Upon our arrival in the Grand Canyon at the East entrance we were given the fall guide to the park. After leaving our first stop at the Desert View Watchtower, while driving to south rim I (Ben) studied the guide while Meagan drove. The guide gave several options for different time commitments which was very helpful. One of the suggestions if you had a moderate amount of time was to hike the Bright Angel Trail. There were various lengths you could go on the trail and of course the farther you went the more difficult it would become. We decided that the second turn around option (Tunnel 2) would be the best choice for us.
Bright Angel is reported to be the most popular trail in the canyon. This being the case you may experience crowds on the trail depending on when you go. While we were there on a Thursday afternoon in mid October, there were plenty of people on the trail but it was not crowded.
To get to the trail head the best option is to take the shuttle bus. Shuttles are free with your park admission and make getting around much easier than driving your own vehicle. If you are coming from the visitor center or the Mather campground get on a westbound blue line shuttle. From the campground we found it easiest to get on at the Shrine of the Ages westbound stop.
You can take the shuttle to either the Bright Angel Lodge stop or the Hermit’s Rest Transfer stop. Both are close to entrances to the trail. We went to the Hermit’s Rest Transfer, but it appeared that both were equally close.
What you will see:
The trail is one of the oldest in the canyon and is reported to have been used as far back as prehistoric times. Its long use is credited to being a natural trail formed by a fault line and its having its own water supply at Indian Gardens. It is one of the ways to reach the canyon floor and Phantom Ranch.
If you hike the trail you will see an amazing view of the Grand Canyon from below the rim. Bright Angel trail looks out on a gorgeous view that sweeps in front of you, while also affording a close look at the layers of rock you descend between.
On our trip we went as far as what they term the “second tunnel” in the park guide (about 500 feet of elevation loss). The trip took us about an hour and forty five minutes at a leisurely pace. We saw plenty of children and senior citizens doing the hike as far down as we did. If you want a very short hike you can go only to the first tunnel and still get a good view of the canyon. With children a trip to the first tunnel will likely take about half and hour round trip.
I have put in a picture of what the tunnels look like because we were confused at first as to whether they counted as tunnels because they were so small.
What you will need:
Water: Make sure you bring plenty of water with you. You can fill your water at the trail head form the Grand Canyon spring water station. These stations are found throughout the park and distribute water pumped from the springs on the North Rim. You will not have a chance to refill water on the trail unless you go as far down as Indian Gardens.
Food: Bring food based on the amount of time you plan to spend hiking. We did not end up needing any food during our hike, but when hiking with children you will want to make sure you have some. And if you plan to go deep into the canyon you will need to pack plenty of food to keep up your strength on the way out. There are a few places where you can stop and sit on out cropping rocks but no picnic tables or benches so plan on individually wrapped food like granola bars and fruit snacks.
Camera: Don’t forget your camera and equipment, you will be extremely sad if you do. We took with us our DSLR camera with tripod, iPhone 6s, and iPhone 5s with selfiestick. We used all three during the hike. This was a good setup because we could easily capture shots along the trail quickly using the phones, As well as get some better shots with the DSLR. Phones are common cameras on the trail and all over the Grand Canyon, but make sure that you have a good case on it that won’t slip out of your hand.
Other Materials: We did not have walking sticks or ski poles with us but we saw a number of other hikers who did and they would likely be a good choice but are not required. Make sure you have good shoes for walking in. I unfortunately forgot my hiking shoes on this trip, much to my chagrin. Of course when hiking it is always good to have a simple first aid kit, especially with children and rocks. Depending on the time of year and day you will likely also want sunscreen and hats.
The Bright Angel Trail is a fun hike that most people can do at least the first portion of. It is an easy way to get below the rim of the Grand Canyon and see the geology up close. We recommend it as part of your trip.