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North Rim, Grand Canyon, AZ

For some reason people often thing that the Grand Canyon is in Utah, or that it is divided by the states so that the north rim of the canyon is in Utah.   This may stem from the fact that most of the other major southwest parks are in Utah (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, etc), but in fact the entire Grand Canyon sits firmly in Arizona, our adopted home state.


In western terms it’s not a long drive from Kanab, UT down to the north rim ““ about two hours, versus three days in the horse-and-buggy era before the road was put in.   But to get here is still a challenge for people, and so the north rim sees much less visitation than the south rim. People come here for the calmer, less crowded atmosphere, where you can sit and enjoy the views for hours without sitting in the midst of a mob.

Here’s a quick comparison of North versus South rims:

North Rim:

Much less crowded; good opportunities for solitude
Less development (hotels, shopping, restaurants). One lodge.
More 4WD roads
Higher elevation (about 8,200 feet at the lodge)
Colder (closed after Oct 15)
Closer to other major parks

South Rim:
Has a train station with daily service
Fantastic Mary Elizabeth Coulter architecture everywhere
Tram/shuttle service to popular areas
Lower elevation/ warmer than north rim
Better views of Colorado River
Far better chance of spotting condors
More Ranger programs and talks
More hotels and development
Closer to population centers (Las Vegas, Flagstaff) and I-40

Both sides of the canyon have great hiking, mule rides into the canyon, inspirational views, etc., so you can’t go far wrong visiting either rim.   No need to get into over-analysis; just pick one and have fun.

vermillion-cliffs.jpgSome people can’t decide and so they try both rims.   On the drive up the Kaibab Plateau yesterday, we stopped for a stunning view of the Vermillion Cliffs.   We met a couple of guys heading up to the north rim as well, and they said, “We’ll see you there!”   I asked if they were camping or staying in the lodge, and they replied, “No, we’re going on, to the south rim today.”   Their plan was to drive to each rim and “see” them both in one day!

That’s a trip best suited to a helicopter. Even though it’s only about ten miles from rim to rim (if you could fly like the California Condors that live here), the drive from rim to rim is over 200 miles. Imagine trying to see both Boston and New York in one day.   They haven’t yet put a bridge over the Grand Canyon and let’s hope nobody ever does.

Since we’ve been here only one day, I’m withholding judgment on which portion of the canyon I like best.   We’ve got three nights booked and it seems barely enough.   We may have to come for a third visit next year and hike down to the bottom of the canyon before a decision can be made.   In fact, I want to come a fourth time and drive the 61-mile primitive dirt road down to Toroweep (another portion of the north rim) and tent-camp a few days there, too.   The Grand Canyon is an enormous place and in years of visiting I’m sure we will never experience even half of it.

grca-n-rim-daisy.jpgWe’ve met up with friends here.   Daisy Welch, who writes occasionally for Airstream Life magazine both in print and online, left a note on our windshield when we were parked at Bryce Canyon last week.   She spotted our Airstream parked in the shuttle lot on our last day (it’s not hard to identify with all the stickers on it).   I emailed her the next day and found out she was heading to Grand Canyon north rim to work for a few weeks in the park.

So when we arrived yesterday, I found her in the post office at the lodge, and her traveling companion Don working at the lodge’s main desk.   We haven’t seen Daisy in three years, but she looks great and seems to be having a wonderful life work-camping with Don from place to place.   Their day off is Saturday, so we’ll spend part of the day with them, exploring some of the park together.

Campground report:   The North Rim campground is very popular.   Reservations are mandatory most of the season.   There’s no overflow camping.   All of the sites are shady, in a tall Ponderosa pine forest, and few are level.   There are no hookups. From the campground it’s an easy 1.2 mile (each way) hike along the Transept Trail to the Lodge with spectacular views along the way.

The campground is very convenient with a good general store, free wifi at the store, bathrooms, dish washing sinks, dump station, etc.   There are nightly amphitheater programs.   We attended two afternoon programs at the Lodge (condors and geology), and the evening campground amphitheater talk as well.

grca-n-rim-emma-lodge.jpgThere is apparently a cell tower around here.   All around the Lodge I saw people chatting on cell phones.   There’s a weak signal reachable from the campground too, but I’ve left my phone off.   I told everyone I’d be unavailable through Sunday, and I see no reason to change that just because somebody decided to put up a cell tower.   The Lodge is a nice place to just hang out and enjoy the view from one of the big comfy leather chairs (or study for your Junior Range program).   The wifi at the general store lets me receive email but they’ve got outgoing email blocked for some reason.   I can work around that if I need to, by using web-based email instead.

It’s definitely cooler up here, but not bad right now.   We’re getting days in the upper 60s, nights in the mid-40s.   It’s hard to believe this place closes down in four weeks, but we’re told that the winter snowfall is immense.   At night we hardly need heat, so we ran the catalytic heater for a few hours in the evening and then shut it off for the rest of the night.   When I woke up this morning the trailer was at 58 degrees.

Solar report: Because of the tree canopy we aren’t getting much solar power.   At about 9 a.m. we were getting only 0.5 amps, which is essentially nothing.   In the afternoon our rear-mounted panel gets full sun for a couple of hours, but that won’t be enough to replace the power we use, so for our visit here we are essentially running on batteries.   From time to time I hear someone running a generator.

Today’s plan is simply to explore and enjoy.   What else would you do here?

One Response to “North Rim, Grand Canyon, AZ”

  1. Jay & Cherie Guerin Says:

    We were there in Oct ’06, the final three days they were open. The campground was maybe 20 % occupied and we loved the solitude. The general store was about to be emptied out for the annual indoor installation of tall timbers reaching from the floor to the roof. They keep the roof from caving in from the heavy snow load.