Thursday, November 29, 2012

Autumn Along the Grand Canyon's North Rim

          North Rim or South Rim?  The choice is yours when visiting Grand Canyon National Park.  Most visitors enter from the south, passing through the gateway town of Tusayan which offers all the amenities—an airport, shops, hotels, even an IMAX theater.  During an autumn visit several years ago Tim and I chose the quieter north entrance and encountered a herd of bison grazing a meadow on the Kaibab Plateau.

        Indoor lodging on the North Rim is limited to the Grand Canyon Lodge—North Rim.  We checked into our Western Cabin, then booked dinner reservations for the lodge’s dining room.   From the lodge we drove along the rim, stopping at two lookout points—Cape Royal and Point Imperial—along the way.  Cape Royal offers a half mile trail to the point.  We walked through stands of pinyon pine, enjoying the canyon views.  The trail passes through Walhalla Ruins, an old settlement of ancient Pueblo Indians.  I wondered:  Did the Pueblos pick this spot for its scenic beauty, or as a strategic place to escape predators and other tribes?  We’ll never know.

View from Cape Royal Point.

At Cape Royal, I'm sitting over an area named "Angel's Window".

         After photographing the canyon we drove through the only full-service campground on the North Rim.  Families were checking in, setting up camp, busying themselves around their campsites, and I was reminded of all the campgrounds I’ve stayed in over the years.  And, unlike most people at the North Rim who are probably thinking “Thank goodness I’m staying in the lodge”, I found myself watching the happy campers and thinking:  “Isn’t this wonderful; how great to be staying and sleeping outdoors on a pristine October day.”  
        Back at our cabin we relaxed and read (Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” for me), and then walked to the main lodge for dinner.   Seated by large picture windows, we watched the setting sun pour its light over millions of years of rock layers in the canyon. We couldn’t have asked for better seats for dinner.  And the food was great too; I enjoyed salmon pasta and Tim feasted on pork with mushroom and green salsa sauce. For dessert, we shared chocolate cake with mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Sunrise on the North Rim.
View into the Grand Canyon from the cabin area of
The Grand Canyon Lodge—North Rim.

          In the morning I woke early to photograph sunrise in the canyon.  Bright Angel Trail, a three minute walk from the cabin, provides unparalleled canyon vistas.  As the sun peaked through the clouds ravens flew overhead, heralding a glorious start to the new day.
        We returned to the lodge for breakfast; I don’t know about you, but for me nothing quite compares with sipping morning coffee and tea on the edge of the Grand Canyon.
        Today’s plan: hiking in the park.  After breakfast we found the Widforss trailhead, named for Gunnar Widforss—an early 20th century artist who lived in and painted the Grand Canyon.  The trail winds for five miles along the canyon rim and through a spruce and fir forest.  At mile 2.5 we heard the piercing cry of a Redtail Hawk and were treated to the sight of two hawks circling overhead.  
        We turned around at that point and decided to hike partway on the Kaibab trail which descends into the canyon.  The Kaibab is the trail into the Grand Canyon—on it you can walk rim-to-rim from the north to the south, or vice versa.  Tim and I only hiked 3/4 of a mile to the Coconcino overlook, a ledge affording sweeping views of the trail down-canyon.  Mule riders, out for a four-hour afternoon trail ride, passed by on their way down.  Looks like fun, but it’s an activity that will have to wait for our next visit.

October is a wonderful time of year to visit The North Rim.

Tree-framed views are common on the Widforss Trail.

Mule riders descend into the canyon on the Kaibab Trail.

         Readers, which would you choose—the hustle and bustle of the South Rim, or the laid-back atmosphere of the North Rim?  Either way, you can’t go wrong with a day spent in Grand Canyon National Park. 


  1. Rita, it would be difficult to choose a clear winner from among your other superb blog postings, but this one certainly ranks as one of your most stunning postings to date! Your photos are truly beyond awesome, and your accompanying narrative makes me want to pack my bags and head off for a visit to the Grand Canyon.

    You had certainly beautiful weather, and your overnight accommodations sound like something both Cheri and I would thoroughly enjoy.

    From what little time I've spent in Western USA (many, many years ago), I know that distances between places are what I'd term as "significant". Do you and Tim drive to most (or all) of the locations you visit in the West, or is air travel sometimes involved?


    1. Hi John,

      Glad to hear that you're inspired to visit the Grand Canyon, one of the most stunning sights on earth.

      You're right that distances between places are significant in the west. However, for any destination of 500 miles or less we usually drive. The travel time to the Grand Tetons (north) and to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (south) from our house is about 5-6 hours. We also drive when visiting other intermountain west states. Here in the west a 5-6 hour drive is not the "ordeal" it can be in the east! The roads are usually lightly traveled and the miles fly by.

      Air travel was our mode of transportation, however, for trips to the California, Oregon and Washington coasts.

      Thanks as always for your kind comments!

  2. Hi Rita,

    Amazing timing for this post. I just heard a story on NPR about a controversy among geologists, one of whom (described as a "young whippersnapper"!) is questioning established wisdom that the Grand Canyon is less than 6 million years old by suggesting that it may be as old as 70 million years! I'm just the geek for this kind of story!

    I was fascinated by your post, as well. The views are a bit different - maybe it's the trees - than some of the standards images of the Canyon, which I've only had the joy of seeing from the air. I can see why October would be so spectacular a time to visit. With crisp days, I imagine the vistas are clear and gorgeous. Plus, the foliage is lovely too.

    Based on your experience, I'd vote for the low-traffic North Rim experience every time! Thanks for sharing this secret with us.

  3. Hi Vickie,

    I heard the same story about questioning the age of the canyon and am looking forward to finding out the answer!

    I've been to both rims of the Grand Canyon and agree that the views are quite different from the North Rim; it's more heavily forested than the South Rim and you're right—the fall foliage is spectacular.

    I'm with you in a vote for the less crowded North Rim. I've never see the canyon from the air, but would have to imagine that it's a grand spectacle from any angle!

    Thanks for reading and commenting!