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Try the Grand Canyon’s North Rim for smaller crowds, great views

If you are planning a visit to Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona — and most people have that on their bucket lists — consider 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 of the number of visitors who crowd the South Rim. The contrast in visitation 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 by car. And in summer it is the better choice, with its higher elevation, 8,000 feet, which means cooler temperatures for 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 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 a half-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 spending a half-day on, with its viewpoints, overlooks and short trails. 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 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 dawn, you might want to hike a short way into the canyon itself on the North Kaibab Trail. All hikes below the rim are very strenuous because of the elevation changes. One good destination would be the round-trip hike of 4 miles (with 1,400 feet of elevation change) to Supai Tunnel or the 5.2-mile round-trip (2,200 feet elevation change) to Redwall Bridge. Never attempt to go all the way to the river and back in one day; many have died trying.

Those seeking a less-strenuous activity can sign up for that classic Grand Canyon activity, a mule ride. Grand Canyon Trail Rides offers three different 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 is under full closure because of fire restrictions. But as of now you can still drive the main roads of state Route 67 for the North Rim and state Route 64/U.S. Highway 180 for the South Rim. Be aware that because of extremely 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 allowed only 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 be accessed by vehicle through Oct. 31, when services close for the winter and the roads are closed because of snow.

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