While it’s hard to beat the view from a chair on the terrace of the Grand Canyon Lodge, the best North Rim spots for seeing the canyon are Bright Angel Point, Point Imperial, and Cape Royal. A half-mile trail near the Grand Canyon Lodge leads to Bright Angel Point, where you can see and hear Roaring Springs, 3,600 feet below the rim, the North Rim’s only water source. From here you can even see Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim.
At 8,803 feet, Point Imperial is the highest point on the North Rim, affording a sweeping view of the eastern Grand Canyon, the great staircase of stone called the Vermilion Cliffs, the northern reaches of the Painted Desert, and the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado rivers. The promontory, which lies about 5 road miles northeast of the park entrance, is easily accessible by car. The Point Imperial/Nankoweap Trail leads north from Point Imperial along the rim of the canyon.
You can continue on the same road another 17 miles to Cape Royal, the most spectacular setting on the North Rim. Note that the route becomes more and more sinuous here; it’s best left to rugged vehicles and drivers not bothered by precipitous heights. Along the way you’ll pass several other scenic overlooks. Across the road from the Walhalla Overlook are the ruins of an Ancestral Puebloan structure, and, just before Cape Royal, the Angel’s Window Overlook 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 stretch your legs on a trail or two. 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 vistas. For a relatively easy hike away from the crowds, try part of the 9.6-mile Widforss Point Trail (a quarter-mile south of the road to Cape Royal, turn west onto a dirt road that leads 1 mile to the trail head).
If you have time for only one hike here, however, make it the North Kaibab Trail. Only extremely fit hikers with a camping permit should tackle the full trail, which leads 14 miles down to Phantom Ranch and the Colorado River, an almost 6,000-ft. drop in elevation. For a day hike, try Roaring Springs, a 9.5-mile round-trip hike descending 3,000 feet, which takes 7 to 8 hours. To shorten this hike, turn around after 2 miles at the Supai Tunnel, which is only 1,500 feet or so below the rim.
To see the canyon from a saddle, contact Grand Canyon Trail Rides (www.canyonrides.com; tel. 435/679-8665), which offers mule rides varying in length from 1 hour ($45) to a half-day ($90). One half-day ride goes down into the canyon to the Supai Tunnel.
En Route to the North Rim: The Arizona Strip
From the South & East: Lees Ferry—About 15 miles north of its intersection with U.S. 89, 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, 470 feet above the Colorado River, there’s a beautiful view of Marble Canyon. At the west end of the bridge, the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center, operated by the National Park Service, 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, which is the southern tip of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, is the starting point for raft trips through the Grand Canyon; 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 legendary among anglers for its trophy trout fishing. Lees Ferry Anglers (www.leesferry.com; tel. 800/962-9755 or 928/355-2261), 11 miles west of the bridge on U.S. 89A, is fishing headquarters for the region. It sells all manner of fly-fishing tackle, rents waders and boats, and offers advice about good spots to try your luck; it also operates a guide service. A guide and boat cost $425 per day for one person, $525 per day for two people.
Continuing west, 89A passes under the Vermilion Cliffs, so named for their deep-red coloring and now the namesake of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument (www.blm.gov/visit/vermilion-cliffs; tel. 435/688-3200). At the base of these cliffs, huge boulders balance on narrow columns of eroded soil, an otherworldly sight. 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, a gravel road leads north to the Coyote Buttes, some of 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 a day are allowed in (with a maximum group size of six people). Half of the available permits are issued by lottery (applications must be submitted 4 months in advance); the other half are distributed to people try their luck by just showing up in person. For more information, contact the Bureau of Land Management’s Arizona Strip Field Office (www.blm.gov/programs/recreation/permits-and-passes/lotteries-and-permit-systems/arizona/coyote-buttes; tel. 435/688-3200). There’s no actual trail to the buttes—you have to navigate by way of the photos and map that you’ll be sent when you receive your permit.
One last detour to consider: An area known as the East Rim, not to be confused with the East Rim across the river, lies just outside the park in Kaibab National Forest; it’s a great place to go to escape the crowds. A few miles north of the park entrance, about 3/4 mile south of DeMotte Campground, turn east on gravel Forest Road (F.R.) 611. Follow F.R. 611 for about 1 1/2 miles; from here you can either continue 3 miles to the East Rim Viewpoint, or turn onto F.R. 610, go 6 miles, and turn onto F.R. 219 for another 4 miles to the Marble Viewpoint. For more information, contact the North Kaibab Ranger Station (www.fs.usda.gov/kaibab; tel. 928/643-7395), 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.
From the North: Fredonia & Jacob Lake—North of the North Rim lies a remote and sparsely populated region of the state known as the Arizona Strip. To learn more about the pioneer history of this area, take Ariz. 389 west from Fredonia for 14 miles to Pipe Spring National Monument, 406 N. Pipe Spring Rd., Fredonia (www.nps.gov/pisp; tel. 928/643-7105). Here you’ll see an early Mormon ranch house, known as Winsor Castle, built in the style of a fort for protection from Indians (occasionally the wives of polygamists hiding out from the law also stayed here). A small museum contains exhibits on both Mormon settlers and the Paiute Indians who have long inhabited this region. There are tours throughout the day, and in summer there are living-history demonstrations. The monument is open daily 8am to 5pm March through August, 8:30am to 4:30pm September through April (closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas). Admission is $10 per adult.
If you have an interest in Native American rock art, make time to hike in remote Snake Gulch, which has some of the most impressive and extensive pictographs in the state. The red-and-yellow pictographs in this remote canyon date from the Basketmaker period (300 b.c.–a.d. 800). The first ones 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. The easiest way to reach the Snake Gulch trail head is from Fredonia, driving 21 miles south on paved F.R. 22, which turns into F.R. 422 for another 1 1/2 miles. Turn right (west) on F.R. 423 for 1.3 miles to F.R. 642, which heads north 2.6 miles to the trail head. You can also get there from Jacob Lake, turning west off Ariz. 67 just south of the Jacob Lake Visitor Center onto F.R. 461, which leads 9 miles to F.R. 422. Much of this route is on gravel roads, but they should be passable to regular passenger vehicles unless it has rained or snowed recently. 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 (www.fs.usda.gov/kaibab; tel. 928/643-7395.
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.