Bright Angel Trailhead sign during summer (view NE)
The Upper Bright Angel Trail generally is well maintained and offers a fairly easy way to get below the rim and experience the feeling of being down inside the Grand Canyon. The first 2 miles include some steep parts, but the remaining miles, including those through the Redwall, are fairly gentle. From there, the trail runs at an easy grade to Indian Garden. Below Indian Garden, the trail continues to the Colorado River and then Bright Angel Campground at Phantom Ranch. For details of the lower section, see Lower Bright Angel Trail.
There are many airy places in the cliffs along the upper part of the trail that provide sweeping views into the canyon. During spring through fall, water is available at the 1.5-Mile and 3-Mile Resthouses, and water is always available at Indian Garden. Toilets are also available at all three places. During the mule-riding season, when droppings on the trail can make for a dusty mess, pay attention to instructions from the wranglers leading the trips; they probably will tell you to stand quietly on the uphill side of the trail while the mule train passes.
Link to map.
Bright Angel Trailhead information sign during summer (view NE)
Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...this is a pretty safe trail if you stay on it, but there are many places where hikers could stumble off the trail into the abyss. The elevation at the South Rim is surprisingly high, about 7,000 feet, so take it easy if you are not used to the elevation. Don't be fooled by the cool summer temperatures on the rim; these temperatures quickly give way to scorching heat lower in the canyon. Trails here are made by putting down wooden cross-timbers, filling between the cross-timbers with rock rubble, and covering it all with dirt. The trail is easy to walk on when dry; but when wet, each crossbar makes a dam that holds a puddle of mud.
While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. This is a fairly long hike, so be sure to bring the 10 Essentials. Be sure that you are physically fit and that you choose routes of the appropriate difficulty for your skills and endurance.
Bright Angel Trailhead sign during winter (view NE)
Getting to the Trailhead
This hike is located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, about 5 hours southeast of Las Vegas.
From town, drive out to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. From the South Rim Visitor Center (Table 1, Site 0811), ride the shuttle bus or drive to the Bright Angel Lodge bus stop or the Village Transfer bus stop. The Bright Angel trailhead (Site 0814) is located on the rim of the canyon between these two shuttle bus stops. The trailhead is marked with signs and restrooms. The closest public parking is a few minutes walk to the southeast, across the road and the railroad tracks from the Bright Angel Lodge, but better parking is located at the backcountry office a few minutes walk from the rim.
Bright Angel Trailhead info sign during winter (view NE)
From the trailhead (Table 2, Wpt. 01), the trail immediately starts down into the canyon at a fairly easy grade. The trail starts by angling off to the east towards the lodges (and passes a fork in the trail to the Kolb Studio) before switchbacking to the west and heading for the First Tunnel (Wpt. 02), which is about 0.2 miles below the trailhead. Watch for petroglyphs and fossils on the rock walls near the tunnel.
From First Tunnel, the trail continues westward as it curves toward the Second Switchback (Wpt. 03). There are some fairly steep parts on the trail through here.
From the Second Switchback (Wpt. 03), the trail continues to the Second Tunnel (Wpt. 04). The trail remains fairly gentle and there are more nice views from the trail in this section.
Snow on trail in the Kaibab Limestone; First Tunnel (view W)
From the Second Tunnel (Wpt. 04), the trail descends at a moderate grade to the 1.5-Mile Resthouse (Wpt. 05). This section of trail runs down a number of short switchbacks through a gap in the Coconino Sandstone cliffs caused by the Bright Angel Fault. The layers on the west side of the fault are offset about 200 feet higher than those on the east side. Look at the rock layers in the back of the canyon and you will see that they are offset. Below the Coconino Sandstone, the trail makes a long arc to the east, ending at the 1.5-Mile Resthouse (Wpt. 05), which is 1.5 miles below the rim. Water is available seasonally at the resthouse, and there are restrooms on the next switchback (100 yards beyond the resthouse).
From 1.5-Mile Resthouse, the trail makes a long gentle arc to the west, crossing the Bright Angel Fault and ending at 2-Mile Switchback (Wpt. 06). At 2-Mile Switchback, 2.0 miles below the rim, the trail switchbacks to the east. Watch for more petroglyphs on rocks above the trail near the switchback.
Top of the Coconino Sandstone; Second Tunnel (view W)
From 2-Mile Switchback (Wpt. 06), the trail makes a grand arc to the east (back across Bright Angel Fault), then winds down many switchbacks as it descends to 3-Mile Resthouse (Wpt. 07), which is 3.0 miles below the rim. Water is available here seasonally. The resthouse is located on a point of rock at the top of the Redwall Limestone. A short trail behind the resthouse leads to restrooms and an overlook with a great view into the canyon and the remains of an old cableway. The cableway was used to sling things, including cars, into Indian Garden. The trip to 3-Mile Resthouse and back to the rim makes for a good 6-mile day hike.
Continuing past 3-Mile Resthouse (Wpt. 07), the trail runs down many short switchbacks through the Redwall Limestone cliffs and the Muav Formation. These switchbacks are in the back of the canyon, and although you get some nice up-close views of the Redwall, the views down the canyon are limited. Below the Redwall, the trail continues at a fair grade into a side canyon (Wpt. 08).
Descending through a break in the Coconino (view E)
After coming out of the side canyon (Wpt. 08), the trail generally runs straight down Bright Angel Canyon along the east side of Garden Creek. This part of the trail runs on the Bright Angel Shale formation, which forms the top of the Tonto Platform, the wide bench on the edge of the inner canyon. The grade is gentle all the way to Indian Garden, which is 4.6 miles below the rim. Water and restrooms are always available Indian Garden. The Indian Garden Ranger Station (Wpt. 09) is located just before the campground, and the corrals are just beyond the campground.
Indian Garden is an interesting place with a long history. The area was originally settled by Native Americans who farmed the area. Later, the area was taken over for a tourist camp that was run by an unsavory character. The Park Service took it over, cleaned up the area, and developed a ranger station, trail crew quarters (corrals and bunkhouses), and a campground. The campground is nice and has running water, composting toilets, and covered picnic tables that make passable rain shelters. Rodents (mostly Rock Squirrels) are a problem, but the Park Service put poles in each campsite for hanging pack off the ground and two metal ammo boxes for storing food.
Stairs lead up to the 1.5-Mile Resthouse (view SE)
Below Indian Garden, the lower Bright Angle Trail continues down to the Colorado River (7.7 miles from the rim), where the River Trail leads to Phantom Ranch (9.6 miles from the rim). From Indian Garden, other trails continue to the Tonto West and Tonto East trails (which run east-west through the canyon on the Tonto platform), Plateau Point on the edge of the Inner Gorge (6.1 miles from the rim).
From wherever you get to, return to the trailhead by the Bright Angel Trail or one of the other trails back to the rim. Don’t hike so far down that you have trouble getting back out.
Table 1. Highway Coordinates (NAD27, UTM Zone 12S). NOTE: This is UTM Zone 12. Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.
||Visitor Center, Canyon View Information Plaza
||Bright Angel Trailhead
Table 2. Hiking Coordinates (NAD27, UTM Zone 12S). NOTE: This is UTM Zone 12. Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.
||Point-to-Point Distance (mi)
||Cumulative Distance (mi)
||Bright Angel trailhead
||First Big Switchback
||Indian Garden Ranger Station
||Colorado River (River Trail Jct)
||Colorado River Bridge
||Bright Angel Campground