Trail Guide: Hiking the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon

Learn everything you need to know about hiking Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden and get some of the best views in the Grand Canyon.
Hiker looking out over Grand Canyon views on the Bright Angel Trail

The Grand Canyon is one of the most-visited National Parks in the United States, but only about 1% of visitors actually go below the rim. If you want to experience the Grand Canyon from below, the Bright Angel Trail is one of the best – and most popular – day hikes and a good entry point for first-time visitors to this amazing National Park.

In this post, we share everything you need to know about doing a day hike on the Bright Angel Trail so you know how to prepare and what to expect.


Bright Angel Trail Basics

These stats are for the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden. The trail does continue on past Indian Garden all the way down to the Colorado River, but you need to be prepared with lots of water, sun protection, and food. Do not hike past Indian Garden in the summer when temps are typically 100F+.

  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Trail Type: Out-and-back
  • Length: 8.9 miles
  • Starting Elevation: 6,860 feet.
  • Minimum Elevation: 3,800 feet
  • Total elevation gain: 3,034 ft
  • Dogs allowed: No
  • Time: 5-6 hours, when taking ample breaks
  • Permit required: No
Bright Angel Trail Map
Source: Grand Canyon Conservancy

Best Time of Year to Hike the Bright Angel Trail

Fall and spring are the best times of year to visit the Grand Canyon and hike the Bright Angel Trail. Temperatures are cooler and crowds tend to be smaller (although the Grand Canyon is never quiet).

I do not recommend hiking the Bright Angel Trail in the summer as temperatures can easily top 100 degrees and hiking in these conditions can be dangerous. The trail has very little shade and hiking in the summer can lead to heat exhaustion.

Winter can also be a good time to visit if you’re dressed for chilly weather and check the forecast for snow and rain.

Views out over the Grand Canyon National Park with a dusting of snow
The Grand Canyon is beautiful with a dusting of snow

Getting to the Trailhead

The Bright Angel Trailhead is located on the South Rim just west of the Bright Angel Lodge in the Grand Canyon Village.

If you’re staying in the park, the free blue-line park shuttle stops directly at the trailhead.

For those visiting for the day or who prefer driving themselves, hikers can park at the Backcountry Information Center (parking lot D), a short walk from the Bright Angel Trailhead.


A Brief History

The Bright Angel Trail has been used for hundreds of years as a way to access water at Indian Gardens. It’s named for the Bright Angel Fault, which provides a jagged break in the shear cliff walls that otherwise prevent access down to the canyon floor.

In the 1800s, gold prospectors arrived in the area and found the native Havasupai already using the route from the rim to the canyon floor where they planted crops near Indian Creek.

View of Bright Angel Trail from above with Grand Canyon landscape in background
The view of the Bright Angel Trail from above

In the 1890s, miner and entrepreneur Ralph Cameron realized that with the arrival of the railroad to the Grand Canyon, tourism was going to be a bigger business than mining. He ‘registered’ the Bright Angel Trail and made improvements to the route. He also set up a campground at Indian Garden and charged visitors $1 to use the trail.

Cameron fought to keep his claim on this area even after the Grand Canyon was designated a National Park in 1919. He lost the battle in 1928 and was forced to hand over the trail and campground to the Parks Service.

The native Havasupai were the ones who lost the most, though. They were ordered to leave by Theodore Roosevelt in 1901. Those who stayed were eventually driven out in 1928 and forced onto a reservation in Havasu Canyon.

In 1975, after many negotiations, the government created the Havasupai Indian Reservation, which is considered the most remote community in the lower 48 States. It’s also where visitors can experience the incredible Havasu Falls.


Trail Milestones

The Bright Angel Trail can easily be broken down into smaller chunks or milestones. If you plan on hiking all the way to Indian Garden, these milestones can help you gauge distance as well as help you keep tabs on how you’re doing with water.

1st Switchback – Mile 0.5

The first switchback is the start of a series of switchbacks that descend down the canyon walls of Grand Canyon National Park. From here, the trail loses quite a bit of elevation very quickly. There are also steep drop-offs on the side of the trail, so people who don’t like exposure may want to stop here.

View of Grand Canyon from Bright Angel Trail
There is major exposure on some sections of the Bright Angel Trail

1.5 Mile Resthouse – Mile 1.5

The 1.5 Mile Resthouse is a basic stone structure with no amenities (seasonal water may be available). It offers great views out over the Canyon and is a great turn-around spot if you want a shorter hike.

3 Mile Resthouse – Mile 3

A second resthouse is located at mile three. Again, there are no amenities aside from seasonal water at the three-mile resthouse. The trail gets even steeper from here, so this is a good place to turn around if you’re worried about the hike back up.

Indian Garden

Indian Garden is a little oasis in the Grand Canyon desert landscape. A perennial creek runs through this area, which provided water for Native Americans who lived in the canyon for thousands of years. Today, Indian Gardens is home to a ranger station, a small visitors center, and the Indian Garden Campground (also known as the Havasupai Garden Campground).

If you want to spend the night, you’ll need to secure a hard-to-get overnight camping permit before your hike.

