’t anticipate this.
Bright Angel Trail Rest Houses
You’ll definitely want to take some breaks if you’re tackling the Bright Angel Trail, and the National Park Service has you covered.
There are several rest houses along the trail that provide shade, limited services, and water at some times of the year. They also function as common turnaround points for those not looking to hike the entire trail.
The first Bright Angel resthouse is located a mile and a half down the trail, allowing hikers to turn around here for a 3-mile round trip.
You’ll descend about a thousand feet into the Canyon, giving you a much different perspective than from the South Rim. This resthouse has toilets, an emergency phone, and water (seasonally.)
The National Park Service calls this a good turnaround spot for first-time canyon hikers, casual hikers, and late starters.
Further down the trail, you’ll find the 3 Mile Resthouse. You’ve now descended two thousand feet from the South Rim for a 6-mile round trip hike.
This resthouse includes an emergency phone and water at certain times of year but no toilets.
This resthouse is located 4.5 miles from the trailhead, allowing a challenging nine-mile round trip that drops and rises 3,000 feet from start to finish. Indian Garden has year-round water, toilets, and an emergency phone, as well as picnic tables.
The National Park Service warns that you must be in good physical condition and get an early start to reach this point and that you should not go beyond here as a summer day hike.
For experienced hikers looking to go further into the Canyon, Plateau Point is located 6 miles down the Bright Angel Trail. You’ll be able to take in some once-in-a-lifetime views of the Colorado River. But be warned.
There’s no shade here, and water is only available seasonally. The National Park Service calls this 12-mile round trip hike “extremely strenuous.”
Bright Angel Trail Campsites
If you’re looking to camp along Bright Angel Trail, you have two options. You’ll need a backcountry permit to camp at either.
These cost $10 per permit, plus an additional $8 per person per night. You’re limited to two nights per trip for most of the year, but that increases to four nights during the winter.
Indian Garden Campground
The Indian Garden Campground, located at the trail’s 4.5-mile mark, is a small, wooded area with a ranger station, emergency phone, year-round potable water, and toilets.
Campsites also have covered picnic tables. If you’re lucky, you may even meet one of the Grand Canyon’s most well-known residents – the mule! Mule trains stop here to rest on their treks in and out of the Canyon.
Bright Angel Campground
Just under 10 miles from the South Rim trailhead, you’ll find Bright Angel Campground. The campground is located in the area where Bright Angel Creek meets the Colorado River.
You’ll have access to a ranger station, emergency phone, year-round potable water, and toilets. These shady, idyllic sites along the creek also include picnic tables. Plenty of wildlife call the area home, and you’re even allowed to fish and wade in the water.
Pro Tip: Make sure to avoid this huge camping mistake at the Grand Canyon National Park.
Tips For Hiking the Bright Angel Trail
Hiking the Bright Angel Trail can be tough, even for experienced hikers and campers. Here are some tips to make your hike go a little more smoothly.
Make Sure You’re Adequately Prepared
If you plan on hiking any significant portion of the trail, it’s essential to keep in mind the hike’s difficulty and changing conditions. Know your fitness and experience level, and plan where you’ll turn around in advance.
Figure out how long you expect your hike to take, and keep this in mind when leaving. Parts of this trail are entirely unshaded and brutally hot during summer middays, while others can be icy and slick for large portions of the day during the winter. Plus, you don’t want to be stuck hiking back in the dark!
Don’t Try This Hike in the Summer
Even for experienced hikers, the Bright Angel Trail may not be a good choice if you’re visiting the Grand Canyon during the summer months.
With soaring temperatures in the Canyon often exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the National Park Service warns hikers not to try the trail between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. from May to September. Remember, as hot as you are at the rim, it’s several degrees warmer in the Canyon and gets even hotter the further you descend.
Wear Appropriate Clothing and Footwear
Temperatures can be extreme at the Grand Canyon, both hot and cold, and vary significantly from Rim to River. Dress in layers for flexibility.
Hiking boots are necessary for any significant hike on this trail. You should also consider crampons for your boots if hiking during the winter, as the path can be icy.
Balance Water and Salty Snacks
Water is sometimes available to various resthouses, but you shouldn’t rely on it. You’ll need up to a gallon per person per day during the warmer months of the year.
The canyon’s dry and hot conditions can make it more difficult to perceive how much water you’re perspiring, so it’s crucial to hydrate during your hike consistently. Salty snacks like trail mix are also necessary to keep your electrolytes at proper levels and provide an easy-to-eat energy boost.
You’ll be expending a tremendous amount of calories (especially while going uphill), so be prepared to replace them.
Go Slowly and Rest Often
Take your time on this trail. Due to the difficult conditions, you may need to rest more often than you’re used to. Don’t push yourself too hard in these circumstances. After all, you’re in the Grand Canyon! Take some time to soak in the breathtaking views from a perspective few visitors ever see.
Pro Tip: Hiking into the Grand Canyon on any trail is a challenge. It’s a good idea to review the “Hike Smart” articles, videos, and podcasts on the National Park Service’s site.
Are You Ready for the Bright Angel Challenge?
The Bright Angel Trail is truly one of Grand Canyon National Park’s highlights and earns its spot as one of the most famous trails in the National Park System.
But it isn’t for everyone, and all hikers attempting to conquer it need to be aware of and prepared for the challenging conditions. For those who can do it, you’ll be rewarded with the hike of a lifetime and views and memories you’ll never forget.
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