This post is the first in a seven(!) part series about our trip through six national parks and other landmarks in Arizona and Utah over Labor Day Week in September.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is more remote than the South Rim, with few lodging and dining options and no service from major airports. Because of this remoteness, it is the perfect National Park to visit on busy weekends in the summer or early fall. We were at the North Rim on Labor Day weekend and encountered no crowds. Also, because of its higher elevation, many of the trails at the North Rim are partially shaded and relatively cool. We suggest visiting the canyon for 1 night and 1 day:
- Catch sunset near the Grand Canyon Lodge on the day you arrive
- Hike down into the canyon on the North Kaibab Trail early the next morning
- Drive the Cape Royal Road in the afternoon, including a hike to Cape Final
- Many parts of the North Rim shut down for winter, so if you’re driving the best time of year to go is late spring through early fall.
- The time at the North Rim is always Mountain Standard Time, so it is 1 hour earlier than the time in Utah and the same time as Las Vegas during the summer.
- We flew into St. George Airport in Utah (SGU) in the early afternoon to get to the canyon before sunset. Because the airport is so small, we were able to grab a rental car and get on the road quickly. It is only a 3 hour drive to the canyon, and there are a Wal-Mart Supercenter, several gas stations, and a few fast food restaurants on the way. Another perk is that some rentals from St. George to Salt Lake City do not incur a one way fee. This is true of Hertz, which was the agency we rented from.
- We stayed at the Grand Canyon Lodge – North Rim. It is a super convenient place to stay. The lodge basically houses all of the main services at the North Rim: restaurants, a gift shop, bathrooms, and different types of rooms. It is right next to many trails and has good dining options all day long (we’d especially recommend eating out on the veranda, where you get spectacular views of the canyon right from your chair). Unfortunately, the rooms can get very hot, and sleeping can be pretty uncomfortable, so although we had planned to stay for two nights, we wound up only staying for one.
- If you have some items you’d like to take that won’t fit in your carry on, you can have them shipped to the lodge if you are staying there! We used this tactic to deliver a few essentials, like sunscreen, peanut butter, granola bars, and so on, to the canyon without taking up extra room in our luggage. The address for the odge is: Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim, End of AZ-67, North Rim, AZ , 86052. (The Google Maps address may be wrong!) Interestingly, Walmart offers free shipping to the canyon, but Amazon does not.
- There is no WiFi, even at the Grand Canyon Lodge. Verizon gets decent signal at various points in the canyon, but the most reliable signal we found was on the veranda of the lodge (we could upload pictures from there).
- In terms of safety, the two biggest dangers here are dehydration and falling off a cliff – this is a desert canyon, after all… We each carried about 5 full bottles of water on all our hikes along with some salty and sweet snacks. Don’t take selfies or adjust your footing if you are standing close to the edge of an overlook, and try to stand as far away from other people as possible to avoid having anyone bump into you close to any ledges.
We arrived at the canyon a little before sunset and parked near the Lodge. After checking in, we walked out to Bright Angel Point. The views were just breathtaking. From the trail, we enjoyed both the panorama of the canyon cliffs illuminated by the orange glow of sunset and the setting sun itself. The NPS also notes that there are cool fossils visible along the edge of the trail. The lookout and the trail are pretty well guarded, so you’ll never feel too close to the edge. Also, don’t bother scrambling up the rocks you’ll see along the path; we tried, and the view from the actual path is much nicer.
After sunset, we ate dinner on the veranda. The quesadilla and brisket sandwich were both quite tasty, and the view of the moon casting its glow over the canyon was amazing. Note that service stops on the veranda around 7:30PM, but that you can get food later both in the dining room and at the saloon.
Our motel room at the lodge was uncomfortably hot, but on the plus side, we didn’t have to stay there long. After a short night’s sleep, one of us (guess who) woke up around 5AM to catch a sunrise from the Transept Trail lookout near the lodge. The coffee shop (inside the saloon) offers espresso starting at 5:30AM, but this was just a bit too late to catch sunrise on this trip :).
