On the third day of our family vacation, Monday, June 24th, we left the desert of southern Utah behind and drove 141 miles to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Many years ago Bill and I visited the South Rim so I had visions of similar terrain on the northern side. Boy, was I wrong!
Annually, only 10% of visitors of the Grand Canyon make their way to the North Rim. After having visited both sides, I enjoyed the contrast of the North Rim’s greenery to the South Rim’s desert and consider myself lucky to have hiked along both rims.
As we made our way from Utah to Arizona, the weather was clear and the morning air was cool, perfect for a day of hiking. We stopped a couple of times for pictures as we drove along the highway enjoying the gradual change of the landscape’s color from oranges and browns to shades of green.
As we drove through Kaibab National Forest, we saw a herd of buffalo, including their babies, off in the distance. It was our first buffalo sighting of the trip, so naturally we stopped to gawk. Fortunately, we were at a safe distance and Bill was able to use his long lens to capture the moment.
Bright Angel Point
Once we arrived at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, we parked and rushed over to the side of the parking lot to get our first glance of one of the seven wonders of the world. We followed the parking lot to the Bright Angel Point trailhead. We made the easy .5-mile round-trip hike along the paved trail often hugging rocks on one side of the trail while nervously peering across the trail and down the steep drop-offs into the canyon below. Near the observation point we crossed a spine-like bridge (with railings on each side) and were treated to spectacular views of Bright Angel and Roaring Springs Canyons.
And as always, I couldn’t resist snapping a picture of Bill focused on capturing the perfect picture!
Tucked safely inside the solid fence with magnificent views behind us, we posed for a selfie with Julie and Jess.
From Bright Angel Point, we made our way to another overlook just below the Grand Canyon Lodge where Daniel and I posed for a similar picture.
Before we left for our next hike, we stopped in at Deli in the Pines for lunch. This sandwich hit the spot and it was large enough that I was able to save half for after our final hike of the day and before we hit the road for our drive back to our Airbnb.
North Kaibab Trail
With renewed energy after eating lunch, we drove to the North Kaibab Trail parking area for our second hike of the day. We knew that time would be a factor and would limit the distance that we could descend down into the canyon, but I’d always regretted not hiking down into the Grand Canyon on our visit many years ago, and wanted to experience it, if only for a few hours.
Quoting from the National Park Service, “The North Kaibab Trail is the least visited but most difficult of the three maintained trails at Grand Canyon National Park. Almost a thousand feet higher at the trailhead than South Rim trails, hikers on the North Kaibab Trail pass through every ecosystem to be found between Canada and Mexico.”
While looking at the map and discussing how far into the canyon we would go before turning back around, we chatted with two ladies who were loaded with camping equipment. Within the hour, they planned to start through-hiking along the Kaibab Trail from the North Rim to the South Rim. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, they planted a seed that’s stayed with me and now I want to someday do the same.
We hiked in shade provided by fir trees at a comfortable 77° as we started our descent into the canyon. Soon the lush ferns dotting the landscape were replaced with scrubby bushes as the temperature rapidly climbed on the sun-exposed trail even though we’d only hiked about a mile to our turnaround at the Coconino Overlook.
While at the overlook, we chatted with a mother/daughter team who just happen to live a mile from our home. The lady noticed my Ragnar DC shirt and said she was from near DC, and as we chatted, we narrowed it down to just how close we live to each other, amazed to run into neighbors so far from home.
Once while chatting and again right after we’d turned to start our ascent out of the canyon, we saw two groups of mules coming down the trail. Trail rules state that hikers step off the trail on the upper side while letting the mules pass. I have to admit that even though I was beginning a difficult hike back up the steep canyon, I was happy to be standing on solid ground rather than swaying back and forth on a mule’s back.
After our brief encounter with the mules, we had to watch our step as we made our way up the dusty trail, making sure we didn’t step in anything the mules had left behind.
The North Kaibab Trail is considered a strenuous hike, and even though we were only on it for a fraction of its total 28-mile roundtrip distance, I could see how the steepness of the grade and extreme temperature changes would make it a difficult hike. Back at the trailhead, we were surprised to meet two different groups who had young children (one group even had a baby) who were planning on camping overnight down in the canyon. Remembering back to what I was like as a child, I could only imagine constant whining about being tired, hot, and hungry!
Our third and final hike while at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon was on the Widforss Trail, named for Gunnar Widforss, an artist, who in the 1930’s used water colors to capture the Grand Canyon in intimate geological detail.
Again, time did not allow for us to hike more than a short segment (three miles roundtrip) of the 26.5-mile trail that winds its way along the forested canyon rim on its way to Widforss Point.
Pine trees on either side of the dirt trail during the early part of the Widforss Trail hike made it appear like any other forested hike, even those on the east coast.
It wasn’t until we gained some altitude and made our way to the rim of the Grand Canyon where the forested drop-off views came into sight that separated this trail from any other I’d ever hiked.
A little cairn marked the trail; although, the path worn into green grass and vegetation was clearly visible.
Ferns were growing in abundance in a clearing that could have been created by a previous fire. The Widforss Trail brochure explains that after fires, groves of Aspen pop up providing a shaded habitat for evergreen seedlings which eventually crowd out the Aspen. Perhaps these ferns are the first line of vegetation making its way onto the recently scorched earth.
Quaking Aspen has been my favorite tree variety since living in Utah during the early years of our marriage. The combination of the sight, sound, and smell of these airy light green leafed trees with white bark takes me back to hikes from Tony Grove in Utah to the Grand Tetons in Wyoming many years ago.
And even though I was taking a two-week break from running to let my angry SI joint heal, I couldn’t resist running a few strides along a path that would make for a wonderful trail marathon course.
Final Thoughts on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon provides a variety of hikes and types of scenery so there’s something for everyone from easy short hikes to strenuous longer hikes. The trail types also vary from those that stay a safe distance from the canyon rim to others that have scarier drop-offs. Be sure to check the park brochure for details of each trail.
- Have you visited the Grand Canyon? If so, have you been to the North Rim?
- Would you prefer walking or riding mules down and back up the Kaibab Trail?
- What’s your favorite type of tree?