Grand Canyon's North Rim

Find out for yourself why the Grand Canyon is the nation’s second most-visited national park.

Gail Newbold Jan 1, 2017

Next time you’re planning a vacation to Southern Utah, think outside the box. In fact, tear the box open a bit on one side and pop in a side trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, located in Arizona just one hour and 20 minutes from Utah’s southern border. No need to forego your usual favorites — Zion, Bryce, Lake Powell and so forth. You can drink in the grandeur of Grand Canyon’s North Rim in a single day.

Few people know the North Rim only receives 10 percent of the Grand Canyon’s 5 million visitors, with the other 90 percent of cliff-gapers flocking to the crowded and more commercial South Rim. Surprising because the North Rim is actually 1,000 feet higher than the south. It’s also greener because it receives significantly more rain and snow, and it’s cooler by about 10 degrees. The only accommodations inside the park on the North Rim are the Grand Canyon Lodge and cabins. Its restaurants and shops are only open for five months — from May 15 through Oct. 15. The rest of the year, the canyon is closed by snow.

Essentially, this means an experience of solitude and serenity; of awe at the North Rim’s drama, beauty and scope; and of finding out for yourself why the Grand Canyon is the nation’s second most-visited national park.

Where to Stay

Beautiful Kanab, Utah, is just 90 minutes by car (78 miles) from the North Rim and the ideal base for your canyon adventure. It offers 21 motel/hotels, 26 restaurants and a historic Center Street lined with little shops. The town is also home to the Little Hollywood Museum featuring old movie sets, and the charming Parry Lodge Hotel where old-time actors stayed back in Kanab’s Western movie-making heyday.

If you’re into retro (and affordable) lodging, book a room at the funky Quail Park Lodge whose marquee proclaims itself as “Kanab’s retro and cool place to stay.” The lobby and rooms reflect its theme. Even better are the outdoor tables and lounge chairs where you can eat a tasty continental breakfast of yogurt, fresh fruit, granola and hard-boiled eggs while gazing at the spectacular red rock views in the background. The free cruiser bikes are a nice bonus.

Take in dinner at the Sego Restaurant, a surprisingly cosmopolitan and chic restaurant (for small-town Kanab) in the lobby of the Canyons Boutique Hotel. “I recently had a writer from Michelin travel guides say it could very well be the best restaurant in Utah,” says Camille Johnson, executive director of the Kane County Office of Tourism. Small plates are its specialty, such as the Brown Butter Fig Salad with pine nuts, baby iceberg lettuce, Manchego cheese and a citrus cinnamon vinaigrette.

A Majestic Place

Hopefully you’ve explored Bryce Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Zion National Park or Grand Staircase-Escalante before arriving in Kanab — home base and launching pad for your North Rim adventure.

Get up early if you just have one day to explore the canyon. Take US Highway 89A from Kanab to Jacob Lake, then turn onto Highway 67 through the beautiful Kaibab National Forest before reaching the Grand Canyon. The drive is particularly beautiful in the fall when the aspens are a fiery yellow. A good place to start your visit is the bustling Grand Canyon Lodge complex with its maze of quaint cabins, lodge, visitors center, three restaurants, saloon, coffee and gift shops. Try the barbecue beef brisket sandwich from the Deli in the Pines — hot, tasty and piled high with meat.

Fill your bottles with fresh spring-fed drinking water before walking the dizzying half-mile-roundtrip paved trail to Bright Angel Point for spectacular views of the Grand Canyon. Not recommended for small children or those who fear heights as there are sheer drop-offs and few guardrails. Overheard on the trail: “I gotta say it’s a lot better view here than at the South Rim.”

Day Hikes and Breathtaking Views

As with many national parks, if you want to avoid what few crowds there are on the North Rim, head to one or more of its 13 trails since most visitors stick with the overlooks. We especially enjoyed the Ken Patrick Trail, which winds through dense forest and along the rim of the canyon from Point Imperial. Or let a mule do the walking for you. Book a ride in the lobby of the lodge for an hour-long or a half-day excursion along the rim, or a longer descent into the canyon.

But don’t spend so much time hiking that you miss the overlooks with their stunning views into the 1-mile deep canyon that stretches 10 miles from rim to rim. The vistas are seemingly endless as are the layers upon layers of Precambrian rocks.

The most common wildlife sighting in the park is probably the unique Kaibab squirrel with its fluffy white tail, but the canyon is also home to a wide range of birds and animals, one of the most iconic being the California condor with its enormous wingspan of up to 9.5 feet.

Cookies for the Road

Finish your day with a stop at the historic Jacob Lake Inn for some of its famous cookies that deserve every inch of their notoriety. Try the lightly glazed lemon raspberry tart, with a splash of raspberry filling in the center, and the chocolate parfait — moist and dense with large chunks of Guittard milk chocolate.

Or if you don’t mind driving back in the dark or you snagged lodging inside the park, stay as the lowering sun works its magic on the canyon bestowing it with an incredible Alpine glow.

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