This is the best choice if you're looking for a scenic, challenging route that takes you into the canyon but not all the way down to the river. This out-and-back adventure is convenient to the South Rim and has 3 places to replenish your drinking water along the way.
Get an early start! It is very arid and there is little shade. This trail is very crowded and also used by mule trains. Follow the mule drivers' instructions and watch out for droppings.
Reaching the Plateau Point viewpoint as a day trip from the south rim is a serious undertaking - the whole trip is 12 miles round trip from the Bright Angel Trailhead.
Begin this excursion from the signed Bright Angel trailhead on the western side of Grand Canyon Village. Descend a series of dusty switchbacks at a consistent gradient through cliff bands and ledges. Keep an eye out for fossils and petroglyphs at the first tunnel. After a noticeably steeper section, pass through another tunnel and enjoy improving views. At the 1.5 Mile Resthouse, there is an emergency phone, toilets and seasonal drinking water.
At a prominent switchback 2 miles from the trailhead, there are more petroglyphs on the rocks above the trail. Drinking water is available seasonally at the 3 Mile Resthouse. A side path behind the resthouse leads to a great viewpoint and debris from an old tram that used to deliver supplies to Indian Garden.
After the 3 Mile Resthouse, another set of short, steep switchbacks traverses the Redwall limestone cliff band. From here the grade mellows and the trail follows Garden Creek all the way to Indian Garden Camp. This area used to be a Native American settlement and farmland. Now it has restrooms, a ranger station, campground, emergency phone and year-round drinking water supply. This shady oasis is cooled by a stand of cottonwoods and a spring-fed creek.
The Plateau Point
Trail starts from the north end of Indian Garden, just past the ranger station and mule corrals. Head west on the Plateau Point
Trail, crossing Garden Creek and leaving the shade behind. Contour around a series of ravines and across a parched plateau formed by Tapeats sandstone. There is no shade here, instead the mostly level desert landscape is covered by cacti and scrub.
At the fork junction with the West Tonto
Trail take a right, heading northeast. From here it is a nearly straight shot to the viewpoint, ascending gently across the Tonto Platform. Pass a water tank and mule hitching post to reach a flat top rock and viewing platform. Take in the amazing views and see if you can spy rafters braving Horn Rapid (so called by the two huge protruding rocks at the beginning of the rapid, making this an easy place to get stuck).
Keep kids away from the edge! Mules are allowed on this trail so beware of their droppings. Save energy for the hike back from the viewpoint, the distance and elevation gain is considerable.
Prickly pear cactus, yucca, California condor, deer, bighorn sheep.