Bright Angel Trail
The Bright Angel Trail is the most popular trail in the canyon, with hundreds of hikers and mule trains trekking along its length daily. It is wide, relatively smooth, well-maintained, and offers sweeping vistas through the heart of the Grand Canyon. Following a a fault-controlled break in the cliffs, the Bright Angel Trail has been in use since the Havasupai Indian Tribe first built the trail to collect water from the Colorado River below. Bright Angel is an excellent hiking trail for newcomers to the Grand Canyon.
- LENGTH: 8.0 miles (one way to Colorado River)
- ELEVATION CHANGE: 4,380 feet (one way to Colorado River)
- WATER: 1.5 Mile Rest House (seasonal), 3 Mile Rest House (seasonal), Indian Gardens (year-round), Colorado River (year-round)
- CAMPING: Indian Gardens (CIG), Bright Angel Campground (CBG) (permit required)
- TRAIL ACCESS: Parking permitted at lot near Kolb Studio
- DIFFICULTY: 4/5
- VIEWS: 3/5
- SECLUSION: 3/5
The trail starts near the Bright Angel Lodge on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim and reaches the Colorado River 8 miles below, eventually linking up with the North Kaibab Trail, which accesses Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch on the north side of the River. There are numerous water sources and rest houses along Bright Angel, though water is only seasonally available at 1.5 Mile and 3 Mile Resthouse. The trail is well-maintained but very steep at times. Bright Angel Trail is recommended for beginner to experienced hikers.
Hiking the Bright Angel Trail
Hiking into the Grand Canyon can be difficult – the steep walls of the Canyon present an insurmountable obstacle for much of the Canyons length. The Bright Angel Trail follows the massive Bright Angel Fault, which slices through the walls of the Canyon and creates a natural route to the Colorado River. The Bright Angel Fault can be easily picked out by looking at Bright Angel Canyon- a large side Canyon formed as a result of the faulting. Our Grand Canyon hiking guides love to point out this feature as they lead visitors down a trail that has been in use for thousands of years. Some of our favorite locations on this hike are the stone tunnels and petroglyphs present along the trail.
Several landmarks along the Bright Angel Trail are useful to hikers looking to rest or gauge how far along they are. Within the first three miles are two rest houses- 1.5 Mile Rest House and 3 Mile Rest House, where hikers can use a composting toilet, or fill up on water in the summer months (be sure to check with park rangers as to the availability of water). These landmarks are good places to turn around for new hikers. The hike from the Bright Angel trail head to 3 Mile Rest House involves a total descent of approximately 2,100 feet, making the hike to 3 Mile Rest House a challenge. For the average person looking for a relaxing Grand Canyon hiking tour, hiking to 1.5 Mile Rest House is a good option. Our Grand Canyon hiking guides will help you decide which landmark is right for your hike.
Approximately 1.7 miles beyond 3 Mile Rest House down an exposed portion of the Bright Angel Trail lies Indian Garden, where you can find the remnants of several ancient structures built by ancient the Puebloan and Cohoninas. Hikers can find year-round water, restrooms, campgrounds, and a ranger station. To camp at Indian Garden, permits must be obtained from the Grand Canyon National Park Backcountry Information Center, and are available on a first-come, first served basis. The park service recommends hikers not venture beyond Indian Gardens in the heat of summer, and we tend to agree; the Bright Angel trail offers very little shade beyond this point and the hike back up to the rim is very strenuous.
Beyond Indian Garden, a 3 mile (round-trip) detour on the Plateau Point Trail Trail takes you to Plateau Point. Here, hikers can peer into Granite Gorge, a section of the Canyon where the Colorado River is flanked on either side by the oldest rocks in the Grand Canyon- the 1.8 billion year old Vishnu Basement Rocks. The Colorado River constricts in the Gorge, increasing the River’s velocity. Though the spectacular view from here is enticing, attempting to reach Plateau Point and return to the Bright Angel Trailhead in one day is for experienced and acclimated hikers only. Lack of water, heat, sun exposure, and the 6 mile hike (with a 3,120 foot elevation gain) back to the trailhead can be an extremely strenuous trek, even to the most athletic hikers or runners. It should be noted that the relatively high elevation of the Grand Canyon can pose a serious challenge to those who are not acclimated to higher elevations.
Approximately 3 miles past Indian Garden the trail reaches the Colorado River. At this point, the River Rest House provides toilets but no potable water. Those hiking to the Colorado River should carry a means to purify water, as Colorado River water cannot be safely consumed without treatment. From here, the Bright Angel Trail links up with the River Trail, which heads east to the North Kaibab Trail, where backpackers can use Silver Bridge to cross the Colorado River. On the north side of the River lies Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch.
Hiking to the Colorado River in one day is NOT RECOMMENDED! As with any hike in the Grand Canyon, be sure to carry plenty of water, know your abilities, and never underestimate the difficulty of hiking in a high-altitude desert climate. For the average person looking to enjoy a Grand Canyon hiking tour, the hike to 1.5 Mile Rest House is our recommended turn-around point. This hike offers an opportunity to get inside the Grand Canyon without over-exertion. For the more experienced hikers, we recommend turning around at 3 Mile Rest House.
History of the Bright Angel Trail
Due to the ease of access to the Colorado River, the Bright Angel Trail has been in use for thousands of years. The first recorded users of the trail were the Havasupai Tribe, who used the path to access their farms on the Tonto Flats below. The trail was given its name by Ralph Henry Cameron in 1901. Cameron, who would eventually become Arizona’s first Republican Senator, built a hotel at the trail head, extended the trail to the Colorado River, and began charging a $1 fee ($26 in modern value) to use his newly named trail. Cameron also charged visitors exorbitant fees for water and use of outhouses along the trail.
While European settlers sought to extract mineral ores from the Grand Canyon, it became clear early on that tourism in the Grand Canyon could be a much more profitable enterprise. Cameron capitalized on this by filing hundreds of bogus mining claims to ensure he retained access to the trail head (and its entrance fees). Cameron faced much backlash for charging to access the Bright Angel trail, and fought several legal battles to keep his rights to the lucrative route.
In 1919 The Grand Canyon National Park was officially created, but it was not until 1928 that control of the Bright Angel Trail legally belonged to the National Park Service. Today, the Grand Canyon National Park is well established, and the well-maintained Bright Angel Trail is the most popular trail in the Park.