I probably googled whether hiking the Grand Canyon in a day was possible over a dozen times before deciding that I would just “Marine” and make it happen. The insufficient answer that I kept finding was that it potentially could be done, but would be extremely difficult and for safety reasons and that it should not be attempted. Since I was trying to fit as much as possible into my travel plans and only had a few days out West, I was not thrilled with this response and thus came to the conclusion that because I was a Marine of course it was feasible. I did some further research and decided upon Bright Angel Trail for the hike. The trail was approximately 8 miles downhill from the rim to the Colorado River and the same back up. The general rule of thumb for estimating the total amount of time for the hike was that the return trip back up would take approximately double the time it took to hike down. There are several stops on the way down, but the Park makes it clear that there is very limited support from park rangers or anyone else along the way. With that information I decided to go for it and added the hike onto my itinerary.
Preparation: Per usual, I did no training or extra preparation before doing the hike. After the minimal research I had done for determining that the hike was both feasible and legal, I was all in. Although I did not do any training specifically for the Grand Canyon, I generally do a lot of cardio in my work-outs and really enjoy hiking. The other days on my road trip I slept in my rental car, but the night before the hike I reserved a room at the Yavapai Lodge inside the National Park in order to be able to start before daybreak. Since the hike was on my birthday in early August, the temperature was supposed to be over a hundred degrees so I wanted to start early and make as much ground as possible before the blazing sun slowed me down. In order to minimize the weight of my pack, I took as little as possible with me. My packing list included: three large bottles of water, a pack of iodine tablets, snacks, a Nikon camera, GoPro, and a butter knife in case things went terribly wrong (those who have seen 127 Hours know how important that item can be). Retrospectively, I would add dry socks and a basic first aid kit in case of blisters from getting feet wet while crossing the little streams, but thankfully I was lucky and had no issues.
The Hike Down. The night before I prepped my bag so the next morning I only had to stumble in to the reception for check-out and make it to the parking lot. I started the hike at 05:27 and quickly made my way down past the check points, carefully keeping track of how long it took me to make it to each marker. The key points are: the mile-and-a-half Resthouse at 1.6 miles, the three mile Resthouse at 3.1 miles, the Indian Garden at 4.8 miles, and the River Resthouse at 8 miles. Although the trail consists primarily of large switchbacks, it is well graded and marked which makes it extremely easy to hike. I quickly made my way down, passing the other early risers and high-fiving the hikers returning from extended stay at the bottom. Along the way I passed a ram, deer, and numerous birds and squirrels who were completely unafraid. Indian Garden was a perfect place for a pit-stop with fresh water and very nice clean toilets. I loved the sign about the dangers of doing the hike in a day because it seemed like a breeze, but I was also very fortunate to have some significant cloud cover for a majority of the hike so it was not nearly as hot as it could have been in August. On the descent after leaving Indian Garden, I passed two girls who let me know I was only about an hour away from the River. Excitedly, I pressed on and was pleasantly surprised when I made it in less than 45min. After reaching the bottom I took off my shoes and socks to let them dry out and enjoyed a mini picnic of a clif bar and water for about 20 min before loading back up for the return.
The Hike Up. Perhaps due to the quality of the trail or maybe slightly because of my competitive streak, the return hike up took almost the exact same amount of time as the trek down. Now while I do love using the stair stepper for cardio, I will openly admit that I am not an extremely experienced hiker. During the hike, in my head I constantly compared it to the miserable humps I have done in the Marine Corps which made it much more tolerable. I was carrying less than 6lb of gear and was wearing boots that were actually made for hiking- frankly nothing to complain about. It was a huge difference from the normal hikes I was accustomed to. Needless to say, after flying past Indian Garden and the three-mile Resthouse, I was still feeling energized and was pretty confident that I was setting some sort of record. Although I had almost come to the end of my water supply (and thankfully never needed the butter knife), I knew that the end of the trail was near. About this point I passed the same girls when I was an hour out from the Colorado River. They were very annoyed to see me cruising past with the same big smile on my face, but it helped serve as great motivation for finishing that uncomfortable last mile straight uphill. The entire hike, including the lazy break at the end, took a total of 6 hours and 16 minutes. Angel Bright Trail is very well-maintained and certainly feasible for most levels of hiker. It is important to pack smart and light as well as leaving before dawn to avoid hiking at the hottest part of the day.
The views along the trail are hard to describe because of their grandeur and how rapidly they shift. For those who are in relatively good shape and interested in doing the trek in a day, it is most easily possible as long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other. It goes without saying to stay hydrated and bring sufficient food, but it is not overly physically challenging. Also the fact that some of the restaurants in the park serve cold beers definitely helps with motivation at the end. Hike smart and enjoy the incredible scenary!
For more information about the trail, check out the National Park Service page: https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/bright_angel_trail.pdf
Additional FAQs about the trail can be found at: