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To Explore: Bright Angel Trail

Three women hiking on the Bright Angel Trail

When traveling to Arizona, a trip is not complete until you have visited this quintessential natural wonder. Hint: it is arguably one of the most recognizable canyons throughout the world and is visited by millions worldwide.

The canyon is none other than the one and only Grand Canyon National Park. Mother Nature has worked her magic again with this one!  One of the best ways to experience the vastness of the canyon is to hike the Bright Angel Trail.

Jennifer and I were fortunate enough to catch the last day of National Park Week on April 24, 2016. National Park Week is a week where the National Park Service teams up with the National Park Foundation to celebrate America’s treasures. During this week, there are special programs and events and certain days where entrance fees are waived. When we arrived at the park, the first thing we did was walk along the South Rim, a popular 11-mile trail that overlooks the canyon. However, I believe one of the best ways to truly explore the Grand Canyon is by going deep into it – plus, that allows you to avoid the rowdy crowds at the rim. After talking to a friend, she recommended the Bright Angel Trail, one of the more popular trails that leads into the canyon. The other one is the South Kaibab Trail.

Three women hiking on the Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trail is an approximately 12-mile roundtrip hike of pure bliss. As you hike down the trail, you will be surrounded by these massive, towering geological formations that make you wonder if they’re even real. I was so taken back by the beauty of the Grand Canyon that I fell behind the group a couple times. I wanted to soak everything in and engrave the scenery into my mind.

View of a geological formation on the Bright Angel Trail

There are six different stops along the Bright Angel Trail: 1st Tunnel, 2nd Tunnel, Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse, Three Mile Resthouse, Indian Garden and Plateau Point. Water is available from Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse to Plateau Point (though some are seasonal), while restrooms are only available at the third and fifth stop. One of my favorite parts of the trail is the hike between Indian Garden and Plateau Point. The scenery was absolutely surreal. The open view had these enormous red rocks glistening in the background and flowers and cacti blooming on the side of the trail –it was as if the scenery was taken out of a movie backdrop. It was perfect in every way and I was truly mesmerized.

Jennifer sitting at Plateau Point with the Colorado River beneath her

Just when I thought the view could not get any better, we arrived at Plateau Point (the end of the hike). Here, you can peer down into the grandiose canyon and gaze upon the mighty, emerald-colored Colorado River. My eyes grew wide and my mouth opened in awe. I remembered thinking, “someone pinch me, I think I’m in heaven.” It’s amazing how the Colorado River has carved its way through these gigantic rocks over centuries and created a stunning view for visitors to enjoy. At this point, everyone chose a spot on a ledge, munched on some snacks, took some photos, and admired its beauty in silence.

Vivian sitting at Plateau Point with the Colorado River beneath her.

After we had our moments, it was time to hike back up. Coming down into the Grand Canyon was no problem, but going back up, now that’s a whole nother story.  This is where you will need to mentally prepare yourself for some serious, hardcore leg and booty workout. All I remembered was that it was a never-ending hike of switchbacks after switchbacks after switchbacks after more switchbacks. By the 4 ½  miles up, I was drenched in sweat, sunburnt, and hiking as slow as a turtle. Putting all my weight on my trekking poles and keeping a steady pace, I eventually made it to the top and was actually the first one to arrive. I’ve never been so happy to see the start of a trailhead (then again, I feel like I always say that on any hike back up). One of the best feelings after an intense hike like the Bright Angel Trail is taking off my hiking boots and putting on my sandals, allowing my feet to feel free and cool.

Jennifer standing with the red rocks in the background.

Tips to Keep in Mind:

  • Bring at least 2L of water to stay hydrated.
  • Do not hike this trail in the late spring or early summer as it is the driest and warmest times of the year. It can be brutal. We hiked this trail in late April when the weather was in the high 70s and low 80s. We were already somewhat dying from the heat especially on the hike up.
  • Bring trekking poles to help with your balance and weight.
  • Bring snacks rich in sodium to replenish your body since you’ll be losing a lot of salt from sweating.
  • Bring a good pair of hiking boots and wool socks to prevent your feet from getting blisters.
  • Block a good chunk of your day for this hike. It took us approximately 8 hours to complete it. This included stops along the trail and at Plateau Point.
  • Indian Garden is a good place to refill your water bottle and snack before heading to Plateau Point. There is also a campground and visitor center here if you want to stay overnight.
  • It may be tempting to cut across the switchbacks as a “shortcut” but don’t do it! You are harming the environment by creating erosion and disrespecting the hard work of the trail maintenance crew. Just stay on the trail –  there’s a reason why it has been paved for you.
  • As always, leave no trace! Take only pictures, pick up your trash, and stay on the trail – more on our hiking etiquette 101 blog post. 
Vivian and Jennifer standing at the trailhead of the Bright Angel Trail

Have you visited the Grand Canyon National Park? Hiked the Bright Angel Trail? Share your experience in the comment section below.


(Photo Credit: Tu-tram Nguyen)


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