The most popular and best maintained trail in the Grand Canyon is Bright Angel Trail. Thousands of people choose this trail as their passageway below the rim because of it’s convenient location and the availability of water and bathrooms. Still, despite the fact that the trail is designed with hiker safety in mind, this 9.6 mile trail can be treacherous, requiring rangers to rescue dozens of hikers each year who cannot make it back up its steep switchbacks.
In the journey from the rim to the river and back in one day most hikers will ascend via Bright Angel trail. See Grand Canyon Hiking: To the river and back in one day, Part I for an overview and important details of this hike. Your decent can be via South Kaibab as described in this series of articles, or via Bright Angel. Both trails meet at Bright Angel Campground which is located at the bottom of the canyon along the Colorado River.
Remember that hiking from the rim to the river and back in one day is extremely discouraged by the Park Service for good reason – it is very dangerous. Only expert and experienced hikers who are in top physical condition and have prepared specifically for this hike should attempt this extremely challenging trek from the rim to the river and back in one day. People die every year in the Grand Canyon, many of whom have attempted to hike beyond their abilities.
Your return trip begins at Bright Angel Campground (2,480 ft.) where you can rest from your descent and refill your water. You will cross the Colorado River via the silver bridge where you can stop and watch the river if you have time. You can also see the black bridge from here which takes you back via the very rugged South Kaibab trail. Continue past the bridge as you hike through sand dunes along the river for over a mile on your way to the River Resthouse located 1.5 miles from Bright Angel Campground. There is no elevation gain during the stretch but the heat can be staggering along the sand dunes. No water is located at the River Resthouse.
At that point the trail turns away from the river and begins to ascend up the lower canyon on its way to the Tonto Platform and Indian Gardens Campground at 3,800 feet. This portion of the trail has more greenery and animals than other parts of the canyon due to flowing water on its way to the river. There is one very difficult section along this stretch which is called Devil’s Corkscrew where much of the elevation change takes place. The entire hike between River Resthouse and Indian Gardens is a long 3.2 miles. It is not recommended to ascend this area in the afternoon due to the extreme heat.
When you reach Indian Gardens you can rest, use the toilet, and refill your water. The toughest part of the ascent is yet to come as the rim is still five miles away and 2,000 feet above you. After you rested you continue though Indian Gardens along the relatively flat Tonto Platform for about one mile before reaching the toughest part of this hike – the last four miles. This entire area is shaded from the cliffs in the afternoon – another reason ascending via Bright Angel is preferable to ascending via South Kaibab.
To reach the rim you will have to climb what seems to be an endless array of switchbacks that go on and on and on. You will see many hikers who have come down from the rim along this section especially in the last two miles. People will be literally dragging themselves up, resting at every turn in their struggle to get back to the top. This is the most difficult portion of this entire 16 + mile rim to river and back journey and it is at the end, when you are most tired. There are two resthouses along the way; one at 3 miles from the rim and one at 1.5 miles from the rim. Use them to rest as you ascend.
Once you reach the top (about 12 – 14 hours after you began) you will have accomplished what few have. You will have joined the elite group of hikers who have hiked from the Rim to the River and back in one day!
Remember, if you traveled the four hours from Scottsdale or Phoenix you should stay overnight before returning home. You will not be in any condition to drive.
Check out more trails in your area: icedjamb.com’s Trail Guide
Grand Canyon Hiking: To the river and back in one day, Part I
Grand Canyon Hiking: Rim to river and back in one day via South Kaibab, Part II