Backpack the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden and Bright Angel Campgrounds
Rate this Adventure Arizona › Bright Angel Trailhead
Added by Nick Tort
The best way to get your first Grand Canyon backpack under belt in the most epic of ways! As easy as the Grand Canyon can make it, with water stops along the way, sights to boot, and photo ops to die for.
The Bright Angel Trail is considered the park’s premier hiking trail. Well maintained, graded for stock, with regular drinking water and covered rest-houses, it is without question the safest trail in Grand Canyon National Park. There is a ranger station located at the trail’s halfway point (Indian Garden) and one at the bottom of the canyon (Bright Angel Campground). Particularly during hot weather, it makes sense to ascend via the Bright Angel Trail because of potable water, regular shade, emergency phones, and the ranger presence.
You can choose to do this backpack in multiple ways and you should choose what works best for you. This write-up will focus on the following itinerary, chosen because of the time restraint and heat:
- Day One: Hike down to Indian Garden and set up camp. Enjoy Sunset at Plateau Point. Camp at Indian Garden.
- Day Two: Hike down, across the colorado and Camp at Bright Angel Campground - enjoying some beers at the cantina.
- Day Three: Early AM start to hike back up to the rim.
The majority of this trail’s elevation change takes place in the upper four miles of trail via a series of switchbacks that can seem endless. It's 1.6 miles down to Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse and 1131ft down followed by 1.5 miles (981ft) down to Three-Mile Resthouse. Drop the pack, refill your water and strike up convo with fellow hikers and/or a ranger that is posted there during the busier times of year.
From here, it's an easy jaunt down to Indian Gardens (1.7 miles / 948 ft). Set up camp and chill for a bit before strapping your camp shoes on and heading out to Plateau Point (1.5 mi each way) to enjoy the sights and a killer sunset. Bring a headlamp for your walk back to camp. Indian Gardens has bathrooms, water, picnic tables and plenty of shade.
Get an early start to your day and start making your way down to the river. Just after leaving Indian Gardens comes one of the most brilliant sections of the trail that follows a creek through a meandering gully of water-sculpted stone and shimmering cottonwood trees. Enjoy it, because next up is Devils Corkscrew - an appropriately named sections of switchbacks that can be brutal in the summer heat. There are no water stops between Indian Garden and Bright Angel Campground, so plan accordingly. It may be downhill, but it is completely exposed and you're still working it pretty good.
At the River Resthouse (3.2 miles and 1320ft down), there is a composting toilet. Here you can take a short walk to the edge of the river to hopefully score a sight of some boats floating by prepping for some upcoming riffles and rapids. The next sections has a few spots of sand dune-like trails that can be very hot and tiring until you reach the silver bridge that crosses the Colorado. It is 1.5 miles to Bright Angel Campground with moderate ups and downs on the trail.
When you get to Bright Angel, grab your spot, soak your feet in the creek and explore Phantom Ranch! There is a Cantina there as well as very knowledge rangers. Usually, they have some sort of activity planned, so check the boards and make sure to attend and mingle.
We opted to wake at 4am, pack up and hit the trail under the moonlight to beat the heat as best we could. It's 9.5 miles and 4380 ft in elevation gain from here so pace yourself, rest often and keep your head up! Again, you can definitely do this backpack in reverse, or connect it to South Kaibab if you're feeling froggy.
You must have a backcountry permit in order to do this backpacking trip. All the info you need can be found on this site. You can also try your luck in the off-season by showing up to the backcountry office before it opens at 8am and seeing what you can grab. Good luck!
- Comfy overnight pack - (35-50L)
- Toss the inflatable, go with a superlight Ridgerest Pad
- Water & water bottles - know your stops and plan accordingly so you don't end up carrying more or less water than you need
- Sun protection: glasses, sunscreen, hat
- Favorite Sturdy Hiking boots/shoes and a pair of comfy camp shoes - you're feet will thank you - Chacos or Sanuk's
- Trail snacks - keep that belly full and energy up
- Backcountry Permit
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