Bright Angel Trail, Rim to River to Rim
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Every sign, pamphlet, and advertisement in the park said, “DO NOT ATTEMPT TO GO TO THE RIM TO RIVER AND BACK IN ONE DAY!!”
he..he..hee…….my dad and I kinda sorta violated that recommendation…..
What can I say, we’re rebellious explorers! 😀
Here’s some facts about the hike and the beautiful and daunting Bright Angel trail:
- 15.6 miles total
- 4380 ft elevation change
- 20 degree temperature change
- 11 hours total
- carrying 30+ lb packs
- Very easy to follow, groomed path
We began the hike at sunrise (6am) and boy, was it chilly! We figured we should enjoy the cooler air while it lasted though, so we didn’t complain.
As we walked ever downward, we met two Vietnam veterans, both in their 70s, who’d hiked all over the country! If I remember correctly, this was their thirs hike into the canyon. I love meeting new people on hikes and hearing about their stories! We even spotted some deer on the trail thanks to their elderly prowess 😀 We kept talking about how weird it was to start a hike going down rather than up.
There are three rest stops on the way down to the river stationed at 1.5 miles, 3 miles, and Indian Garden at 5 miles. These stops consist of bathrooms and a place to fill up your water bottles! Definitely a nice mini destination to look forward to–especially on the way back up which we soon found out.
We made it down to the first house relatively quickly, and even though we felt great, we took advantage of the bathrooms, a breather, and chugged some water.
The sun still hadn’t crested over the rim of the canyon yet, so we were feeling awesome and continued on the adventure. We went past the second stop and onto the third and final stop at Indian Garden, one of the park’s popular campgrounds for day hikers. We checked our water, shed our jackets, ate some snacks and prepared for the final long trek to the river. If you click on the picture below, you can see a better depiction of the distances between the rest stops.
The sun came over the rim about 11am, and after being semi-cold, it felt amazing, so we relished it. Dad even spotted a deer and her baby right by the trail nibbling on a cactus!! They didn’t even move and were so brave!
A few people we passed were coming up from spending the night camping deep in the canyon at the famous Phantom Ranch! The spots at filled up fast so we weren’t able to do that, but still LOVED camping in the park close to the trailhead. We’ll have to return in the future to experience that!
Did I mention the breathtaking SIGHTS on the way down?!?! Unbelievably gorgeous. Such a unique, special view of the canyon unlike anything you can experience from the road or observation decks. Pictures can’t do it justice.
At about 12:30, we made it to the river and never felt so happy to rest our feet and shed our packs! The steep downhill grade was rough on the knees and ankles with the constant pounding.
A couple arrived seconds before us, so we offered to take their picture and they took ours. It was SO serene on the little river beach! My dad even dipped his toes in the icy cold Colorado!
We spent about 30 minutes taking in the awesomeness, and then started mentally preparing for the return trip. I remember looking up at the rim, realizing just how far we’d come. It was daunting to think of going back UP, but we knew we had to do it. There was no option. As the park’s catch phrase goes, “Going down it optional, coming up is mandatory.”
We contemplated going onto the Phantom Ranch campground, just to see it, but we decided we should turn around and start heading back. After all, our goal was to see the river! There was a tiny bathroom hut and water spigot at the river, so after emptying our bladders and filling our bottles, we began the long, intense hike back up.
One foot in front of the other. Step. Step. Step…
I hit a wall about an hour into the journey back. It was getting HOT. The mix of heat and the looming task ahead was intimidating.
But my dad pumped me up!! Yay hiking buddy!!! We made a game of taking a drink every 5 minutes to get our minds off of the blazing heat. That game was a lifesaver!! That and seeing a band of mules go by and waving at the riders!
We made it back to Indian Garden and ate some of our snacks. I’d never been so happy to see the first of the three rest stops. I knew we were a little under halfway back and it egged me on!
I’m glad my second wind kicked in because the steepness between Indian Garden and the second rest stop was the HARDEST. Think of a stairclimber and max incline treadmill having a baby in the Mojave desert. It kicked our BUTTS. Let’s just say, we were THRILLED to see the second rest stop. We ate some more food and talked to some neat people, including a man who used to be a guide on the trail. He was shocked at the great time we’d made for making it down to the river in the same day! Definitely a nice little ego boost haha
We headed out and were stoked to keep kicking canyon booty!
About 30 minutes in, a MONKEY WRENCH was thrown at my dad. Things got a little scary right before we made it to the last rest stop. My dad’s pemmican bar started to upset his stomach REALLY bad and he almost passed out. He laid down on a big flat rock in the shade and became super pale. I was nervous, thinking how I could flag down a mule if things got any worse. He laid there, drinking water, breathing deeply for about 45 minutes and then said, “let’s do this.” Cautiously, we started up again. He’d say “pace” whenever I’d start going to fast, and slowly but surely we made it to the rest stop. We knew we were close to the top by then!!
After another 40 minute break, my dad started feeling a lot better and it was my turn to cheer him on and get him to the finish!
Every step was gruesome, our legs were fried, and our sunburns were fierce, but we kept smiling, laughing and enjoying sights. The amount of people began to increase as we made it closer to the top. They’d ask us if we’d come up from spending the night at the campgrounds, but when we’d say no and told them of our adventure, each person was speechless! Granted, a lot of them were just tourists in flip flops, but still! They cheered us on and their words of encouragement helped us to the finish!! Seeing the trailhead on the horizon was overwhelming, and with a “go for it” from my dad, I ran to the finish! We high fived at 5pm and a nice couple took our picture.
It was one of the most challenging hikes of my life, but also one of the most rewarding. I’m so happy I got to experience such a unique, heart pounding adventure with my dad. It’s memories like these that make my brain explode with happiness.
After making it back to our tent, we ate some food and CRASHED under the stars. A fabulous end to a fabulous day! I totally recommend the Bright Angel trail to any avid hiker–maybe not to the river and back in a day, but you catch my drift 😉
(And it wasn’t until the next day that I realized how intense my sunburn was hahaha)