Bright Angel may be considered the premier hiking trail from the South Rim in Grand Canyon National Park. Together with South Kaibab, it is one of the two corridor trails that are maintained to lead people and pack mules to the Colorado River in the bottom. Hiking to the river is only recommended if you are spending the night in the canyon, but day hikes of varying lengths are possible by turning around partway, and Bright Angel Trail provides good options to do so with its well-spaced rest houses and water availability.
Bright Angel is slightly more popular than South Kaibab because it is a friendlier trail, at least as far as those below the rim can be. It begins in a somewhat sheltered alcove rather than the exposed ridgeline of South Kaibab, and is less steep overall. It also has water, which South Kaibab does not. You do sacrifice some field of view over the Inner Canyon by choosing this trail, but the vista is far from disappointing.
The trail begins near Bright Angel Lodge and drops immediately below the rim. Shortly it reaches a fun photo op at a tunnel blasted through solid rock, and a natural window in the cliff nearby. Another tunnel awaits 0.75 miles into the hike. This marks a good turnaround point for casual hikers and families with small children because the trail steepens beyond this point, and the downhill always belies how difficult the return trip will be.
The switchbacks continue and take you deeper, and you gradually gain perspective on the true immensity of the canyon. At 1.5 miles you will reach the first rest house, toilet, and water spigot; note that the water source is not guaranteed, so fill up at the trailhead and pack more water than you think you will need. Another rest house, toilet, and seasonal water supply is located at the 3-mile point, which has especially good views. As you descend, always be conscious of your energy level, water, and food supply, and remember to save plenty of steam and for the hike back up, which will probably take twice as long.
Below 3-mile rest house the trail continues to steepen and the canyon becomes hotter the lower you go. At 4.5 miles you will reach Indian Garden, a true oasis with plenty of shade under big cottonwood trees, comfortable tables and benches, and a reliable water supply. Take time here to rest up and refuel. This marks the furthest that you should travel as a day hike during the summer, though during cooler weather the extra trip across the long and exposed, but relatively flat Tonto Plateau is worth it for a spectacular view at Plateau Point.
To prepare for this hike, bring plenty of water and about twice as much food as you would for another hike of the same distance, and remember to eat it. You need electrolytes and calories just as much as you need water when hiking in the Grand Canyon. For more information, see our page How to Hike the Grand Canyon: Tips for Beginners and Experts.
Note: This trail is open year round, but water is not available above Indian Garden in the winter, and the upper mile or two of the trail is usually covered in ice and snow, so trail crampons and trekking poles are recommended.