One of the most iconic trails on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the Bright Angel Trail. It made its’ way to the top of many visitor’s itineraries due to beautiful canyon views and lush gardens along the way. Bright Angel Trail isn’t only photogenic- it is also one of the park’s main corridor trails meaning it is well maintained and offers restrooms and water re-supply along the way.
The best part is hikers don’t have to travel far in order to witness the beauty. There are several distinct destinations along the way that mark excellent turn around points for those who can’t hike the entire trail. Whether you plan on hiking only a portion or the entire Bright Angel Trail, I’m here to help.
This post will guide you through how to plan, prepare, and complete your Bright Angle Hike. It has been intently crafted to ensure you have a safe adventure no matter how far you go. I’m so excited for you because this is one of the best day hikes in the Grand Canyon. Let’s get started!
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Bright Angel Trail Stats
- Distance | 19.6 miles RT
- Difficulty | Difficult & strenuous
- Elevation Gain | 4,676 feet
- Elevation Change | 6,850 feet at South Rim to 2,546 feet at Phantom Ranch.
- Total Time | 8-12 hours depending on abilities
- Permits Needed | None unless you plan on camping at the bottom.
- Best Months | October-April
Bright Angel Trail Vs. South Kaibab
Grand Canyon’s South Rim has two very popular corridor trails- South Kaibab and Bright Angel. Both are wonderful and scenic in their own ways so many hikers find themselves stuck having to choose between the two. I’ve hiked both and find it hard to recommend one over the other!
If you’re finding yourself stuck then hopefully the break down below helps you. This is what I’d recommend if you’re looking for the…
- Best sunrise hike – South Kaibab.
- Best half day hike to get views – South Kaibab.
- Best spot for sunset – Bright Angel, only have to go down a little ways.
- Best access to water re-supply – Bright Angel.
- Best access for restrooms – either, but Bright Angel has a few more.
- More shaded areas – Bright Angel.
- Best to photograph – South Kaibab.
- Easiest to access – Bright Angel.
- Easier trail – both are difficult, but Bright Angel Trail has less elevation gain.
If you’ve chosen South Kaibab, check out Best Guide To Hiking The Full South Kaibab Trail In One Day.
For those of us who can’t decide between the two, consider combining them! Check out How To Hike South Kaibab, Phantom Ranch, & Bright Angel In One Day.
Hiking Bright Angel Trail Overview
You’re most likely still here because you’ve chosen the Bright Angel Trail. I hope you’re ready for an epic adventure because I’ve jam packed this day with as much as possible. You’re going to experience as much as you can along the way so it is going to be a long day.
We’re going to begin from the South Rim, descend over 4,000 feet into the canyon, stop by Pipe Creek Beach to dip our feet in the water, and continue on to Phantom Ranch. Why? Because you can order drinks, snacks, and stickers from the canteen! You also get to cross the Silver Bridge which is an experience in itself and provides even more awesome Colorado River views.
Step By Step Distances Along Bright Angel Trail
Whether you plan on cutting your trip short or hiking the full distance from Bright Angel to Phantom Ranch it is important to know the main destinations along the way and how far it takes to reach them.
Below are the points listed in order as you’re hiking down into the Grand Canyon.
- 1.5 Mile Rest House | 1.5 miles down / 3 miles round trip
- 3 Mile Rest House | 3 miles down / 6 miles round trip
- Havasupai Gardens | 4.66 miles down / 9.32 miles round trip
- Pipe Creek Beach | 7.87 miles down / 15.74 miles round trip
- Bright Angel Campground | 9.3 miles down / 18.6 miles round trip
- Phantom Ranch | 9.8 miles down / 19.6 miles round trip
Planning Your Bright Angel Trail Hike
Before we get into all the fun it is important to go over preparation for a strenuous hike like this. Hiking the full Bright Angel Trail is not an easy thing to do no matter how good of shape you are in. Preparation is essential for your safety.
Below we’ll go over things like weather, restrooms, water re-supply, and cleanliness.
Can Bright Angel Trail Be Done As A Day Hike?
Short answer is yes, people like myself have done it. But the question is- should you do it? Can you physically do it? It ultimately is your choice because you know your abilities better than anyone. However, the National Park Service officials will discourage strenuous day hikes such as this and don’t suggest doing more than 4.5 miles down (9 miles round trip) in one day.
