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Fitness Extreme Series

The Grand Canyon
Bright Angel Trail


Length, round trip in miles - 10.9

Cumulative elevation gain, min / max - 3200 ft , 3700 / 6785

Gradient (topographic average) - 0.11

Trail quality - Poor to excellent

Hiking time round trip hours (very approximate) - 7

Difficulty rating - Moderate-hard in cool conditions, hard in hot conditions

GPS: Trailhead Lat / Long WGS 84 - N36°03.436 - W112°08.615'

GPS: Destination Lat / Long WGS 84 - N36°05.593 - W112°06.964'



Directions

  • The trailhead is about 65 air miles northwest of Flagstaff, Arizona. It's about 5 miles north of the tourist town of Tusayan, within the Grand Canyon National Park. Park passes are $25 per car, and cover 7 days. Here's more info on fees.
  • If you're driving in from the north, be aware that gas stations are sparse in that region. Use 1/2 tank as fill-up point instead of 1/4 tank. One of the maps below shows the main routes into the Park.
  • Inside the south rim Park, look for signs directing you to the "Grand Canyon Village", which is a cluster of hotels, restaurants and tourist shops located close to the Bright Angel trailhead.
  • Approaching the "Village", get onto the Village Loop road which is one way (east to west traffic) and runs close to the buildings lining the rim of the Canyon. If you're there early in the morning, you may find a parking spot right in front of the Bright Angel Lodge. If you don't, just continue driving a few hundred feet westward. You will cross some railroad tracks - immediately past the tracks is a one lane asphalt road to your left - turn onto it. Drive a few hundred feet to some parking spaces alongside a stone building, or keep driving a little further to a an area with some parking beneath some trees. During the summer, parking in the shade is a good thing to do. To get to the trailhead, walk over the tracks and use a metal stairway. In the unlikely case that you still can't find a spot, drive on out and look for the first outlying parking area you come across, park and use the free shuttle buses to get a ride over to the "Village" area. Be sure to note what lot name and what color route bus you're using.
  • The Bright Angel trailhead is located a few hundred feet west of the rear of the Bright Angel Lodge, a little past the Kolb photo shop, and close to the mule corral


  • Lodging and camping

    The south rim of the Grand Canyon is a very touristed area. Hotels, or lodges inside the park, generally need reservations some time in advance to secure a room, and are not inexpensive. There's a Park Service campground in the Park that can take RVs, but you can't depend on getting a space without reservations.

    About 3 1/2 miles south of the Park entrance, just east of Rt. 180, there is a US Forest Service campground with water and toilets (called Ten X).

    If you don't mind lack of facilities and water taps, you can camp in the US Forest service lands flanking Rt. 180. The area has a lot of nice pine forest and it's easy to find spots in amongst the trees with few or no neighboring campers.


    General Information

    This is a famous hike into a famous locale of dramatic scenery. Part of the present day Bright Angel trail was created by Indians centuries ago in order to access water and farm the vegetated "Indian Gardens" area along Garden Creek. In the late 1800's, the trail was further developed by miners prospecting in the area. The hike described here goes from the south rim down to a very scenic overlook called "Plateau Point", which is about 1300 ft. above the Colorado River at the Canyon bottom.

    This hike, like any other down into the Canyon, has a major difference and potential hazards that contrast with most hikes.

    That is, in most hikes, the hard uphill part comes first. This hard part is normally done in relatively cool early day hours and if you wear out, you can turn around and gravity will make things easier for you as you descend back to the trailhead.

    In this case, you're doing the easy part first. People sometimes hike far down into the Canyon without appreciating what it's going to be like climbing back up. Often, on the way up later in the day, the temperature has risen a great deal, so the hard part is done in a lot of heat. I once hiked the Bright Angel in early July, with the mid-afternoon temperature at 110 F in the shade.

    And, there is precious little shade outside of Indian Gardens - just the blazing sun, unless you are sitting in a rest shelter. Below is a chart which shows monthly average temperatures, based on historical data. In recent years, temperatures in the Canyon have tended to be above historical averages.

