Spend the Perfect Day Hiking the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon sees over six million visitors per year (yup million). One little-known fact is that the North Rim only gets about 10% of those visitors. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon sits high above the more popular South Rim in an alpine environment. If you’re seeking solitude on the Grand Canyon, check out the beautiful, serene North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Why Visit the North Rim?
Aside from seeing a fraction of the visitors (read: we saw one tour bus during our entire stay), the North Rim of the Grand Canyon offers more drama. Your 1,000 feet higher with 1,000 times the views. The sheer drops may not be as impressive, but you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of the canyon system that the South Rim simply can’t deliver.
How Much Time Do I Need?
To hit the highlights of the North Rim, you’ll want at least one full day here, two days will give you plenty of time. Plan on spending two to three nights. Opt to spend one of those nights in the park for the fullest experience. For visitors who want to take their time, or are planning to link this trip with the south rim, you may want an extra day or two.
When to Visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
Due to the excessive elevation (the highest point is 8,803 feet), the North Rim closes each year. High elevation means alpine terrain. This contrast creates incredible viewpoints. The drawback? Temperamental weather and plenty of snow. The North Rim Visitor Center closes on October 15th and the roads are no longer maintained. Things open up again on May 15th (weather depending), so be sure to plan your visit between May and October 15th.
I visited the North Rim in the beginning of October. We had a particularly wet fall, and the weather in the canyon reflected that. It was below freezing at night and windy. As we drove out of the park, sleet and snow began to fall. Was it worth it? Absolutely. If you aren’t a fan of cold weather, September is an ideal time, since kids will be back in school, but the weather hasn’t gone totally sour.
Where to Stay on the North Rim
Your options are limited on the North Rim, but that’s a small price to pay for quiet trails and jaw-dropping viewpoints. You can stay in the town of Kanab, which is approximately an hour and a half drive to the rim.
Alternatively, there are a few spots that have cabins near the north entrance, as well as paid camping. Inside the park, you can stay at one of three campgrounds along the main road of the park, Grand Lodge (pricey) or get a permit for Tuweep, a camping area accessible by high clearance, 4WD vehicles only right on the rim.
Free Camping on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
Kanab National Forest borders the rim and offers plenty of free camping. Simply hop on Google Earth and check out the dirt roads just outside the park. Beware, most accessible camp spots were full, even in October, so plan accordingly. Some roads close due to fires, so call the ranger station before heading out.
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Best Viewpoints and Hiking on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
There are a wide variety of activities along the north rim. The hiking is primarily wooded with canyon views. Most hikes above the rim are fairly accessible and not too long in distance. You can link trails or hike from viewpoint to viewpoint to make it tougher. The viewpoints along the north rim are stunner, so plan some time at a few of the ones mentioned below.
Watch the Sunrise at Point Imperial
Okay, so this technically isn’t a hike, but this early wake-up call takes your breath away. For an alpenglow for the history books, greet the day at the highest viewpoint in the canyon. Point Imperial offers impressive views and is hands-down the best spot for sunrise. This ephemeral experience is little-known, only six other people joined us for the show. It’s easily accessed, so if you’re a photography geek, bring your tripod.
Explore Cape Royal
Hike out to a point and experience several different vantage points of the canyon. This spot has a few areas where you can get close to the edge if you dare. Cross Angel’s Window, a natural bridge out to 270-degree views. Continue down the accessible path towards Cape Royal itself. There are a few areas where you can hike on a path out towards barrier-free canyon views if you dare. Hike Cape Royal after sunrise to avoid the busiest crowds.
Camp (or Hike) to Cape Final
Before heading out to visit the canyon, I obtained a permit to backpack into Cape Final and camp on the north rim of the Grand Canyon (you can snag your permit here). I filed for a lottery six months in advance. The permit dictated my entire trip (a two-week tour-de-desert). We encountered burly weather with 30mph winds and driving rain all night. It was still worth it.
The two-mile hike to the single-permit campsite meant we had the entire area to ourselves. Cape Final boasts several different vantage points with uninterrupted views of the Grand Canyon, including a chance to scramble down into the canyon.
Great Hikes at Bright Angel Point
The North Rim Visitor Center marks the terminus of the Kaibab Trail (rim-to-rim). There are a few other long-distance trails that pass through this area, so if bigger hikes are your thing, you’ll want to spend some time here. Moderate day hikers can make it as low as Supai Tunnel Overlook.
Most of the other moderate to difficult hikes are located here as well. The Widforss Trail winds along long stretches of overlooks.
The North Rim Visitor Center is bustling with activity. However, there are several unique vistas if you still can’t get enough. If the weather turns, you can find well-kept bathrooms and an indoor café here. Cap off a day well-spent with a drink at the saloon, or relax on rocking chairs right by the rim.
Hiking below the rim of the Grand Canyon
Experienced backpackers should check out the Nankoweep trail. Touted as the most difficult named trail in the park, this trail is littered with steep drops, narrow trail, and daunting terrain. However, if you’re skilled you can almost reach the canyon floor in a day. Water stashes are essential and be sure to really examine what you are getting into. Most people backpack the entire trail in two to three days, depending on skill level.
Overall, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is well worth a visit. If you’re looking for quiet wilderness and breathtaking views, be sure to plan a day at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
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