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Bright Angel Hiking Trail to Indian Gardens

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★★★★★ Difficult / Grand Canyon Area:

Even more world famous than the Kardashians, the Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Hiking Trail is THE quintessential Arizona hike. Descending 4.5-miles into one of the planet’s greatest wonders, this dayhike to Indian Gardens (the small, lush-green oasis just visible on the Canyon’s middle-plateau) is an experience of a lifetime, with views that will never go out of style. Sorry Kim!


TRAILHEAD: kolb studio, grand canyon village    DIFFICULTY:  moderate inclines (but difficult due to temperatures and distance)  •  DISTANCE: 4.5 MILES (9 miles rt)  •  APPROX. TIME: 8-10 HOURS RT  •  ELEVATION GAIN: 3,060 FEET (219 STORIES)  •  APPROX. CALORIES BURNED: 1,350-1,530 RT •  BEST TIME OF YEAR: SEPT.-Oct. and Apr.-MAY  •  PETS: no  •  KID FRIENDLY: 10 and over (with endurance)  •  FACILITIES: YES •  FEES: $25 daily vehicle pass (includes all occupants), or $12 individual walk-in pass, or $85 annual national Park pass

Landscape, Arizona, Grand Canyon, Bright Angel Hiking TrailNo other trail represents the Arizona hiking experience more decisively than the Bright Angel Hiking Trail. Beginning on the southern rim of one of the world’s largest canyons, this trail hugs colossal cliffs, skirts gapping chasms and offers such mind-boggelingly expansive views that they seem almost surreal in their scale. With thousands of hikers making this journey each year, it is by far the most frequented trail in the state. And if not properly prepared for (especially during the Summer’s 100-120 degree, or Winter’s sub-freezing temperatures), it can also be one of the most dangerous – with overheating or falls from icy conditions leading to over 250 rescues per year.

Hikers, Arizona, Grand Canyon, Bright Angel Hiking Trail, Cliff.Hiked during the milder temperatures of the Spring or Fall, this trail is an amazing bucket-list worthy adventure. The Bright Angel Hiking Trail is exceptionally well maintained, moderately and consistently graded throughout its more than 100 switchbacks, and one of the rare routes that has restrooms and water stations at three stops along the way (at 1.5, three and 4.5 miles into the hike). The arid environment demands constant hydration! So it is imperative to bring ample quantities of water – planning to refill at the stations as it inevitably runs out.

Hikers, Backpacker, Arizona, Grand Canyon, Bright Angel Hiking Trail, LandscapeStarting just below the Kolb Studio in Grand Canyon Village, the Bright Angel Hiking Trail begins its descent switchbacking along the top a deep chasm. It passes beneath two unique sandstone arches as it advances and then (for a short patch) follows along the base of the jaw-dropingly high upper-canyon-wall. The trail continues its back-and-forth cadence down smaller pine-lined slopes, each offering incredible overlooks, as it approaches the 1.5-mile rest station. If you are on the trail before noon, expect to pass fatigued, backpack laden “overnighters”, making their long, slow ascent from the campgrounds at Indian Gardens or Phantom Ranch far below.

Between the 1.5-mile and three-mile rest stations, longer stretches fluctuate with shorter switchbacks – carving their way further down the canyon side. Passing the three-mile rest area a series of (seemingly non-stop) hair-pin turns zigzag down a deep slope alongside the canyon’s immense, concave Battleship cliff. From the base, it is astonishing to find that the upper rim is no longer visible beneath this soaring precipice.

Landscape,Switchbacks, Grand Canyon, Bright Angel Hiking Trail, Northern ArizonaBeyond this descent, the angle of the trail eases slightly and moves more directly toward Indian Gardens. Although less angled, this section of the Bright Angel Hiking Trail exits the welcome shade of the surrounding cliffs and becomes fully exposed to the sun. Temperatures on the plateau are significantly hotter than on the rim (or even the previously shaded parts of the trail), so it is important to keep on gulping that water!

Landscape, Canyons, Trees,Indian Garden, Arizona, Grand Canyon, Bright Angel Hiking TrailIndian Garden Steam, Indian Garden, Arizona, Grand Canyon, Bright Angel Hiking TrailLandscape, Hikers, Resting, Shade, Trees, Refilling, Indian Garden, Arizona, Grand Canyon, Canyons, Bright Angel Hiking TrailEntering Indian Gardens feels almost miraculous! In the midst of this hot dessert setting, an oasis of lush-green trees, the babbling Garden Creek, squirrels and flowers suddenly appear as if answering every hikers wish for a much needed respite. There is a spigot flowing with cool water to refill your containers and a clean restroom. Trail-goers congregate in the shade: stretching, enjoying a snack and sometimes snoring for awhile, before starting their very long journey (which always seems much longer than the descent) up the trail.

Total Nerdery

The canyon went by the meh name Big Canyon until 1871, when explorer John Powell smartly coined it Grand Canyon. At  277 miles long, 18 miles wide (at its widest point) and more than a mile deep the canyon started forming over 17 million years ago.

Resources

Click here to download a trail map.

Directions From the intersection of I-17 and I-40 in Flagstaff, head west on I-40 for 29.3 miles to exit 165/AZ-64. Turn right/north on AZ-64 and drive 55.8 miles to Grand Canyon City. The trailhead for the Bright Angel Trail is located behind the Kolb Studio in Grand Canyon City.

4 Responses to Bright Angel Hiking Trail to Indian Gardens

  1. Georgie

    We hiked Bright Angel Trail down to Plateau Point last week. It was wonderful!! Took us 10 hours RT, and that included lengthy 10-15 minute potty/water/snack breaks at the 1.5 and 3 mile houses, Indian Gardens and Plateau Point. That also included an hour long lunch back at Indian Gardens. We had a handful of 13-15 year olds with us, who stayed ahead of the adults the entire time and none of them them had any significant hiking under their belts either, but we’re all relatively in decent shape and motivated.

    We filled up at each station. Even in October, you need to do this; top it off no matter what. I learned that having 2 hiking poles will make the world of difference. They help slow you down and decrease knee impact going down. You’ll definitely need them going back up.The most difficult part of this 12 mile trip was the last 1.5 miles. Legs were burning and I could really feel the altitude.

    I saw people who had no business on the trail. Some kids from ASU haphazardly decided to hike to Indian Gardens with a box meal of chicken and abottle of water. One girl with a heavy African accent was in dress shoes and didn’t have any water at all. I yelled at her for short cutting the trail and climbing through some drainage spots. She dropped her trash off along the way, which is interesting since this is a pack it out trail. I saw her with it a mile earlier. I suspect she threw it in the toilet or littered on the trail, both of which are wrong. I told her she had no business on this trail and she needed to hurry up and get to the top and drink water. There were lots of other people on the trail in flip flops or who also didn’t have water. I don’t have sympathy for those who tempt Darwin in giving them an award.

    They should post signs on every trail that read if you do not have these basic items, then you aren’t allowed on the trail. I don’t think people understand that if you need to be rescued from that trail, you get to pay for that rescue. It’s all over Grand Canyon’s hiking trail and backcountry webpage.

    Oh and, park access fees are now $30 a vehicle for 2015.

    Reply
    • azutopia

      So glad that you had a good (and trail safe) hike with your group. Thank you also for the updated parking information. People should definitely not attempt this hike without ample ability, water and time!

      Reply
        • azutopia

          No permit required to hike. If you camp at Indian Gardens you would need a reservation. It is a wonderful hike.

          Reply

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