The Bright Angel Trail (BAT) is the most traveled trail in the Grand Canyon National Park for very good reasons. One of two fully maintained trails on the South Rim of the Canyon, the trailhead is located just yards to the West of the El Tovar Hotel, and Bright Angel Lodge in the heart of Grand Canyon Village. It is considered the ‘safest’ trail in the Grand Canyon.
Unless perched atop a mule, there is no easy way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Although a mule is not an easy chair, it is easier than hiking with a 30-pound pack. BAT is just a few yards shy of 9.5 miles long, with descent in elevation of just over 4,500 feet. By comparison, the Kaibab Trail is 6.5 miles in length, and drops 4,820 feet in elevation. The degree of difficulty is significant, but clearly a higher fitness level will be required for the steeper climb. This alone makes BAT more accessible to the moderate level hiker.
There are accommodations along the BAT, and access to water. On Kaibab there is water available at the start and finish. On the BAT water is found at 1.5 miles, 3 miles, Indian Gardens at the 4.5-mile mark, and Bright Angel Campground on the Canyon floor, although from October until April, water is only available at Indian Gardens and campground. Rest rooms are available where there is water.
When discussing treks to the bottom of the Canyon with less experienced hikers, much is made of the time spent descending to the Colorado River. Regrettably, many hikers make the descent into the Canyon into a sprint, a race against the clock. This is a perspective concocted on a faulty premise. When matriculating down the trails, it is never about time or destination, but the trip.
Focusing on time over all else means a great deal of time spent staring down into the dirt in front of you to avoid any fatal falls. Stopping regularly to soak things in is essential. Allow time for soaking if you are here without the certainty of returning someday; and that is everyone, really.
Pause, look up, and look around, and often. Around every corner another spectacular view impossible to imagine is waiting. The vantage points change down in the Canyon drastically from those along the rim, providing unexpected perspectives. From the Colorado River, where most areas on the rim are out of view, the perspective is like nothing one’s eyes are ever to gaze upon anywhere else.
Most of the elevation change occurs during the first four miles of the BAT. By Indian Gardens, the steep grade becomes more manageable, and a less severe incline ensues. This is the first place for overnight camping on the trail. Just beyond Indian Gardens is a worthwhile 1.5-mile diversion, Plateau Point. As one walks onto this vast expanse of flat terrain amidst some of the harshest vertical elevations to be found, the sensation is surreal, transformational even. The sunlight suffuses the plateau in a brighter way when standing upon it, as the contrasting beauty of the natural landscape imbues the senses, it is an emotional, spiritual sensation.
From Plateau Point there is concern with heat if descending, and if returning to the rim, the part of the hike no one mentions in terms of time, if about to begin. Scientific fact is the temperature rises with every 1000 feet one descends by 5.5 degrees F. If it is75 at the top, it is about 100 at the bottom. There is some steeper terrain in spots again without any water available till the campground. When ascending, the good news is, as the heart rate heats things up, the temperature of the air steadily drops, and into late afternoon, most of the upper 1.5 miles is in the shade.
GRAND CANYON NPS INFORMATION
The information below is from the National Park Service. The NPS has two documents about Bright Angel Trail in PDF Format, both contain great information including milege, elevation levels, restroom and water availability.
|From||Elevation||To||Elevation||One Way Mileage|
|Rim||6,860 feet (2,093 meters)||Mile & a Half Resthouse||5,729 feet(1,748 meters)||1.6 miles |
|Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse||5,729 feet(1,748 meters)||Three Mile Resthouse||4,748 feet (1449 meters)||1.5 miles (2.4 km)|
|Three Mile Resthouse||4,748 feet (1449 meters)||Indian Garden||3,880 feet (1,160 meters)||1.7 miles (2.7 km)|
|Indian Garden||3,880 feet (1,160 meters)||River Resthouse||2,480 feet (756 meters)||3.2 miles (5.2 km)|
|River Resthouse||2,480 feet (756 meters)||Bright Angel Campground||2,480 feet (756 meters)||1.5 miles (2.4 km)|
|Rim||6,860 feet (2,093 meters)||Bright Angel Campground||2,480 feet (756 meters)||9.5 miles(15.3 km)|