You cannot underestimate a hike like this. It is extremely strenuous and you should be an experienced hiker in great physical condition. Take time to access your abilities and even train beforehand. If you are questioning your abilities or concerned, consider the following:
Are you or do you…
- Able to be on your feet for 10+ miles
- Able to carry a 20L or larger pack for 8+ hours
- Know how to read a map, follow a GPS, and stay on trail
- Have (or willing to get) the proper gear needed (keep reading for packing list!)
How Long Will It Take Me?
Hiking the full Bright Angel Trail in a day can take anywhere from 8-12 hours depending on your abilities and how often and long you stop. My husband and I took 12 hours and 22 minutes which included a nice long visit at Pipe Creek Beach, a lunch and nap time at Phantom Ranch, and a lot of photo stops along the way. I will admit, though, my energy was drained towards the last 3 miles and that really slowed us down.
As you’re hiking be sure to keep an eye on the clock and leave yourself plenty of time to hike out before dark. It will take you almost double the amount of time as it took you to hike down.
Preparation saves lives. Know where you are going ahead of time and always have a way to keep yourself on trail. One way to do this is with a GPS system or app like Gaia GPS.
You can download my Bright Angel track and gain access to my library of all tracked hikes. Once downloaded, you can load it into your own trusty device for ease of mind!
When Is The Best Time To Hike Bright Angel Trail?
Timing your day hike in the Grand Canyon during the proper months is one of the most important parts of a successful trip. As you descend into the Grand Canyon the temperatures will be rising. No matter the time of year, the bottom of the canyon is anywhere from 10-20 degrees warmer than on the South Rim.
Let’s break down the best and worst months for hiking in the Grand Canyon below.
May-September: Not Recommended
May is when the temperatures begin to rise at the Grand Canyon. Depending on the daily high the beginning of May might be okay, but the second half of May will most likely be too hot. The summer temperatures quickly ramp up from June-August and into September so it is extremely dangerous to hike during these months. Not only will the heat and sun exposure quickly drain you, but it is also monsoon season. You definitely don’t want to be down in a canyon during one of those!
Don’t get me wrong- the Grand Canyon can definitely be visited during these months, pending weather. But a strenuous, all day hike such as Bright Angel should not be on your itinerary.
When planning your hike I highly suggest lining it up between these months. Specifically October or April, but winter will also do if you can handle the shorter days and cold weather. Between October-April the daily high temperatures can be anywhere from 45 degrees to 65 degrees which to me is perfect hiking weather.
October and April are both beautiful times to hike in the Grand Canyon because temperatures are just ramping down, or up, and you get more daylight hours than during the winter. Sometimes April can still have snow or ice near the rim so always check the conditions ahead of time on the NPS website.
I’ve visited twice in the winter months and while it got cold in the morning and at night, midday was pleasant. It also wasn’t super crowded, but traction devices are a must because there will be snowy and icy conditions on the trails.
Water Stations Along Bright Angel Trail
Packing your entire water supply would be dreadful so you’re going to have to re-fill your water bottle and hydration bladder a couple times along the way. Luckily the Grand Canyon has water pipelines available throughout the park…but of course it can’t be that easy.
The water pipelines are fed from Roaring Springs which is a natural spring located about 3,500 feet below the North Rim. Along the Bright Angel Trail you’ll have a handful of re-fill opportunities, but unfortunately these pipelines suffer multiple breaks a year which means some (if not all) water stations may be shut off.
It is very important to research and plan which potable (already treated) water stations you will refill at, as well as check the national park website the day before for statuses.
Potable Water Stations Along Bright Angel Trail
- Bright Angel Trailhead
- 1.5 Mile Resthouse (turned off during select months)
- 3 Mile Resthouse (turned off during select months)
- Havasupai Gardens
- Bright Angel Campground
- Phantom Ranch
Water Safety In The Grand Canyon
On the off-chance that you’re not able to refill your water at the water stations you’ll be left with filtering from natural water sources like the Colorado River or other streams.
Water treatment is imperative for your health in the outdoors and isn’t something you want to skip out on. Contaminants of all sorts can get into the water especially when wildlife, livestock, and humans can reach it. For this reason it is very important you have a trusty water filtration system with you!
The Sawyer Filter Kit is an extremely lightweight and effective filtration system perfect for the backcountry. You won’t even notice the extra weight in your pack.
Where Can I Use The Restroom?
Another helpful thing to make note of is the restroom availability during your hike. Luckily there are plenty of restroom options along this route, listed in order below.
