One of the reasons we first began visiting Kanab was its proximity to both Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. However, it wasn’t until we were planning this trip that I realized it’s also near the Grand Canyon. Both Zach and I visited the Grand Canyon as kids, but this would be our first trip as adults. So, we decided to dedicate a day to exploring the North Rim.
The North Rim is only a 21 mile hike from the South Rim, but it’s a 4.5 hour, 220-mile journey by car. Of the millions of tourists who visit the Grand Canyon each year, only 10% visit the North Rim. Additionally, the North Rim closes its services – campground, lodge, and visitor center – and switches to day-use from November 1-30, closing entirely for the winter season. All of this put us at ease about visiting during a pandemic. Since it would be an all day adventure, we decided to take Truman along with us. The North Rim rests above 8,000 ft. meaning he would be fine hanging out in the car while we hopped out at various viewpoints. (Like all of the National Parks we’ve visited, dogs are only allowed on roadways and some select trails.)
We set off fairly early to try to beat any potential crowds. The drive from Kanab takes just over an hour and a half and crosses dry desert plains before climbing into the trees of Kaibab National Forest. The road steadily climbs, passing through a burn scar until the forest fills out with fat evergreens and towering Ponderosa pine. It was an absolutely gorgeous drive, snow dusting the trees here and there as we increasingly gained elevation, ushering in the demise of fall.
There are two main roads in the North Rim, one that leads to Bright Angel Point and another which leads to Cape Royal. I wanted to hit Bright Angel Point first believing it would be the most popular destination. We arrived at 11:00am and parked in a shady spot for Truman. Armed with masks, a camera, and my pack we set off for the viewpoint. While it was not crowded by any means, there were more people than I’d encountered in quite some time, and I would have enjoyed more of a buffer at times. (The majority of people were wearing masks and exercising kindness.) Somehow, we timed our arrival at the Point itself when it was empty. Unfortunately for us, morning is a terrible time for photos from Bright Angel Point! Even still, it was a breathtaking view and looking back toward the rim offered better, sunlit vistas.
We left the Point as more people arrived and followed the trail below the Grand Canyon Lodge, venturing out onto another viewing point which we, again, had to ourselves. Then we continued along the path, which becomes the Transcept Trail. The trail led us up into the forest, giving us the space I wanted, along with a new perspective of the canyon. We were able to create a nice loop back to the parking area without seeing any other visitors. At the parking area, we collected Truman and let him walk with us on the Bridle Path, which is the only dog-friendly path in the North Rim (other than a section of the Arizona Trail).
We left the Bright Angel area as more cars filled the parking lot and headed in the direction of Cape Royal. Once away from the rim, the forest enveloped us and we enjoyed the nearly empty road as we cruised toward our first stop, Point Imperial. The highest viewpoint in the park, Point Imperial sits at 8,803 ft. and offers a stunning view of not just the canyon, but the starkly flat Marble Platform in the distance, which is 2,700 feet lower than the Point. We were shocked to find only two other cars at the Point when we arrived, with one leaving before we even started walking to the viewpoint. Alone on the viewpoint, we wordlessly stared at the immensity of the landscape while the wind whipped around us. It was quiet and full of color.
After Point Imperial, we ducked back into the woods leaving the Kaibab Plateau for the Walhalla Plateau and three more viewpoints. After a particularly curvy section of the road, we emerged on the rim and stopped at Vista Encantada for a blustery view of the canyon. Hopping back in the car, we went the short distance to Point Roosevelt for another chilly perspective. The Point was dedicated to President Teddy Roosevelt in 1990 and a brief trail leads down to a viewpoint.
Leaving the rim once more, the road passed through thick trees before arriving at the parking lot for Cape Royal. The path is paved and fairly even, making it accessible for as many visitors as possible. There were more people than at the previous stops, but far fewer than at Bright Angel Point affording a nice amount of solitude. We took the path first over to Angels Window, walking over the window to a viewpoint on the other side. Yet again, we ended up alone and were able to take our time absorbing the moment.
Finally we made our way to the end of the paved path, Cape Royal. Much like Bright Angel Point, the sun blurred part of our view, but we still enjoyed the panorama from the North Rim’s southernmost point. Here, a couple of larger groups were on a quest for the perfect selfies, but overall, we could gaze in peace. Even after seeing photos of the Grand Canyon, visiting it as a child, and touring other large gorges and canyons, there is something about seeing the Grand Canyon with your own eyes. You can’t quite grasp the scale of it all. It’s there before you – tangible – and yet, still out of reach. It’s a landscape that forces you to be quiet, to be still, to be in the moment and no where else.