The Grand Canyon: Hiking the Bright Angel Trail

As soon as you arrive at the Grand Canyon you are bombarded by safety warnings. There are signs telling you not to hike too far; to remember to take water and to eat well.

The catchphrase for the park is: Down is optional, up is mandatory.

Grand Canyon

Having done a lot of hiking in South America, where safety concerns are minimal, to say the least, I was trying to weigh up whether the Americans were being overcautious or whether that many warnings really were justified.

Within the first hour of our trek into the canyon, I realised what they were talking about.

We had decided to do a trail called the Bright Angel Trail and had chosen to walk to a point called the Indian Garden, a nine mile round trip, which sounded easy enough for a day’s hike.

Grand Canyon

And so it begins…

We set off at 8am in order to have a cool start, with the the knowledge that it would get significantly hotter the deeper we got into the canyon.

The first hour or so was lovely. The switchbacks were not too steep and there was still plenty of shade from the steep walls of the canyon. Although we set off at the same time as a few other people, we soon found ourselves alone on the paths and fears of overcrowding were quickly dispelled.

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Heading for that green strip

Every time we turned a corner we were greeted by gorgeous views of the constantly changing landscape and even the layers of rock we were walking on changed from white to red as we got deeper into the canyon.

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On the way down we passed people who had spent the night in the canyon walking out carrying their huge backpacks. They all looked hot and many joked to us about how much more difficult the walk up was, so we knew that we had the hard bit still to come.

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There is the option to go into the canyon on a donkey which, to me, looked fairly terrifying!

On the way we also met a park ranger who was missioning up the paths as though it was a walk in the park (we later passed her coming down again and realised that she must just spend the whole day going up and down). She stopped to ask us where we were going and to check that we had sufficient food and water. I was very impressed with how seriously everyone takes the safety here, but with temperatures reaching almost 28C (82C) in June (when we hiked) it’s easy to see why.

As we got closer to the bottom of the canyon the temperatures rose and there was almost no shade. Luckily my big hat helped to keep most of the sun off my face and I was so happy I chose to take my Air Zone backpack. No sweaty back for me!

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Relief at our arrival

We arrived at the Indian Garden in two hours and 20 minutes and it was lovely to reach the little oasis of greenery, which seems to be controlled by the cheeky squirrels which live there. Be warned, they will try and get into your bags!

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Not as sweet and innocent as they look!

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Making friends

The walk must have been more tiring than I thought as after lunch I actually had a little nap before we attempted the walk out.

We knew that it would take about twice as long to walk out of the canyon as it had taken to get in so we set off on our return journey at 1pm.  By this time it was very hot so we took advantage of any shade we saw to take a break.

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The long walk back

I was amazed at how different the scenery looked as we made our return journey. As we walked back towards the canyon’s walls we could see that they were covered in trees and the greenery was so nice to see after the starkness of the rocks.

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Not too much further to go!

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Going back was definitely much harder, but we knew we had plenty of time so we paced ourselves. There are huts three miles and 1.5 miles from the top of the canyon, which acted as good markers and also provided some shelter from the sun.

The one casualty of our day was my hiking boot which, after a solid 15 years of service, decided that the Grand Canyon would be a good place to die. After an emergency repair session I managed to make it out though.

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Guide/scout skills coming into good use

As the sun got lower in the sky it was amazing to watch shadows form over the paths we’d just walked on.

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We reached the top at just after 5pm – so six hours and 25 minutes of hiking in all – exhausted and covered in red dust, but so happy to have had such an incredible experience.

After a well-earned shower we went to the El Tovar hotel and were pleasantly surprised to find plenty of space on its deck. Sitting there and watching the sun go down over the canyon, knowing that we’d hiked into it, was a perfect end to the day.

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Yep, we did it!

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16 responses to “The Grand Canyon: Hiking the Bright Angel Trail

  1. I’ve always wanted to hike down into the Grand Canyon, and I wouldn’t trust a donkey either! I went there once as a kid, but we never hiked down. Maybe after this next year of living in Spain I’ll make it back to the Grand Canyon. Also, I love the name of your blog, and I’m glad I found it!

    • They are mules, not donkeys, and are among the best conditioned athletes you will ever see. Down one day, back up the next…repeat…repeat…etc. They are STILL the ONE mode of travelling into & out of the Canyon to never suffer a visitor casualty. On foot is still better, if you can manage it…a lot less expensive, too!

      • Thanks for the correction, Anthony. I know the mules are reliable as they make the trek in and out safely day after day. I just think I’d trust my own two feet more. Plus, as long as I can make the trek in and out on foot, I’d prefer to do it that way.

      • Oops, I also called them donkeys, even though I knew they were mules. Must be because I grew up at the seaside with donkeys! They are incredibly strong and we were told that they have their own physio looking after them too:)

  2. This looks fantastic ! I wish there was a way my husband and I could do the hike but I don’t think my parents who are also coming like be thrilled watching and entertaining th kids for a full day there. Do you know of any shorter hikes around 2-3 hours ? Maybe we could do that? I am getting excited to check it all out!

  3. It is my husbands dream to hike to the bottom of the Canyon and now I feel as though if you can do it, I can do it with him someday. What a memorable experience for you. Fantastic.

  4. Thanks Mary. I must actually confess, the Indian Garden isn’t the very bottom of the canyon – you can still go further – but we decided that was a good distance for us to do in a day as we weren’t sure how we’d cope with the heat! It is a fantastic experience though 🙂

  5. At the height of Summer, it is light enough to get on the trail by 4:30-5:00AM. If you hike to Indian Garden, you can lay about, play in the stream there and start back up toward late afternoon and have more shade. Figure 2X your down-hike time to hike back up.
    Dripping Springs is another great day hike, starting from Hermit’s rest. It traverses a couple of big bays along the contour (constant height) that are simply spectacular. Dripping Springs is 6.4 miles round trip and is well worth the effort.

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