A Guide to Hiking the Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trail Hiking: Popular Side Trails and Sights

A view of the Grand Canyon from the South Rim
A view of the Grand Canyon from the South Rim
Giorgio Fochesato/Photodisc/Getty Images

Sure, you're hiking through a desert, but that certainly doesn't mean this trail is devoid of special points of interest. For example, about 5 miles (8 kilometers) along the trail you come to Indian Garden Campgrounds. Even if you don't camp there, Indian Garden offers a refreshing break in the summer. You can eat a cold lunch in the shade of cottonwood trees. You can dip your feet in Garden Creek -- and your shirt as well, to keep cool. Plus, you can take advantage of running water and composting toilets year-round.

If you're interested in archaeology, you'll appreciate the remains of an ancient garden plot, cultivated by Native Americans, which is how Indian Garden got its name. Remnants of granaries and walls used for erosion control suggest it was the Puebloans who first tilled the soil as many as 1,700 years ago [source: Biggs]. Petroglyphs (symbolic drawings) mark the rocks nearby. After the Puebloans, the Havasupai tribe worked the land into the 1930s.

Just past Indian Garden, Bright Angel intersects the Tonto Trail. A 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) hike along this rougher, rockier side route takes you to Plateau Point. Plateau Point is part of the Tonto Platform, an unusual flat feature in the Canyon's terrain. From this plateau you can look back, and possibly marvel, at the distance you've traveled. Almost the entire Bright Angel Trail is visible. The view ahead, taking in the Colorado River and beyond, deserves a few photos, too.

After the demanding but memorable hike down Bright Angel Trail, you might treat yourself to a stay at Phantom Ranch. Phantom Ranch is a privately-owned resort hotel with simple amenities -- bunk beds, showers and hot meals -- in keeping with the environment. But you can rest, recharge and enjoy the beautiful setting before starting the hike back to the Rim -- and the real world.

On the other hand, if your ideal vacation includes a more formal, but fun, educational experience, consider signing up for a Grand Canyon Field Institute tour. Guided tours combine hiking with learning from biologists, geologists, artists and other experts on the Grand Canyon. The intellectual stimulation is a fitting compliment to the soul-stirring experience of traveling Bright Angel Trail.