Tips for the Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon

Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on November 26, 2023.

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The Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon is one of the most popular hikes from the South Rim as it is one of the only few opportunities you have to head down into the canyon proper.

But while the hike does give the chance to enjoy some beautiful scenery, the hike down requires a hike back up, and the climb out of the canyon can be quite intense.

As such, while you can get some gorgeous views, you better be well-prepared when tackling this one- especially during the heat of summer!

Note: Grand Canyon National Park is closing most of the Bright Angel Trail starting December 1st, 2023, for construction. The trail is estimated to open again in mid-April 2024. The connection from Havasupai Gardens to Plateau Point closed in October 2023 for extended construction and is expected to re-open in mid-2025.

What You Can See on the Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trail

The Bright Angel Trail is interesting because you are not hiking along the rim but down into the canyon proper. As such, the scenery does not change much apart from elevation changes as you descend ~3,000 feet down into the canyon.

It isn't until you pass the way station at mile three that you reach the first plateau in the canyon and get a full look at Havasupai Gardens, an oasis in the canyon full of trees, shrubs, and more. Then when you make it, you are surrounded by beautiful greenery and vegetation that you really feel is out of place in the canyon itself.

Havasupai Gardens

Subsequent sections of the trail, like Plateau Point, also provide better views deeper into the Canyon from a vantage point you just don't get at the rim, especially of the river. So for better river views and glimpses deeper into the canyon, hiking to Plateau Point is a good spot for most to turn around if you are able.

The trail here also continues on a rim-to-river segment, hooking up to other trails going back up the South Rim or connecting for a multi-day through hike to the north rim for the most adventurous; however, this was the furthest we got to experience due to limited daylight hours in our November visit.

Donkey Caravan at the Grand Canyon

Beyond the natural highlights you can see here, you may also see a few donkey caravans bringing supplies (and an occasional tourist) in and out of the canyon. As the trails can be somewhat narrow, follow instructions from the caravan's lead and move inward (away from any drop) as instructed.

Overall, the Bright Angel Trail simply offers some stunning views going down into the Grand Canyon, and we absolutely loved it- but what a hike it is!

Hiking the Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trailhead

Buckle up because hiking the Bright Angel Trail is not for the inexperienced.

The reason for this one is that the trail itself literally goes down into the canyon and back, with a near-constant grade change for the entire journey. Although you may be only heading about two miles out from the rim as the crow flies, the dozens upon dozens of switchbacks down into the canyon help balloon out the total hiking distance considerably (there are over three dozen switchbacks to Havasupai Gardens by our count!).

Thankfully, those who want to hike this one have several waypoints for breaks. Rest stations with toilets exist at roughly 1.5-mile increments and make for good spots to identify whether you should continue depending on what time it is when you arrive.

At approximately mile 4.5, you reach Havasupai Gardens, another 1.5 miles takes you to Plateau Point (closed until 2025 as noted), or a separate trail branching off here leads you another ~4 miles one-way to the river itself.

But what goes down must come up, and whatever time it takes you to descend will generally take twice as much (if not more) coming up. The 3,000+ feet elevation change most certainly is worse on the return!

Grand Canyon South Rim With Bright Angel Trail

Our journey to Havasupai Gardens and back clocked in at just under 5 1/2 hours, two down and three-and-a-half up, and we could easily see how rim-to-river could take 12 hours or more round trip- something only achievable in the summer months with longer daylight hours than we had or, what we saw others doing, with an overnight camp.

In fact, every single sign you will see explicitly says do not attempt rim-to-river in a single day, and, honestly, we can see why. One of the biggest issues with hikes like these is simply because the canyon's lower areas are much hotter than at the top, and temperatures can rise by 20 or 30 °F (or more) at Havasupai Gardens compared to rim temperatures.

Temperature Gauge in the Grand Canyon

As such, while this is not necessarily a hard hike by any trail concerns proper, it is the heat, time, and elevation change that is brutal. So take more water than you think you will need, go slow, pack food too, and commit to your turnaround time to conserve daylight- uphill will take at least twice as long as down, and you'll want to add some buffer to ensure you're back well before sunset just in case, too.

  • Note: Regarding water, please note that water services generally only operate May to November at the 1.5-mile and 3-mile way stations. During our hike water was only available at the Havasupai Gardens at mile 4.5.

Ultimately, the Bright Angel Trail is one of those hikes you should experience, but probably won't want to do a second time. Even just hiking to Havasupai Gardens is a journey, and that is saying something as our high temperature was just under 70 °F at peak (my brother, on the other hand, hiked at peak 120 °F in the same spot in the height of summer- ouch).

Would we like to do a multi-day rim-to-rim hike? Absolutely- insofar as we don't have to carry our gear. Would we climb down the canyon again just to turn back around the same way we came like we did on the Bright Angel Trail? That may be a hard pass from us- we're fine with one-and-done here. Yes to doing it once. No to doing it again.

But if you are thinking about doing this one, don't hesitate. The celebration when you make it back out is immense. Just do not overlook the need for proper hiking shoes and just how much water, snacks, and food you will likely consume when tackling this one (and, for good measure, watch out for the squirrels- they do not care about you and want your food at any cost).

This is one of those trails where extra planning ahead of time goes a long, long way.

The Bright Angel Trail is located on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. More information about the trail can be found here.

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About Jeremy

Jeremy from Living the Dream

About the Author: Jeremy is a full-time travel writer based in Pittsburgh and primary author of this site. He has been to 70+ countries on five continents and seeks out new food, adventure activities, and off-the-beaten-path experiences wherever he travels.

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