While it's hard to beat the view from a chair on the terrace of the Grand Canyon Lodge, the best spots for seeing the canyon are Bright Angel Point, Point Imperial, and Cape Royal. Bright Angel Point is at the end of a half-mile trail near the Grand Canyon Lodge, and from here you can see and hear Roaring Springs, which is 3,600 feet below the rim and are the North Rim's only water source. You can also see Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim.
At 8,803 feet, Point Imperial is the highest point on the North Rim. A short section of the Colorado River can be seen far below, and off to the east the Painted Desert is visible. The Point Imperial/Nankoweap Trail leads north from here along the rim of the canyon. However, this area was burned in a forest fire in 2000.
Cape Royal is the most spectacular setting on the North Rim, and along the 23-mile road to this viewpoint you'll find several other scenic overlooks. Across the road from the Walhalla Overlook are the ruins of an Ancestral Puebloan structure, and just before reaching Cape Royal, you'll come to the Angel's Window Overlook, which gives you a breathtaking view of the natural bridge that forms Angel's Window. Once at Cape Royal, you can follow a trail across this natural bridge to a towering promontory overlooking the canyon.
Once you've had your fill of simply taking in the views, you may want to get out and stretch your legs on a trail or two. Quite a few day hikes of varying lengths and difficulty are possible. The shortest is the .5-mile paved trail to Bright Angel Point, along which you'll have plenty of company but also plenty of breathtaking views. If you have time for only one hike while you're here, make it down the North Kaibab Trail. This trail is 14 miles long and leads down to Phantom Ranch and the Colorado River. To hike the entire trail, you'll need to have a camping permit and be in very good physical condition (it's almost 6,000 ft. to the canyon floor). For a day hike, most people make Roaring Springs their goal. This hike is 9.5 miles round-trip, involves a descent and ascent of 3,000 feet, and takes 7 to 8 hours. You can shorten this hike considerably by turning around at the Supai Tunnel, which is fewer than 1,500 feet below the rim at the 2-mile point. For a relatively easy hike away from the crowds, try the Widforss Point Trail.
If you want to see the canyon from a saddle, contact Grand Canyon Trail Rides (tel. 435/679-8665; www.canyonrides.com), which offers mule rides varying in length from 1 hour ($40) to a half-day ($75). One half-day ride goes down into the canyon to the Supai Tunnel.
En Route to or from the North Rim
Between Page and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, U.S. 89A crosses the Colorado River at Lees Ferry in Marble Canyon. The original Navajo Bridge over the river here was replaced in 1995, and the old bridge is now open to pedestrians. From the bridge, which is 470 feet above the Colorado River, there's a beautiful view of Marble Canyon. At the west end of the bridge, you'll find the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center, which is operated by the National Park Service and is partly housed in a stone building built during the Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). At the east end of the bridge, which is on the Navajo Reservation, interpretive signs tell the story of Lees Ferry from the Native American perspective.
Lees Ferry is the starting point for raft trips through the Grand Canyon, and for many years it was the only place to cross the Colorado River for hundreds of miles in either direction. This stretch of the river is now legendary among anglers for its trophy trout fishing. Lees Ferry has a 54-site campground charging $12 per night. Reservations are not accepted.
Lees Ferry Anglers (tel. 800/962-9755 or 928/355-2261; www.leesferry.com), 11 miles west of the bridge at Lees Ferry, is fishing headquarters for the region. Not only does it sell all manner of fly-fishing tackle and offer advice about good spots to try your luck, it also operates a guide service and rents waders and boats. A guide and boat cost $350 per day for one person, and $425 per day for two people.
Continuing west, the highway passes under the Vermilion Cliffs, so named for their deep-red coloring and now the namesake of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument (tel. 435/688-3200; www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/blm_special_areas/natmon/vermilion.html). At the base of these cliffs are huge boulders balanced on narrow columns of eroded soil. The balanced rocks give the area an otherworldly appearance. Access to the national monument is very limited, and for the most part, a four-wheel-drive vehicle is required. Along this unpopulated stretch of road are three rustic lodges.
