Trail Description : Bright Angel Trail
If you never been hiking in the Grand Canyon before then this is the place to start. The Bright Angel Trail is one of the two superhighways of the Grand Canyon, the other being the South Kaibab Trail. Both of these trails are well maintained and offer some spectacular views of the Canyon. The Bright Angel Trail has the advantage of offering a considerable amount of shade (depending on the time of day) of which the South Kaibab Trail offers virtually none. Water is also available on the Bright Angel Trail at the One-and-a-Half-Mile and Three-Mile Resthouses and again at Indian Garden (4.6 miles from the rim). Water is NOT available at the River Resthouse and your next chance after Indian Gardens is not until you get to Bright Angel Campground. Water is available at the upper two resthouses Spring through Fall only. Water is available at Indian Garden all year. Do not drink water from springs or creeks anywhere in the Canyon without treating it first. Toilets are available just beyond the One-and-a-Half-Mile resthouse, at Indian Garden and at Bright Angel Campground.
The Bright Angel Trail was originally an indian trail used by the Havasupai indians to commute between the rim and Indian Garden. The trail was improved by prospectors in the late 1800's. One of the miners, Ralph Cameron, realizing that the tourist trade was more profitable than the mining trade, bought out his partners and took control of the trail. He extended the trail from Indian Garden to the river and began to charge a toll of $1 for its use. The Park Service constructed the South Kaibab Trail shortly thereafter to provide tourist with a free access path to the river. In 1928, after a long ownership battle with the Mr. Cameron, ownership of the Bright Angel Trail was finally transferred to the National Park Service.
Camping along this trail is in designated campgrounds only, those being at Indian Garden and at Bright Angel Campground. You need a Backcountry Reservation for a site.
The trailhead for the Bright Angel Trail is located a few hundred feet to the west of the Bright Angel Lodge, next to the mule corral.
Mileages are as follows (one-way):
The upper section of trail looks easy enough on the way down. Nice wide trail, long switchbacks and some incredible views. This section of the trail can be a killer on the way back up, depending on how far you went down. If you're hiking up from the river, or anywhere from Indian Garden or beyond, it seems to take forever to get from one switch back to the next and it feels like you'll never get back to the top. There are some petroglyphs along the top stretch of the trail near the first tunnel.
The Bright Angel Fault is also quite obvious along this section of trail as you will discover by examining the rock layers on either side of this side canyon. This is not as obvious at the top of the trail as you descend through the Kaibab and Toroweap formations, but is very obvious at the contact between the Toroweap and Coconino. Take a look around after passing through the second tunnel on the way down the trail and locate the top of the Coconino layer on both sides of the canyon. You will notice that geologic contact between the Supai and Coconino formations is much higher, almost 200 feet higher, on the west side than it is on the east.
Once you pass beyond the first resthouse the switchbacks come a little closer as the canyon narrows. The section of trail between the first and second resthouses is very scenic. There are some more petroglyphs carved into the rock above you at around the two mile mark, at a spot called Two Mile Corner.
The Three-Mile resthouse makes for a good day hike for those wanting to see the inner canyon but not wanting to exert themselves too much. There is a very nice spot for viewing just beyond the resthouse. Follow the trail that leads up past it to the right. Here there are also the remains of the old cable car system that was used to bring supplies down to Indian Garden.
Beyond Three-Mile Resthouse the trail becomes a little steeper, as the trail descends through a break in, first, the Redwall limestone, and then through the Muav formation. The switchbacks at Jacobs Ladder will seems to go on forever on the climb out. Once you are beyond this the trail levels out for the remaining ¾ mile or so to Indian Garden.
As you approach Indian Garden you will be walking across a formation known as Bright Angel Shale, which forms a wide bench about 2/3 of the way down the canyon, known as the Tonto Platform.
Indian Garden makes another very fine day hike and a great place for a picnic. From here you can also take the trail out to Plateau Point, 1.5 miles each way, for an awesome view of the Inner Gorge and the Colorado River. To head to Plateau Point take the fork in the trail to the left just beyond Indian Garden. The fork to the right will keep you on the Bright Angel Trail and take you to the river. If you are heading for Plateau Point, watch for another fork in the trail and this time keep to the right. The left fork will put you on the Tonto Trail heading west, and although it is very scenic you won't get to see the river for a long time. You will also not find anything along the Tonto Trail to make you stop and turn around as you could walk for days on this trail and not get to the end.
If you are heading for the river, you will still have another ½ mile or so before the trail really starts to head down again. The slope is very gradual as you descend through the Bright Angel Shale and the top of the Tapeats Sandstone formations, until you get to the Devil's Corkscrew where it begins a rather abrupt descent through the Vishnu Schist. Beware of this area in the summer time as the temperature can easily reach 130 degrees. Beyond the Devil's Corkscrew the trail levels out again for maybe another ½ mile that will bring you to the Colorado River. This technically marks the end of the Bright Angel Trail though some people consider the River Trail that takes you to Bright Angel Campground, 2 miles beyond, to still actually be part of it.
Hiking along the River Trail is not quite as easy as one might expect. The trail makes a couple of fairly steep ascents and descents along the way and walking across some of the dune sections with a full pack can be difficult. The trail along the river runs for 1.7 miles before it comes to the Silver Suspension Bridge. To get to Bright Angel Campground continue over the bright for approximately 1/3 of a mile. To reach the South Kaibab Trail or the Black Suspension Bridge continue east along the river trail for approximately 1 mile more. At the Black Suspension Bridge marks the other end of the River Trail. From here you can head south up the South Kaibab Trail to Yaki Point or across the bridge and north along the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Campground, Phantom Ranch and the North Rim (14 miles away).
If you are planning to hike both the Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails you are advised to come down the South Kaibab Trail and go out on the Bright Angel. The reason being that the hike out on the South Kaibab Trail can be quite hot and dry during any period other than the winter months. There is no water available anywhere along the trail and almost nothing in the way of shade.