Grand Canyon North Rim: Plan The Perfect Visit
Grand Canyon North Rim: Plan The Perfect Visit was originally published in December 2020
The Grand Canyon is one of America’s most-visited destinations, drawing in millions of tourists from all over the world, year after year with its bands of beautiful colored rock and stark vistas. With that said, there’s another side to the Grand Canyon, the Grand Canyon North Rim, which is far less-visited than the popular South Rim, attracting only about 10% of the numbers the South Rim receives. The Grand Canyon’s North Rim is just as beautiful, offers countless things to do, and doesn’t quite attract the same volume of visitors, making it the perfect side to visit in my opinion.
A few years back, I had the chance to visit the Grand Canyon North Rim on an American Southwest road trip I planned as part of a trip when I went to visit my parents (they were living in Southern Utah for a few years then)
Info About Grand Canyon National Park
- Billions of years ago layers of sedimentary rock formed atop a base of igneous and metamorphic rock. Over the course of millions of years, the Colorado River carved this mile-deep bisection of these rock layers, creating the Grand Canyon.
- On an average year (most definitely not 2020), Grand Canyon National Park attracts approximately six million visitors. Of that six million, only roughly 600,000 visit the Grand Canyon North Rim.
- Grand Canyon National Park is one of the largest national parks in the USA at 1.2 million acres.
Planning a trip around the American Southwest? Check out my perfect two week South West road trip itinerary
Why You Need To Visit The Grand Canyon North Rim
The Grand Canyon North Rim Isn’t As Popular As The South Rim
As mentioned in the section above, the Grand Canyon North Rim only receives about 10% of the annual visitors to the entire Grand Canyon National Park. At many times I felt like we had the North Rim entirely to ourselves, whereas the South Rim can feel crowded year-round.
I visited the Grand Canyon North Rim in September over Labor Day weekend, one of the most popular weekends of the entire year to visit the national park. Even at some of the more popular viewpoints we only had a few others there with us, and at some spots, there was nobody else around. In fact, the only place along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon that was busy was the campground, which was sold out for the weekend.
I do still recommend booking campsites and lodges inside the national park in advance, especially during the high season as these tend to fill up, but you won’t have to painstakingly commit several months in advance like you would when booking the South Rim during the high season.
The Temperatures At The Grand Canyon North Rim Are Much Cooler
Thanks to the higher elevation of the North Rim, at a lofty 8,000 feet, the Grand Canyon North Rim has far more comfortable temperatures than the lower altitude South Rim that sits at only 7,000 feet in the summer months. In June, July, August, and even parts of May and September you could see temperatures above 100ºF when visiting the South Rim, but across the way on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim you can expect average daily temperatures of 75-80ºF. This makes hiking and exploring on the Norm Rim much more enjoyable.
The Views At From The Grand Canyon North Rim Are Unrivaled
Again, owing to the 1,000-foot boost, you’ll feel on top of the world at the Grand Canyon North Rim. This extra bit of height will give a different perspective on the Grand Canyon in all of its glory.
How To Get To The Grand Canyon North Rim
The Grand Canyon is located in northern Arizona, with the North Rim sitting right off the Utah border. I accessed the park as part of a larger American Southwest road trip that brought me from Utah into northern Arizona. With that said, you can access the Grand Canyon North Rim in a number of ways.
Las Vegas is the nearest international airport, located 275 miles (about 4 hours 30 minutes) away. For those coming from Utah, the city of St. George (very near to Zion National Park) is only 145 miles (about 3 hours) away. Phoenix is situated 350 miles (6 hours) away.
Having a car is 100% necessary to visit the Grand Canyon North Rim independently as there is no public transport or shuttles that service this side of the Grand Canyon (aside from the Trans Canyon Shuttle, but that only connects the South and North Rims). Check rental car prices on Expedia, Skyscanner, or Rentalcars.com.
Driving Between The North Rim & South Rim
Despite the North Rim And South Rim of the Grand Canyon only being 10-18 miles apart, no road directly connects the two. Driving between the two sides of the Grand Canyon takes roughly 5 hours and 30 minutes and is 200 miles in distance.
Grand Canyon National Park Entrance Fees
Entry into Grand Canyon National Park is $35 per car and is good for up to 7 days. This permit will get you into both the North and South Rims, so if you plan to visit both, just take your receipt with you.
If you plan to visit other national parks, it may be worth picking up the $80 annual park pass which gains your entrance to all of the USA’s national parks.
