Bright Angel Hiking Trail to Indian Gardens
★★★★★ 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
No 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.
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.
Starting 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.
Beyond 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!
Entering 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.
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.
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.
- Canyon, Creek, Dayhike, Grand Canyon, Long, Switchbacks
- April 11, 2015