Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is an absolutely amazing place, no matter when or where you go. We have written about our visits to the south rim in summer and winter. But recently were fortunate enough to once again visit the North Rim and spend a few days camping there. It was just lovely and so quiet compared to the hustle and bustle of the south rim.
Visiting the North Rim
It is a bit more difficult to get to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, but totally worth the detour. The north rim only receives about 10% of the total Grand Canyon visitation.
From Flagstaff Arizona, it is just over 200 miles by car. From St. George Utah, it is about 150 miles. To get to the north rim from the south rim, it is a 220 mile drive or you can take the trans-canyon shuttle. Alternatively you can do the 21 mile cross-canyon hike. It is only a 5850 foot ascent from Phantom Ranch up out of the canyon! (But if you like to hike, it is absolutely gorgeous. See our blog on our corridor hiking experiences.)
The north rim is about 1000 feet higher in elevation than the south rim and usually receives 3 times as much snow, making it inaccessible during the winter months. In fact, the road from Jacob Lake closes in the winter. North Rim services are open from May 15 to October 15. There is day use through the end of November, depending on the road conditions.
Staying at the North Rim
Unlike the south rim, there are limited accommodations at the north rim. There is a historic lodge built in 1927 with motel rooms and cabins, some right near the edge. You can enjoy the views from the dining room or patio looking out over the canyon.
There is also one campground in the national park, with some campsites right near the edge. We were fortunate enough to get one of these sites. Gorgeous sunset and sunrise!
Whichever you prefer – lodge or campground – be sure to book in advance. Everything fills up quickly!
If you can’t stay inside the national park, don’t despair. There are a few more places to stay outside the park at Jacob Lake. They have a small motel and campground. There is also camping available in the Kaibab National Forest area.
Enjoying the North Rim
You won’t find any IMAX or fast food at the north rim, but there’s lots to do there if you like the outdoors and want some great canyon views.
We believe that Bright Angel Point (8161 feet elevation) provides one of the best views of the grand canyon (at least for the smallest level of exertion). It is just a short 1/2 mile roundtrip walk out from the lodge on a paved trail, but when you are out there it seems like you are in the middle of the canyon.
We also really enjoyed walking on the Bridle Path and the Transept Trail from the lodge to the campground. The views are lovely, and so is the forest. It is really nice to wander on paths that aren’t packed with people. On a couple of our walks, all we saw were deer.
Another trail we really liked was the Widforss Trail, named after Gunner Widforss, an artist from 20’s and 30’s who painted landscapes of the canyon. It is a 5 mile out and back hike to Widforss Point – a great spot for a picnic! If you aren’t up to a 10 mile round trip, we recommend that you do some or all of the first 3 miles. The trail skirts along the top of Transept Canyon, with lots of stopping points to admire the view and take photos.
We were glad we did the full 5 miles out to the point. We actually enjoyed the next 2 miles almost even more than the first 3. Although you lose the canyon views the hike goes through a gorgeous spruce and fir forest, and pretty meadows filled with wildflowers.
North Rim Scenic Drive
Another thing we enjoyed at the north rim was the scenic drive to Point Imperial (the highest point on the north rim) and Cape Royal. It is a curvy 15 mile road, with lots of stops and scenic vistas along the way. We stopped and did a short hike to Cape Final. It was an easy 4.2 mile round trip walk through the forest to some great views. You can even see the painted desert in the distance.
Continue to the end of the scenic drive for some great overlooks. Walk out to the end of Cape Royal and see the Vishnu Temple towering 4900 feet above the Colorado River. From there you can also see some of the trails criss-crossing the canyon floor. We could easily make out South Kaibab trail as it winds down into the canyon. Fun to think that we had been on that trail not so long ago!
Very special is Angel’s Window. Just a short walk from the parking lot at the end of the road, you can look through the natural hole in the rock and see the Colorado River in the distance.
Walk out onto the rock ledge (fenced for safety) for more incredible views.
If you really want a memorable and very special trip to the Grand Canyon, be sure to include the north rim.
Need Help Planning Your Visits?
If you would like to explore this or other National Park Units, but need a bit help in the planning, please give us a call at (480) 609-3978. We are happy to offer customized trip planning.