Grand Canyon – North Rim
After leaving the Vermilion Cliffs in the rearview mirror, this ride continues west on US 89A, rising steeply from the high desert. The elevation change is quick and high, climbing some 4,000 feet. The temperature drops and woodlands appear: pinyon-juniper, ponderosa pine and fir, spruce and aspen. Kaibab National Forest lies north of Grand Canyon National Park. Like many forests in the western U.S., wildfires have taken their toll on Kaibab over the years and that’s evident along this highway as well as deeper into the park. Soon US 89A reaches Jacob Lake and a left turn onto AZ 67 leads directly south to the North Rim. Called the Kaibab Plateau – North Rim Parkway, it’s another 44 miles through forest and meadows, passing wild turkeys and waiting for a bison herd to cross the road (that actually happened to me on the way out). It’s pretty and generally flat, not obviously mountainous even though the elevation is now 8,000 feet. But after parking and heading toward the North Rim Visitors Center, the Bright Angel Point Trail beckons and soon the splendor of the Grand Canyon unfolds. The paved trail feels as through it’s floating, heading toward the end of the earth. The views from the North Rim are essentially the ones you see from the South. But the North only gets about 10% of the park’s visitors. And when you consider about six million people come to the Grand Canyon each year, that makes a difference although the North, too, gets crowded at times. After Great Smoky Mountains, the Grand Canyon is the second most popular national park. The North Rim is also 1,000 feet higher than the South. As the crow flies, it’s about 10 miles between the rims’ visitors centers. But it’s more than 200 miles to drive! The North Rim has numerous overlooks. At an elevation of 8,803 feet, Point Imperial has the park’s loftiest view. Angels Window is a cool hole in the rock that you can walk across. From the Angels Window overlook, the Colorado River can be seen far below, continuing to carve the canyon as it’s been slowly doing for six million years. Cape Royal is the farthest viewpoint and the end of the journey. It’s worth the drive, providing some of the most sweeping views of a park that’s 277 miles long and averages 4,000 feet deep.
Route & Map
Length & Time
Once you get to the park, it’s a pretty straightforward visit. From the North Rim Visitors Center and Bright Angel Point, it’s 28 miles to Point Imperial and Cape Royal, with overlooks along the way. Plan on at least a half day.
Only Time to Visit
The North Rim is only open to vehicles mid-May through late fall. Winter weather closes the road but backpacking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are allowed. It’s just a long, long, long and arduous distance to hike in!
There’s not much on the way to the North Rim. Page is fairly large and offers all services. Kanab is closer and cuter with a movie-making history and evolving food scene. And you can always stay at the North Rim, provided there’s room at the Grand Canyon Lodge or campground.