Zigzag your way down 3,195 feet on nearly 100 switchbacks to Havasupai Gardens and on to Plateau Point before you turn around and head back up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Resthouses, water and a phone are on the trail.
How Long Does It Take to Hike Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point?
This adventure is 12.2 miles round trip that will take 8-12 hours with 3,195 elevation change. From the South Rim, nearly 100 switchbacks snake down the canyon, etched into the red rock, cutting a thin ribbon of matted red dirt. Rest houses, complete with shade, water and an emergency telephone, are spaced in 1.5 mile intervals along the trail.
From the Bright Angel Trailhead, take switchbacks down to Havasupai Gardens, an oasis smudged into a crease in the canyon wall. Havasupai Gardens is home to a handful of campsites that you can reserve in advance. It also has wonderful shade, beautiful trees, a perennial creek running through the bottom of it and pit toilets.
Havasupai Gardens (formerly known as “Indian Garden”) was home to the Havasupai, a group of Native Americans who farmed squash, corn and beans and made their lives in this oasis for centuries. If you look carefully, you’ll find evidence of their lives with rock art, granaries and ruins dotting the Bright Angel Trail and around Havasupai Gardens. In 1928, they were forcibly removed from the canyon, and when you’re there, you can imagine how heartbreaking it would have been to be forced to leave a home that your family had spent generations and generations in.
At Havasupai Gardens, veer left and head out into the canyon to Plateau Point. The point, a spectacular overlook with views of the Colorado River, and the inner canyon’s depths, is worth every bit of sweat. Look for condors, once on the brink of extinction, as they like to hang out on the point. To return, simply make a U-turn and head back up the canyon to the South Rim and one of the best ice cream cones ever, at the Bright Angel Lodge.
To break up the route, you can camp at Havasupai Gardens for a night or two and do a day hike to Plateau Point from the campsite. But first, you need to apply for a backcountry permit from the Grand Canyon Backcountry Information Center (www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/backcountry-permit.htm). You can apply for your permit four months before your trip, and you’ll need to include your proposed night-by-night itinerary with dates for each night, plus an alternative itinerary.
Caution: Summer temperatures can soar above 115F, creating potentially deadly conditions for hikers, so it’s best to hike in the Grand Canyon in the fall, winter or early spring. Always carry water, and start early to beat the midday heat. Also, don’t forget it is much easier to descend into the canyon than climb back up. Expect to spend at least double the amount of time climbing than descending.
Bright Angel Trailhead
At the Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim, park in the lot on Village Loop Drive. Walk across lot to access trailhead near Kolb Studio. You’ll find the trailhead clearly marked.
If you need a detailed map to help you plan and visualize where you want to go in the Grand Canyon, including the Bright Angel Trail, you can buy one of three Grand Canyon maps made by Trails Illustrated at REI.com.
Directions + Waypoints: Helping You Find Your Way
Bright Angel Trail
Distance: 12.2 miles round trip
Position Format: Datum:
Mapped by Chelise Simmons
Point Name: GCP001: Directly next to the Kolb Studio, begin descending into the depths of the Grand Canyon along the Bright Angel Trail. Location: 36.05795, -112.14236
Point Name: GCP002: Unlike most hikes where the trail is hidden by ridgelines, valleys, and canyons, this out-and-back is mostly visible, snaking thousands of feet below in a small ribbon of matted red dirt etched into the canyon wall. Location: 36.05776, -112.14529
Point Name: GCP003: Hiking into the Grand Canyon is a geology lesson. The top layer, roughly 250 million years old, is known as Kaibab Limestone and is sandy to the touch. Location: 36.05819, -112.14653
Point Name: GCP004: Continue left at 3-way junction. Immediately to your right is the 1.5 Mile Resthouse with water, bathrooms and an emergency telephone. At this point the trail has dropped 1,065 feet into the canyon. Location: 36.06031, -112.13909
Point Name: GCP005: Descending down the nearly 100 switchbacks to Havasupai Gardens, it is impossible to not be overwhelmed with the size and sheer beauty of the deteriorating red rock walls. Location: 36.06212, -112.14015
Point Name: GCP006: On the left is a large rock shaped like a shark’s tooth. Location: 36.06126, -112.14175
Point Name: GCP007: Three-Mile Resthouse: Water, shelter and an emergency phone are available starting in May. Havasupai Gardens, the next opportunity to get water, is now only 1.6 miles below. Optional: Follow the small path behind the resthouse for a stunning view of the canyon. Location: 36.06544, -112.13625
Point Name: GCP008: Depending on the time of day, donkey trains may pass on the trail. To allow safe passage, stand on the uphill side of the trail and do not agitate the animals (or riders for that matter). Location: 36.06682, -112.13556
Point Name: GCP009: As the trail begins to flatten out, the rock walls transition from Mauv Limestone to Bright Angel Shale. Depending on the time of year, spring wildflowers may also line the trail. Location: 36.06764, -112.13380
Point Name: GCP010: An oasis in the middle of the canyon, Havasupai Gardens has shade, water, and a rest area. Location: 36.07460, -112.12880
Point Name: GCP011: Continue straight at 3-way junction. The trail to the left leads to Havasupai Gardens Campground. Location: 36.07602, -112.12862
Point Name: GCP012: Shade and water can be found here. Location: 36.07701, -112.12837
Point Name: GCP013: Veer right @ Y-junction; bathrooms and benches flank the trail. Location: 36.07740, -112.12809
Point Name: GCP014: Turn left @ 3-way junction and cross over a small stream. The trail winds through more vegetation. Location: 36.07842, -112.12703
Point Name: GCP015: During springtime, pink and yellow cactus flowers dot the landscape adding a splash of color to the otherwise dusty, red rock. Summer Point is also visible jutting up to the northeast. Location: 36.08377, -112.12482
Point Name: GCP016: Veer right at Y-junction, heading northeast toward Plateau Point. The Bright Angel Trail is visible to the right a few hundred feet below. Location: 36.08615, -112.12434
Point Name: GCP017: Fill up your water bottles here before the final push to Plateau Point. Location: 36.09313, -112.11649
Point Name: GCP018: Plateau Point: From this vantage point deep inside the heart of the canyon, views extend across the Colorado River to distant mesas and plateaus. After basking in the view, turn around and retrace the trail to the canyon’s rim. Depending on the time of year, the heat can rise into the hundreds, so make sure to drink plenty of water. Location: 36.09327, -112.11600