The Grand Canyon is one of America’s iconic sights, drawing millions of visitors every year who hope to see its vast landscapes and stunning vistas. While many of these visitors explore the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, many do not realize that there is another side to the park and that there are still even more things to do in the Grand Canyon North Rim.
Growing up, I had visited the South Rim several times with family. Each time I was there, as I gazed across into the vast, magical landscape, I always wondered what was on the other side. It had sort of a mysterious aspect to me, and I vowed to one day visit the Grand Canyon North Rim.
When my friend Christina asked me if I wanted to run the Grand Canyon Half Marathon, which takes place right outside Grand Canyon North Rim in the Kalibab National Forest, I wholeheartedly said yes! I was super excited for this race because it finally gave me the chance to discover all the things to do in Grand Canyon North Rim.
We visited for a half day after our race, and I was blown away by the magnificent views (you know, those unreal kinds of views where you swear that you’re looking at a green screen?) and the expansive landscapes, along with the feeling that I had unearthed a hidden gem. While I’d always remembered there being massive crowds in the South Rim, it almost felt like we had the Grand Canyon North Rim all to ourselves – even in mid-June, during the prime of tourist season!
Because of the Grand Canyon North Rim’s location (we stayed in Kanab, where the race expo was), we were also able to visit Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Page, AZ (to visit Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend) on the same trip!
Want to discover the Grand Canyon’s hidden side? Here are all the best things to do in Grand Canyon North Rim!
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About Grand Canyon North Rim
At 1.2 million acres, Grand Canyon National Park is one of the largest in the United States. Within this area, the Grand Canyon itself encompasses 277 miles of the Colorado River and its adjacent uplands.
Over billions of years, the Colorado River bisected the rocks, created a mile-deep canyon. On one side stands the South Rim, which attracts most of the park’s visitors, with the remote Grand Canyon North Rim on the other. Only about 10 miles separate the two rims; however, because there is no road that actually leads from one side to the other, it takes about five hours to drive from the Grand Canyon South Rim to the North Rim.
This deters many visitors from actually exploring the Grand Canyon North Rim, which is a shame because it showcases a different side of the Grand Canyon. While Grand Canyon National Park draws approximately six million visitors annually, only about 10% of them visit the North Rim.
However, those who are up for discovering the road less traveled will be rewarded with arguably more stunning viewpoints (the North Rim stands higher in elevation than the South Rim, after all) and the feeling of being able to experience the Grand Canyon in almost solitude.
Because it is much more remote than the South Rim, the North Rim has a bit more of a rustic, rugged feel. While there are still lots of things to do in the Grand Canyon North Rim, much of the park is still inaccessible to visitors. It is far less commercialized than the South Rim, and has much more relaxed, laid-back pace.
Why You Should Visit Grand Canyon North Rim
The Grand Canyon North Rim stands at over 8000 feet elevation
That’s a full 1000 feet higher than the South Rim! If you want to feel like you’re standing on top of the world, and to get a different perspective of the Grand Canyon, then you definitely want to visit the Grand Canyon North Rim. At times it feels like you’re looking down on the South Rim – it’s an unbelievable feeling! Because of this, some people argue that the North Rim has much better views (I somewhat agree).
This also means that it is much cooler in the North Rim in the summer – while the South Rim’s highs easily reach 100+ degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months, the North Rim’s average temperatures hover in the mid-70s during these months. This makes hiking and other things to do in the North Rim much more comfortable than in the South Rim!
The Grand Canyon North Rim attracts far less visitors than the South Rim
As I mentioned earlier, while Grand Canyon National Park as a whole attracts almost six million visitors a year, only 10% of them make it over to the Grand Canyon North Rim. The South Rim can feel crowded year-round, but especially in the summer months – this is when you’ll have to secure accommodations and tour reservations months in advance.
Don’t want to battle the crowds? Then consider visiting the Grand Canyon North Rim. Since only about 600,000 visit this side of the park every year, chances are you aren’t going to encounter very many people.
