The Grand Canyon is a source of awe and inspiration for the nearly 5 million people who visit it each year. The national park covers 1,904 square miles of land and offers fantastic opportunities for the backpacking crowd. The trails can become a hiker’s treasured memory or their worst nightmare. Canyon hiking requires much more preparation and precautions than just an average stroll through the woods. The Bright Angel Trail is sure to please those who just can’t wait to lace up their hiking boots again.
The Bright Angel trail is the most popular backpacking trail in the Grand Canyon. The whole entire trail roundtrip is 18.6 miles and is by no means recommended to be hiked in one day. The access to this trail can be found by walking west along the rim for about 5 minutes from the Bright Angel Lodge. The trail starts with a series of switchbacks that you’ll grow all too accustomed to. Shortly after starting you will pass through your first tunnel which has Native American pictographs on it. As you continue hiking you will be treated to amazing views of the canyon and have the satisfaction of seeing the top grow further and further away. The first stop on your way down is the mile and half resthouse, which made obvious by it’s name is a mile and a half down the trail. They provide water, a shaded resting area, restrooms, and an emergency telephone. Continuing on from there you will already have noticed the geology changing from the limestone that is at the top. When you look at the distant canyon walls you’ll be able to pick out all the different layers of rock. The next stop after the mile and half resthouse is the three mile rest house. They provide water, shade, and an emergency telephone but no restrooms. From there you are only about a mile and a half from Indian Gardens.
Indian Gardens is a lush oasis that is easily visible from the rim of the Grand Canyon. This is a perfect spot to stop and spend the night at one of the designated camping areas. Just be sure to reserve a mandatory backcountry permit long before your trip if you intend on staying overnight in the inner canyon. Here you will find a small creek, restrooms, camp sites, water, a ranger station, and an emergency telephone. You are also bound to see many lizards running around and the mule deer. This is an excellent spot to spend a few hours relaxing. Indian Gardens can be prone to flooding. In one of my overnight stays there I got caught in a torrential downpour that flooded the whole area. Fortunately the covered area overtop the picnic bench in my campsite provided a great place to throw my sleeping pad and sleeping bag and I was able to stay dry. If your traveling solo and Indian Gardens is your only overnight stay the picnic benches are a fantastic alternative to lugging around a tent.
From Indian Gardens your only about four and a half to five miles away from Phantom Ranch. If your an experienced hiker and in good shape Phantom Ranch is a great overnight destination. There is a canteen down there where you can buy a cold drink, snacks, a full meal, or even a souvenir. They also run nightly ranger programs. When I camped overnight there I missed the ranger program but the ranger was kind enough to take my friends and me on a guided scorpion hunt. Interesting fact: Scorpions glow in the dark under a black light. The campsites at Phantom Ranch line a creek that feels absolutely wonderful in the common 3 digit degree weather of the summer. The Bright Angel Trail ends at Phantom Ranch giving way to the North Kaibab which will lead up to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Hiking in the Grand Canyon can be one of the most rewarding yet arduous experiences of your life. It is never recommended that you hike all the way from the rim to the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon all the way and back in one day. Many people have died trying and you will see warnings against this posted by the National Park Service all over the place. The hot sun baking you all day long in over a hundred degree weather is enough to stop even the fittest athlete in their tracks. Take advantage of all of the rest stops along the way to get a break from the sun. Water is a necessity in such an unforgiving climate and it’s recommended that you drink half a quart to a full quart of water for every hour that your hiking in the heat. Also note that during off season times some of the water spigots are shut off at the rest houses, so be sure to check the availability of water before you hike. Hyponatremia, or low sodium levels in your blood, is a danger while hiking in the heat and can be avoided by being sure to eat plenty of salty foods. Hiking the Grand Canyon is an amazing experience that, if done safely and properly, will be a memory you can treasure forever.
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