Amusement Parks
National Parks


Indian Garden

Grand Canyon

Phantom Ranch
North Rim
Hermit Rapids
Granite Rapids
Marble Canyon
Boulder Spring
Indian Garden is a treasure. If it were anywhere else but the Grand Canyon, it would on its own be a hiking and backpacking destination. Here, Phantom Ranch and other sites overshadow it, but it is a magnificent starting point for Canyon backpacking. It offers flexibility in trip planning. You could hike in one day, spend a night, and hike back to the Rim the next day. There are four fine day hiking trips out of Indian Garden, so you could stay here two, three, four or five nights and spend each day exploring the area, taking photos, watching wildlife and studying the rocks and plants. You can enjoy spectacular sunsets and sunrises. You can pitch your tent at various angles so that the view out your door matches the photo above right, here at right, or various other distant vistas. And you can squint your eyes and imagine the Havasu women of long ago tending their gardens here.

You have two great choices of trails to hike down to Indian Gardens. The first is obviously the Bright Angel Trail, which begins at the Kolb Brothers Studio across the walk and slightly below the rim from the Bright Angel Lodge's western units. It will only take you about two hours to leisurely descend the trail,, stopping often to admire the view or snap photographs. But the one we recommend is the South Kaibab Trail. You hike it down to the Tonto Trail and turn left (west). You can stop for a break at Pipe Springs, then continue along the Tonto Plateau. The photo at left shows the Tonto Trail approaching Indian Garden, which is that large clump of trees. By coming in the South Kaibab and Tonto and hiking back out the Bright Angel, you get to see three trails instead of just one, and you greatly broaden your acquaintance with the Tonto Plateau. Coming in via the South Kaibab and Tonto, with time for several rest and photo stops, should take about four hours. Remember that you must make a decision when you fill out your back country application. You cannot obtain a permit for one trail and then change your mind and go down another trail.


Indian Garden is a back country campsite, to be sure, but it is a very well equipped one. There's drinkable water, picnic tables under roof, tent pads, and composting toilets. The sites are so designed as to provide as much privacy as possible. You will definitely enjoy Indian Garden, especially if you're an experienced backpacker and have endured much worse in many national park back countries. Our only caution is that this is a heavily used campground year round and the tent sites are packed fairly hard. You need stakes and a hammer which can penetrate rock hard ground, and you'll need a nice soft air mattress or sleeping pad. We have a friend who takes four railroad spikes and a sledgehammer when backpacking in the Canyon. We don't want to carry quite that much added weight, but you get the point. You're not going to be able to hand push lightweight aluminum stakes into this ground.
The whole Canyon is a free ranging zoo and Indian Garden is no exception. You'll get up close and personal with the beautiful Black Collared Lizards (left). Ravens, Golden Eagles and birds of prey will ride the thermal currents above Indian Garden. Keep your eyes open for Snakes; they avoid humans and are not a problem but they're here. Feral Burros, Canyon Bighorn Sheep, Mule Deer, Rock Squirrels, Whip Tailed Lizards, and Rock Mice have all become accustomed to human acrivity and will roam freely through your campsite. You need to secure your food, utensils and packs at night and keep tent doors zipped. You must bring your hiking boots and socks into your tent at night. You should keep a flashlight handy after dark. As you lay in your sleeping bag, do not be alarmed when you hear scurrying sounds outside. None of these animals are dangerous or harmful, but they're intelligent, curious, clever and persistent. They've learned that they can snatch random scraps of food and useful little trinkets.
Four great trails extend out from Indian Garden. This photo shows the Tonto Trail West as it rounds the base of Battleship Rock and heads toward Dana Butte. The Tonto Trail west of Indian Garden is 95% level, with only a few slight rises and drops. You would be hiking below Maricopa, Powell, Hopi and Mohave Points up on the Rim. If you hike to the far end of Dana Butte (the north end), you'll find yourself looking down on the Colorado River at Horn Creek Rapids and Shell Creek Rapids. It would be an interesting lunch stop while you watched the white water rafters coming through the drops. You'll be looking across the river at Cheops Pyramid, Isis Temple and the Tower of Set.
A second great day hiking trail out of Indian Garden is the hike down Bright Angel Trail to River House. This is just a rest and composting toilet stop, located where the trail finally reaches the river for the first time. But the hike down is magnificent. On a typical hot day, it will take about 90 minutes down and two to three hours back. The highlight of the hike will be the Devil's Corkscrew, a twisting, winding, spiralling series of steps through the geological formation called the Vishnu Schist. You can reach out and touch some of the oldest rocks on Earth, rocks which have been here since the very creation of the planet.
Jumbled rock layers mark the boundaries of Plateau Point. This photo looks North, across the river toward the North Rim. In the foreground, barely beyond the rock layers at your feet, is the edge of the cliffs dropping down to the river's edge. Walking over to the edge here, you can look directly down on the river. Back in the day hiking section, we recommended the hike out to Plateau Point as part of a day hike to Indian Garden. If you did not do so then, you really should do so now. It's a mile and a half from your tent out to the Point, making a three mile round trip. It's really a 30 minute stroll either way. If you were to turn around right here, you could also take some incredible photos looking back up at the South Rim, especially of Yavapai and Grandeur Point. Plateau Point is also a great place to watch or photograph sunrises and sunsets.
The average backpacker takes 2-3 hours to climb from Indian Garden to the Kolb House back on the Rim. (Obviously if you're experienced and in top physical condition it will take less; it's only five miles.) It is definitely advisable to leave early and try to make that climb in the morning. Between noon and 3 pm Jacob's Ladder can be extremely hot, especially in the Summer. The photo at left shows what you'll be looking up at as you leave the Garden. There's no part of it that is particularly steep but it is relentlessly uphill. The good thing about it is the rock formations and plants are fascinating and you'll be moving slowly enough to study them up close and in great detail. We advise everyone to bring along a book on Canyon Geology and Canyon Botany and on your rest stops pull them out and learn about your surroundings. It may sound a little geeky, but you're hiking through the whole history of the Earth and it would be a shame not to take advantage.
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