Around 6:30AM, we drove to the parking lot for the North Kaibab Trailhead. This is the North Rim’s access point to get down (or part-way down) to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. There were quite a few parking spaces left when we arrived. By 6:00AM, most people going from Rim-to-Rim had already left, and the first mule rides didn’t start until 7:30AM, so this was the perfect time to start hiking.
Doing part of the North Kaibab Trail is a must-do hike on the North Rim. As you descend into the canyon, you get up-close to the history of geologic time inscribed in the canyon walls, as well as some fantastic canyon views.
The North Kaibab Trail is steep almost the whole way, and the temperature gets warmer the lower you go into the canyon, so be prepared for a warm, difficult hike back up! There are four popular turnaround points for day hiking:
- Coconino Overlook: 0.75 mi each way, 540′ elevation change
- Supai Tunnel: 2 mi each way, 1440′ elevation change
- Redwall Bridge: 3 mi each way, 2178′ elevation change
- Roaring Springs: ~5 mi each way, 3020′ elevation change
We decided to do the 6-mile down-and-back hike from the trail head to the Redwall Bridge. Indeed, after doing this hike, we’d highly recommend going past Supai Tunnel on a day hike (whether you go to the bridge, roaring springs, or even if you just walk for five minutes on the other side). One plus is that you’ll leave the mules (and their smelly waste) behind you: all mules rides turn around at the tunnel. If you start before the first mule rides, as we did, you’ll only meet the mules once or not at all, so you won’t have to fight them for space on the trail. No matter what, though, you’ll be sure to smell them on your way back up to the rim…
More importantly, once you cross through the tunnel, you get a nearly immediate view of the depths of Roaring Springs Canyon, all the way down and past the Redwall Bridge below.
At the bridge, you may be tempted to get a picture with the canyon behind you, but in the early morning light, the background of the Redwall itself is quite beautiful.
After we rested briefly at the bridge, we turned around and walked back up to the canyon rim. All-in-all, it took us about 2.5 hours to complete the hike, including all the stops for pictures!
We went back to the lodge veranda to have brunch (pre-packed peanut butter sandwiches), and then we took a quick shower and checked out of our hotel. We spent the rest of the afternoon driving the Cape Royal Road, which features some of the most amazing vistas from the North Rim. The road is 23 miles one way: with a few side trips and a couple of hikes, it took us about five hours to explore this part of the park.
Some highlights along the road are Point Imperial, which is the highest point on the North Rim; Angel’s Window, which offers a peek at the Colorado River through a natural arch, and Cape Royal itself, with view of Vishnu’s Temple and Wotan’s Throne. For most of these, you can just park and walk a short distance from your car to the lookouts.
Along the Cape Royal Road, we also did two hikes. The first, the Cliff Springs Trail, takes you to a beautiful dripping spring with plants hanging from the rock. There is also a nice peek-a-boo view here of another part of the canyon. We’d recommend doing the 1.4 mile out-and-back trail if you don’t plan on seeing other springs, like the Emerald Pools at Zion National Park, during your trip.
The second hike was the 4.2 mile out-and-back hike to Cape Final. In contrast to our morning hike, which highlighted the canyon’s depth, Cape Final was a testament to its width. The trail itself was pretty unremarkable, a shady stroll through a pine forest (and there were plenty of flies buzzing around, so we couldn’t stop moving for too long). But the destination, which required a short rock scramble at the end of the trail, provided expansive canyon views. It was a great place to snap a selfie (carefully… while sitting down…) with the canyon’s incredible structures behind us!
Many people like to do this hike late in the day because the trail is mostly shaded when it it warmest outside and because Cape Final faces east and is well illuminated by the afternoon sun – we agree! We also had this trail almost entirely to ourselves, so it was a nice, peaceful way to end our day.
That concludes our one-day visit the Grand Canyon! Check out the next part of our adventure, where we explored the colorful slot canyons and one of the most iconic spots along the Colorado River in Page, AZ.