Those visiting the remote Grand Canyon North Rim (a 5-hour drive from South Rim) will be rewarded with a chance to see the canyon without the crowds. Or combine Utah’s Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks with a shorter drive to the North Rim than the South Rim, and still get the Grand Canyon experience. Here are 10 things to know about the North Rim.
1. The Quieter Side of the National Park
Offering fantastic views with less congestion, the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park offers those willing to drive five hours and 212 miles from the South Rim a chance to see the canyon without the crowds.
There are places like Point Imperial where you can watch the distant rising sun gradually spread a blanket of warm red and gold light across the giant walls of rock and the singular spire of Mount Hayden. You might even hear the evocative song of a canyon wren rising and falling in crescendo, just eight or 10 clear notes. It is, perhaps, the most memorable bird song of the West.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is an experience wholly separate from the South Rim. A more remote, rugged and individual opportunity to see what John Wesley Powell described as, “ledges and cliffs where the soaring eagle is lost to view before it reaches a summit.”
Of the 5 million people who arrive annually to view the 1.8 billion years of geology the Grand Canyon represents, only about 12% ever make a trip to the North Rim. From most points on the South Rim, unlike the North Rim, you can’t see all the way down the mile-long slit in the earth to where the Colorado River runs. At a 1,000 foot greater elevation, the North Rim offers what are considered the best three comprehensive views of the Canyon; Toroweap, Point Sublime, and Cape Royal.
You will get a park map when you enter the park at one of the entrance stations. But if you want to get an overview with detailed trails and so on, Trails Illustrated makes a map that cover the North and South rims. You can buy it on REI.com.
2. Viewpoints and Trails of the North Rim
The North Rim has the highest concentration of plateau-top trails in the Grand Canyon, so hikers new to the 8,000′ altitude (or with baby carriages), are able to enjoy a walk with a view.
Easily reached via a quarter-mile, paved walkway, Bright Angel Point has spur trails with spectacular views of distinctive canyon buttes and rock temples. Early morning, and sunset views from Bright Angel are a rave with photographers. Vista Encontada, another stopping point, is a great place for a picnic lunch.
Other more remote, stunning overlooks include Point Imperial, Walhalla Plateau, Cape Royal, and Point Sublime. The drive to Cape Royal has great views of the canyon that can be seen along the road. Be sure to stop at Roosevelt Point, and take the short loop hike with a view of the Little Colorado River as it enters its confluence with the greater Colorado River. Access to the well-named Point Sublime is only possible with a 4WD, but is well-worth the extra effort. Information on all locations is available at the Visitors Center.
3. North Rim Access and Season
Although it is only 10 miles as the raven flies to get from the South Rim to the North Rim, it requires 212 miles of driving.
Access is via Hwy 67, a beautiful drive through rich conifer forest and past Jacob Lake. Jacob Lake is misnamed since there is no lake to be found there, but the rustic Jacob Lake Inn offers the best cookies on earth (this is the undeniable opinion of locals).
Distance from nearby park entrances and cities:
207 miles from Flagstaff, Arizona
212 miles from South Rim Canyon Village
351 miles from Phoenix, Arizona
275 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada
The North Rim sits atop the Kaibab Plateau at an elevation between 8,000 and 9,000 feet, about 1,500 feet higher than the South Rim. The higher elevation environment of the North Rim includes mixed conifer forest with stands of aspen that turn gold in fall. Be prepared for cooler temperatures with freezing nights possible as late as May and as early as September.
Full services are available at the North Rim between May 15 through Oct. 15. The North Rim Visitor Center is open daily 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Hikers and snowshoers can access the North Rim in the winter season but need a backcountry permit.
4. Lodging at the North Rim
The majestic Grand Canyon Lodge-North Rim, with its excellent on-site restaurant, is operated by park concessionaire Forever Resorts and positioned right on the edge of the North Rim. The main lodge contains a restaurant, hotel front desk, and common visitor sitting areas. The dining room and sitting areas have large stone fireplaces and feature 50- foot high vaulted ceilings with large plate glass windows that open onto spectacular canyon views. A wooden deck with rocking chairs is the perfect place to watch a Grand Canyon sunset. Guests stay in various size log cabins (sleeping up to five people) along the rim.