We visited in mid-June, which is considered peak season, but during most of our visit, it almost felt like we had the entire park to ourselves. We encountered very few people (most of the ones we ended up seeing had also run the Grand Canyon Half), and it was a surreal feeling to be able to experience the vastness and the magnificence of the Grand Canyon in almost solitude. It definitely brought upon a sense of peace and tranquility, and I got to contemplate the meaning of life and all that.
Things to Know Before Going to the Grand Canyon North Rim
The park entrance fee to Grand Canyon National Park is $35 per vehicle, and is valid for up to seven days. This is valid for admission both at Grand Canyon North Rim and at the South Rim – just hang on to your receipt (attach it to your windshield).
If you are planning to also visit the West Rim, be aware that this area of the Grand Canyon is not managed by the National Park Service so your park admission will not be valid there; you will have to pay additional entry fees set by the Hualapai Tribe.
If you are planning to visit some of the other National Parks in the area (i.e. Bryce Canyon, Zion), I highly recommend purchasing an interagency annual pass for $80. This is valid at all National Parks and Recreation Areas (there are a few exceptions here, such as Horseshoe Bend), and pays for itself if you visit three parks – seriously a steal!
Grand Canyon North Rim Opening Dates
One thing to remember when planning a visit to the Grand Canyon North Rim is that it is not open year-round. The Grand Canyon North Rim’s season is between May 15 and October 19, during which all visitor services and facilities are open.
While you can technically still visit the North Rim from October 19 to November 30, most of the park’s services and facilities (i.e. the visitor’s center, the Grand Canyon Lodge and all associated services) are closed.
After December 1, all roads leading into Grand Canyon North Rim are closed – snow and ice make the roads inaccessible, and are closed as a result.
During the winter months, backpackers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers are still permitted to use the North Rim Campground – however a backcountry permit must be obtained. Visitors wishing to visit during this time must park in Jacob Lake, then hike 45 miles to the North Rim Campground.
**NOTE: The Grand Canyon North Rim will begin day use operations on October 19, 2020. At this time, the Grand Canyon Lodge and all campgrounds will close. The General Store and the Grand Canyon Lodge will offer limited food and retail goods, while supplies last Wednesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. The self-service gas station will remain open as long as State Route 67 is open (debit and credit cards only). After October 31, water will only be available at the North Rim Backcountry Information Center. State Route 67 will be open until November 30, unless snow closes it before then. Be prepared for winter conditions – snow, ice, and rain are common.
How Long Should I Spend At Grand Canyon North Rim?
Depending on which things to do in Grand Canyon North Rim you wish to do, you can either spend a few hours to a few days in the North Rim.
While I wish I had more time at the Grand Canyon North Rim, we spent a half day there as we were limited on time. This allowed us to check off the top things to do in Grand Canyon North Rim – driving through the Scenic Drive and stopping off at a few of its viewpoints, and making the short hike to Bright Angel Point (and then lingering and staying to watch the sunset).
If you wish to do more hikes, allow for at least one full day – depending on difficulty, you may want to allow for an extra day so you can proceed at a more relaxed pace. If you plan to do the North Kaibab Trail, allow for at least two days. Depending on how long you wish to proceed on the trail (past Roaring Springs, the recommended turnback point on the hike), you may need additional days.
Other Things to Know Before Visiting Grand Canyon North Rim
- Altitude: Remember that you are at over 8000 feet altitude – you may encounter shortness of breath and lightheadedness, so be sure to take it slow and steady, especially on more strenuous hikes.
- Weather: Weather can change rapidly, and as temperatures are cooler at the Grand Canyon North Rim, it may get chilly at night, even in the summer. Carry a jacket with you, even if you think you won’t need it. Also, be aware that thunderstorms happen during the summer and do NOT go out when the skies look sketchy.
