Want to take your outdoor experience to the next level? Join our newsletter to be the first to get the freshest tips, tools, and giveaways sent directly to you!
Whether you’ve driven around the North or South Rim or stood completely mesmerized by the views at an observation point, we can all agree that the Grand Canyon in Arizona is majestic and fills you with a sense of wonder.
But imagine if you’re able to have a more intimate experience and different perspective of one of the seven natural wonders of the world!
By hiking down into the Grand Canyon, you have the opportunity to not only explore the unique wildlife and plant life that’s able to exist in such extreme conditions but also feel what it’s like to have these magnificent canyons cascading all around you.
I’ve visited Grand Canyon National Park several times in the past, but never had the opportunity to explore it the way I wanted to...by hiking from the rim to the bottom of the canyon!
So for my 31st birthday, my best friend and I completed the Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point as a day hike in the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. This popular, challenging 12.2-mile (roundtrip) day hike is filled with miles of steep switchbacks, breathtaking views of colorful canyons standing tall around you, and one of the best aerial viewpoints of the emerald green Colorado River that cuts through Grand Canyon National Park.
Even if you don’t think you can make it to Plateau Point, the Bright Angel Trail is still worth doing if you’re looking for a hike to do in one day in the Grand Canyon! Although long, the Bright Angel Trail has several rest areas, located every 1.5 miles. This means you can hike as far as you want and can turn back at any time.
So if you’re looking for things to do in Grand Canyon National Park, consider hiking to the bottom along the Bright Angel Trail in the park’s South Rim for a unique experience. This hiking guide will provide you the details, pro-tips, and safety recommendations to fully prepare you to not only hike the Grand Canyon but have an elevated, memorable experience.
Highlights: river, views, wildlife, desert plants
Tags: backpacking, camping, canyons, no shade
Bright Angel Trail, located in the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, is the most popular trail to hike to the bottom of the canyon. This out-and-back trail is heavily populated and is open all-year-round.
Although there is an entrance fee (see below) to get into Grand Canyon National Park, you do not need a permit to day hike the Bright Angel Trail.
Hiking to Plateau Point involves 12.2 miles of steep switchbacks, elevation change, and temperature swings. However, you’ll hike to the edge of the canyon that overlooks the powerfully flowing Colorado River! Although there’s no shade, it’s an incredible place to rest, refuel, and take in the majestic beauty of Mother Nature.
However, don’t forget that what goes down must come back up! Whenever you turn around to head back to the trailhead, you finish the trail hiking UP the canyon, which is steep. So take your time and pace yourself.
Since hiking the Bright Angel Trail in the summertime can be challenging and dangerous due to extreme heat, there are rest areas every 1.5 miles where you can recharge, use the bathroom, and refill water.
Pro Tip: make sure you bring plenty of water with you, especially during the summer season. Before heading out, make sure you know where water sources are along the trail (and if they are open) so you can bring enough for your hike.
So even if you don’t think you can make it to Plateau Point, Bright Angel Trail is still an ideal day hike since you can turn around whenever you want. Hiking to the bottom is one of the best ways to see the Grand Canyon!
Pro Tip: if you plan on visiting three or more national parks in a year, I’d recommend investing in the America The Beautiful annual national parks pass. For $80, your pass will cover entrance fees at all U.S. national parks. Since national park entrance fees range anywhere from $20 - $35 per vehicle, this pass will pay itself off after visiting 3 U.S. national parks.
Located in Grand Canyon’s South Rim by Bright Angel Lodge, you can get to the Bright Angel trailhead two ways:
Pro Tip: due to extremely limited parking at the Bright Angel Lodge, I’d recommend parking at the Visitor Center and riding the free shuttle to get to the Bright Angel trailhead. Unless you plan to start your hike extremely early or you’re hiking in the low season, parking will be tough to find. Especially since many hikers that are camping below the rim may leave their cars there overnight.
Before starting your day hike on the Bright Angel Trail, you can fill up your water bottles and hydration reservoirs at the spring water filling station at the trailhead. There are even restrooms available as well.
