Located on the very southern tip of the Kaibab Plateau, and the prime vista location for the North Rim of Grand Canyon, Bright Angel Point offers a bird’s-eye view of the meeting of Roaring Springs Canyon and Transept Canyon at the Bright Angel Fault. It is 4/10 mile from Grand Canyon Lodge to the point on a paved trail that offers several overlooks along the way. High altitude (8,148′) and an elevation change of 200 feet warrant extra caution for those with heart or respiratory conditions, so take your time. The trail is high above the canyons, and very narrow at points, so if you have extreme acrophobia, you may want to be wary on this one. Watch too for lightning storms, as this area is very exposed. We hiked to Bright Angel Point on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 beginning at 5:30PM and ending about 6:30PM after finishing our hike on the North Kaibab Trail. Our plan was to catch the sunset.
Hike Length: 0.8 mile Hike Duration: 1 hour
Hike Configuration: Out and back. Blaze: None needed, paved.
Hike Rating: Easy. There is some climbing back from the point to the lodge.
Elevation Gain: 200 feet Elevation Start: 8,150 feet
Trail Condition: Excellent. Paved sidewalk.
Starting Point: Grand Canyon Lodge at end of North Rim Road.
Trail Traffic: Likely to be fairly busy with walkers and photographers.
How to Get There: From Jacob Lake, Arizona take Hwy 67 south through Kaibab National Forest and into Grand Canyon National Park. The Grand Canyon Lodge is 42 miles from Jacob Lake. You can start the trail either directly west of the Grand Canyon Lodge cabins, or down the stairs north of the lodge.
My brother and I still had some energy left after hiking down into the canyon on the North Kaibab Trail, and no visit to the North Rim of Grand Canyon is complete without seeing Bright Angel Point, so off we went. It’s about a mile and a half from the North Kaibab Trailhead to Grand Canyon Lodge at the terminus of the North Rim.
This is touristy Grand Canyon. There is a parking lot large enough to accommodate at least a hundred cars. The Grand Canyon Lodge is one of those quaint, environmentally sensitive structures on the North Rim that complement rather than conflict with their setting. Consisting of a main lodge and a dozen cabins, lodging here is reasonably priced, as long as you don’t come during peak season. You can experience fine dining, mule rides into the canyon, hiking, and of course, the allure of Bright Angel Point.
That allure is what brought us on this beautiful October evening. As we hit the trail toward the point, we noticed immediately the difference in plants out here. Whereas we walked among fir and aspen and scrub oak on North Kaibab, here on the point trail the ravages of time limit the vegetation to gnarly juniper and pinyon pine. But the ones that are here have been here… for a long time. There is one particularly hearty juniper that is 600 years old.
Down in the canyon, multicolored rock layers record the rise and fall of oceans and continents. That’s the fascinating thing about the walls of Grand Canyon. The layers of red and white and orange tell tales of the formation of this grand hole in the ground, written over two billion years. The North Rim is a good thousand feet higher than the South Rim, a result of the tremendous geologic uplift that has occurred.
Though invisible at Bright Angel Point, the Colorado River is the erosive force responsible for the depth of Grand Canyon. Over the past 5 million years or so, it has carved a canyon a mile deep. The canyon overlook at Bright Angel Point is above Bright Angel Creek, one of the major tributaries of the river. The name Bright Angel originated on John Wesley Powell’s pioneering exploration of the Colorado River in 1869. Powell regretted having named a muddy creek upstream the “Dirty Devil.” Later, when he found a creek with sparkling clear water, he gave it the more reverent name, “Bright Angel,” after a character in Milton’s Paradise Lost.
The large tributary canyon to the east (on your left as you walk out to the point) is Roaring Springs Canyon, a major source for Bright Angel Creek. That’s the canyon you are hiking in on the North Kaibab Trail. The main origin of water for both of these drainages is Roaring Springs. Water from Roaring Springs is pumped to the North Rim for use at the lodge and campground, as well as to watering holes for hikers and mule trains along the canyon trails. During snow melt season, Roaring Springs is flowing so strong that it can be heard from Bright Angel Point, 4,000 feet above on the canyon rim.
Farther out toward the point, plants give way to bare rock. The rocks appear worn and in some places precarious. Chances of the rocks giving way beneath you on any particular day are exceedingly small, yet you can feel and see signs of erosion. One particular spot very near the point is especially dicey. They had to construct a narrow foot bridge to reach the point. The drop on each side is precipitous. Fortunately, for those like me who aren’t fond of heights and edges, there are handrails.
An example of Grand Canyon’s dynamic forces occurred on January 3, 1991, in The Transept, the large tributary canyon to your right as you walk out to the point. A massive section of Coconino Sandstone (the light-colored layer of rock near the top) succumbed to gravity and erosion, cascading into the canyon and trailing debris along thousands of feet of canyon wall. In 1992 similar landslides closed several major trails. So, y’know, erosion does happen. Watch your step. I’m just sayin’.
Bright Angel Point is large enough for about a dozen people. While we were on the point, there were no more than four at any one time. The overlook is surrounded by a waist-high chain link fence that will help you feel secure. Roaring Springs Canyon and Transept Canyon meet directly below the point within what is called the Bright Angel Fault. The fault is still active, occasionally startling visitors when it slips. If you look closely you may see Bright Angel Trail coming down from the South Rim.
On the way back, there are a couple more caged-in observation points with excellent views of the depth of Transept Canyon and of the stunning architecture of Grand Canyon Lodge. The present-day lodge is the second incarnation, as an unfortunate 1932 fire destroyed the original building only a few years after its completion. Architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood designed a rustic lodge and cabins rather than a single hotel unit that seem natural among the surroundings. When you get back to the lodge, you can continue on the Transept Trail for more canyon views and a pathway to the North Rim campground.
To summarize, whether you came to North Rim of Grand Canyon to hobnob, or to get out on the trails, you owe it to yourself to at least check out Bright Angel Point. You may not even have to break a sweat. While not as popular (or crowded) as the South Rim, the North is forested, not barren, so it makes for an extremely pleasant experience.