- Four-Wheel Drive Vehicles: You might want to consider driving a four-wheel drive vehicle to the North Rim, as some of the trails and viewpoints are only accessible with one (or one is highly recommended). We had only rented a Corolla, so we had to skip some points of interest. For the things to do in Grand Canyon North Rim that I recommend here, we did just fine without a 4WD.
- Bring lots of water: More than you think you need! 50-100 ml per person is recommended.
Note: Due to the ongoing pandemic, North Rim is open, but some visitor facilities are currently closed. These include the visitor’s center and the North Rim Campground.
Facilities that are currently open include the Grand Canyon Lodge (but some amenities are closed), the general store, and the gas station (if paying with a credit card). Mule rides are also currently being offered.
How to Get to Grand Canyon North Rim
The Grand Canyon North Rim sits in the northwest corner of Arizona, about 30 miles from Jacob Lake. It is just 80 miles (about a 90 minute drive) from Kanab, near the Utah border – making it an ideal stop as a day trip or on a Southwest road trip itinerary that also includes Zion (122 miles/~2.5 hours drive), Bryce Canyon (158 miles/~3 hours drive), and Page, AZ (122 miles/~2.5 hours drive), home of Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.
The nearest international airport to the North Rim is located in Las Vegas, 275 miles (4.5 hours driving) away. There is also a regional airport located in St. George, Utah, 145 miles (2 hours, 45 minutes). Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport is ~350 miles (~6 hours) away, and Salt Lake City is ~400 miles (~6.5 hours) away.
While only about 10 miles separate the Grand Canyon North Rim and South Rim, since there is no road connecting them, it is about 212 miles between the two rims. This drive takes about five and a half hours to complete. If you are driving from the South Rim, I highly recommend staying overnight instead of just attempting a day trip.
For more information and specific driving directions from these (and other) destinations, please see here.
A car is absolutely essential for getting to and around the Grand Canyon North Rim – it is remote, everything is spread out, and there is no shuttle.
Some visitors choose to hike from the South Rim to the North Rim (or vice versa) via the Rim-to-Rim Trail. This is a once-in-a-lifetime hike but extremely difficult hike – only about 1% of the park’s annual visitors attempt it.
The South Rim to North Rim hike (via South Kaibab/North Kaibab route) is 21 miles; the North Rim to South Rim hike (via North Kaibab/Bright Angel route) is slightly longer at almost 24 miles, but has less elevation gain (since you are going downhill). While it is possible to attempt the Rim to Rim as a day hike, it is ambitious – it takes 12-15 hours to complete. A multi-day hike is recommended, however, a permit must be secured for backcountry camping.
If you do not wish to hike back to where you came from, there is also shuttle service provided in between rims via the Trans Canyon Shuttle – more information is here.
Grand Canyon North Rim vs. South Rim
One common question of visitors to the Grand Canyon – should I visit Grand Canyon North Rim or South Rim?
If this is your first time visiting the Grand Canyon, I would recommend visiting the South Rim first, then heading to the North Rim. This is because many of the park’s highlights and the iconic viewpoints are in the South Rim. However, the Grand Canyon North Rim is stunning in its own way and lets visitors see a completely different side of the Grand Canyon that I still suggest visiting both rims if you can!
If you are visiting the Grand Canyon with kids, or you need more services, amenities, and/or organized activities and tours, then I suggest visiting the South Rim. If you want to spend more than a few days at the Grand Canyon, then I also recommend visiting the South Rim first – and then continuing on to the North Rim.
Who should visit the Grand Canyon North Rim? If you prefer to discover the hidden gems and could care less about hitting up all the top tourist spots, or if you want to see the beauty and magnificence of the Grand Canyon without battling hordes of other tourists, then you can skip the South Rim altogether and just visit the Grand Canyon North Rim.
Planning a Southern Utah/Northern Arizona road trip? If you have limited time and your itinerary also includes Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Page, AZ (Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend), then I would highly recommend visiting Grand Canyon North Rim instead of the South Rim. You will save a significant amount of driving time this way!