- Bright Angel Trailhead
- 1.5 Mile Resthouse
- 3 Mile Resthouse (skip if you can, it is far off trail and requires extra elevation)
- Havasupai Gardens
- Bright Angel Campground
- Phantom Ranch
Not all restrooms on the trail have toilet paper or hand sanitizer available. They also can run out of toilet paper. Keep this in mind when planning for your hike!
Cleanliness In The Grand Canyon
I can be a bit of a germ freak when it comes to using pit toilets, especially the ones deep in the backcountry that most likely don’t get cleaned often. These types of restrooms can transmit many different illnesses including the Gastrointestinal illness which is common every year in the Grand Canyon.
To stay clean and safe I religiously carried and used my own hand sanitizer as well as these antibacterial wipes. One pack holds 25 wipes which is plenty for two to three people during this hike.
Parking & Getting To Bright Angel Trailhead
Last thing to plan before we begin the hike!
Some trailheads such as the South Kaibab require shuttle access to begin. What I love about Bright Angel is that you can park by the trailhead and begin your hike- no shuttle needed. Simply drive to the Grand Canyon Village and park near Bright Angel Lodge and the old Train Depot.
The parking lot is not that large so arriving early is recommended. You should be beginning your hike right at sunrise anyways, so parking shouldn’t be an issue. If the lot is full you can also park near the nearby Backcountry Information Center but doing so will require a further walk.
As a last resort you can certainly park at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center near the South entrance to the park and hop on the blue shuttle route. This will drop you off in Grand Canyon Village nearby the Bright Angel Trail.
Hiking Bright Angel Trail
Finally the fun begins. Your hike will embark from the Bright Angel Trailhead which is located right off the Rim Trail. It can take a little bit of hunting to find exactly where it is so utilizing a GPS on your phone helps. Just note that it is past Kolb Studio heading West.
Immediately you’ll begin descending into the Grand Canyon through a series of gradual inclines and turns. These quickly give way to tighter and steeper switchbacks but the morning light and canyon views easily steal your attention.
The National Park service does a great job at maintaining the trail. It is your typical desert trail full of sand and rocks just wide enough to hike single file and pass those coming up. But they took extra time to add in logs which create steps and prevent damage occurred by rain.
Along the way you’ll hike under two carved out tunnels which create a unique and fun little surprise. Not too far after the second tunnel and you’ll gain views of the first restroom and water station, 1.5 mile resthouse.
1.5 Mile Rest House
Usually at the beginning of hikes 1.5 miles is a little soon to need to re-fill water or take a break. But it is a good spot to begin de-layering or break out a snack if you skipped breakfast. On the way back up, though, hikers usually take a much needed breather before knocking out the last bit to the top.
If you are not hiking the full Bright Angel Trail and new to hiking at this high elevation, 1.5 mile rest house would be a good spot to turn around at. But if you’re planning on continuing further then you’ll continue to descend down the switchbacks.
3 Mile Rest House
1.5 miles further down the trail and you’ll hike upon 3 mile rest house, the next stop for restrooms and water re-fill if available. This restroom is tucked back off the main trail and requires climbing more elevation to reach. I visited it once and swore to never do it again.
The section between 3 mile & 1.5 mile rest houses is the most difficult section when hiking back up to the rim in my opinion. For whatever reason it feels steeper and like the most dreadful part, but once you reach 1.5 mile rest house the last leg is smoother sailing.
As you continue to descend deeper into the canyon the scenery and vegetation becomes more lush. If there is enough run off you’ll likely see waterfalls at times too, just off the edge of the trail. This portion of the Grand Canyon really comes alive and begins to feel like an oasis. Absolutely stunning.
You’ll know you’re getting close to Havasupai Gardens (formerly Indian Gardens) when the trail begins to flatten out a bit, relieving the joints in your knees. It also becomes much more lush, green, and the sound of birds singing all around you can be heard.
At Havasupai Gardens there is more room to spread out than the previous stops before it. It hosts a campground (permits required), corral for mules, wooden benches for resting, restrooms, water re-fill station, and most importantly shade!
Take a rest, eat a snack, and enjoy the shade while it lasts because beyond Havasupai Gardens you’ll be exposed to the sun again and things get a little sandy. It is worth it though because it leads you to Pipe Creek Beach where you can dip your feet into the Colorado River.
Pipe Creek Beach
Before you reach Pipe Creek Beach you’ll get your first views of the Colorado River below. This is when the excitement really hits you because it is much more magical once you’re literally standing right above it. When you look at it from the rim you don’t get the full effect of just how wide and powerful it is.
