Grand Canyon National Park - North Rim northern Arizona
Visited: September 29, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 105 of 353 NPS Website; Local Website
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WHAT IS IT?
The more rugged, less crowded, higher altitude Grand Canyon option. Getting a glimpse of the Canyon and all its awe-inspiring splendor is more difficult from the North but you won’t have to deal with tens of thousands of people.
The drive down Arizona route 67 to the North Rim passes through the Kaibab Forest, green meadows, the fall foliage of aspen and maples and the stateliness of ponderosa pine. You are at an altitude of over 8,000 feet and you don’t feel as if you’re nearing the Grand Canyon, especially when there are mule deer lining the roadsides. In fact, snow closes the entrance road for much of November through May.
When you pull up to the Visitor Center, the Canyon is out of view and you are still in a semi-dense forest. After you walk through the rustic Grand Canyon Lodge, there it is. The Canyon feels far away and the Colorado River is impossible to see. Despite the colors, the vista from Bright Angel Point is far from intimate. Hikes around the lodge highlight areas adjoining the Canyon, like the Transept and Roaring Springs Canyon. But it’s not the Grand Canyon.
We preferred the awesome power and grandeur of the South Rim panoramas. But we did not take the long drive out to the Cape Royal and Walhalla Overlooks. Those points are much closer to the Colorado. That being said, it’s still the Grand Canyon and it’s still unbelievable.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10)
Aside from the pictures of Teddy Roosevelt astride a donkey in his eponymous pub, our visit did not feel historic.
Unlike the easily accessible South Rim, the North Rim is so remote that visitation almost requires a night spent in the Park. Reservations are essential. The nearest one-motel town, Jacob Lake, is 45 miles to the north on Arizona Route 67, the only road to the North Rim. The Park Service offers limited lodging opportunity at both the Lodge and the campground and its visitor’s services are minimal. So, despite the small visitation numbers, the North Rim can feel crowded.
That being said, seclusion is a real option in the North, whether you’re hiking through the woods or looking over the Transept. The Grand Canyon views seem more personal and unique. An air of accomplishment and fraternity flows between the visitors. People are friendly here; everyone says hello and feels free to open conversations with strangers. We had a great time. The Lodge and the Campground were full but we had no trouble securing a wood-carved seat outside the Lodge where we watched the sunset.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
It is not easy to get to the North Rim. From the northwest, it is almost 150 miles from St. George, Utah and Interstate 15. The South Rim is more than 220 miles away. Kudos to those trusty friends who pick up their friends hiking rim to rim. Flagstaff, Arizona is also about 220 miles from the North Rim.
Even if you are traveling the southwest “Grand Circle” of National Parks, the North Rim is not an easy detour.
We loved the clever T-shirt designs at the North Rim gift store, especially the Teddy Roosevelt-related ones. The knickknacks are all North Rim specific, even though the gift shop shares the same operator as the South Rim. All the books are here to.
Of special note is the Grand Canyon Lodge Dining Room. The food is terrific, prices surprisingly affordable, service heartwarming and the Grand Canyon view breathtaking. Have at least one meal here.
The Park General Store’s well-stocked aisles were dwindling rapidly as it was about to close for the season.
Entry is $20 per vehicle, or free with the National Parks Pass.
There are only two lodging options in the North Rim area of the Park, the Grand Canyon Lodge ($91-$116) and the 72-site North Rim Campground ($15). If you know you are coming to the North Rim, make reservations for both places well in advance.
We arrived at 2:00 p.m. on a Wednesday, late September. We got the last North Rim campsite and were able to sleep outside during a mild ice storm. During summer, the DeMotte Campground operates 18 miles to the north in the Kaibab National Forest. It wasn’t open during our visit. Had we not luckily procured the last campsite, we would have had to hike into the National Forest, packs and tent on our back, to spend the night near the North Rim. Don’t be like us; plan ahead at the North Rim.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
The North Rim offers Ranger services only from early May to mid-October unlike the always-open South Rim. Inclement weather shuts down the high altitude North Rim, which can receive up to 150 inches of snow in the winter. During our late September visit, we had to wait in line to talk to the one Ranger on duty at the sole Visitor Center. Our question, “How can we get into the Canyon?” Her response was to go to the Backcountry Office.
The Backcountry Office was staffed with two helpful and vivacious Rangers. They suggested many routes in just a few minutes. They were so eager and spoke so fast that we had trouble taking it all in. They told us to get here at 8am (maybe even a bit sooner) to apply for a hiking permit. “Do you think we’ll get one?” we pleaded. With a knowing wink of an eye, one Ranger quietly nodded and said, “I don’t think you’ll have a problem.”
We arrived at the end of the season when only four talks were available. All Ranger-led activities end by October 13. We were unable to attend any of the talks because of our quest for a backcountry permit. We did take two self-guided nature hikes. Both were nice but strangely devoid of Grand Canyon views.
During the summer, there are 10 talks per day. There is no museum at the North Rim.
The North Rim is relaxing, the air is crisp and the forest smells intoxicating. Go to the Grand Canyon Lodge bask in the warm Sun Room take in the Canyon views through its gigantic windows. Go outside. Sit on the super comfortable pine tree chairs. Unwind, grab a drink and watch the sunset. Or watch the sunrise from inside the grand dining room. The breakfast buffet is spectacular. We loved the North Rim. It is not manic and there are not busloads of Las Vegas day-trippers.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (9/10)
The North Rim experience is miles apart from the South Rim’s. The advantages of the North Rim: less people, forested scenery, nicer Lodge and dining area, isolation, non-traditional Grand Canyon experience. North Rim negatives: hard to get to, very remote, lodging dearth, less dramatic views, fewer walking trails, short season, colder weather, much steeper hike to the bottom. Our preference is a toss up, although the South Rim might provide a better introduction to the awesome vistas. Whichever you choose, at the end of the day you are still looking at the Grand Canyon.
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