North Rim Opening & Closing Dates
The Grand Canyon North Rim season runs from mid-May to mid-October, meaning that all the park services and facilities are open and running. Outside these dates, most of the park services and facilities at Grand Canyon North Rim are closed. After December 1st each year the roads leading into the park are closed along the North Rim due to heavy snows, however, it’s not impossible to visit during this time.
If visiting in the winter months (between December 1 and mid-May) the nearest parking is at Jacob lake which is about 45 miles from the North Rim Visitor Center and North Rim Campground, meaning you would need to hike, cross-country ski, etc. the remainder of the way. In order to do so, you should secure a backcountry permit.
Going to Utah too? Read my 7 day Utah road trip itinerary to start planning
Things To Do At The Grand Canyon North Rim
Grand Canyon North Rim Scenic Drive
If you only have a day to explore the Grand Canyon North Rim, I definitely recommend doing the 23 mile Grand Canyon North Rim Scenic Drive as it hits many of the North Rim’s highlights and viewpoints along the way. Even if you have several days to explore the area, I still recommend taking on the drive.
The Grand Canyon North Rim Scenic Drive will take you to (ordered from the Visitor Center to Cape Royal) Point Imperial, Vista Encantada, Roosevelt Point, Walhalla Glades Pueblo, Walhalla Overlook, and finally on to Cape Royal and Angels Window. You can opt to do this in reverse as well, driving directly from the Grand Canyon North Rim Visitor Center to Cape Royal and hitting all the stops in reverse. I’ll explain a bit more about each of these stops below.
If you’d like to get in a nice hike along the Grand Canyon North Rim Scenic Drive, try the Cape Final Hike. The Cape Final Trailhead is located between Roosevelt Point and the Walhalla Glaces Pueblo and it about 2 miles (4 miles roundtrip). I’ll talk a bit more about the Cape Final hike a bit later in this post.
Point Imperial is the northernmost and highest point in Grand Canyon National Park at a towering 8,803 feet. Point Imperial is also unique from other parts of the Grand Canyon North Rim because of its stunning red-and-black Precambrian Rocks, which you won’t see anywhere else along the scenic drive.
From Point Imperial you’ll have some of the best views anywhere in Grand Canyon National Park, owing to its higher elevation. From here you can see all the way to the junction of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers and the Painted Desert beyond that. Just past the Painted Desert, you’ll be able to view Marble Canyon, Mount Hayden, and over to the Vermillion Hills.
To reach Point Imperial, you’ll need to turn off of Cape Royal Road onto Point Imperial Road and follow it until the end.
Meaning ‘enchanted view’ in Spanish, Vista Encantada is a smaller pull off beyond the turn off for Point Imperial along Cape Royal Road. Fir trees perfectly frame the view of Brady Butte and Nankoweap Creek, while toward the northeast you’ll have views to Saddle Mountian and Boundary Ridge, and to the east, you can see the Painted Desert.
Vista Encantada is worth stopping by and also makes a great stop for a quick picnic.
Roosevelt Point is a perfect spot to get out and stretch your legs as it’s roughly the halfway point to Cape Royal. A short 0.20-mile walk will bring you to a viewpoint with benches from the parking area along the road.
From Roosevelt Point, you’ll have idyllic views into Kwagunt Valley. The point is named after Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States and a staunch conservationist.
Between Roosevelt Point and Walhalla Pueblo, you’ll pass the trailhead for Cape Final. I’ll cover Cape Final in the hiking section below.
Walhalla Glades Pueblo & Walhalla Overlook
Up next is the Walhalla Overlook and Walhalla Glades Pueblo. This area was home to the Kayenta Anasazi people, ancestors of the Hopi, over 900 years ago. By a short path from the Walhalla Overlook parking lot, you can visit the ruins of an ancient pueblo.
The Walhalla Overlook gazes out over the Unkar Delta from the Walhalla Plateau with views of the Echo Cliffs and Painted Desert in the distance.
Only a mile further past the Walhalla Overlook you’ll arrive to Cape Royal, the end of the Grand Canyon North Rim Scenic Drive. From the parking lot, there is a 1-mile roundtrip walk on a paved path that leads to Cape Royal. The views from the Cape Royal area are gorgeous and you’ll likely want to take some time along the way to appreciate the landscape and snap photos. In all, you’ll probably want about an hour at Cape Royal.
With 270º views of the Grand Canyon, Cape Royal is the closest to a panorama of the Grand Canyon you can get, giving you views of Marble Canyon, the Colorado River, Unkar Creek, Wotans Throne, the Palisades Desert, Freya Castle, and the Garden Creek area over on the South Rim. You’ll also visit Angel’s Window on the Cape Royal walk, which I’ll talk about below.
