The North Rim offers a serene and enthralling Grand Canyon experience. It is more remote and less developed than the South Rim, and so it attracts far fewer tourists. Many people think its viewpoints are the most spectacular, since they are located at a higher elevation.
The North Rim fits nicely into a multi-park tour that also includes Zion, Bryce and Lake Powell. It is a relatively short drive between those scenic destinations. Most tourists come into this area from Las Vegas. You can book multi-park tours from many vendors there.
Because of the high elevation, visitors with respiratory or heart problems may experience difficulties at the North Rim. If you have concerns, check with your doctor before visiting this area.
The North Rim forms the edge of the Kaibab Plateau, with elevation ranging from 8,000-8,800 feet above sea level. Access is via Hwy 67, through a majestic conifer forest and past scenic Jacob Lake. The drive is beautiful, even before you reach the national park. Your first stop should be at the visitor center where you can orient yourself and enjoy one of the most spectacular views in the world.
It's 40 miles from Jacob Lake to the North Rim visitor center.
The North Rim is officially open from mid-May through mid-October. Services include a lodge, dining room/snack bar, campground, gas station and general store with basic supplies. Depending on weather conditions, it may be possible to drive to the North Rim during the spring or fall, but no visitor services will be available. The lodge and campgrounds are usually full during the summer; reservations are needed and they should be booked as far in advance as possible.
Three routes lead to other North Rim viewpoints that are easily accessible and well worth the drive. Point Imperial is about 11 miles northeast of the visitor center. From there, backtrack to the Cape Royal Road and head south to the Walhalla Overlook and then to Cape Royal (about 23 miles from the visitor center.) These roads are paved. Point Sublime is about 20 miles west of the visitor center along a dirt road.
Grand Canyon National Park encompasses more than 1.2 million acres and the vast majority of the park is inaccessible even to experienced hikers. Recreation is restricted to a few trails that follow the rims and a few more that penetrate into the canyon. The only place hikers can cross the Colorado River is at Phantom Ranch. The rim-to-rim hike is challenging but popular. It requires a one or two night stay in the canyon and so permits are needed. The number of requests far surpasses the number of permits, so reserve early. Many people underestimate the difficulty of the hike, which has an elevation change of more than 10,000 feet from start to finish.
Most people will do better day hiking along the rim or partway into the canyon. Permits are not required for day hikes.
North Kaibab Trail viewpoints make excellent destinations for day hikes of various lengths. Supai Tunnel is 1.8 miles down the trail and provides a wonderful view of the canyon. It's an appropriate destination for casual hikers. Roaring Springs down another 5 miles. The Park Service warns people not to go further than Roaring Springs on a day hike. The distance and steepness of the trail can be deceptive going downhill.
Bright Angel Point, south from the visitor center, can be reached via a 1-mile round trip hike with a grand view of the canyon. The Transept Trail offers an easy 3-mile round trip hike. The Uncle Jim Trail offers a relatively easy 4-mile loop along the edges of Bright Angel and Roaring Springs canyons. It forks from the Ken Patrick Trail (which is suitable for advanced hikers).
Widforss Point Overlook trail is about 10 miles round trip. It's well-marked and offers shade in some areas. It is best suited for hikers with moderate or advanced skills.
North Rim mule trips are offered from mid May to mid October. One-hour rides along the rim and 1/2 day rim or inner canyon trips are usually available. Full-day trips into the canyon include lunch. (The full-day trip does not reach the river.) Register in the lobby of the Grand Canyon Lodge at the Grand Canyon Trail Rides desk; open 7 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. For reservations, call Grand Canyon Trail Rides, (435) 679-8665, or visit them at www.canyonrides.com/pkgrandcanyon.html.