Lodging is also available in Jacob Lake and at the Kaibab Lodge.
5. Food at the North Rim
Grand Canyon Lodge Dining Room serves breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as cocktails. Dinner reservations are strongly recommended during summer months. Make them as early as possible in February when they open up to ensure you get a table. Deli in the Pines next to Grand Canyon Lodge offers inexpensive and quick food including breakfast burritos, sandwiches to go and pizza slices. The Roughrider Saloon includes a coffee shop serving bagels, baked goods, and other breakfast items in the mornings.
Beyond the park, Jacob Lake Inn and Kaibab Lodge both have family-style restaurants.
6. North Rim Visitor Center
The North Rim Visitor Center includes interpretive exhibits about cultural and natural history. Rangers are on hand to answer visitor questions. A Grand Canyon Association bookstore is also located here.
A separate North Rim Backcountry Information Office is nearby and issues backcountry camping permits and answers backpacking questions; open daily during summer 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Beyond the park, you can also explore the national forest. The visitor center for the North Kaibab Ranger District, Kaibab National Forest, is located in Jacob Lake and is open mid-May through mid-Oct. The staff can answer questions about North Rim forest roads, trails and camping in the North Rim area just outside the national park. For more information, call (928) 643-7175
7. Visitor Services at the North Rim
If you need groceries, you’ll find a general store selling groceries and camping supplies is adjacent to the North Rim Campground. A service station is located on the access road to North Rim Campground, and a 24-hour pay at the pump is available. Fuel includes diesel.There’s a coin- operated laundry and showers are at the entrance to North Rim Campground. There’s an ATM located in the general store and in the Roughrider Saloon next to Grand Canyon Lodge. There is also one at the Jacob Lake Inn outside of the park.
8. Trips From the North Rim to the Canyon Depths
To fully experience the Grand Canyon, you should get inside the canyon. Mules have carried visitors down the precipitous trails since 1920, and still provide a safe, easy and enjoyable way to explore. For the more intrepid visitors who prefer their own 2-feet, the North Kaibab trail winds its way from the Lodge all the way down to the Colorado River. It is advisable to begin early morning, while it is still cool, and be prepared. Know your own level of athleticism and remember that it is all uphill on the way back. Hiking is one of the most rewarding ways to see Grand Canyon, and can be the most challenging. Several stopping points along the North Kaibab trail provide tremendous, unforgettable views. Rangers also offer a number of Walk & Talk tours, pointing out popular wildlife and describing the geologic history surrounding you.
Reservations must be made in advance to stay at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon or the nearby campground. At night, in the pitch-black skies above canyon walls, lucky guests staying at Phantom Ranch gaze at stars that stun. The rustic wood-and-boulder cabins, built in 1922 by Architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, are a great place to stay and discover many more canyon secrets. And, to hear the cascading, unforgettable call of the Canyon Wren. NOTE: In 2023, the park will be making significant park upgrades that will impact the level of services available at Phantom Ranch. Check the park’s website for up-to-date details.
9. You say Tuweep, I say Toroweap
The official Grand Canyon National Park’s North Rim, is not the only way to continue your adventure here. Tuweep (or, Toroweap) is a lonely outpost in the northwestern corner of the Grand Canyon. Rising over 3,000 feet above the Colorado River, the view dropping down across sheer rock is awesome, and unique. Lava Falls, the river’s most challenging rapid, can be seen and heard from this precipice. However, because of crowding and damage to the area’s resources, you need to secure a permit in advance to stay here. In addition to securing a permit, a visit to this area can be challenging via three possible routes. You’ll need a high-clearance vehicle to drive over large boulders and navigate rough dirt road conditions and possibly muddy impassable stretches.
10. North Kaibab Forest
Many other options exist in the North Kaibab Forest. The Kaibab Plateau-North Rim Scenic Byways winds through meadows and forests ending at Grand Canyon National Park’s North Rim. Over 300 miles of trails, some clinging to the rim of the Grand Canyon, offer a diversity of challenge and solitude – and spectacular views only shared by local wildlife. Some trails include bike routes, some go to cool streams and hidden waterfalls. Fire Point, JumpUp, Crazy Jug, Rainbow Rim Trail.
Sections of this article were written by Laurel Beesley courtesy of VisitSouthernUtah.com