Angels Window is a natural Kaibab limestone arch that frames a perfect view of the Colorado River which is about 5,000 feet below where you stand. Following the short Cape Royal walk mentioned about you will be able to visit it, you can even walk across the top of it (not to worry, there’s railing installed too).
Bright Angel Point
Bright Angel point is located right next to the Grand Canyon North Rim Visitor Center, and therefore, is likely the most popular spot along the North Rim due to the ease of access. The views from Bright Angel Point are some of the best of the Grand Canyon North Rim, accessible by a short 1 mile roundtrip walk. I recommend sticking around and visiting Bright Angel Point at sunset for awesome views and beautiful colors.
Insider tip: From the North Rim Grand Canyon Campground, there is a spot with similar views as Bright Angel Point, where we pretty much had the whole area to ourselves one night at sunset
A 4WD is recommended to take on the dirt road that meaders west from the Visitor Center to Point Sublime, but the rewarding panoramic views are well worth the effort. At about 20 miles in length, you could do the drive in as little as 45 minutes, but most take 90 minutes to two hours to complete it.
Starting or ending your Grand Canyon North Rim trip from Vegas? Check out my off the beaten path guide to Las Vegas to get you away from the strip
Hiking At The Grand Canyon North Rim
There are countless hiking and walking opportunities here at the Grand Canyon North Rim. Since there are so many, I’ve tried to include walks shorter than a mile in the sections above about certain overlooks and viewpoints. The hikes I’m mentioning below are all 1 mile roundtrip or more.
North Kaibab Trail
The North Kaibab Trail is likely the most popular hike at Grand Canyon North Rim, with its trailhead located near the North Rim Campground. North Kaibab Trail is also part of the Rim to Rim Hike that I’ll talk about a little later. The views of the Grand Canyon as you descend along the North Kaibab Trail make it a worthwhile Hike, even if you only do a small section of it.
Some attractions to see along the North Kaibab Trail include the Coconino Overlook (1.5 miles roundtrip from the North Kaibab Trailhead), Supai Tunnel (4 miles roundtrip), and Roaring Springs (9.4 miles roundtrip).
Cape Final Hike
Cape Final is a fairly easy hike without it being extremely short like many of the (what I refer to as “walks”) Grand Canyon North Rim. The Cape Final Hike is 4 miles roundtrip that leads to a great overlook with sweeping views of the Grand Canyon.
The path is maintained, fairly flat, and easy, as well as less obstructed by trees than other trails along the Grand Canyon North Rim. Cape Final is not a very popular hike here at the North Rim, so if you’re looking to get away from the other visitors, it’s a good choice. The Cape Final Trailhead is located just a little bit north of the Walhalla Overlook.
The Transept Trail is a walk that connects the Grand Canyon Lodge and the North Rim Campground, following the rim of the Grand Canyon the entire way. It is about 3 miles roundtrip.
Ken Patrick Trail
The Ken Patrick Trail connects Point Imperial to the North Kaibab Trailhead, following the Grand Canyon Rim, winding through the forest. The Ken Patrick Trail is about 10 miles one way.
Uncle Jim Trail
The Uncle Jim Trail starts from the North Kaibab Trail Parking Lot. It meanders through the forest down to an overlook with views of the Grand Canyon and onto the North Kaibab switchbacks. The Uncle Jim Hike is 5 miles roundtrip.
The Widforss Hike is a longer one at miles roundtrip but offers a nice mixture of forest walking and Grand Canyon North Rim views. From the main Grand Canyon North Rim park road, you’ll head west on the dirt road that leads to Point Sublime. You’ll only drive about 0.65 miles on the dirt road before reaching the Widforss Trailhead.
Cliff Springs Trail
The Cliff Springs Trail is a shorter hike at the Grand Canyon North Rim, but probably the most interesting short hike. It starts out winding down a forested ravine and down to massive boulders that sit under a massive overhang carved by erosion into the side of the canyon to eventually bring you down to Cliff Spring.
To reach the Cliff Springs Trailhead, you’ll need to drive the Cape Royal Road almost to the very end. The Cliff Springs Hike begins across the road from a small pull-out, located about 0.3 miles before the main Cape Royal parking lot on a sharp bend in the road.
Point Imperial Trail
The Point Imperial Trail is a pretty easy one that connects to Nankoweap Trail. The 4 mile roundtrip hike passes through areas burned down by the Outlet Fire in 2000.
Rim To Rim Hike
The challenging Rim to Rim Hike connects the South Rim and North Rim Grand Canyon over the course of 24 miles one way. Very few visitors to the Grand Canyon take on this backpacking trip, but those who do typically finish it in 2-3 days, though those who are extremely fit may do it in one long day.
