Grand Canyon North Rim Suggestions:
Grand Canyon North Rim is only open from mid-May to mid-October. The North Rim is about 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim and gets quite a bit more snow. It is also more remote and a bit more difficult to get to, so there are fewer visitors as well. This is the good news/bad news: less visitors more difficult to get too. However, the extra effort is worth it when you arrive.
I would recommend you block out at least two days for your visit to the North Rim. If you are hiking some of the many trails along the rim or into the Canyon, or want to take a mule ride into the Canyon, or want to do some extensive photography, three or four days are even better.
The best way to visit the North Rim is to spend at least one-night at the North Rim in one of the cabins you can book online thru the North Rim concessionaire – Forever Lodging Resorts. Fom Kanab, UT drive south on U.S. Hwy #89A to Jacob Lake where you will take Arizona Hwy #67 to the North Rim. It is wise to fill up your gas tank in Kanab, as the gas stations are few and far between after you leave Kanab. From Kanab, UT it is 37 miles and a world of difference in geology and vegetation to Jacob Lake. In the 37 miles your elevation has changed from 4,870 feet to 7,930 feet at Jacob Lake or from the upper Sonoran Desert Life Zone to the Canadian life zone or from sagebrush, scrub oak,Colorado pinyon, Utah juniper to the Rocky Mountain douglas-fir, quaking aspen life zone.
Make a stop at Jacob Lake Lodge for some of the best baked cookies and pastries in the area. Their ice cream shakes are good too. The road from Jacob Lake to the North Rim Lodge is one of the most scenic in this part of Arizona with large stands of aspen and ponderosa pine trees. You most likely will also see deer and elk. There is also an interesting black squirrel you will see that looks like he has pointy ears. This is the Kaibab squirrel and you only find them in the forests on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Thirty-one miles from Jacob Lake you will pass through the Grand Canyon North Rim entrance gate, where you will pay $25.00 per car admission fee, good for 7 days, if you do not have a golden are pass. From the entrance gate you will travel through aspen and ponderosa forests and beautiful grassy meadows 13 miles to the North Rim Lodge, located on the rim of the Canyon.
About 3 miles before you get to the North Rim Lodge, there is a scenic road branching off to your left that takes you to two spectacular viewpoints – Point Imperial and Cape Royal. It is 19 ½ miles to Cape Royal and 8 miles to Point Imperial. You should allow at least a half-day to visit both of these viewpoints. Both viewpoints have spectacular views.
Point Imperial has views to the east and north. To the east you see the Navajo reservation and the Painted Desert, to the north you see the great expanse of the Grand Canyon winding its way through Marble Canyon.
Cape Royal probably has the most spectacular views of the Canyon from anywhere on the North Rim. Cape Royal juts out into the Canyon on a peninsula of land called the Walhalla Plateau. You will have almost 360 degree views of the Canyon with the Colorado River 5,000 feet below.
The only lodging on the North Rim is the Grand Canyon Lodge, located at Bright Angel Point, the Lodge was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987. This local limestone and ponderosa beamed building sits right on the rim of the Canyon and has floor to ceiling windows from the dining room and a porch where you may sit and contemplate the spectacular beauty and quiet of the Canyon.
Accommodations at the Grand Canyon Lodge consist of Frontier cabins, Western and larger Pioneer cabins, located close to the rim, as well as some motel rooms located within an easy walking distance from the Canyon rim. These are very popular and book up months in advance, so you will be well advised to make your plans with enough time in advance so you can stay at this beautiful place.
Dining options at the North Rim include the Grand Canyon Lodge Dining Room, with its spectacular views of the Canyon, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is a deli located in the Lodge: Deli in the Pines open daily 7 to 9 am. There’s also a coffee shop located in the Roughrider Saloon. There is a general store adjacent to the campground which offers snacks, groceries, convenience items, camping supplies, clothing and gifts.
Day hiking on the North Rim is one way to experience the beauty, immense size, peacefulness of the forest and sometimes a great way to see the numerous deer, wild turkeys and other wild life that populates this area. One trail I recommend to everyone is the Bright Angel Point Trail. This half-mile paved trail takes you to a spectacular view of the Canyon. The 3 mile Transept Trail is another popular trail from the Lodge area to the Campground.
My personal favorite on the North Rim is the Widforss Trail. To do this hike you will need some time and will have to drive from the Lodge area toward the Cape Royal Road to do this 10-mile roundtrip hike. As you leave the Lodge area you will go North toward the Cape Royal Road and turn west onto a dirt road ¼ mile before you get to the Cape Royal road. You will travel about 1 mile on this dirt road to the Widforss Trail parking area. I have seen turkeys, deer, squirrels, chipmunks, skunks, hawks, eagles and many other species in this area. The trail traverse through the forest with fleeting glimpses of the Canyon. The trail is an in and out so you may go as far as you like then turn around and retrace your steps back to your car. If you stay the course and walk the 5-miles to the end you will reward yourself with great views of the Canyon.