Visit Grand Canyon South Rim if…
- You’ve never visited the Grand Canyon before
- You want to see all the famous, “iconic” viewpoints
- You want access to more accommodations in the park itself, as well as services and amenities (more places to eat, more shops, etc.)
- You are visiting with kids
- You want to do more tours and activities
Visit Grand Canyon North Rim if…
- You want to see a different side of the Grand Canyon
- You want to take the road less traveled, and want to stay farrrr away from the touristy AF spots
- You’re also visiting Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Page as part of your road trip itinerary
- You don’t want to deal with crowds because, UGH PEOPLE (and also, like, because we’re in the middle of a pandemic and you want to socially distance as much as possible)
Things to Do in Grand Canyon North Rim
As I mentioned earlier, we visited the Grand Canyon North Rim on a half-day trip. I would allow anywhere from 4-6 hours to complete these suggested things to do in Grand Canyon North Rim.
If you find yourself with more time to explore (lucky you!), I’m also including suggested things to do in Grand Canyon North Rim as recommended by the race organizers, and other people we talked to.
Grand Canyon North Rim Scenic Drive
You can really appreciate the remoteness and the scenic beauty of the Grand Canyon North Rim by going for a drive along the North Rim Scenic Drive. The winding road has several pullouts and viewpoints along the way.
You can easily spend the better part of a day driving along the North Rim Scenic Drive, making all of the stops along the way. If you are limited on time like we were, you can pick and choose the top sights along the way.
The North Rim Scenic Drive stretches 23 miles from the visitor’s center, to reach Cape Royal at the end. We decided to drive out to Cape Royal first, and then make stops on the way back, since our plan was to reach the visitor’s center at the end to get to Bright Angel Point, on the way out.
You’ll encounter some pretty sweet views along the way – it’s called the North Rim SCENIC DRIVE, after all. The views get even more spectacular towards the end of the drive – be sure to take them all in and savor it all!
You can choose these things to do in Grand Canyon North Rim in the opposite direction if you prefer (Cape Royal, which I list first on this list of things to do in Grand Canyon North Rim, is supposed to be an excellent place to watch the sunset).
The entire drive takes about 45 minutes if you drive straight through without making any stops.
After reaching the parking lot at the end of the Scenic Drive, there is a paved trail leading the way to Cape Royal. The “hike” (it’s really just a walk) is about a mile round-trip – allow about an hour for the walk and to have plenty of time to soak up the views.
Along the way, there is a side trail leading you to Angel’s View – be sure to not miss this as well! There is a viewpoint that lets you snap some photos of the natural limestone arch, and you can actually stand on top of it as well. Afterwards, continue back onto the trail leading to Cape Royal.
Cape Royal sits on the southernmost point of the Grand Canyon North Rim – because of this, this is the closest thing you get to a total panoramic view of the Grand Canyon. You can literally see up, down, and across the canyon. This is one of the most spectacular viewpoints in the Grand Canyon, on either rim – which hands-down makes Cape Royal one of the best things to do in Grand Canyon North Rim!!
The views of the South Rim are especially amazing here – look for the Desert View Watchtower, Vishnu Temple, and Wotans Throne. You can even see the Colorado River from here, flowing almost 8000 feet below where you are standing. There is a guide here to help you make you exactly what you are seeing from Cape Royal, which will help you especially appreciate those incredible panoramic views!
After heading back to the parking lot, continue back along Cape Royal Road and the North Rim Scenic Drive. After about nine miles, you will see a turn off for Point Imperial Road on the right. Continue along this to make your way to Point Imperial.
Although the road is a bit windy and you will drive through a forest fire burn area, the views that you will find at the end are absolutely worth the drive, I promise!
Standing at 8803 feet, Point Imperial is the highest point in the entire Grand Canyon National Park. It is also the northernmost overlook, which gives you a different panorama than some of the other viewpoints in the park.
