Hiking The Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail

Back in March 2012, we stopped by the Grand Canyon on our way to southwest Colorado. We didn’t have time to hike below the rim that day. Instead, we just went to an overlook and saw the Canyon with a dusting of snow. But we knew we’d be coming back to venture down, down, down.

After leaving San Diego in September, we headed straight for the Grand Canyon for a couple nights of camping and a day hike of the Bright Angel Trail. There’s no better way to marvel at this giant crack in the ground than to walk down into it.

Hike Info

Nearest City/Town: Flagstaff, AZ
Difficulty: Strenuous
Length: 6 miles
Elevation: ~1900 ft
Time: 3-5 hours

Bright Angel Trail Hike

There are two trails leading into the Grand Canyon from the South Rim: The South Kaibab trail and the Bright Angel trail. Since we could park and walk to Bright Angel, we decided to go for that one. We hit the trailhead around 8am, after dropping Knox off at the kennel for boarding.

We decided to hike in 3-4 miles and turn back based on time and how we were feeling. We armed ourselves with our Camelbaks and a couple of bananas and started down the trail. Even in late September, the sun climbs high in the sky and gets hot fast. The air temperature was probably only 75 at the rim, but inside the canyon, it jumped 10-15 degrees once the desert sun got above the canyon walls and started heating up the rocks around us.

The Bright Angel Trail is more heavily traveled than the South Kaibab and also has water stations, restrooms, and resting stations along the way. At the beginning of the trail, there’s a water stop at 1.5 miles and 3 miles. There are two more restrooms further along at Indian Gardens and Bright Angel Campground.

As the signs constantly remind you, “Down is optional. Up is mandatory.” The deceptive part of the Grand Canyon is that you’ll only spend about 1/3 of your energy getting to wherever you turn around to head back up. Hiking three miles down puts a little stress on the joints, but is otherwise pretty easy. It’s the three miles back up where you start to feel it. Over 250 people are rescued from the Canyon per year. Be smart and you won’t be one of them. Really, unless you’re on a speed hike, take it easy, rest regularly, and enjoy the view.

Other than the major elevation change, the trail itself isn’t incredibly tough. The trail is really well maintained and wide enough to pass other hikers easily. But there is that elevation. In the first 3 miles, the trail drops about 1,900-2,000 feet. Between mile 3 and 4, the trail drops another 1,000 feet. If you hike all the way to the river, you’re looking at about a 4,500 foot elevation change. Keep that in mind as you descend.

Hiking The Grand Canyon

What’s there to say about the Grand Canyon that hasn’t been said before? Probably not much. It’s a phenomenal landscape that seems to change with each turn of the trail. The rock formations change color throughout the day as the sun hits them at different angles and as you twist and turn around the switchbacks on the canyon wall.

The biggest problem with the Grand Canyon is that it’s like a siren call. Even when we hit the 3-mile rest house, it was tempting to continue on to “that spot”. And once you hit “that spot” there’s another “that spot” that you want to go see. There’s something around every turn and once you get down there, you really want to see it all.

The Grand Canyon Kennels

Unfortunately, there are no dogs allowed below the Grand Canyon rim. Fortunately, the Grand Canyon has a nice kennel. For $16, you can day board your dog.

At Carlsbad Caverns, the kennels were just crates. At the Grand Canyon, your dog actually gets a little run and has plenty of space to move around. It’s a much nicer setup that allows you to take your pet with you and still be able to head down below the rim to really see the grandeur of the Canyon.

Getting Here

Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon

The Bright Angel Trail is easy to get to from the west side of the Grand Canyon Village. Really, you can’t miss it with the signs pointing the way.

Picture Time

As you’d expect, Edie had her trusty camera by her side for the trek down into the Canyon so that we could bring the rock formations to your computer screen. One of these days, we’re going to head back to do a full rim-to-rim hike over the course of 4 or 5 days.

This is one of those epic landscapes that you really have to see to even begin to take it in. The hike that we did was just the tip of the iceberg of what there is to see here.