The most popular trail in this area is the North Kaibab Trail. This is the only maintained trail from the North rim to the Colorado river. It is 14 miles from the rim to the river and an elevation drop of almost 6,000 feet. If you are in good physical condition and wish to take a short hike on this trail to get a feel of what a hike from rim to river would be like, please make sure you have plenty of water, good hiking boots, sunscreen, hat and snacks. Even a short hike to Coconino Overlook, 1 ½ miles roundtrip, or to Supai Tunnel, 4 miles roundtrip, will give you an appreciation for the canyon’s rich natural beauty and immense size.
I have run from the North Rim to the South Rim beginning at this trailhead, running the 14 miles to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Canyon at the Colorado River, then the 9 miles to the top on the Bright Angel Trail. I have also done the transcanyon run using the South Kaibab Trail on the other side which is a bit shorter. I can tell you this is a very arduous run and extremely taxing on the body. Hikers we see during these runs are amazed at what we are doing and they encourage us along with their wishes of “great job!”
The North Rim area has many other trails and these are all listed in the Grand Canyon National Park Visitors Guide. A National Park Ranger will also be a great source of wilderness adventures in this area. The Rangers also provide a talk in the evening at the campground amphitheater. The topics are usually very interesting, informative and fun.
One of my favorite things to do when I am at the North Rim area is to walk out to the Bright Angel Point after sunset when the sky is dark, look up to see an amazing array of stars, planets and satellites. Notice how quiet it is and how dark. There is very little light pollution at this point so you are able to see more stars than you will see from most other locations where light pollution is evident. If you look to the south, you will see the lights of the South Rim located 10 miles across the Canyon chasm. Off to the west in the sky you can also see faint glow of lights from Las Vegas.
Another of my favorite things to do from the North Rim, if you have a jeep or small 4 wheel drive, high clearance vehicle, is a forest service road that travels 17 miles one-way to Point Sublime. The road is very rough and you should only attempt it in a high clearance 4 wheel drive vehicle and only if you are very confident in your driving skills.
The road departs west from the Widforss Trailhead Parking area and travels through the forest for 17 miles to one of the most spectacular viewpoints I have ever seen. Point Sublime juts out into the Canyon on a little finger of land and you have great views up and down the Canyon. Before you attempt this drive, please check with a Park Ranger on the road condition and please pickup a Forest Service map that depicts this road and other Forest Service roads in this area. You will see plenty of wildlife on this desolate road and probably few other people.
Driving from the North Rim to the South Rim, you will want to allow 4 ½ hours plus any time you want for extra sightseeing. The route you will take is Arizona State Highway #67 north from the North Rim Lodge to Jacob Lake. Here you will take U.S. Hwy. #89A to the right – east – and travel through the ponderosa forest and drop down in elevation as you travel to House Rock Valley. There is a nice viewpoint just before you drop down the final descent to the valley. You will travel across House Rock Valley, alongside the Vermillion Cliffs to Marble Canyon.
Here you might want to take a side trip off Hwy #89A to Lee’s Ferry, the river rafters put in point for those doing a multi-day whitewater trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. There’s also a historic farm house and exhibit of where John D. Lee and his wives lived in the late 1800s. He operated the ferry boat that allowed travelers to cross the Colorado River before the Navajo Bridge was built.
Continuing your journey on Hwy #89A across the new Navajo Bridge, you will travel across the Navajo reservation the rest of the way until you enter the Grand Canyon National Park again. At Navajo Bridge, there is an interesting exhibit explaining the history of this area. The old Navajo Bridge is still standing and you may walk across it for pictures of river rafters going down the river. You might also catch a glimpse of a condor in this area. I have seen them roosting under the bridge.
As you travel Hwy #89 south you will have the Echo Cliffs on your left and later you will drive through a part of the Painted Desert. A short distance beyond crossing the Little Colorado River and historic Cameron Trading Post, you will turn right onto Arizona Hwy 64 west and follow the Little Colorado River gorge. In 27 miles you will enter the Grand Canyon National Park once more and about 3 miles further, come to Desert View Watchtower. You will want to stop here and see the great views of the Canyon and a huge expanse of the Colorado River. It makes a large bend from flowing north to south to flowing east to west. Walk to the top of the watchtower for great views.
From here you are 23 miles from the Grand Canyon village. Lipan Point is, in my estimation, one of the best viewpoints along the South Rim scenic drive, it is a don’t miss. From this viewpoint you are able to see Hance Rapids far below on the Colorado River and with a good set of binoculars you probably will see rafters running the rapids.
Moran Point is also a good viewpoint and the viewpoint depicted in the IMAX Grand Canyon movie of where the Spanish expedition of Coronado first saw the Grand Canyon.
Mather Point is the last point on the East Rim drive and the first point as you enter the Canyon from the south. There’s an information plaza a short walk from Mather Point and a good place to see exhibits about the Canyon. Next point west is Yavapai Point and museum. Continuing west you will enter the Grand Canyon South Rim Village area location of all the Grand Canyon South Rim lodges, restaurants, and Grand Canyon train depot. For more information on the South Rim, please see my article on “How to get the Most out of your South Rim Visit.”
I hope you enjoy your visit and are able to use my recommendations to maximize the pleasure of your stay. Please let me know how you enjoyed your visit and any recommendations you may have for me to include in my next article or blog.