One of the great scenic wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon attracts millions of visitors annually. Most of them don’t realize what they’re missing by exploring only the attractions along the canyon’s South Rim.
The popular South Rim, open year-round, is just half of the national park. The North Rim, a thousand feet higher and seemingly more remote, is about the same distance from Las Vegas. It is cooler, and the forests are taller, greener and thicker. The canyon views are just as spectacular, but trails and roads are less crowded.
The visitation season at the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is short — May 15 to Oct. 15 — but glorious. The earliest visitors may see snow drifts in the shade of evergreens. Summertime blossoms soon splash color across wide meadows and flowering locust trees decorate the scenic roadsides. Autumn color in the quaking aspens fires up by the end of September and is gone by mid-October. Snow follows soon after, closing the park for the winter to all but a few snowshoe trekkers or cross-country skiers with backcountry permits.
The North Rim is 277 miles from Las Vegas. Follow Interstate 15 north into Utah for 128 miles to the exit to state Route 9. Drive 10 miles to Hurricane and turn east on state Route 59, which becomes Arizona Route 389 at the state line. Drive 65 miles to Fredonia, Ariz. Turn south onto U.S. Highway 89A and drive 30 miles to Jacob Lake. From Jacob Lake, continue south 30 miles on state Route 67 to the park entrance.
The park access road runs 14 miles to facilities clustered at the rim. The $25 park entrance fee is honored at both rims for 14 days from the date of purchase.
The visitor center provides introductory exhibits about the North Rim’s plants, animals and history, as well as information about free ranger programs and park facilities, such as roads and trails. Ask about road and trail closures in effect this summer following a fire in late May. The visitor center’s bookstore carries books, maps, posters, toys, games, souvenirs and more. A backcountry permit desk remains open through the end of October.
Campsites in the North Rim’s single campground are usually reserved well in advance. Check availability at recreation.gov. Sites are most likely to be available through cancellations or early in the week. There are no hookups. Camping fees range from $18 to $25 per night. You are more likely to find available sites at campgrounds near the park in the Kaibab National Forest and at Jacob Lake. Some of these have RV hookups.
The North Rim’s handsome Grand Canyon Lodge should be part of every visitor’s experience. Built of native stone and timbers, the lodge is one of the stately structures built in the early years of the park system. Perched on the edge of the chasm, the lodge commands superb views at Bright Angel Point from its porches and public rooms, including the main dining room.
The lodge houses guests in rustic cabins on or near the rim and in motel-style units. Rates range from $116 to $192. The views from the porches of the log cabins built on the edge of the rim are spectacular. Reservations are a necessity. Call Forever Resorts at 877-386-4383 or visit www.grandcanyonforever.com
At the trail-rides desk in the lobby of the lodge, learn about seasonal mule treks along the rim or on trails into the canyon. Hourlong rim rides cost $40 per person, while two half-day trail rides cost $80 each. Age and weight limits apply. Schedule a ride in advance by calling 435-679-8665.
A network of walking and hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty explore the North Rim. The routes along the rim are mostly level, but those that drop over the edge and into the canyon are fairly easy going down but arduous climbing back up. Don’t overestimate your abilities, especially at this high elevation. On trails shared with mules, the animals have the right of way.
Margo Bartlett Pesek’s Trip of the Week column appears on Sundays.