Pro Tip: There is no service in many parts of the Grand Canyon. Take a picture of the trail map at the trailhead.
Between the North and South Rims, the Grand Canyon offers an overwhelming number of trails for adventurers to hike to the bottom of the canyon. But which one should you do?
Since my best friend and I were day camping in Mather Campground on the South Rim for the weekend, we decided to only day hike into the Grand Canyon. Many of my hiking friends recommended the highly popular Bright Angel Trail be our first experience hiking to the bottom.
Luckily, we figured that there was no better way to celebrate my birthday than to challenge ourselves by day hiking to Plateau Point along Bright Angel Trail!
Because we did this trail in early March, we had the unique opportunity to experience a wide range of temperatures and hiking terrains all in one hike!
At the start of the hike, we bundled in our jackets, gloves, and beanies. The temperature at the trailhead was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the wind was strong, and the first mile of the trail was packed with snow and black ice. It had snowed two nights earlier!
Because this first section is mostly shaded throughout the day, the overnight freezing temperatures had turned any snowmelt from the previous day into ice...which had us struggling the first 45-minutes of the hike. Luckily, the butt-scooting method and meticulous penguin shuffle helped us pass this section without injury (we did fall though!).
However, as we made our way down the steep, never-ending switchbacks, famously known as Jacob’s Ladder, things started to warm up. We stripped off our layers and began to SWEAT! But we were so engrossed in the views of the canyons around us that we just kept on moving.
Pro Tip: prepare for the large temperature swing by layering up on clothing!
But it only got hotter and hotter the deeper we descended into the canyon, with temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit when we reached Indian Garden. I couldn’t imagine hiking into the canyon in the summer when there’s such extreme heat. We experienced a temperature swing of over 60 degrees Fahrenheit hiking Bright Angel Trail in early March!
Hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to Plateau Point along Bright Angel Trail took us about 7.5 hours to complete (roundtrip) at a brisk pace and minimal breaks. Since HIKING OUT of the canyon from Plateau Point was all uphill, the second half of the hike is the most challenging, physically. Hiking out of the canyon was much slower and required a few extra breaks to recover.
Canyon hiking can be misleading; you always start the hike going downhill while ending your trek with the hardest part of the trail...uphill.
But never forget - hike at your own pace and you’ll complete the trail. Slow and steady wins the race! And if you need to stretch out your muscles throughout the hike, here are a few simple stretches to help minimize injuries.
Although a challenging hike, seeing the Grand Canyon from the perspective of within the canyon walls itself is incredibly rewarding. Especially if you’re able to make it all the way out to Plateau Point to see the unique emerald color of the Colorado River with your own eyes!
You first start your hike on Bright Angel Trail down into the Grand Canyon along a series of steep, winding switchbacks, known as Jacob’s Ladder. Along Jacob’s Ladder, you’ll descend into the canyon at roughly a 20-degree incline along the walls of the canyon itself.
Almost immediately after starting Bright Angel Trail, you’ll have incredible views of the basin and the canyon walls standing high above you.
This first 1.5 miles of Bright Angel Trail truly is unique as it sees the least amount of sunlight during the day. This makes this part of Bright Angel Trail much cooler and a whole lot shadier than the rest of the trail.
Hiking in early March, this part of the trail was packed with snow and black ice from snowfall that occurred two nights earlier. Unfortunately, we had not expected to hike through the snow, so we didn’t have any hiking spikes for our boots (nor trekking poles!).
We shuffled across the snow, penguin-style, and grabbed at any stable points to help us cross the icy paths. It was slow, but we “hiked” (and butt-scooted) our way through two natural tunnels and saw a mountain goat trotting above us!
Pro Tip: if you expect snow on the trail, consider bringing microspikes for your hiking boots to provide the traction you need to hike safely through snow and ice.
After an insane 45-minutes of inching our way down this first icy section of Bright Angel Trail, we FINALLY made it to dry ground!
At the 1.5 mile point, we made it to Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse, where we took our first bathroom break. Restrooms are available and water is only available during the summer months.
