Bright Angel Trail stands as one of the most renowned hikes within the US national parks system, owing to its unique path that traverses the Grand Canyon. While tackling the rim-to-rim journey is a well-known challenge, it’s not the sole option for experiencing this iconic trail. This was especially true for us when we explored the Grand Canyon with our three-year-old son. We were determined to soak in the trail’s beauty despite our limitations. With various waypoints along Bright Angel Trail, our target was clear: hike from the South Rim Trailhead to the 3 Mile Rest House.
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3 Mile Rest House – Where Every Step Counts
The 3 Mile Rest House, aptly named for its location three miles into the Grand Canyon, served as our destination. Hiking in the Grand Canyon offers a unique experience compared to typical elevation hikes in the US. Instead of ascending first, you descend into the canyon and then ascend again. While it might appear manageable, many underestimate factors like their start time, extreme heat, and the canyon’s high altitude. Bright Angel Trail provides an incredible experience, no matter how far you decide to hike. Our aim with this post is to equip solo hikers, families, and everyone in between with essential insights to tackle this challenge.
Our Grand Canyon Adventure – July 2023
In July 2023, we embarked on our adventure at Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim. (For a detailed summary of our experience, check out our dedicated post.) We reserved our hike along Bright Angel Trail for the final full day of our visit. If you’re planning an extensive hike on this trail, we strongly recommend scheduling a rest day afterward. The trail can be more demanding than you anticipate. The trailhead’s accessibility varies depending on your accommodations and preferred start time. We found the shuttle schedule confusing and didn’t want to risk a late start, so we chose to drive from our campsite at Mather Campground and park at Parking Lot C, a short walk from the trailhead. Our hike commenced at 5 AM, just as the sun cast its first light. An unexpected and incredible surprise awaited us – a family of bighorn sheep greeted us at the outset.
Scenic Marvels Beyond the Rim
One of the highlights of hiking into the Grand Canyon is witnessing rock layers that remain hidden from view at the rim. When you select any of the Canyon’s trails, remember to take in these remarkable vistas while you hike.
1.5 Mile Rest House – A Midway Oasis
The first official waypoint along Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim is the 1.5 Mile Rest House. According to our Apple Watches, this marker was actually closer to two miles from the trailhead, but who’s counting? This rest house offers shaded areas for a breather, drinking water refill stations, and pit toilets. It took us approximately one hour to reach the 1.5 Mile Rest House, with Henry, our child, joining in. If you’re hiking without children, you can probably reach it much faster. We took a short break here before continuing our journey. If you’re hiking Bright Angel in the summer and can’t start at sunrise, consider this your turning point. The hike beyond this point remains challenging yet rewarding.
The Final Stretch – 3 Mile Rest House
From the 1.5 Mile Rest House, we pressed onward with determination, aiming to reach the 3 Mile Rest House and return to the rim before the midday heat intensified. Encouraging Henry and granting snack breaks were essential, but we eventually reached our destination around 7:45 AM, two hours and forty-five minutes from our start. True to its name, the 3 Mile Rest House was almost exactly three miles into our hike. Similar to the 1.5 Mile Rest House, the 3 Mile Rest House offers shaded spots for relaxation, water stations, and pit toilets. Here, we took an extended rest, absorbing the breathtaking scenery and refreshing ourselves with water to combat the rising heat. Before the ascent, we placed a tired Henry into our Deuter Child Carrier, and Michael prepared for one of the most challenging phases of the hike.
A Challenge Like No Other
Up until this point, we had conquered a number of demanding hikes in previous years, including Mount Washburn in Yellowstone National Park, most of Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park, and Flattop Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. None of these hikes could truly compare to the challenge of hiking Bright Angel Trail in the summer, especially with a toddler in tow. This marked our first hike where we ran out of water, despite refilling our supply along the way. We carried a three-liter water bladder and two forty-ounce hydro flasks, all of which were refilled at the 3 Mile Rest House and depleted before we reached the rim. In conclusion, bring more water and food than you think you’ll need, because you will need it. We successfully completed our journey at 10:40 AM, nearly six hours after our start, just as the relentless sun intensified. Despite the immense challenge, we wholeheartedly recommend this trail and have it on our bucket list to complete the rim-to-rim hike, perhaps not during the scorching summer.
Rewarding Yourself Post-Hike
After completing your journey, treat yourself to one of Grand Canyon Village’s numerous dining options. Our choice was the Fred Harvey Tavern, where we savored a bison burger and beers. After all, a refreshing beer can be the perfect way to rehydrate, right? If you’ve hiked any part of Bright Angel Trail, please share your experience in the comments below!