From Point Imperial, you almost feel like you are standing on top of the world – and because you are at the highest point in the park (and remember, you are over 1000 feet higher than the South Rim!), you get the sense that you’re looking down on the rest of the Grand Canyon!
Here, the narrow walls of the Marble Canyon are transformed as they open up dramatically to become “grand.” The views of the Painted Desert are also especially spectacular here, and you can also see Mt. Hayden and the Vermillion Cliffs off in the distance.
At Point Imperial, you will also find Precambrian rocks, red and black in color, which are not visible in other areas of Grand Canyon North Rim, such as Bright Angel Point (our next stop). There is an interpretive sign that describes the various geologic formations that can be seen from Point Imperial. This gives you a different sort of view of the canyon and makes it one of the best things to do in Grand Canyon North Rim!
Afterwards, drive back on the North Rim Scenic Route towards the visitors center to head to Bright Angel Point.
Other Stops Along the North Canyon Scenic Drive
If you have some extra time at the Grand Canyon North Rim and/or want to see more viewpoints along the Scenic Drive, here are some other stops you can make (listed in the order you will reach them from Cape Royal):
- Walhalla Overlook/Walhalla Glades Pueblo: Has a relatively low elevation with stunning views of the Unka Delta, a fertile region used by Ancestral Puebloans as farmland. Over 900 years ago, this plateau was the home of the Kayenta Anasazi, who are said to be the ancestors of the present-day Hopi Indians who live east of the Grand Canyon. You can also see the remains of the Walhalla Glades Pueblo via a short, flat path.
- Roosevelt Point: At about halfway point between the visitors center and Cape Royal. This is a relatively new viewpoint, and commemorates Theodore Roosevelt. A 0.2 mile trail leads you to a viewpoint, which is a somewhat restricted view of the Colorado River, with better views leading to the north. You will see a flat plain stretched out between the Echo and Vermillion Cliffs.
- Vista Encantada: From here, you can see the upper drainage of Nankoweap Creek, Brady Peak, and the Painted Desert to the east. If you visit in the spring, you can see the wildflowers in bloom here!
Bright Angel Point
This is hands-down the most popular of the things to do at Grand Canyon North Rim, in part to the fact that it is so easily accessible from the visitors center. But, Bright Angel Point is also where you will find those classic North Rim views.
A short 0.5 mile (1 mile round trip) leads from the visitors center – it is paved but a bit steep with some dropoffs and stairs. Allow about an hour to hike and take in the views!
We stayed for sunset and this was my favorite viewpoint at the Grand Canyon North Rim. Seeing the red canyon and rocks against the golden glow of the sun as it set below the horizon was an absolute magical sight. We stayed a little bit past sunset through blue hour (luckily we packed a flashlight – and you should too) and it was also beautiful to see the moon light up the sky as well!
There are various points where you can stop and enjoy the view – one of the best observation points is at the top of a small limestone knoll about 10 feet from the end of the trail. Careful when you sit as there are sheer dropoffs in some parts!
Bright Angel Point offers sweeping views of Bright Angel Canyon below and the canyon buttes and temples, along with dramatic views into Roaring Springs. You can also see stunning views of the South Rim, which sits just 11 miles across from Bright Angel Point. You can see the San Francisco Peaks in the distance to the south as well.
As it is the most popular of the viewpoints in the Grand Canyon North Rim, it doesn’t have as much solitude as at Cape Royal and Point Imperial – you will actually see some people here. Still, compared to the South Rim, it doesn’t feel like a crowd at all!
Other Things to Do in Grand Canyon North Rim
If you have more time to explore and need more suggestions for things to do in Grand Canyon North Rim, these were some recommendations that were given to us, either by the organizers of the Grand Canyon Half and/or people we met from the race.
I definitely wish I had more time to do these things to do in Grand Canyon North Rim, but alas, there’s always next time!
