Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon

Distance: 9.5 miles one way to/from Bright Angel Campground
Elevation gain: 4380 feet
Location: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Date: December 10, 2013

View from the upper part of the Bright Angel Trail across the Grand Canyon

On the final day of my three day backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon, I hiked from the Bright Angel Campground near Phantom Ranch to the South Rim via the River and Bright Angel trails. I began my hike at 7:30 after having the 7:00 breakfast at Phantom Ranch. The weather was clear but the temperatures were in the 20s. Being early morning, there wasn't yet sun in the canyon; in fact I didn't see the sun until the last switchback just before the uppermost tunnel on the Bright Angel Trail just below the rim.

I crossed the Silver Bridge and turned to follow the River Trail for 1.3 miles as it goes up and down along the Colorado River before I reached its terminus with the end of the Bright Angel Trail at the River Resthouse where water is available. This section of the trail has good views of the canyon, but doesn't climb as far up the cliffs as does the section of the trail between the two bridges. Once you turn into the side canyon to follow the Bright Angel Trail, you lose sight of the river and eventually much of the inner gorge.

View downstream along the Colorado River from the River Trail

The Bright Angel Trail as it ascends out of the inner gorge

From the River Resthouse it is 3.1 miles and 1320 feet of elevation gain to Indian Garden, which is the next source of water along the trail. In this stretch, the trail begins by following the canyon bottom before turning and switchbacking up its side and then turning into the shallower upper part of the canyon. It continues to follow the canyon bottom as it emerges on the Tonto Platform and arrives at Indian Garden. Cottonwood trees provide shade at Indian Garden during the warmer months, but during the short time I stopped to refill my water it felt quite cold.

Looking down into the inner gorge along the lower part of the Bright Angel Trail

The Bright Angel Trail as it approaches Indian Garden. The Bright Angel Trailhead is right of center along the rim

It is 4.1 miles and 3060 feet of elevation gain to the South Rim, but during the warmer months there is water available at the mile and a half resthouse and three mile resthouse. Shortly above Indian Garden the trail became covered in snow, but like the South Kaibab Trail two days earlier, this snow wasn't very compacted, so crampons weren't very useful. Shortly after I reached the snow, the trail began its never-ending switchbacking up the side of the canyon. The views were largely similar throughout much of this ascent, but as I climbed higher I was able to see further back into the canyon along the route I took up from Phantom Ranch.

Along the trail above Indian Garden. The trail switchbacks up the canyon right of center

Looking down towards Indian Garden from near the three mile resthouse

I reached the trailhead around 12:30 pm, and at the trailhead I immediately got on a shuttle bus that took me the remaining distance back to the Backcountry Information Center where I had parked my car. For more info about this trip to the Grand Canyon see my posts on the South Kaibab Trail, River Trail, North Kaibab Trail to Ribbon Falls, and various stops along the South Rim.

View from close to the top of the trail

The uppermost tunnel just below the trailhead

Sun along the top of the trail

© Copyright 2017 Matthew Pintar. All rights reserved.


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