Along this same stretch of road, you'll find the gravel road that leads north to the Coyote Buttes, which are among the most unusual rock formations in Arizona. Basically, these striated conical sandstone hills are petrified sand dunes, which should give you a good idea of why one area of the Coyote Buttes is called the Wave. The buttes are a favorite of photographers. You must have a permit ($7 per person) to visit this area, and only 20 people are allowed to visit each day (with a maximum group size of six people). Permits are issued by lottery, and applications must be submitted 4 months in advance. There's no actual trail to the buttes, so you have to navigate by way of the photos and map that you'll be sent when you receive your permit. For more information, contact the Bureau of Land Management's Arizona Strip Field Office, 345 E. Riverside Dr., St. George, UT 84790 (tel. 435/688-3200; www.blm.gov/az/st/en/arolrsmain/paria/coyote_buttes.html).
One last detour to consider before or after visiting the national park is an area known as the East Rim. This area lies just outside the park in Kaibab National Forest and can be reached by turning east on gravel Forest Road (F.R.) 611 about 3/4 mile south of DeMotte Campground, which is a few miles north of the park entrance. Follow F.R. 611 for 4 1/2 miles to the East Rim Viewpoint (crossing F.R. 610 at about 1 1/2 miles). Another good view can be had from the Marble viewpoint at the end of F.R. 219, a 4-mile-long dead-end spur road off F.R. 610 about 6 miles from the junction with F.R. 611. For more information, contact the North Kaibab Ranger Station, 430 S. Main St. (P.O. Box 248), Fredonia, AZ 86022 (tel. 928/643-7395; www.fs.fed.us/r3/kai), or in summer, the Kaibab Plateau Visitors Center (tel. 928/643-7298), in Jacob Lake at the junction of Ariz. 67 and U.S. 89A.
North of the Park
To learn more about the pioneer history of this remote and sparsely populated region of the state (known as the Arizona Strip), continue west from Jacob Lake 45 miles on Ariz. 389 to Pipe Spring National Monument, 406 N. Pipe Spring Rd., Fredonia (tel. 928/643-7105; www.nps.gov/pisp), which preserves an early Mormon ranch house that was built in the style of a fort for protection from Indians. This "fort" was also known as Winsor Castle and occasionally housed the wives of polygamists hiding out from the law. A small museum contains exhibits on both Mormon settlers and the Paiute Indians who have long inhabited this region. Throughout the day, there are tours of Winsor Castle. In summer, there are living-history demonstrations. The monument is open daily from 7am to 5pm June through August, and from 8am to 5pm September through May (closed New Year's Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas). Admission is $5 per adult.
Southwest of Pipe Spring, in an area accessible only via long gravel roads, lies the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument. This monument preserves a vast and rugged landscape north of the east end of Grand Canyon National Park. The monument has no facilities and no paved roads. For more information, contact the Bureau of Land Management's Interagency Information Center, 345 E. Riverside Dr., St. George, UT 84790 (tel. 435/688-3200; www.nps.gov/para).
If you have an interest in Native American rock art and are searching for a memorable and uncrowded adventure, make time to visit the remote Snake Gulch, west of Jacob Lake. The red-and-yellow pictographs in this remote canyon date from the Basketmaker period (300 B.C.-A.D. 800) and are among the most impressive and extensive in the state. The first pictographs are in a shallow cave about 2 miles from the trail head. Continue down the canyon for 2 or 3 miles to find many more shallow caves with pictographs. To reach the Snake Gulch trail head, drive 1/4 mile south of Jacob Lake Visitor Center on Ariz. 67, turn west on F.R. 461, and follow this road and F.R. 462 for about 9 miles. Turn south on F.R. 422 and continue 2 miles, and then go west on F.R. 423 for 1 1/4 miles to F.R. 642. Drive north 2 miles on F.R. 642 to the trail head at the end of the road. This route involves about 15 miles of driving on gravel roads that are passable to regular passenger vehicles unless there has been recent rain or snow. Alternatively, you can drive south from Fredonia on a good paved road (F.R. 422), which turns to gravel a short distance before the F.R. 642 junction. Carry plenty of water, especially in summer, when it can be extremely hot here. Spring and fall are the best times to visit. For more information, contact the North Kaibab Ranger District, 430 S. Main St. (P.O. Box 248), Fredonia, AZ 86022 (tel. 928/643-7395; www.fs.fed.us/r3/kai).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.