The North Rim offers an experience very different from that of the South Rim. Elevations around 1,300 feet higher result in lower temperatures and nearly 60% more precipitation. Rain and snowmelt have cut deeply into the North Rim so that it is now about twice as far back from the Colorado River as the South Rim. Dramatic vistas from the north inspired early explorers to choose names like Point Sublime, Cape Royal, Angels Window, and Point Imperial.
Even away from the viewpoints, the North Rim displays great beauty. Spruce, fir, pine, and aspen forests thrive in the cool air. Wildflowers bloom in blazes of color in the meadows and along the roadsides. Aspen turn to gold from the last week of September to mid-October.
You'll find visitor facilities and major trailheads near Bright Angel Point, a 45-mile drive south on AZ 67 from Jacob Lake in the far north of Arizona. Most services open in mid-May and close mid-October, but the road is open until the first heavy snowfall in late November or early December.
In winter, a deep blanket of snow covers the Kaibab Plateau's rolling meadow and forest country. The snow cover typically reaches a depth of 4–10 feet; cross-country skiers and snowshoers find the conditions ideal. The park itself has no facilities open on the North Rim in winter; you can camp here, however, with a permit from the Backcountry Information Center.
SILENCE IN THE CANYON
Wilderness can provide a refuge from the ever busier worlds that we create. Just being out in the canyons turns out to be a delightful experience. Part of this delight seems to come from the space and the silence, which then reflects back on our own minds. "Preserving the power of presence," as Jack Turner terms it in his book, The Abstract Wild, is far more complex than just looking after the biodiversity. Rather than believing that presence is something that we can add on to make the wilderness whole, he states that "the loss of aura and presence is the main reason we are losing so much of the natural world." Turner thinks that by viewing wilderness as amusement and resource, we lose sight of the magic and sacred nature of it.
In the Grand Canyon, this value of presence or silence has come under assault from a steady stream of aircraft circling over the heart of the Canyon. No local topic has become as heated or difficult to resolve. Pilots and passengers enjoy flying so much that they refuse to consider a ban on flights, yet proponents of presence will not be satisfied until the skies over the park become silent. Congress first addressed the noise problem in 1987, banning nonemergency flights below the rims and requiring the designation of flight-free zones. The current compromise of restricted flight paths reduces the noise over some parts of the park, but it comes far short of the tranquility that early tourists to the park must have experienced. Only public opinion, expressed to representatives in Congress and to the Grand Canyon National Park administration, will determine how much natural silence the Canyon will offer to future visitors.
Bright Angel Point
You'll get a North Rim edition of The Guide at the entrance station on the drive in. Park at the end of the road, near Grand Canyon Lodge, and follow the paved foot trail to the tip of Bright Angel Point, an easy half-mile roundtrip walk taking about 30 minutes. Shells and other fossils can be spotted in the outcrop of Kaibab limestone on your right, just after a stone causeway. Roaring Springs Canyon on the left and Transept Canyon on the right join the long Bright Angel Canyon far below. John Wesley Powell's 1869 expedition camped at the mouth of this canyon, and Powell later gave the name Bright Angel Creek to its crystal-clear waters. Listen for Roaring Springs coming out of the depths on the left and you'll see where the springs shoot out of the cliff. A pumping station at the base supplies drinking water to both North and South Rims. Roaring Springs makes a good day-hike or mule-ride destination via the North Kaibab Trail. The volcanic summits on the horizon to the south are, from left to right, O'Leary, San Francisco Peaks, Kendrick, and Sitgreaves. Red Butte, on the right and closer, preserves a remnant of Moenkopi Formation under a lava cap.
Grand Canyon Lodge
The grand old lodge of logs and stone dates from 1937. The patio, Sun Room, dining room, and lobby all make popular gathering places. Many North Rim visitors get their first breathtaking view of the Canyon through the massive windows of the Sun Room; in a corner you'll see a bronze statue of the famous burro "Brighty of the Grand Canyon," along with photos and stories about him. Rub his nose for good luck.
This paved road begins three miles north of the lodge and leads to some of the North Rim's most spectacular viewpoints. You could easily spend a full day taking in the overlooks and hiking the short trails. Bring water and food for a picnic, as no supplies are available on the drive. Driving distance from Grand Canyon Lodge to Point Imperial is 11 miles one way and from the lodge to Cape Royal is 23 miles one way.
Once past the turnoff for Point Imperial, the drive follows the east side of the Walhalla Plateau. You can hike on unsigned former roads to many fine vistas, which you'll likely have all to yourself. Most of the plateau is open to camping with a backcountry permit, though you'll have to walk a quarter-mile in from the Cape Royal Road. Staff at the North Rim Backcountry Office can make suggestions and issue backcountry camping permits.
Here, at an elevation of 8,803 feet, you'll be standing on the Grand Canyon's highest vantage point reachable by road. Views encompass impressive geology in the park's eastern section. You'll see Nankoweap Creek below, Vermilion Cliffs on the horizon to the north, rounded Navajo Mountain on the horizon in Utah to the northeast, the Painted Desert far to the east, and the Little Colorado River Canyon to the southeast. To get here, follow Cape Royal Road 5.3 miles, then turn left 2.7 miles. Picnic tables and restrooms lie under the trees.
Continue along the twisting Cape Royal Road past a trailhead for the Ken Patrick Trail and little Greenland Lake onto the Walhalla Plateau and this viewpoint. Picnic tables make it a good lunch spot. The view northeast provides another perspective of the vast Nankoweap drainage and beyond.
