The first ranger we talked to told us an old Grand Canyon adage: down is optional, but up is mandatory.
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!
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.
We took it easy that first day to adjust to the higher elevation, exploring Cape Royal and the Cliff Springs trail.
We felt a few snow flurries before the fog rolled in.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
One last pancake breakfast the next morning and we were off north, back into Utah.