A Guide to Hiking the Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trail Hiking: The Main Route

As hikers descend, they take in wonderful views of the Grand Canyon.
As hikers descend, they take in wonderful views of the Grand Canyon.
Angelo Cavalli/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Bright Angel is the most improved trail in the Grand Canyon. It's been graded and widened, with rest houses located 1.5 miles (2.6 kilometers) and 3 miles (5 kilometers) below the trailhead on the South Rim. Both rest houses have drinkable water during the summer; however, water pipes occasionally break, so packing iodine tablets or filters to purify alternate water sources is advised. The first rest house also has a composting toilet. It's 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers) to the next one; otherwise, you'll need to hike well off the trail and dig a hole to answer nature's call [source: National Park Service].

There are two ranger stations, one at each campground. The first is at Indian Garden Campground, about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the Rim. The second station is at Bright Angel Campground, which marks the trail's end some 4.5 miles (7.2 kilometers) farther along. Both campgrounds have first-aid clinics and emergency phones.

The terrain, while safe, is taxing, with numerous switchbacks below the Rim and then a long stretch through the desert to the river. You'll have to carry food and water -- up to 4 quarts (4 liters) of water in the summer -- and allow for rest breaks [source: National Park Service]. You should avoid hiking altogether between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. in the summer due to the heat. Also, temperatures rise as you descend, so you may have to pack entirely different clothes for higher and lower elevations. Speaking of packing, the "leave no trace" rule strictly applies. Everything you bring in -- even used toilet paper -- you must take out. The National Park Service suggests the 6-mile (9.6 kilometer) round trip between the Rim and Three-Mile Resthouse as a day trip for physically fit hikers; otherwise, plan to hike in, camp and then hike back out the next day.

In the Grand Canyon's high-altitude desert climate, the weather can be a wild card. Snow may fall in October, while ice may linger in shaded recesses into March. Summer temperatures can easily top 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) in the interior. Localized summer storms can be violent, triggering flash floods. Spring and fall are popular hiking seasons; however, conditions are less predictable at those times.