The Bright Angel Trail

If you are not already familiar with the Bright Angel Trail, it will probably help to read Bob Ribokas' Trail Description and view his Trail Map before reading my description. When viewing his trail map, remember to click on the "pink arrow" scroll icon to see the rest of the trail. Also see his (558 kB) 3D rendering of the trail.

The Bright Angel Trail is the "world's most famous footpath" (Washburn 1981). It is a wide pathway lined with rocks along much of its distance and groomed by a mini-bulldozer. This well-maintained trail is more akin to a dirt road than a hiking trail. The usual dangers of a backcountry Grand Canyon trail - poor footing, obstacles along the trail like landslides, nearby precipitous drop-offs, and/or losing the trail - are almost entirely absent. Thus hiking boots are not required for this trail, a good thing since probably more people hike it in street shoes and sneakers than use hiking boots, due to the large number of tourists that venture at least partway down. Nonetheless, the trail is still a delight to hike.

The biggest danger of this trail is stepping into a giant lake of mule piss ("ammonia warning!" is how one woman warned her companions of the next one) or the numerous piles of mule droppings along the trail. (A very small danger is posed by runaway mules!) The most common dilemmas are:

instead of:

Because drinking water is available at the 1.5 and 3 Mile Resthouses (except during the winter), 4.7 mile Indian Gardens (also with Resthouse), 6.2 mile Plateau Point (using a side trail from Indian Gardens), and the 7.7 mile River Resthouse at the end of the trail, this is by far the easiest trail to hike in the Canyon, requiring the hiker to carry very little water. The Resthouses, each a wood-roofed rustic stone cabin with benches inside, allow weary hikers to rest in what passes for luxurious comfort compared to a normal trail.

These qualities make this the perfect first trail for novice Grand Canyon hikers to tackle. They can test themselves against the defining physical challenges of a Grand Canyon trail, without also having to worry about such other challenges as mentioned above. The essential challenges are:

This trail has many charms:

I very much enjoy the people encountered along the trail. I have seen some amazing sights in the eight times I have hiked this trail. Some of the most interesting derive from the first-time hikers who had no idea what they were getting into when they came down the trail. Here's a small sampling of some of the memorable encounters:

By far the best resources to have along on this hike are:

The maps may now be combined in Bright Angel Trail - Hiking Map and Guide for $3.95, but I haven't seen this new publication. It can be ordered online from Grand Canyon Natural History Association. Thayer's delightful book is unfortunately out of print.

I have only written up two of my hikes along the Bright Angel Trail so far. On 20 October 1997, on a day hike to the River and back, I recorded the mileage from my pedometer at most of the 70 points with highly-accurate mileages from Washburn 1981. The log of that trip gives the mileages and my time to those points. I used that to compute the measured accuracy of my pedometer.

On 25 September 1999, I went to Plateau Point and back.

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Copyright © 1999 by Tom Chester.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Last update: 8 October 1999.