You can’t miss the spur trail to reach the Colorado River because there is a sign for Pipe Creek Beach and restrooms right at the junction. Roughly 0.25 miles down this spur trail and you’ll be able to dip your feet into the chilled river.
Oftentimes rafters stop at this beach during their trip to use the restrooms, hike to Phantom Ranch, and rest. Depending on the water flow the beach will either be a large rock outcropping or you’ll actually get some exposed sand bars to walk out on.
The Colorado River is extremely powerful and swimming can be dangerous. Only walk far enough out to dip your feet in, if the current allows.
From Pipe Creek Beach you’ll hop back on the Bright Angel Trail and continue along until you come to the intersection with a bridge and the North Kaibab Trail. Turn left to cross the bridge suspended over the Colorado River and the trail will lead you directly to Bright Angel Campground.
At the campground there are restrooms available as well as water stations for re-filling your supply. Once full you can turn around here to head back to the South Rim, or continue on to Phantom Ranch and visit the canteen.
Phantom Ranch is roughly 0.5 miles beyond Bright Angel Campground and absolutely worth it if this is your first time at the bottom of the canyon!
Phantom Ranch & Canteen
To me, Phantom Ranch is typically my end goal and destination because I think it is so cool you’re able to purchase snacks and such from the canteen. They serve alcoholic beverages, snacks, some supplies, and stickers for a little keepsake to remind you of all you accomplished. After all, how often is it that you get to walk along the bottom of the Grand Canyon?!
This is a wonderful spot to break for lunch since there is water available and picnic tables set under tree tops, providing some shade. Once you regained your energy and are ready to tackle the most challenging part of this hike, head back the way you came.
The Climb Out
The easy part was hiking down, the fun part was dipping your feet in the river, and now the challenging part is hiking back to the rim. Once you hike back to Havasupai Gardens and head towards 3.0 mile rest house you can begin to feel the gradual elevation gain that quickly gives way to steep sections which get your heart rate up.
Take your time but try not to rest too often or for too long or else your muscles will tighten up. Push through the pain and enjoy the journey because being able to experience such is an opportunity many don’t get the chance to have!
What To Pack For Your Bright Angel Hike
- Durable hiking shoe or boot | Adidas Terrex Hiking Shoe
- Supportive backpack | Osprey Skarab 30
- 3L hydration pack | Osprey 3L
- Water filter | Sawyer Water Filtration
- Water bottle | 20 oz Hydroflask
- Liquid IV | Liquid IV Hydration Multiplier
- Medical kit | Mountain Series Hiker Medical Kit
- Microfiber towel | 2 Pack Microfiber Towel
- GPS device | Garmin inReach Mini 2
- Headlamps | LED Rechargeable Headlamp
- Sunscreen, sunglasses, and hat
- Protein bars, snacks, and/or sandwiches- more than you think you’ll need!
- Hand sanitizer
- Portable battery pack
- Bag to carry out trash
Tips For Your Bright Angel Hike
- Arrive at least one day before you plan on hiking to acclimate and get proper rest.
- Visit the park information center the day prior to confirm operating potable water locations.
- While at the visitor center be sure to ask for a paper trail map! It is always important to have a paper map of the area you’ll be hiking in.
- Hydrate more than normal 1-2 days before your hike.
- Eat more than you think you’ll need throughout the hike to replenish your energy levels.
- Know your limits and listen to your body. Turn back if you’re fatiguing sooner than anticipated.
Recap On Hiking Bright Angel
South Kaibab remains my favorite trail on the Grand Canyon South Rim, but Bright Angel Trail is not far behind. The opportunity to see waterfalls and pass through peaceful oasis’s along the way is a major plus. Another major perk Bright Angel provides is hiking alongside the river providing stunning views along the way. Hiking inside the Grand Canyon has become one of my favorite memories, hands down.
If you still can’t decide between South Kaibab or Bright Angel I highly suggest just combining the two and experiencing it all at once. I did that for my first hike to the bottom of the canyon and it was thrilling. You get the most bang for your buck and it is actually less in mileage than the full Bright Angel!
No matter which trail I hike in the canyon, though, I’m always reminded to never underestimate it. The elevation gain during the climb out is no joke and quickly puts you in your place. No matter how good of shape I believe myself to be in the canyon reminds me I’m not invincible. None of us are.
Are you planning to hike the Bright Angel Trail? Share in the comments below!
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