Here you’ll find the other, less-crowded side of the Grand Canyon. Many years ago I visited the South Rim, and experienced the highway that some of the trails over there can be. It is a spectacular place no matter which side you visit, so don’t let anyone convince you it is not worth visiting the South Rim. What I would do, if I went over there, is hike one of the quieter trails too, like the trail down to Hance Rapids, or Grandview Mesa. While hitch-hiking across the west in 1987, I did a two-night hiking trip down the Hance Trail to the Colorado River, camping next to Hance Rapids. Then I ascended to Grandview Mesa to spend my second night. It was a short steep climb out on the third day. This is a rugged but not ridiculously strenuous backpack trip – truly spectacular. But it was long ago, so perhaps it was easier than it might be if I did it today.
The North Rim is definitely less crowded than the South, but it’s not empty either. There is another separate area on this side of the canyon that is certainly worthwhile as well. It’s called Toroweap. A couple years ago I was in the area and wanted to detour to the Canyon. But being early Spring the road to North Rim was still snowed in. Somebody told me about Toroweap, that it was lower in elevation and free of snow. Toroweap is less visited than any road-accessible area in the this park because it is relatively unknown and also reaching it requires a long drive on gravel.
The North Rim proper lies between 7000 and 8000 feet in elevation, and is always cooler. If you travel between the South and North it is a 2 ½-hour drive. I much prefer the idea of accessing it from either Page, Arizona or Kanab, Utah. I was headed from Page to Kanab (the gateway to Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument and Zion National Park). It was a simple detour to visit the North Rim from here, and a very scenic one at that.
There are quite a few short trails on the North Rim, and a few longer ones that descend into the canyon. Unlike the South Rim, where the trails all descend into the canyon, and are thus strenuous, the North Rim is kind to casual hikers. For example the trail out to Cape Final is only about 2 flat miles one way, and the view is outstanding. Other trails visit viewpoints to the west, and are again nearly flat. There is an outstanding backpack trip on the North Rim as well. It descends into the canyon to run along the spectacular Thunder River.
But I was not able to hike much while here. I did something to my foot in Page and was trying to let the plantar fasciitis symptoms that resulted calm down. The Park Service was doing some prescribed burning during my visit, unfortunately, so the canyon was quite smoky in places. Since the wind was mostly from the east, I headed out on the road to Cape Royal (which lies in that direction) and stayed out there for most of two days. The skies were very clear on the night I spent out there, so I took the opportunity to do some stargazing and starscape photography.
Point Imperial is a viewpoint on the far east end of the road that provides a nice view up-canyon to the east. Cape Royal has a nice view of the eastern part of the canyon as well, but you’ll also have a great view down-canyon to the west from there. Between these two viewpoints along the road in several places, there are nice views to the east. And so a setting sun will give you great light until it sinks too low and the light climbs out of the canyon. The smoke lying to the west over the main road to the lodge actually made the light on the canyon ruddy and orange, and even softened it somewhat.
I also visited the main tourist area, where the visitor center, campground and the Grand Canyon Lodge are located. Another nice viewpoint, the Bright Angel, is accessible from here. I had a great time photographing along the short trail out to the point. The ½ mile trail traverses a rock spine where you can scramble out to get interesting shots (if you’re not too afraid of heights!). You will definitely feel as if you are traversing a catwalk – on a stupendous scale!
There are unpaved roads that access areas to the west of the main road, but because of the smoke I did not explore this area. You can also descend the North Kaibab Trail (from near the lodge) for a day hike. Descending all the way to the river involves an overnight. It’s easy to spend 3 or 4 days here just checking out the various viewpoints and shorter trails. I spent about 2 ½ days, and hit most of what you can access from paved roads without feeling rushed.
There is a beautiful forest covering the plateau here, so make sure to spend a little time strolling through the pines. The canyon rim, with it’s drop-dead views, is of course the main show. But it is certainly not the North Rim’s only charm. For example, wildlife encounters (including cougars!) are a possibility. The South Rim is just too busy for this. I hope to return someday to hike Thunder River. Until then, it’s onward and upward. I’m heading up the Grand Staircase and into the Canyons of the Escalante – the subject of my next post.