Grand Canyon, North Rim: Who Comes Down, Must Go Up

The first ranger we talked to told us an old Grand Canyon adage: down is optional, but up is mandatory.

The view from Bright Angel Point, by the visitor center.

We chose the north rim for a few reasons. First, it attracts far fewer visitors (everything I read said the north rim gets around 10% of annual Grand Canyon park-goers) so we hoped to avoid crowded trails. Second, the temperatures in Arizona kept climbing and that extra 1000 feet of elevation would keep us cooler longer.

We didn’t expect to pull into a snow-covered campground, though!

File_000 (23)The North Rim campground books up far in advance, so we set up camp about 45 miles from the entrance to the park. I’d recommend the Jacob Lake campground to anyone who likes quiet, doesn’t mind a (beautiful, winding through a pine forest) drive, and likes  pancakes.

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One of several meadows and ponds on the drive to the park entrance.

We took it easy that first day to adjust to the higher elevation, exploring Cape Royal and the Cliff Springs trail.

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A park ranger told us Cape Royal is the only place to see the Colorado River from the north rim. In the center of the photo, you can barely see it winding through the canyon.
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Angel’s Window, with a tiny slice of the Colorado River visible through the window.
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Crouching down to get to Cliff Springs.

We felt a few snow flurries before the fog rolled in.

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The fog spreading throughout the canyon had a ghostly effect.

That night put our sleeping bags to the test, as the temperature dropped into the mid-20s and we woke to frost on everything. Perfect (cold) weather to attempt a hike down into the canyon!

The fog burned off with sunrise, leaving us clear blue skies.

The classic rim-to-rim hike follows the North Kaibab trail down 14 miles to the Colorado River, then up the South Kaibab trail 10 miles to the south rim, or vice versa. Some very fit people hike (or run!) this in a day; we are not those people. 4.7 miles one way down to Roaring Springs sounded like more our style, although I knew hiking back up over 3000 feet of elevation would be a challenge for me.

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What you see ahead of us? That was the easy part.
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The waterfall that contributes the “roaring” of the spring.

The last two miles up were brutal. I wouldn’t say I overestimated my abilities, since I knew I’d struggle, but between the unrelenting climb up of the switchbacks and the eye- and lung-searing odor of mule piss (sorry folks, but that was an unavoidable impression of this trail), I was quite happy to see the trailhead.

*Another note: I’ve been using the same gps-based hike tracker for almost three years, and she’s proved to be pretty accurate, within a few tenths of a mile of posted distances even on long hikes. She clocked us at over 12 miles on this hike.

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See that top ridge? The trailhead was up there, tucked out of sight to the left.

The next day, both of our legs needed some stretching so we drove down a dirt road to the Widforss trailhead, a 10-mile out-and-back hike along the ridgeline of the Transept Canyon through aspens, ponderosa and blue spruce.

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After that, we tried to drive to a viewpoint of the main canyon since we had primarily been hiking around side canyons, but dusk and too long on a bumpy dirt road got the better of my nerves in my little old car.

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Every sunset was better than the last.

One last pancake breakfast the next morning and we were off north, back into Utah.

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3 thoughts on “Grand Canyon, North Rim: Who Comes Down, Must Go Up

  1. We chose to visit the North Rim several times, for some of the same reasons (less crowds, cooler, etc.). While you were having snow flurries, we were “enjoying” a 118 degree day in Death Valley. Sorry we didn’t get to cross paths. Have fun and stay well! Aloha, Aunt Marie & Uncle Tom


    1. Yikes, we were thinking about driving through Death Valley later this month, may have to reconsider for the sake of my old car! Sorry we missed you too – hopefully we’ll make it out to Hawaii sooner rather than later.


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