Most of us have been to the iconic Grand Canyon, the most famous symbol of the American southwest.
We’ve stood on the South Rim and gazed into the chasm, mesmerized by its sheer vastness, unable to fully comprehend the massive scale. We’ve also seen the bustling crowds and busloads of tourists that make this one of America’s most visited national parks. Some of us have even made the long trek down to the Colorado River, and the grueling climb back to the top (do NOT attempt this in a single day, especially during the heat of summer). Others have been lucky enough to experience one of the world’s signature whitewater rafting excursions.
What many of us haven’t experienced is the other side of the canyon. While the North Rim is only about 10 miles away as the crow flies, being there almost feels like being a world away from the South Rim.
At the North Rim, the more eroded and sloping walls give a magnificent view of the river below. The air is brisk and fresh at the North Rim, the views, trails and tours are as exhilarating as the clean air — and the crowds are largely absent.
The North Rim is 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim, resulting in cooler temperatures, a different environment and a lush forest. This natural wonder is a more remote section of the Grand Canyon, located in Northern Arizona, near Southern Utah’s border, and is a definite must see. The higher elevation results in even more breathtaking views than what the South Rim offers.
Situated on the Kaibab Plateau at elevations ranging from 8,000 to 9,100 feet, the North Rim offers the cool solitude of the isolated meadows and forests. Life on the North Rim is brimming with variety and hiking trails. Wildlife ranges from the unique Kaibab squirrel, an icon of the North Rim, to the recovering California condor. Bison roam freely, and deer move gracefully through the forest in abundance.
The Grand Canyon is immense. The crevice is a mile deep and more than 275 miles long. The park encompasses more than 1.2 million acres, and it is 10 miles wide in many sections. The 6 million-year-old Grand Canyon is made up of buttes, plateaus and mesas that cover igneous and metamorphic rock that is as many as 2 billion years old.
This national park has earned its rightful place as one of the seven wonders of the world. As one of our most popular national parks, the Grand Canyon is host to about four million local and international visitors each year. However, due to its remote location, only about 10 percent of those visitors will go to the North Rim.
The North Rim is remote. Located far from cities, towns and highways, it allows the Kaibab Plateau to remain relatively pristine and primitive.
North Rim services are open from mid-May until mid-October, but the North Rim is accessible as long as Highway 67 remains open. If it is a mild winter, the Arizona Department of Transportation tries to keep the road open until Thanksgiving or even as late as mid-December. In an average year, however, the road is open until mid-October. The park’s historic 75-year-old Grand Canyon Lodge is quaint, but it has its problems. The pipes must be drained for the winter and so the lodge must close down each year and cannot reopen until it warms up in May.
The closest town to the North Rim is Fredonia, Ariz., which has some modest accommodations and a bed and breakfast.
The South Rim is only eleven miles away from the North Rim if one could fly, but by car it is 215 miles. For the avid hiker, there is a grueling rim-to-rim trail combining the North Kaibab Trail and the Bright Angel Trail or South Kaibab Trail.
North Kaibab Trail viewpoints make excellent destinations for day hikes of various lengths. Supai Tunnel is 1.8 miles down the trail and provides a wonderful view of the canyon. It’s an appropriate destination for casual hikers. Roaring Springs is down another five miles. The Park Service warns people not to go further than Roaring Springs on a day hike. The distance and steepness of the trail can be deceptive going downhill.
Bright Angel Point, south from the visitor center, can be reached via a one-mile round trip hike with a grand view of the canyon. The Transept Trail offers an easy three-mile round trip hike. The Uncle Jim Trail offers a relatively easy four-mile loop along the edges of Bright Angel and Roaring Springs canyons. It forks from the Ken Patrick Trail, which is recommended for advanced hikers.
The North Rim fits nicely into a multi-park tour that also includes Zion, Bryce Canyon and Lake Powell. It is a relatively short drive between those scenic destinations.
A visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon requires some extra travel time, especially for those coming from the south. But for those looking for the true nature experience, the extra miles are more than worthwhile.