2015  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

Denali

 

   
 
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   SCENES FROM A DAY TRIP TO
THE NORTH RIM OF THE GRAND CANYON

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 15

 
"Although only 10 miles as the raven flies from the South Rim, the North Rim offers   
a very different visitor experience. Solitude, awe-inspiring views, a slower pace,
and the feeling of going back in time are only a few of the many attributes
the North Rim has to offer."
 
~ North Rim of the Grand Canyon guide, National Park Service
 
 

The Grand Canyon was the second most heavily-visited national park in the U.S. this year with 5,520,736 official visitors. (I'm writing this in 2016 so I was able to look up the attendance figures. The Great Smoky Mountains had almost double that number.) This was the first time visitation exceeded 5 million at the Grand Canyon. 

The majority of those visitors go only to the iconic South Rim because it is much more developed and considerably easier to access. It's "only" a 21-mile trek from the south to the north rim via foot trails but a five-hour, 220-mile drive in a vehicle.


Along the  trail to Bright Angel Point

I put "only" in quotes because it's a tough hike that switchbacks down over several thousand feet into the canyon and back up to the other side. We've hiked down to and across the river from the South Rim but not up to or down from the North Rim, where the trail is steeper and rougher (the North Kaibab Trail from the river up to the North Rim has over 3,000 feet of elevation gain in 4 miles).

Jim and I last visited the South Rim in the early 2000s in late March when it wasn't too crowded and there was still some ice on the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails at 6,000-7,000 feet.

In comparison to the South Rim, the North Rim is much less crowded even in the peak summer season. The National Park Service says only 10% of Grand Canyon visitors go to the North Rim.


A couple enjoys the relative solitude along the Bright Angel Point Trail.

We like that. It's definitely a whole different world than the South Rim.

Note that the South Rim is open all year. The road to the North Rim is closed from approximately November to May because of all the snow.

ACCIDENTAL TOURISTS

We didn't start out last Sunday with the idea of going to the North Rim, just the town of Kanab, UT, located about an hour south of our RV park.

We wanted to check out the three private campgrounds in Kanab in case we decided to use that town as a base to explore Zion National Park, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, and other interesting places after we leave Red Canyon.


Along the path to Bright Angel Point

Crazy Horse RV Park in Kanab has some decent pull-thru spaces but the manager was out for another two hours and we wanted to talk to her.

I suggested we drive down to Jacob Lake, AZ to kill time. A National Forest Service campground is located there (nice, but closes October 15) and a private campground that also closes October 15. Even though the daytime temps are still warm, it's below freezing at night at 7,000-8,000+ feet elevation. Like our campground at Red Canyon, they don't want to deal with frozen water pipes. 

We went into the Forest Service visitor center at Jacob Lake, then figured since we were only 42 miles from the North Rim to continue on down there to see its campground . . .

And that's how we ended up at the Grand Canyon a few days ago!


View of the point on Mt. Hayden from Imperial Point Overlook

It was my first time on the North Rim. Jim was there many years ago with his kids but all he remembers is being cold at night in the tent -- during the summer when it was warmer than it is now.  

The good news was that the national park campground is open until October 31. We checked out a couple sites that look large enough for our RV but they aren't available when we'd need them between October 18-25.

I'll have more about our decision later.

RED CANYON, UT TO JACOB LAKE, AZ 

This map shows 140-mile route we took to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon:

It's about 62 mile from our RV park to Kanab, UT on Scenic Hwy. US 89. There are interesting canyon, river, and ranch views on both sides of this wide paved road:

 

From Kanab we took US 89A south for another 37 miles to Jacob Lake. It's marked scenic but isn't as spectacular as some of the other state and national Scenic Highways we've driven in southern Utah. It gains elevation to 8,000+ feet before Jacob Lake and isn't in as good shape as US 89.

We have a choice of using 89 or 89A to get to Black Canyon City. We'll probably go on 89, a more major road through Vermillion Cliffs and Page, AZ rather than 89A on the south edge of the national monument.