    Temperatures increase with depth into the Canyon. The park overall, and the trail, get the highest traffic during the summer months. On average, the Park Service has to rescue 250 people per year who become exhausted and are unable to get out of the Canyon unassisted. The Park Service warns against people trying to hike from the rim all the way down to the river (versus Plateau Pt.), and back, in one day.

    Some people are in good enough shape to do a round trip to the river and back, in one day. But the prudent approach is to camp overnight down at the river and return the next day. Camping requires that you make a reservation for a permit with the Park Service, whereas a day hike as described here, doesn't.

    A sensible plan would be to do the hike described here and if it seems easy to you, only then consider doing a future day hike to the river and back. Be aware that summertime temperatures down at the river bottom area have been reported as high as 130 F. Heat exhaustion has killed people in the Grand Canyon. The good aspect of doing a day hike versus camping, is that there is less heavy gear to carry in and out.

    Altitude Be aware that if the altitude you are acclimated to is substantially below the 6785 to 3700 ft. levels that this hike covers, you may be significantly weaker until your body has days or weeks to adjust. The effects of increased altitude vary a lot among individuals.

    Water During the months when temperatures don't drop to freezing, there are four clean water tap sources along this hike. The two furthest up and closest to the rim, get shut off during winter months to avoid pipe breakage from freezing.

    You should carry a minimum one liter water bottle and keep it filled. Especially during hot summer months, you don't want to have to go without water between the water tap sources. During winter months, the water taps are way too widely spaced for a hiker to stay hydrated.

    Electrolytes When you exercise for more than an hour or so in the heat, you deplete electrolytes by sweating - especially sodium and potassium. You might find that you feel better and retain more strength if you stay replenished with a Gatorade type electrolyte drink, or a powdered electrolyte additive that you add to your water.

    Toilets On most hikes, you just go back into the woods to answer the call of nature. However, in this area, there are few places to do that without being seen, and it's against Park regulations. There are two toilet facilities along this hike.

    Mules The Park Service runs groups of mules that people ride into and out of the Canyon. Hikers are expected to get out of the way and let the mules pass. You should move to the uphill side of the trail so that if a mule balks or bumps you, you don't fall down slope.

    Trail quality The Bright Angel trail has been heavily traveled for many decades. There are stretches that have pits that are hard to hike over. The rocks and log works that are used on the trail are worn smooth and slippery, especially if it rains. In places there is deep dust that will turn to copious mud in a heavy rainfall.

    Hike plan The best approach is to start your hike early - at first light if possible. Hike down into the Canyon at a relatively fast pace with a minimum of stops. Then, on the way up, take your time and use short steps, at a slow and steady pace. As a rule of thumb, if you find that you have to stop to rest, that means you are going too fast. You will get the most overall work out of your body by using a leisurely pace that you can comfortably putter along at.

    If you see any chance of having to hike after dark (see the dawn / dusk time chart below), make sure to have a headlamp with a stretch band that you can wear on your head to light the path in front of you. Walmart sells these for $10 to $20. Some Grand Canyon hiking advisories recommend considering hiking at night in order to avoid the heat. However, to me, that seems to diminish the primary purpose of seeing and experiencing the Canyon.


    Geology

    Igneous rock was molten and then cooled to a solid form. Igneous intrusive rock cooled within the earth after intruding into existing rocks, versus being extruded out on the surface of the earth.

    Volcanic rocks include a variety of rock types associated with an event of molten (igneous) rock extruding and/or exploding out onto the surface of the earth.

    Metamorphic rock has been altered from its original condition by heat, pressure, and sometimes, deformational stresses; they sometimes have very contorted layers; the altered rock could originally have been igneous, sedimentary or metamorphic.

    Sedimentary rocks are of three basic types: 1) rocks made up of particles from the breakdown of pre-existing igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks; 2) rocks created from biological activity (ex: coral reefs); 3) evaporite rocks (ex: salt deposits).