Grand Canyon Hiking: River Trail Loop

Both “The River Trail” and “Bridge Loop” are apt names for the 1.5 mi/ 2.4 km hike between the Grand Canyon’s only inner-canyon suspension bridges. High above the Colorado River and hugging the cliff’s side, this trail not only features amazing canyon views, it also provides access to the Black Bridge and the Silver Bridge. These are must-see (and must-cross) inner-recess attractions.

River Trail Loop

Traversable since 1928, the Black Bridge is the first one you’ll cross once you reach the river.This bridge receives traffic from both rims (the North and South Kaibab Trails) in the form of mules and hikers. Built in the 1060s, the Silver Bridge is located downstream from the Black Bridge and serves as a connection point between Bright Angel Trail and Phantom Ranch. Only hikers are allowed to cross the Silver Bridge.

While these bridges are a thrilling find for hikers (swaying along either one attacked by vicious wind gusts will certainly get the adrenaline pumping), their purpose is much more practical. Between the Black Bridge and the Silver Bridge, access to any point along the Colorado River corridor can be accessed for hundreds of miles in either direction. Not only are the bridges a source of transportation, but the Silver Bridge actually supports the transcanyon water pipeline- a resource that makes tourism to the Grand Canyon possible. Water access on the Grand Canyon is an elusive affair.

The park’s location and the nature of its geology mean that any water that manages to accumulate from precipitation is immediately absorbed and filtered down through the many porous surfaces of rock, leaving any notions of tourism quite dehydrated. However, the park has come a long way since its water-hauling days. In 1965, the National Park Service set its eye on Roaring Springs and began an ambitious hydraulic project that would ensure the park’s water access indefinitely.

Today, all the water at Grand Canyon Village has traversed more of the Grand Canyon than most tourists. Pumped from Roaring Springs, the transportation starts out 4000 ft (1200 m) below the North Rim. From here, it shoots through a high-pressure water line all the way down Bright Angel Canyon, into Indian Gardens, connecting with Cottonwood Campground and Phantom Ranch along the way. Finally, the pipeline crosses the Colorado River via the Silver Bridge and is pumped up the South Rim to fuel the South Rim’s tourist activities.

So next time you find yourself at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, River Trail Loop should be on your to-hike list. If not for the thrill of wobbling along a bridge suspended above the Colorado River, you should at least pay your respects for that cold glass of water you enjoyed at Phantom Ranch a few hours ago.