Magnificent Scenery and Mule Rides
The lesser-visited Grand Canyon’s North Rim is worth the trip.
North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Want to see snow “falling up” and encounter an incredibly rare species? You can do both, maybe even at the same time, at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. Imagine standing on the rim admiring the view when a sudden snow shower blows over, but instead of the flakes dropping gently around you, as they usually do, they lift straight back up into the sky, thanks to unique thermals in the canyon that help create this astonishing phenomenon.
The North Rim is also home to the beautiful Kaibab squirrel. This subspecies of the Albert’s squirrel, distinguished by its black belly, long-tasseled ears, and fluffy white tail, can be found nowhere else on Earth.
Open to visitors only May 15 through Oct. 15, the North Rim has a short but spectacular season.
At 8,000 feet, it’s 1,200 feet higher than the more popular South Rim, which lends it a climate and biodiversity all its own. It’s also much cooler in the summer than the South Rim. Its sweeping views of the canyon’s red, cream, gray, and lavender rock formations constantly shift with the sun, so that the vivid canyon never looks the same from moment to moment or day to day. A drive along the rim offers vistas of Angel’s Window, a natural arch framing a bend of the Colorado River and a great place to take photos and watch the sunset.
Here and elsewhere along the North Rim, the soft shades of the aspens, blue spruce, and mountain ash dotted with lupine, columbine, and other wildflowers create a perfect setting for creativity, making this a natural destination for artists of all ages.
Yet only 10 percent of travelers who visit the Grand Canyon make the trip to the North Rim.
The North Rim has fewer facilities than the South Rim, but the quality of service is good and often more personal. The Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge, at which children under 15 stay for free, offers canyon views from its spacious glass-walled certified-green dining room, and alfresco evening chuck-wagon buffets on one of America’s most panoramic verandas. Reservations are highly recommended for both dining and sleeping at this friendly, rustically elegant outpost, which also offers mule rides and shuttle rides to the Kaibab trailhead.
Only one campground—featuring a well-stocked general store—is in this part of Grand Canyon National Park, so space is limited and advance reservations are required. But several commercial campgrounds and lodges are in Jacob Lake, Ariz., the nearest town to the North Rim. If you enjoy a more primitive experience, try the cabins and camping areas in adjacent Kaibab National Forest.
For families, the North Rim offers some of the canyon’s best ranger programs. Kids ages 5 and up can become North Rim Junior Rangers—geared “to preserve and protect national parks”—by attending ranger events, doing nature-oriented activities, and completing the requirements listed in booklets available at the Visitors Center. Families can also enjoy nightly interactive campfire programs detailing canyon wildlife, history, geology, and more, as well as evening programs in the Grand Canyon Lodge auditorium.
If adventure is more your style, saddle up with Canyon Trail Rides for an hour-long journey along the canyon’s rim, or make a half-day descent some 2,300 feet into the canyon. The mules are surefooted and easygoing, making for an enjoyable experience, no matter your skill level.
Because the pace is slower and more relaxed at the North Rim, you will find plenty of time to reconnect with your loved ones and/or soak up the solitude you’ve been craving. Whatever you choose, it’ll be beautiful.
Good to Know
Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge, 877-386-4383, GrandCanyonForever.com.
Grand Canyon Junior Ranger program, NPS.gov/grca/learn/kidsyouth/beajuniorranger.htm.
Canyon Trail Rides, 435-679-8665, CanyonRides.com.
Published online on May 25, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.