On Sunday the cliffs were visible from 89A but in the far, far distance:

 

I don't know which road is more scenic, US 89 or 89A. What's more important when hauling the Cameo is which road is easier for Jim to drive.

JACOB LAKE TO THE NORTH RIM

AZ 67 passes through high meadows and forested National Forest Service land most of the way from Jacob Lake to the North Rim. The good paved road is more narrow than US 89 and 89A but smooth and suitable for RVs:

The road enters the national park about ten miles north of the North Rim visitor center and lodge area.

SCENES FROM THE NORTH RIM 

At the North Rim we were fortunate to find a shady spot in the parking area at the end of the road where the visitor center and lodge are located. We were there longer than we thought we'd be but the dogs were fine in the car with the windows closed -- it's cool at 8,000+ feet in the shade in October.

Despite this interesting carved wooden sign, the small visitor center is easy to miss because it looks like one of the cabins:

The handsome timber-frame lodge is just past the visitor center.

Built in 1937 after the original lodge burned down, the current lodge has large windows in the lobby and dining room with spectacular views of the canyon far below:

 

Outside, there are several viewing points below and on either side of the lodge along a paved but hilly path:

 

 

 

BRIGHT ANGEL POINT

Below the visitor center we took the short but hilly paved path to the Bright Angel Point overlook. Because the trail is on a narrow spine that juts out to the confluence of two deep canyons, we had good views down into both canyons and beyond:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were hungry when we got back to the lodge so we had lunch there. The dining room was less crowded at 1:30 than it was when I took the picture below an hour earlier.

Jim ordered a turkey Rueben sandwich and a nice salad. I had a whole wheat burrito stuffed with beef brisket, beans, veggies, red sauce, and cheese, served with cilantro rice. It was good but so filling I ate only half. Jim ate the rest for supper and took home half of his large sandwich for lunch the next day. The prices were decent even if we hadn't made two meals into four.

We recognized several menu items as the same as at Bryce Canyon Lodge. Forever Resorts manages those two lodges, our RV park, store, and cabins at Red Canyon Village, a lodge in Kanab, and other facilities in several southwestern states.  

POINT IMPERIAL OVERLOOK

Before leaving the park we drove about 12 miles on a smaller road to the Point Imperial overlook. The road continues another 15 miles to other overlooks and ends at Cape Royal but we didn't go that far.

At 8,803 feet elevation Point Imperial is the highest overlook on the north rim. The views to the north, east, and south are impressive:

 

 

Above and below:  the "point" at Imperial Point

 

 

We passed through some old burn areas on AZ 67 in the Kaibab National Forest and the national park. Little aspens have grown up since the fire.

The mature aspens in the fir, spruce, and ponderosa pine forests still have green and yellow leaves in mid-October:

We passed signs for elk, bison, and deer but didn't see any. We did see some cute little Kaibab squirrels with big ears and bushy white tails. They are different from the south rim's Albert squirrels. 

NOW WHAT?

As mentioned, we have to leave the Red Canyon Village RV Park on October 18 when it closes for the season. It's still in the high 90s F. in Black Canyon City, AZ north of Phoenix, where we have our next reservation. We've already delayed going down there for a couple weeks and have been trying to figure out where to go along the way until it cools down a little.

We have several camping options between here and there, including a private RV Park at the east entrance to Zion National Park, other private campgrounds in or near Kanab, or boondocking along AZ 67 between Jacob Lake and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. There are probably other options, too.

After seeing the North Rim on our day trip and the crowds at Zion recently, however, we can't get excited about staying in the Zion-Kanab-North Rim area for one or two weeks. We'd rather explore the area when fewer people are there.

So we're gonna suck it up and drive down to Black Canyon on Sunday. We'll just get out early to hike and ride our bikes until it cools down, and enjoy our air conditioned RV when it's hot.

Next entry:  scenic drive from Red Canyon, UT to Black Canyon, AZ

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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