Grand Canyon Trails: Bright Angel

Ever since Ralph Cameron eyed an invisible path into the canyon and toward the Colorado River, the Bright Angle Trail has been the grand prize of a 60-year tug of war. Precisely because of the attention it fostered, it is perhaps the most well-maintained trail on the South Rim.

bright angel trail grand canyon

Bright Angel Hike Details

Location: South Rim, northeast of the Hermits Rest Transfer shuttle bus stop. Bright Angle trailhead begins west of Kolb Studio.

Distance: 18.8 miles out and back (9.5 miles to Bright Angel Campground, 9.9 miles to Phantom Ranch)

Difficulty: Strenuous (hiking from rim to rim in one day is not recommended)

Trail Condition: Excellently maintained with three rest houses, plenty of bathrooms and access to water.

Elevation: 6,820ft (2079m)

Low Point: 2,450ft (747m)

Turn-Around Points: Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse, Three-Mile Resthouse, River Resthouse, Bright Angel Campground, or Phantom Ranch.

Seasonal Info: Water is only available from May to September at Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse and Three-Mile Resthouse. Other water sites are open year-round.

A Brief History

Beaten down by animals and the hunters who followed them, Bright Angel Trail has always been a natural path into the canyon. The Havasupai indians, who used Garden Creek as an irrigation source, further developed the area between the South Rim and Indian Garden to ease interaction with other tribes. By the time Ralph Cameron came along with ambitions to get to mining sites within the Canyon, much of the trail was already traversable. However, Cameron’s profit-minded foresight eventually led to vast improvements to the trail and its extent toward the Colorado River. The trail we see today, including the rest-houses and modern bathrooms came after the National Park Service took over in 1928.

The Trail of Choice

Every year, thousands of hikers choose Bright Angel over any other trail on the Grand Canyon, and why not? Water and restroom access, plus well-kept routes leading to various campgrounds, the Colorado River, and Phantom Ranch make it the most practical trail to hike. Along the Bright Angel Trail, there are three water sites, including a rest house a mile and a half in (Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse), three miles in (Three-Mile Resthouse), and eight miles in (River Resthouse). The trail itself leads to Indian Gardens, a popular day hike destination (make sure you have a permit), the Colorado River, Phantom Ranch, and Bright Angel Campground.

A Scenic Challenge

A couple of canyon trails require a certain amount of hiking experience paired with an above-average fitness-level and finished off with a generous amount of luck. The great thing about about Bright Angel Trail is that it caters to every type of hiker- the seasoned adventure-seeker and the hesitant beginner. While the terrain is by no means easy, it is definitely doable and while it is doable, by no means is it a breeze.

Bright Angel Trail is kind of like a Grand Canyon taster set, allowing you to experience the scenic beauty and physical exertion of the whole with a tiny fraction. Tall earth columns, dizzying narrows, deep gorges, sharp chasms, warm woodlands, desertland quenched with impossible oases and rich red earth surround you at every turn, reminding you precisely of where you are and how fortunate you are to be there.