Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point is both one of the most popular and most challenging day hikes in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. This iconic trail switchbacks down into America’s grandest river canyon from its South Rim, offering intrepid hikers a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You’ll find everything you need to know about this world-class hike in this Bright Angel Trail guide
Hiking Bright Angel Trail in the Iconic Grand Canyon National Park
For me personally, hiking the Bright Angel Trail is one of the absolute highlights of my hiking life. It is—and probably always will be—one of my favorite day hikes. Ever. The beauty of this particular Grand Canyon hike is that it really gives you a first-hand experience of what this majestic place is actually about. The South Rim Trail might offer access to numerous amazing viewpoints, but the Bright Angel Trail lets you work hard for your reward. I always appreciate that in a trail.
The Bright Angel Trail starts right in Grand Canyon Village, just west of Bright Angel Lodge. There’s a really good viewpoint that lets you see what you’re in for. Looking down into the canyon, you can clearly make out the zigzagging trail and perhaps even tiny moving dots on it—people or mules. That’ll be you in just an hour or two!
Like I said above, this is not an easy trail, though. In fact, the average grade of the Bright Angel Trail is no less than 10%. Moreover, this is one of those hikes where the venom is in the tail, so to speak. After hiking many miles, you’ll still have to climb several more to get back out of the canyon. The hardest part is the last part.
Still, though, it’s this challenge and the massive reward that make this such a fantastic day hike. At Plateau Point, the destination of this hike, awaits a phenomenal view of the Colorado River below.
It’s worth pointing out that the Bright Angel Trail splits up at Indian Garden. The actual Bright Angel Trail continues to the right and all the way down to the river, while the Plateau Point Trail runs left and towards the viewpoint. You’ll follow the latter.
Points of Interest
The Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point hike is long, but there are several points of interest on the way, all excellent spots to take a break, have a snack and drink some water. This overview is paraphrased from the National Park Service website:
- Trailhead: 6,860 feet
- First tunnel: 6,708 feet – 0.36 miles roundtrip – good for a quick view from within the canyon
- First switchback: 6,560 feet – 0.9 miles roundtrip – good place to turn back when hiking with small children
- Second tunnel: 6,240 feet – 1.5 miles roundtrip – trail gets pretty steep after the tunnel
- 1.5 Mile Rest house: 5,729 feet – 3 miles roundtrip – seasonal water available, a good place to turn around for inexperienced hikers and people who’ve gotten a late start
- 3 Mile Rest house: 4,748 feet – 6 miles roundtrip – seasonal water available
- Indian Garden: 3,800 feet – 9 miles roundtrip – year-round water available, campground, picnic area; starting early is necessary to get here and back in one day
- Plateau Point: 3,740 feet – 12 miles roundtrip – spectacular view of the Colorado River, no shade between Indian Garden and this viewpoint; early-morning start is essential to make it back
I must stress that it is absolutely discouraged to hike past Indian Garden in summer. The conditions are essentially desert-like deep down in the Grand Canyon. Remember that just because it’s cool and pleasant on the South Rim, you simply cannot expect the same conditions down below.
Additionally, some hikers also hike the Bright Angel Trail all the way down to Phantom Ranch and the Bright Angel Campground on the banks of the Colorado River. While that’s a sensational hike, it’s not possible to complete it in just one day between May and October. It’s simply too long, too hot and too strenuous. Instead, if you’re planning on doing this, bring your camping stuff and spend the night in the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon Bright Angel Trail FAQs
The aim of the Bright Angel Trail guide is to answer all questions you may have about this superb hike. Below, you’ll find some of the most common questions and their answers. If, however, you have any other questions, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
What is the Overall Trail Length?
The Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point is 6 miles one way. That adds up to a 12-mile return trip. Start early in the morning or spend the night at the Indian Garden Campground.
How Long Does the Hike Take?
The duration of the Bright Angel Trail hike to Plateau Point greatly depends on how strong a hiker you are. In any case, this is a very challenging and long day hike. You should count on 5 to 8 hours to complete it.
A rule of thumb when hiking in and out of the Grand Canyon is that the way back up generally takes twice as long as the way down (for the same distance on the same trail). On average, first-time hikers ascend the South Rim at a speed of 1 mile per hour. It’s strongly recommended to start this hike as early as possible.
What is the Bright Angel Trail Elevation Change?
The trailhead’s elevation is 6,850 feet, while Plateau Point, the ultimate destination of this particular hike, is at 3,740 feet. This means you’ll descend no fewer than 3,110 feet into the Grand Canyon and have to tackle the same elevation change on the way back up.
