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A trip to the Grand Canyon’s lesser-known North Rim lets you experience a more peaceful side of the legendary national park. In fact, few travelers make it to this remote corner of Arizona, a lengthy detour that rewards you with true solitude. In stark contrast to the busy South Rim, only 10 percent of Grand Canyon National Park’s visitors explore this less-developed area. That means quieter trails, wilder natural areas, and equally impressive views of the Colorado River flowing through the red-rock canyon. A few seasonal outposts — including the visitor center, rustic lodge, and general store — form the North Rim village. It’s the only hub of human activity for miles around.
There are no shortcuts in reaching this isolated gateway to the Grand Canyon. You can only access the North Rim via Arizona State Highway 67, the lone paved road leading to this side of the park. Highway 67 begins in the tiny community of Jacob Lake, about 40 miles from the North Rim. There is no airport or major city close to the North Rim park entrance. It’s about 200 miles to Flagstaff, Arizona; 265 miles to Las Vegas, Nevada; and 350 miles to Phoenix, Arizona.
While the most experienced hikers might attempt the 24-mile hike (one way) from the South Rim, most people arrive by car. The 212-mile drive to the North Rim takes nearly five hours. There’s only one public transportation connection: Through the summer months, the Trans-Canyon Shuttle usually runs once daily in each direction between the North Rim and South Rim. Otherwise, you’ll need your own wheels to visit.
You can only access the North Rim for a few short months, as heavy snowfall closes the park and its main access road for more than half the year. The typical operating season runs from mid-May to October, depending on weather conditions. The higher elevation — more than 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim — means the average temperatures remain cooler. July and August are the warmest months, when daytime highs hover in the upper 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Expect some seasonal thunderstorms and cold nights throughout the summer. The park shuts down in late fall, winter, and early spring, when the frigid temperatures and snowy conditions make Highway 67 a no man’s land.
You can easily spend a day admiring the views along Cape Royal Road, a winding scenic route with plenty of pullouts and a few overlooks along the way. Short trails lead to the two most popular points: Cape Royal and Point Imperial, the highest point on the North Rim. Reaching more than 8,800 feet, Point Imperial offers you panoramic views of the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert.
It’s a quick stroll from the visitor center on a paved trail to Bright Angel Point. Of the many scenic viewpoints along the canyon’s rim, this is perhaps the best-known observation point in the area. The half-mile trek there and back is also one of the easiest. Check with the visitor center for more information on North Rim hikes, which range from beginner-friendly to advanced.