To do the Rim to Rim Hike, you’ll need to be decently fit and self-reliant, and you’ll need to obtain a backcountry permit to do it. Alternatively, you can join guided Rim to Rim hikes if you are not confident in taking the trek on yourself. If starting from the North Rim and ending at the South Rim you will experience 5,760 feet of descent and 4,380 feet of elevation gain.
Check out this guided Grand Canyon Rim to Rim hike.
Where To Stay At The Grand Canyon North Rim
- North Rim Campground: I stayed at the North Rim Campground when I visited the Grand Canyon North Rim, which I highly recommend. If planning to stay at the North Rim Campground you’ll want to make a booking in advance as it does fill up.
- Grand Canyon Lodge: The Grand Canyon Lodge is a good option if you’re on a larger budget and want to stay right in the heart of the park. Grand Canyon Lodge is located near the Grand Canyon North Visitor Center and Bright Angel Point. Much like the North Rim Campground, you’ll want to try and reserve a room in advance.
Where To Stay In Kanab
Kanab, Utah is the nearest town to the Grand Canyon North Rim with an array of options to suit most budgets.
- Budget Travelers: For those trying to keep costs to a minimum, try the Days Inn Suites Kanab (booking | hotels), Rodeway Inn Kanab (booking | hotels), and Travelodge by Wyndham Kanab (booking | hotels).
- Mid-Rangers: Highly rated midrange options in Kanab include Comfort Inn Suites Kanab (booking | hotels), Red Canyon Cabins (booking | hotels), and the Flagstone Boutique Inn & Suites (booking | hotels).
- Lux Lovers: Those wanting a more luxurious experience with amazing rooms, check out Best Friends Roadhouse & Mercantile in Kanab (booking | hotels).
Going to Utah too? Don’t miss the fascinating hoodoo stacks at Goblin Valley State Park
Guided Tours Of The North Rim Grand Canyon
- Air and Land Grand Canyon North Rim tour from Vegas: This tour begins from Las Vegas, Nevada, and brings you on a scenic flight to the Grand Canyon North Rim where you’ll spend the day exploring the North Rim side of Grand Canyon National Park by car.
- 4 day Grand Canyon North Rim off-road tour: This 4 day Grand Canyon off-roading tour will bring you to some of the wildest and least explored areas of the Grand Canyon and North Rim, camping en route to some of the most off the beaten path destinations in the national park.
Other Tips For Visiting The Grand Canyon North Rim
- Rent a 4wd: Some sites at the Grand Canyon North Rim are only accessible by 4WD, though most of the ones I’ve listed above are possible to reach without. If you want to go everywhere, I suggest renting one.
- Bring plenty of water: It’s important to stay hydrated because of the higher elevation of the Grand Canyon North Rim, especially in the heat of the summer.
- Watch for signs of altitude sickness: Though most people are totally fine at 8,000 feet, some may show symptoms of altitude sickness. If planning to take on any hikes in the area, take it slow if you’re feeling short of breath or lightheaded.
- Bring layering clothing: Temperatures can vary quite a bit so make sure and have layers with you that you can easily add on or strip off.
Grand Canyon North Rim Packing List
- Day Pack: A day pack like the Osprey HikeLite+ backpack is perfect for those North Rim visitors that plan to hit the various trails in the park. I recommend a 60-80 liter Osprey backpack for those taking on multi-day treks at the Grand Canyon North Rim like the Rim to Rim Hike.
- Hiking Boots or Walking Shoes: Hiking boots are a must for visitors who plan to take on the longer treks at the Grand Canyon North Rim such as the Rim to Rim Hike, Widforss Trek, Ken Patrick Trail, or North Kaibab Trail. Otherwise, a comfortable pair of walking shoes should suffice for those doing the shorter North Rim walks and viewpoints.
- Jacket and Layers: Temperatures can vary quite a bit from day to night and of course, depending on the season. I’d recommend bringing a warmer jacket as well as clothing for layering that can easily be piled on or stripped off.
- Trekking poles: A sturdy pair of trekking poles, like this pair I use by Mountainsmith, can prove helpful on some of the longer hiking trails.
- Water bottle or Hydration Reservoir: Given the active nature of a visit to the Grand Canyon North Rim, carrying water with you on your excursions is a must. Grab a Hydroflask water bottle if you want your water to stay nice and cold all day. If you want to go hands-free I recommend picking up an Osprey hydration reservoir that slips right into your day pack.
Have Any Questions About Visiting The Grand Canyon North Rim?
Ask in the comments section below.