What is the Bright Angel Trail Difficulty?
The hike to Plateau Point and back on the Bright Angel Trail is considered very strenuous. There are four reasons for that:
- It’s a 12-mile roundtrip hike, which is a pretty serious day hike.
- There’s a 3,110-foot elevation change.
- The last part, the ascent of the canyon wall, is the hardest part. After 7.5 miles of hiking, you still have to hike 4.5 miles and that includes those 3,000 vertical feet.
- The weather conditions change dramatically as you hike into and back out of the canyon. You might experience chilly temperatures and even ice near the rim and desert-like conditions in the canyon.
Where is the Trailhead Located?
The Bright Angel Trailhead is on the South Rim just west of the Bright Angel Lodge in Grand Canyon Village. The South Rim Trail also passes by the trailhead, offering easy access from various other spots along the rim in Grand Canyon Village. It’s impossible to miss—the trail starts at the mule corral.
Where Can I Park My Car?
The nearest Bright Angel Trail parking is at the Backcountry Information Center, which is parking lot D. From there, it’s only a short distance to the South Rim and the trailhead.
Is This Grand Canyon Hiking Trail Dangerous?
When visiting Grand Canyon National Park, it’s impossible to not notice all the warning signs. Let me say it here as well: there are no easy trails in and out of the Grand Canyon! There are several potential hazards and risks you need to be aware of. They include, but aren’t limited to:
- Summer thunderstorms
- Winter ice
It is absolutely critical to drink plenty of water in the Grand Canyon, wear a hat and make sure you layer your clothing. Top off your water bottle(s) whenever possible. Don’t overestimate your hiking ability. Take regular breaks—Indian Garden is a fantastic picnic spot. Start early.
Additionally, you’ll share the Bright Angel Trail with mule trains as well. There have been rather unpleasant encounters between humans and mules in the past, so follow these three guidelines when you come across mules:
- Follow the instructions of the mule train leader.
- Step off the trail on the uphill side, stay still and quiet.
- Wait to resume your hike until the last mule is at least 50 feet away.
This is all simply to raise awareness of the hazards of a Bright Angel Trail hike. It’s important to know this in order to ensure your own and other people’s safety on the trail. If you use common sense and prepare your hike well, it’ll be one of the best experiences of your life. I know it was for me! Just check these top-rated Bright Angel Trail reviews from previous hikers.
What Is the Best Time to Hike the Bright Angel Trail?
I hiked the Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point in early spring, which seemed like the optimal time to do that. Although it was near freezing on the South Rim at daybreak, which was when I started my hike, it quickly got a lot warmer as I descended into the canyon. Eventually, I ended up taking off all my upper layers until I was just wearing a T-shirt.
There was ice on the upper parts of the trail, though, so crampons were absolutely essential for that part of the hike. I personally recommend doing this hike in spring simply because it gets really, really hot down in the Grand Canyon in summer.
In winter, temperatures are below freezing and there’s too much ice to make this safe for inexperienced hikers. I suggest mid-March through April to hike the Bright Angel Trail.
Is Drinking Water Available on the Trail?
Yes, there is year-round available drinking water at the trailhead as well as at Indian Garden. Water is also available seasonally at the two rest houses on the way. Ask about water availability at the visitor center before starting your hike.
It is critically important, however, to not rely only on trailside water sources. When hiking down into the Grand Canyon, make sure to bring plenty of water with you. Top off your water bottles whenever you can.
Is There an Entrance Fee?
Hiking the Bright Angel Trail is totally free, but you do have to pay an entrance fee when entering Grand Canyon National Park. That fee includes admission to both the North Rim and the South Rim and all hiking trails in each respective area. Admission is valid for 7 consecutive days. For all current prices, check the website of Grand Canyon National Park.
Where Can I Find a Grand Canyon Bright Angel Trail Map?
Upon arrival in Grand Canyon National Park—and in every other park, for that matter—it’s always a good idea to hop into the main visitor center for a proper introduction.
There’s an introductory film, exhibits, a store, bathrooms, drinking water, etc. Rangers on duty will also be able to help you with every single question you have.
Pick up a park newspaper and the classic national parks map for general information, ranger talk times and suggested hikes. There’ll also be an up-to-date weather forecast, while you should also inquire about the Bright Angel Trail conditions at the time.
If you want to look at a little map of the Bright Angel Trail now, you’ll find one on the National Park Service website.
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