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Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon – America’s Most Dangerous Hikes

Baked or broiled?
Bright Angel TrailBright Angel Trail's many switchbacks take hikers to the canyon floor. Photo by: Grand Canyon National Park

The Hike

Trekking from rim to river (and back) is one of the planet’s iconic journeys, an achievement nearly every Grand Canyon visitor longs to notch. Trouble is, canyon temps routinely top 110°F in summer, and that hellish heat–combined with the exertion of climbing 4,380 vertical feet over 9.5 miles–results in about 200 heat-related rescues in the park each year, most of them on the Bright Angel Trail. In fact, a spate of deaths 10 years ago prompted the creation of PSAR (Preventative Search and Rescue), a team of rangers that patrols the trail, assessing individual hikers, dispensing water to the suffering, and urging the unprepared to seek safety.

Death on the Bright Angel Trail

At 120°F, brain cells burst like tiny egg sacks, spilling their thick, salty fluid in thousands of deadly hemorrhages. Before that happened, 28-year-old Avik Chakravarty–who died here in July 2005–would have experienced cramps, scorching thirst, and hallucinations. His error: climbing up in the midafternoon heat. It’s one that’s easy to make on the Bright Angel Trail, which departs from the South Rim’s commercial cluster. That convenience attracts scores of impulsive hikers who find that going down is easy–but climbing up is torturous. “The death zone is between the river and Indian Gardens, about halfway up,” says Michael Ghiglieri, a Colorado River guide and co-author of Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon. The dark grey schist at lower elevations absorbs and radiates heat like a cast-iron frying pan, so when thermometers read 110°F in the shade at Phantom Ranch, hikers endure 130°F ground temps on the trail. Most people try to escape the inferno by hurrying along, which exacerbates heat illness. Explains Ghiglieri, “People feel so hideous they keep going to get it over with, instead of resting.”

Bright Angel Survival Plan

Start hiking down in the mild temps before dawn. At the bottom, cool off in the creek. Carry lots of water–Ghiglieri recommends drinking five to six liters on the round-trip–and pace yourself on the ascent. “Don’t just go steadily until you drop dead,” he warns. “Rest for 15 minutes of every hour you climb.” Even better, delay your return until evening, and finish your hike by headlamp.


  1. waj35d

    There are dozens of hikes in the Grand Canyon that are WAAAAYYYY much more dangerous than Bright Angel…Bright Angel has water at Indian Gardens, two pump house stations (in the warmer months) and water at the top and water at Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch. The reason they have so many issues there is way too many inexperienced people go up and down that trail since it’s the most popular spot and near the hotels. You will always see tons of people so if you had an issue, you’ll be fine…help will be on the way. Tanner is probably the most dangerous because it is significantly warmer and more exposed and only has water at the river. It’s 19 miles round trip.

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  2. Hiking the Grand Canyon in one day - From Here to Nowhere

    […] Disclaimer: The first thing to say about hiking the Grand Canyon from rim to river and back again in one day, is that you should probably not do it. We hiked the trail in April, and it was already very hot and dry. In the summer months the temperatures can easily pass 110 degrees, there is little or no water available on the hike, and you will be descending (and then climbing over 4000 vertical feet). The warning signs posted at the top of the trails are not being overly-cautious: the inexperienced or ill-prepared can easily die here, and they do. […]

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