If you are a beginner hiker or do not have enough time to continue another 1.5-miles to the next rest area, this is a great spot for you to turn around and make your way back to the trailhead.
Continue down Jacob’s Trail and you’ll continue descending into the canyon. Make sure to take a look back to admire the switchbacks you just hiked and the height of the canyon walls standing tall around you.
Hiking from Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse to Three Mile Resthouse will be much sunnier than the first part of Bright Angel Trail. Be sure to have enough water, food, and sun protection.
As we inched closer towards Three Mile Resthouse, our paths crossed with a group of mule riders heading towards us. As we found out, many visitors explore the Grand Canyon’s South Rim not by driving or hiking...but by mule!
Pro Tip: when it comes to sharing Bright Angel Trail safely with mule riders, it’s incredibly important to listen to the instructions of the guide!
At the 3-mile point of Bright Angel Trail, you’ll reach the Three Mile Resthouse, where you can use the restroom and even fill up on water (however, this water source is only open during the summer months).
As you hike past Three Mile Resthouse toward Indian Garden, you’ll notice the terrain starts to flatten out...you’ve reached the bottom of the Grand Canyon. You’ve descended more than 3,000 feet in elevation to get to where you are now!
Once you approach Indian Garden, you’ll notice Indian Garden Campground to your left. This campground is a wonderful, secluded area for hikers and backpackers to spend the night inside the canyon. Many people will camp a night or two before hiking to the Colorado River or towards the North Rim to complete their Rim-to-Rim hike.
Pro Tip: camping below the rim at Indian Garden requires a backcountry permit.
Indian Garden is the only shaded rest area along the Bright Angel Trail. Take this opportunity to rest and refuel at one of the picnic tables available. And don’t forget to replenish your water source (which is open all-year-round)!
Pro Tip: it is NOT RECOMMENDED to continue onward to Plateau Point as a day hike during the summertime due to the extreme heat and strenuousness of the rest of the hike.
Continue on the Bright Angel Trail to the last destination, Plateau Point. As you leave Indian Garden, you’ll cross a stream and start to notice the scenery change.
No longer are you winding through switchbacks. Instead, you’ll hike on a well-marked path along the canyons. You’ll continue to see the canyons all around you, but you also notice a lot more desert wildlife, including beautiful purple cacti!
I found this part of Bright Angel Trail to be much more intimate of an experience since there was a lot less traffic along the trail.
Before we knew it we made it to Plateau Point...but we had no idea what we were about to see below us. As skipped over the boulders up to the edge of the observation point, we peaked over the edge…and there it was in all its majesty.
The Colorado River was RIGHT BELOW us, powerfully flowing between the canyon walls. The river was a stunning deep emerald shade, which beautifully contrasted the reddish hues of the Grand Canyons around it. As we sat and snacked, we watched a group of rafters make their way over a series of rapids.
For this view, all of those switchbacks, knee pains, and calf-cramps were WORTH IT.
Hiking Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point is challenging as a day hike, but the experience and viewpoint of the Colorado River are rewarding and highly recommended.
But the best thing about the Bright Angel Trail is the number of rest areas along the trail. Not only are you able to rest and refuel frequently, but there are also several opportunities for you to turn back towards the trailhead if you don’t feel like hiking down to Plateau Point.
So whether you’re an expert backpacker or a beginner hiker, the Bright Angel Trail is an excellent trail for anybody looking to hike down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon along the South Rim. Hiking Bright Angel Trail in one day or across multiple days is totally up to you!
I only recommend products that I have used myself and genuinely love. All opinions expressed are honest and mine. This post contains some affiliate links, which means that I receive a small compensation at no additional cost to you if you make a purchase. Since The Adventure Diet is reader-supported, any purchases you make will help keep this blog alive! As always, thank you for your never-ending support.
Join The Adventure Diet newsletter for your chance to win a REI Flash 18 Daypack! Open to residents of the contiguous U.S. 18+. Giveaway ends at 11:59PM PST on 6/6/21. No purchase necessary.
*The winner will be contacted directly by email on 6/7/21. This give away not sponsored...it's simply a gift from me to you, because I have the best supporters!