Plateau Point

About a mile and a half past Indian Gardens via Plateau Point trail is Plateau Point, an impressive overlook down onto the Colorado River. If you do this as a day hike, Plateau Point is 12 miles round trip with 3,740 ft of elevation gain. It’s recommended to only do this hike during the cooler spring, fall, and winter months.

The Bright Angel Trail continues on past Indian Gardens down to the Colorado River where hikers can cross the river over the Bright Angel Suspension Bridge. Across the river, the trail turns into the North Kaibob Trail, which continues on to Bright Angel Campground, Phantom Ranch (a rustic lodge), and eventually the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.


Tips For Hiking the Bright Angel Trail

Be prepared

For anyone considering hiking the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden, you must, must, MUST bring water and enough food to supply you for the 9-mile round-trip hike. The trail is exposed so also be prepared with adequate sun protection.

The danger of this trail lies in its easygoing start. Unlike ascending a mountain where the difficulty is immediately apparent, this hike descends down into a canyon. That means the easy part comes first, fooling hikers into believing they can go farther and longer than they can actually manage in a day.

Arrive at the trailhead before 8am with a hydration day pack full of water and plenty of salty snacks.

Hiker on Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park

Know your water sources

There is always water available at the Bright Angel trailhead. There may be along the trail seasonally from May-September, but water is not always guaranteed. It’s better to come fully prepared with at least 3 liters of water per person. There is a river that runs through Indian Gardens so we also recommend packing a lightweight water filter just in case.

The chart below shows where water may be available seasonally:

Chart showing mileage, elevation stats, and water availability on the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon
Source: National Park Service

Practice good trail etiquette

Please remember that uphill hikers have the right of way.

You also may see mule traffic. If a group of mules is closing in on you, the park service advises you to step off the trail on the uphill side away from the edge, follow the direction of the wrangler, remain quiet and still, and do not return to the trail until the last mule is 50 feet (15 meters) past your position. Essentially, give the mules space, and everyone will be safe and happy.

>> Read next: Trail Etiquette 101

Train of mules descending steep trail in Grand Canyon National Park with steep cliff walls on left side
Give mules and their handlers plenty of space to pass

Bright Angel Trail Packing List

For a full list of what to pack, check out our post on Day Hiking Essentials.

The main pieces of gear you’ll want for hiking the Bright Angel Trail include:

  • A daypack with a 3L hydration reservoir. If you come off-season, you might consider bringing a water filter just in case potable water isn’t available.
  • A sun hat – I always wear the Wallaroo Sedona Hat (BFT readers get 20% off with the code “BEARFOOT20”)
  • Plenty of sunscreen
  • A buff – soak it in the creek at Indian Garden before hiking back up the trail. It will keep you cool and shield your neck from the sun.
  • Lots of snacks – for ideas, check out our post on the best hiking snacks.
  • Collapsible trekking poles – these help relieve strain on your knees while you are descending and help distribute the work and your weight on the uphill.
  • Solid hiking shoes – I recommend hiking boots with ankle support and a grippy sole to provide additional stability on the steep sections.

Related posts:

Have you hiked the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon? What was your experience like? What tips would you add? Leave a comment below!

Written by Kristen Bor

Hey there! My name is Kristen, and this is my outdoor blog. I discovered the power of the outdoors in my 20s, at the time I needed it most. Now 15 years later, prioritizing that critical connection with nature continues to improve my life. My goal at Bearfoot Theory is to empower you with the tools and advice you need to responsibly get outside.

4 comments on “Trail Guide: Hiking the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon

  1. Great guide. I backpacked the Grand Canyon as my first-ever backpack years ago. It was so much fun. I agree it’s best to be prepared. We saw people on sections of this trail that were unprepared. They were wearing leather loafer on an icy trail (it was April). Kristen, I hope you get there 🙂

  2. Great guide Krysti! Lots of useful info here. Did you manage to make it back there yet Kristen? We managed a few days there recently, mainly to try and hike down to the bottom and back up again as a day hike. I wrote a post about it if anyone is keen to try it out http://www.matt-burns.com/destinations/usa/hiking-grand-canyon-rim-river-rim-one-day/ It was a looong day, but totally worth the effort and all the planning that went into it. We took the Bright Angel trail back up, coming past Indian Garden just as Krysti talks about in this post and it was great. Tough going in parts, but a completely stunning hike!

  3. Hiked Grand Canyon

    Last week we hiked down Grand Canyon from the south rim all the way down to the Colorado river and then climbed back up. The first look of the huge cliffs aside narrow walk way reminded me of mortality – how close to death I was. One slip and game over. A strange fear kicked in.

    Took the South Kaibab trail for about 5 hours to reach the bottom after a 7.5mile hike. Took a nice walk across the Colorado river on a suspension bridge and reached a place called Phantom Ranch. After a lemonade break, took the tough Bright Angel trail for a 10-mile climb back to the rim. Was lucky to camp at Indian Garden Campground on a full moon night. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO HIKE DOWN AND UP ON THE SAME DAY – ITS BRUTAL!

    Canyon hike was significantly more strenuous, gruesome really but views on both trails was breathtaking!! Glad all of us made it back up without any major incident!

    One more off my bucket list! Next one to jump off a plane!

    1. I have jumped out of a plane. Getting ready to hike SK to Tonto to IG..hoping to possibly have the energy for Phantom!

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