Plateau Point via the Bright Angel Trailhead is a stunning 12-mile day hike and a great way to see the Grand Canyon from the inside-out without descending all the way to the Colorado River. This makes it a bit less strenuous on the knees while still offering hikers a gorgeous look at the 6 million year-old canyon.
To begin this hike, park as close as possible to the Bright Angel Lodge or take the Village Shuttle Loop to the Bright Angel Lodge. From here, the area is well signed and a bit crowded as you make your way onto the Bright Angel Trail itself. If you have a bit of extra time to kill on your way out, stop at the Kolb Studio and soak up some of the paintings, photography, and history of Grand Canyon National Park's early days.
If you're taking this trail during winter months, it's a good idea to bring along a set of microspikes, as ice can often cover the upper switchbacks (at an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet!). Morning temperatures in Grand Canyon Village can dip well below freezing, so dress in warm layers that can easily be removed when it's time to turn around and hike back uphill in the sun.
The trail starts off by traversing a well-maintained set of gradual switchbacks, zig-zagging across the slope of the canyon itself. If you begin this trek just after sunrise, you're in for a treat! Watch as the sun paints its way across the 5,000-foot tall canyon walls, slathering everything in sight in warm magenta, rust, and crimson tones.
Enjoy the shade while you can, because as the morning turns and the sun gets higher, the trail can get hot quickly. There are bathroom stops with water spigots (check with the Forest Service to see if they are turned off in winter) at the 1.5-mile, 3-mile, and 4.5-mile marks, approximately. Perennial water is available at the Indian Garden Campground at mile 4.5. Due to the exposed nature of the trail, it's highly important to use these pit stop areas instead of releaving yourself on trail, and if an emergency strikes, pack it in and pack it out!
The flora and fauna become more lush and less desert-like as you descend deeper into the canyon, with blooming cacti, friendly deer, bighorn sheep, and cottonwood trees becoming a common sight when hikers near Indian Garden. Take a slight left at the well-signed junction to continue on toward Plateau Point and bypass the rest of the Bright Angel Trail down to the river.
The crowds will thin out significantly at this point, and you'll really get to feel like you're in the Grand Canyon of days past. A flat 1.5 miles on a sun-exposed trail leads right up to the edge of Plateau Point with its panoramic views of the trailhead you came from, the brick-red canyon walls, and the basil-green of the river below.
This is a magical spot to stop for lunch and a well-deserved rest. Be on the lookout below for rafters jetting down the river in brightly colored boats! After you've taken a few photos and scrambled around on the rocks, turn around and head back the way you came. Be sure to grab water at Indian Garden in hotter months, as the way back up can be grueling with over 3,000 vertical feet of climbing to get back to the village.
For an awesome, all-day hike in Grand Canyon National Park that doesn't trek 5,000 vertical feet in a single day, Plateau Point shows off the best the park has to offer!