The overlook has a fine view, and there's a 0.2-mile loop trail from the start of the parking area.
Walhalla Overlook and Walhalla Glades Pueblo
After enjoying the views at the overlook, cross the road and follow a 100-yard trail to the prehistoric pueblo. These ancestral Puebloans, known by archaeologists as Kayenta Anasazi, farmed at least 100 sites on the Walhalla Plateau, most of them near the rim where warm air currents extended the growing season. The villagers occupied this pueblo (elev. 8,000 feet) about A.D. 1050–1150, probably using it just in summer, then retreating to Unkar Delta (visible from Walhalla Overlook) after the harvests.
Cape Royal and Angels Window
At road's end, a level paved trail continues south 0.3 mile from the parking lot to Cape Royal (elev. 7,865 feet) and a fantastic panorama. It's the southernmost viewpoint of the North Rim in this part of the Grand Canyon. Trailside signs identify plants growing on the high, arid ridge. On the way you'll see Angels Window, a massive natural arch; a short side trail leads out on top of it. At Cape Royal, signs point out Freya Castle to the southeast, Vishnu Temple and the distant San Francisco Peaks to the south, and a branch of Clear Creek Canyon and flat-topped Wotans Throne to the southwest.
NORTH RIM DAY HIKES
This trail winds along The Transept's rim. You can make a 3.2-mile loop by continuing on the Transept Trail a half mile past the campground to the Bridle Trail near the entrance to the administration area, then following the Bridle Trail back south to the Grand Canyon Lodge.
This handy connector trail parallels the road. It's also open to cyclists and leashed pets.
Arizona Trail (North Rim section)
This segment parallels the road between the North Kaibab Trailhead and the park's north boundary. Like the Bridle Trail, it's open to bicycles and leashed pets.
North Kaibab Trail Day Hike to Roaring Springs
A picnic area near Roaring Springs makes a good destination for ambitious day hikers; there's usually seasonal water.
A much easier option, Coconino Overlook affords a view into the depths of Roaring Springs Canyon from ledges atop the Coconino Sandstone; the 1.5-mile roundtrip drops only 500 feet from the rim and takes about an hour. Or you could continue down switchbacks in the Coconino Sandstone to Supai Tunnel, 3.6 miles and 3–4 hours roundtrip; elevation change is 1,415 feet; there may be seasonal water.
Ken Patrick Trail
You'll enjoy forest scenery and views across the headwaters of Nankoweap Creek on this trail, best done with a car shuttle starting at Point Imperial so that you'll be hiking mostly downhill. For a shorter hike, you could follow the first three miles along the rim from Point Imperial, then return the same way. Ken Patrick worked as a ranger on the North Rim for several seasons in the early 1970s. He was shot and killed by escaped convicts while on duty at California's Point Reyes National Seashore in 1973.
Uncle Jim Trail
The first half mile follows the Ken Patrick Trail, then the Uncle Jim turns southeast to make a loop around Uncle Jim Point. Views from the point include Roaring Springs Canyon and North Kaibab Trail. James "Uncle Jim" Owens served as the Grand Canyon Game Reserve's first warden from 1906 until establishment of the national park.
Gently rolling terrain, fine Canyon views, and a variety of forest types attract hikers to the Widforss Trail. From the edge of a meadow, the trail climbs a bit, skirts the head of The Transept, then leads through ponderosa pines to an overlook near Widforss Point. Many people enjoy going just part way. You're likely to see mule deer. There's a trail guide available.
Haunted Canyon lies below at trail's end, flanked by The Colonnade on the right and Manu Temple, Buddha Temple, and Schellbach Butte on the left; beyond lie countless more temples, towers, canyons, and the cliffs of the South Rim. The trail and point honor Swedish artist Gunnar Widforss, who painted the national parks of the West between 1921 and 1934.
Point Imperial Trail
The trail parallels the rim to the northern park boundary, where you could continue a short distance to the Saddle Mountain Trailhead. You'll cross areas burned in the 2000 Outlet Fire
The trail follows gently rolling terrain through the ponderosa pines east of the Cape Royal Road. You'll pass several overlooks on the way, but it's worth continuing to the grand finale above Unkar Creek Canyon at Cape Final.
Cliff Spring Trail
You'll enjoy pretty scenery on this trail, which winds down a forested ravine past a small prehistoric ruin to the spring under an overhang. Canyon walls open up impressively as you near the spring. It's possible to continue on a rougher trail another half mile for more canyon views.
MULE RIDES ON THE NORTH RIM
You can ride trails along the rim or head part way down the North Kaibab Trail. No overnight trips are offered. Rim rides cost $40 for one hour (minimum age seven) and rides out to Uncle Jims Point are $75 for a half day (minimum age ten). Heading down the North Kaibab Trail, half-day trips to the tunnel run $75 (minimum age ten). Requirements for riders are similar to those for South Rim trips, including proper riding attire (long pants and wide-brimmed hat), good health, weight not over 200 pounds/91 kilograms for Uncle Jims Point and the North Kaibab or not over 220 pounds/100 kilograms for the one-hour rim rides, and fluency in English. Call ahead or make reservations with the mule rides desk in the Grand Canyon Lodge lobby (928/638-9875 lodge, 435/679-8665 residence, www.canyonrides.com). Rates include a shuttle from the lodge to the trailhead.
On to North Rim Practicalities
On to the Kaibab Plateau