Backpacking in the Grand Canyon to the Bright Angel Campground is a memorable journey and a fantastic way to experience the Grand Canyon.
Chris & Mac
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Length: 16.5 miles *
Trailhead(s): South Kaibab / Bright Angel
Elevation Loss/Gain: 4,700′ elevation loss and 4,340’ elevation gain *
Trail Type: Point to Point
Dogs: Not Allowed
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Permit Required? Yes
Considerations: Heat in Summer; Overnight Cold in Spring, Fall, Winter
Season: Year Round (South Rim)
* Descent from South Rim from Yaki Point on the South Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Campground; Ascent via River Trail to Bright Angel Trail for return to South Rim, Bright Angel Trailhead
Backpacking in the Grand Canyon to spend a night at the Bright Angel Campground is memorable and humbling. Camping below the rim is an incredible journey and a fantastic way to experience the Grand Canyon. Looking up from “the bottom” at the canyon walls, one feels an overwhelming sense of gratitude to those who protected this special place by designating it a National Park.
Backpacking Down to Bright Angel Campground
We began our Grand Canyon backpacking trip to Bright Angel Campground early in the morning to avoid hiking during the extreme afternoon heat. It was late May and cold up on the rim, but temperatures were hovering around 120 degrees at the bottom. The heat meant we needed to ensure we sufficient water for the trip down as there would be no re-supply until we reached the campground. We thus departed the South Kaibab trailhead in the chilly morning air with full water reservoirs. Though our early start was cold, we warmed quickly as the sun began to fill the canyon.
Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Campground
Arriving at Bright Angel Campground before noon, we secured the last campsite which had some coveted shade. Dumping our packs, we stashed our food in the bear vaults and made our way to Phantom Ranch where we took refuge in the air conditioned dining area to enjoy some ice-cold drinks. Returning to the cool stream which flowed through the campground, we joined our fellow travelers, soaking our feet and attempting to thwart the heat. As expected, it was dry and warm overnight at the Bright Angel Campground, and there were no bugs. Taking the advice of a park volunteer we met a few days prior, we had left the tent behind to lighten our packs. That night found us camping under the stars. It was heavenly.
Backpacking Back Up to the Rim from Bright Angel Campground
The next morning we were up before the sun. Others were up even earlier, as everyone wanted to hike during the coolest hours of the day. Getting ourselves on the River Trail by 5 am we began our ascent to the Bright Angel Trailhead. Watching the sun fill the canyon with light, we were awestruck with the incredible views all around us. Mostly flat as it follows the Colorado River, the first part of the hike was relatively flat. This changed, however, once we intersected the Bright Angel Trail and began climbing. Taking a rest and refilling our water at the Indian Garden Campground, we found ourselves fending off squirrels which were trying to steal food from our packs. The remainder of the journey up is just that: up, up, up.
Heat & Crowds
Due to the strenuous ascent, we stopped briefly at the rest houses along the trail above Indian Garden to wet ourselves down and cool off. It was only mid morning, but it was getting hot. Fortunately the rim is cooler than the floor of the canyon, so as we climbed the temperature leveled out. This positive was offset by thickening crowds. Day hikers are heavy users of the Bright Angel Trail. Most make the trek to and from the three mile rest house only, while others continue another mile to Indian Garden or another two and a half miles to Plateau Point before heading back up. We were solely focused on reaching the rim and gritted our teeth as we made our way up and up, through the myriad of people.
Reaching the trailhead, we gave ourselves a high five for making it back up. It was an excellent adventure.
Grand Canyon Backpacking – Other Thoughts
Watch your food. The local animals know you have food and snacks and they will take them if they are left out. We watched one backpacker’s entire bag of trail mix get lifted off her picnic table by a bird. Not only did she lose all of her trail food, the plastic bag the bird would eventually discard would now pose a danger to other wildlife. Deer, in particular, often consume plastic bags they find because of the food scent.
Be prepared. The Grand Canyon taxes even those with experience. Backpacking to Bright Angel Campground is not an endeavor to be undertaken by anyone unprepared to endure both a rigorous descent over 7 miles and a strenuous ascent over 9.5 miles.
Permits and reservations are required for overnight stays at Bright Angel Campground. We were fortunate to secure our permit by walking into the Backcountry Office and asking if there were any permits available. Because there are often cancellations, and since we were in the park for two weeks, we were flexible as to dates of our adventure. This allowed us to adjust our schedule to match what was available at that time. If you are not successful in securing a permit before your travel to the Grand Canyon, know that walk-in permits are possible.
Scroll down to learn about the GEAR WE USE and OTHER OUTVENTURES in this area.
Grand Canyon Backpack to Bright Angel Campground Slideshow
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