North Kaibab Trail
This is the trail that you would hike on to do the Rim-to-Rim hike; however, you can choose to hike only a portion of it as a day hike. This one was recommended to us highly by multiple people; unfortunately, we were in a time crunch and this hike requires a bit of a time commitment.
We had several people absolutely rave about the epic views at Supai Tunnel, about 1.8 miles in. The furthest recommended point for a day hike is to Roaring Springs (about 6.8 miles down the trail), but you don’t have to necessarily go that far. Just remember that the further you hike down, that’s the amount you have to climb back on the way back!
The North Kaibab is definitely at the top of my list of things to do in Grand Canyon North Rim the next time I visit!
If you can’t get enough of those stunning views, then consider driving out to Point Sublime – the name says it all for this viewpoint. Unfortunately, it is a bit hard to get to and requires driving on a 20-mile dirt road west of the visitors center – a four-wheel drive vehicle is a must!
If you have a 4WD and are up for the challenge, here are the directions to get to Point Sublime – from Highway 67, follow the signs for the Widforss Trail.” This will quickly turn into the road to Point Sublime. The drive can take as little as 45 minutes, but for most people, takes about 90-120 minutes.
Once you get to the viewpoint, you will be rewarded with epic panoramic views, one that few visitors to the Grand Canyon will ever see. The views are expensive, and span almost a full 360 degrees. The people who have seen it have said that it left them speechless!
If you are looking for a relatively hike that is longer in distance than the very short ones I mentioned earlier on this list of things to do in Grand Canyon North Rim, consider adding Cape Final to your itinerary.
This four-mile round-trip hike leads you to a viewpoint that provides a 270 degree panorama over the easten Grand Canyon. The trail is relatively flat and easy, and is said to be one of the best views in the Grand Canyon North Rim, because it is less obstructed by trees and you can see everything from one spot.
If you want even more solitude then what you experiences at the rest of the places you’ve already visited in the Grand Canyon North Rim, then you might want to consider hiking out to Cape Final – not very many people make the effort to hike there, so you can really enjoy that view with some peace and quiet!
Grand Canyon North Rim Packing List
It is important to be prepared for all situations when tackling these things to do in Grand Canyon North Rim! Having the right gear is important. Be sure to add the following items to your packing list for your trip to the Grand Canyon North Rim:
- A jacket: The weather changes quickly, and it can get cold at night – yes, even in the summer! A a packable jacket like this one is great to toss in your bag in case you get a bit chilly.
- Good shoes: Sturdy hiking shoes with grip are absolutely essential! You’ll want something comfortable and with a bit of grip. I just got a pair of these Merrell Siren Edge shoes and absolutely LOVE them – I usually haaate hiking shoes because they are too bulky, these are super lightweight (almost like sneakers) but with plenty of grip and traction.
- Day Pack: Something like this backpack is perfect for holding all your gear, snacks, camera equipment, and more. You can also get a hydration pack for easy access to your water.
- Water: And speaking of water…carry plenty of it! I carry this water bottle with me everywhere I go, and I love it for hiking because it’s insulated and the water stays cold. It also comes in a variety of sizes to suit your needs.
- Flashlight or Lantern: Especially if you plan to hike around sunset (like we did at Bright Angel Point) – you don’t want to be caught in complete darkness! My friend Christina brought along this handy collapsible lantern and I loved it so much that I had to get one for myself.
- Trekking Poles: They will definitely help you out if you try some of the more challenging hikes, such as the North Kaibab Trail. Get a collapsible pair like these so they fold up easily into your luggage.
- Battery Pack: I never travel or hike without this one. It can charge up to five times on one full charge!
- First Aid Kit: Be prepared, just in case! This one is compact but has all the essentials.
- Snacks: Facilities are limited in the Grand Canyon North Rim, especially as you get further away from the visitor’s center, so always be prepared with some snacks in your bag! I always have some protein bars on hand to fuel me up. These Think bars are my favorite!
Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon? What are your favorite things to do in Grand Canyon North Rim?
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