If you are planning a visit to Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona — and most people do have that visit on their bucket lists — you might consider aiming at the North Rim instead of the better-known South Rim. This area of the park, accessed via the Arizona Strip, gets only about 10 percent the number of visitors who crowd the South Rim.
The contrast in numbers is usually attributed to the North Rim’s more “remote” location; yet if you’re starting from Southern Nevada, it’s about the same distance, less than five hours via auto. And in summer it is the better choice, with its higher elevation, 8,000 feet, which means cooler temperatures for hiking and other outdoor activities. The North Rim receives twice as much precipitation, making it more vegetated, and in summer wildflowers abound.
When traveling here most people first head to the Grand Canyon Lodge. The only accommodations on the North Rim, the lodge also serves as the centerpiece for visitors. From the parking area to the lodge’s front door you will find the North Rim Visitor Center, a gift shop, a post office, Deli in the Pines, the Roughrider Saloon, bathrooms and water stations.
The lodge offers a variety of accommodations such as private cabins and motel rooms. But even day visitors can sit and relax, taking in panoramic views both inside from the patio or from one of the tables while having a meal at the lodge’s dining room.
After enjoying the view from the lodge you can easily access the Bright Angel Point Trail, which starts on the east side of the patio. Only 0.5 mile round trip, this is a good hike for sure-footed adults but it’s steep, has drop-offs and involves some stairs, so it’s best avoided if you have children along.
The North Rim Scenic Drive is well worth investing a half-day or so in the viewpoints and overlooks, hiking short trails and just taking in the scenery. Two of the must-see highlights are Point Imperial and Cape Royal. At Point Imperial you will find the highest point on the North Rim at 8,803 feet; from there you can see all the way to the Painted Desert at the eastern end of the Grand Canyon. Along the 0.8 mile Cape Royal Trail you will find one of the best panoramic views in the park. It’s tops for enjoying a sunrise or a sunset.
If you are extremely fit and can start at the crack of dawn you might want to hike a short way into the canyon itself via the North Kaibab Trail. All hikes below the rim are very strenuous outings because of the elevation loss and gain on the return. One good destination would be the hike of 4 miles round trip (1,400 feet elevation loss) to Supai Tunnel or the 5.2-mile round trip (2,200 feet elevation loss) to Redwall Bridge. Never attempt to go all the way to the river and back in one day; many have died trying.
For those seeking a less strenuous activity you could sign up for the classic Grand Canyon activity: a mule ride. Grand Canyon Trail Rides offer three different mule excursions lasting from one to three hours. There are age and weight restrictions depending on which ride you choose. You can inquire about same-day reservations in the lobby of the lodge, but it’s better to phone ahead at 435-679-8665 or visit www.grandcanyon.com.
North Rim Campground reservations can be made by calling 877-444-6777 or visiting www.recreation.gov. Near it are a gas station and the North Rim Country Store, which sells basic camping items, groceries, beer and ice.
To access either rim of the park you will travel through Kaibab National Forest, which, due to fire restrictions, is under full closure but as of now you can still drive the main roads of Arizona State Route 67 for the North Rim and Arizona State Route 64/U.S. Highway 180 for the South Rim.
Be aware that due to extreme dry conditions, Stage 2 fire restrictions are in place for the entire park, which includes the South Rim, North Rim and inner canyon. This includes all campgrounds, backcountry sites and developed recreation sites such as Phantom Ranch and the Colorado River corridor.
No fires of wood or charcoal are allowed. Fueled devices that can be turned off, such as camp stoves and lanterns, are currently allowed if they are used away from any dry brush or other flammable material. Absolutely no fireworks are allowed, and smoking is only allowed in an enclosed vehicle.
For information on the Grand Canyon and to keep abreast of any changes and updates before you set out, visit www.nps.gov/grca or call 928-638-7888. The North Rim can only be accessed by vehicle through Oct. 31 when services close for the winter and the roads are closed due to snow.
Many of Deborah Wall’s columns have been compiled into books about hiking in the Southwest. She is also the author of “Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide” and a co-author of the book “Access For All, Seeing the Southwest With Limited Mobility.” Wall can be reached at Deborabus@aol.com.