Hike to the Bottom - Grand Canyon's Bright Angel Trail

The Grand Canyon is the largest canyon in the world at over 277 miles long. At its widest point the canyon is 18 miles across, as well as being more than a mile deep. Even with so much to see, the majority of tourists stay on the south rim and gaze at the natural wonder of the place. Few venture into the canyon, even though there are several good trails nearby.

The Bright Angel Trail, located near the south rim park headquarters, starts at 7,000 feet above sea level and goes down from there. The trail distance is nine miles horizontal and one mile vertical. To hike from the south rim to the Colorado River at the bottom takes all day. Although some extreme athletes have been known to run rim to rim, the average hiker would do well to heed the park service’s advice; spend one day hiking to the river, stay at the Phantom Ranch lodge or campground, and then hike out the next day.

On your way down from the south rim you’ll find rest stops with bathrooms and water at 1.5 miles, 3 miles, and 4.5 miles (also known as Indian Garden). This is the steepest section, although the whole route is better suited to mountain goats than humans. After Indian Gardens the trail is less steep and also less traveled. However there is no place to refill your water bottles until you get to the bottom and Phantom Ranch.

The views on the way down are spectacular. At one point you may look up at the rim, a thousand feet above you, and wonder how you got down from there, and how you’re going to get back out again. The hiker won’t be able to see the Colorado River until passing Indian Garden. In fact, hiking to Indian Garden and back makes for a good day hike. It’s a nine mile round trip so start early. As you descend the temperature will rise. It is common for the temperature to be 20 to 30 degrees warmer at the bottom than on the rim. This is true for all seasons.

The park service cautions that it will take twice as long to hike out as it did to hike in. Although a hiker in good shape can do it in less time, it’s still a good rule of thumb to follow. You don’t want to get caught below the rim trying to hike out after sunset.

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