Welcome to my article on the Bright Angel Trail of the Grand Canyon. My name is Paige and I was born and raised in rural Iowa, in a little town called Lenox. When I say little, I mean little: my graduating class was 16 people. I have always gravitated towards the outdoors, running around outside as a kid, helping my Grandpa in the garden, taking fishing trips, etc.
As for travel, we rarely went more than a two-hour radius for vacations. This is what prompted my need to explore. After graduating from the University of Iowa, I moved to Colorado which is where my love for hiking started. Colorado was home for a few years and then I moved to Alaska. Hiking became an integral part of my new life in the beautiful Alaska.
For me, hiking is a way to see parts of the world that are still wild. Finding alpine lakes with no sounds of traffic, popping a tent up on the side of a mountain and not thinking about work – these are the moments that make me feel happiest. And one hike that took my breath away recently was the Bright Angel Trail of the Grand Canyon. Let me tell you all about it.
Hiking the Bright Angel Trail in May
I hiked this trail out of necessity and determination. I contacted a few friends with the idea of going through a company to raft the Grand Canyon, but the option involved three days of rafting, then hiking out of the canyon via the Bright Angel Trail. At first, I almost didn’t run with the idea because of the hike, but I convinced myself it would be worth it.
We completed this hike on May 26th. Our raft guide dropped us off around 7:45 am, we threw our packs on, loaded up with snacks and started the climb. I truly believe we lucked out on the weather. It was hovering around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but we got an overcast day. The cloud coverage was very welcome with that temperature, especially coming from Alaska.
We started the trail at Pipe Creek Beach and finished at the South Rim of the canyon, which thankfully had an ice cream store. The hike took us almost four hours. We stopped at every water station to snack and fill up. Hydration and energy are important for any hike (so, especially on days you know you are going to be hiking, starting your day with something like this Morning Complete daily wellness drink is a good habit to get into).
The biggest highlights for me were seeing bighorn sheep while hiking, the amazing views of the canyon and finding a bag of Oreos in my pack. I love seeing wildlife in their natural habitat. Plus, seeing bighorn sheep on the Bright Angel Trail gave me a good excuse to stop and catch my breath!
Incredible Canyon Scenery Along the Way
The trail is very open with wonderful views the whole way, which is great for an overcast day. However, had the sun been out, there would have been minimal reprieve from the sun’s rays. There were many points on the hike that we said, “I don’t know which direction to look, it’s all so cool”. Cool meaning looking back and seeing a large canyon that you just hiked out of.
Closer to the top of the trail, before the last natural rock tunnel, there are pictographs. Be sure to look up and to the right before the last tunnel, and reverse those instructions if hiking down. Such a neat part of history to see!
How Hard is the Bright Angel Trail?
The Bright Angel Trail has its challenges, and I would recommend hikers be in decent shape so it’s safe and enjoyable. The elevation gain is a decent one. We started at 2800 ft and ended at 7200 ft, with a pack. Water is a lot of weight, but is very important for an exposed hike like this.
There are water stations along the way, but sometimes they are out of order. Sometimes pipes burst due to weather, and you can check at the visitor center or backcountry information center for water station updates. Not depending on that and bringing your own water is recommended.
Food adds weight and is important for energy, so being able to carry that a vertical mile takes a certain level of fitness. My friends and I did shorter hikes with elevation gain to prepare for the hike, and I’m glad we did.
Need to Know Before you Go
Some important responsible hiking and eco-tips for the Bright Angel Trail are the following: stay on the maintained trail and don’t disturb vegetation, pack out what you pack in, meaning wrappers, fruit skins and everything else. Leave natural objects alone – removing these is actually illegal in national parks and other protected places. And respect the wildlife please.
In terms of the hike itself, you want to be in decent shape. I did a couple of hikes with roughly 2000 ft elevation gain in 4-5 miles to help prepare. It may have been overkill, but I felt great on this hike. Make sure you are well hydrated in general, not just the day of. We were told to be in the area for 3-4 days prior to the hike, so we were more acclimated to the elevation.
I ate snacks frequently and it helped keep my energy levels high. Take a hat and sunscreen for sun exposure. I also recommend a handkerchief. I love tying them around my neck and dipping it in the water to help keep my body temperature under control. Most importantly, have fun!