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. With that solitude comes some of the best hikes on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
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 Grand Canyon’s best hikes along the North Rim.
About this Guide to the Best Hikes on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
I write about hiking around the world for a living, and as such, I’ve spent quite a bit of time exploring the Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon North Rim hikes offer a fantastic and unique way to see the mighty Canyon.
You’re high up and can really grasp just how big the Grand Canyon really is. Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide to the best Grand Canyon North Rim hikes:
- Reasons to visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
- How many days to spend at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
- When to visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
- The best Grand Canyon North Rim hikes
- Where to stay
- Free camping along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
- Quick tips for hiking in the desert
- Additional desert destinations
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.
This amount of time will let you experience the best Grand Canyon North Rim Hikes and all of the best Grand Canyon viewpoints too. 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.
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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 at 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.
The Best Grand Canyon North Rim Hikes
There is a wide variety of activities along the north rim and some of the best hikes in the Grand Canyon are found on the North Rim.
The hiking on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is primarily wooded with breathtaking 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 best hikes on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
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Watch the Sunrise at the Highest Point in the Grand Canyon
Okay, so this technically isn’t a hike (maybe 0.1 miles total), 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 for photography.
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.
Distance: 0.1 Miles
Elevation Gain: 22 feet
Soak in Incredible Views at Cape Royal
Hike out to a point and experience several different vantage points of the canyon. This is one of the best Grand Canyon North Rim trails. There are even 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 for some of the best accessible hiking on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. 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.
Difficulty: Easy, partially paved for accessibility
Distance: 2 miles
Elevation: 65 feet
The Best Camp Spot on the Rim: Cape Final
This is one of the best North Rim of the Grand Canyon hikes, and one of the best places to camp on the rim of the Grand Canyon. 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.
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 is the best Grand Canyon North Rim hikes for secluded views and no barriers. This quiet spot boasts several different vantage points with uninterrupted views of the Grand Canyon, including a chance to scramble down into the canyon.
Distance: 4 miles
Elevation: 495 feet
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Great Grand Canyon Hikes at Bright Angel Point
Located right at the North Rim Visitor Center (well worth a visit too) and the Grand Canyon Lodge – a luxury lodge right on the rim, you’ll find the famous Bright Angel Point.
Yet another easy trail the delivers big views, you’ll want to wander around this area for an incredible panorama of the Grand Canyon. It’s one of the best hikes on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
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.
Difficulty: Easy, partially paved for accessibility
Distance: 0.9 miles
Elevation: 144 feet
The South Kaibab Trail or Rim-to-Rim Grand Canyon Hike
The North Rim Visitor Center marks the terminus of the South Kaibab Trail (rim-to-rim). Typically, the Rim-to-Rim hike takes 3 nights one-way. Moderate day hikers can make it as low as Supai Tunnel Overlook.
Advanced permits are required if you’re looking to do the entire rim-to-rim hike. It’s one of the biggest bucket list hikes in America, so certainly plan well in advance. As one of the best Grand Canyon North Rim hikes, the South Kaibab Trail is on every avid hiker’s tick list.
Distance: 19.3 miles
Elevation: 5,469 feet
Wander the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and enjoy sprawling vistas with a fraction of the people on the Widforss Trail.
This unique trail skirts along the rim then winds its way around a point until terminating at an amazing view of the cascading canyon below.
Distance: 9.1 miles
Elevation: 1,036 feet
The Nankoweep Trail
Experienced backpackers should check out the Nankoweep Trail. Touted as one of the most difficult named North Rim of the Grand Canyon trails 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.
Keep in mind, you’ll need permits to spend the night. During the high season, get your permits well in advance.
Difficulty: Difficult. The most difficult trail at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Distance: 28.3 miles
Elevation: 7,814 feet
Quick Tips for Hiking in the Desert
There are several things you should know before hiking in the desert. This harsh environment isn’t for everyone. In fact, it’s quite difficult to hike in the Grand Canyon during the summer and you should take care. Here are a few quick tips:
- Come prepared, know what you’re getting into. If you’re dipping below the rim, remember, the return journey is uphill
- Pack plenty of water and stash some in your car too! You’ll easily need 2-4 liters in the summer.
- Seek shade. Pay attention to the sun’s path and plan you’re hiking day accordingly. Temps easily reach over 120 degrees in the Grand Canyon.
- Stay on the trail! This is a delicate ecosystem, treat it with respect.
- Poop in bags. It’s a requirement here. If there’s no bathroom, a bag is your only choice.
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.
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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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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 at least a day hiking on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
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