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Grand Canyon NP: 7 Top North Rim Day Hikes To Explore

In: Trail Notes
Grand Canyon National Park

Over five million people see the one mile (1.6km) Grand Canyon each year.  Most of them see it from their car at overlooks along the South Rim (this includes Grand Canyon Village.  Hermits Rest, and Desert View).  A much smaller number of people see the canyon from the North, which lies approximately 10mi (16km) across the canyon from the South Rim.  So, is hiking North Rim really worth it?  In my opinion, yes!  Exploring North Rim presents an amazing opportunity to get away from the crowds and experience Grand Canyon in a whole new way. Taking the time and effort, the North Rim offers a much different take on the big ditch.

What do I need to know before  I start?

Hiking North Rim of Grand Canyon is a physically and mentally demanding experience.    Ambient temperature, elevation, and exercise intensity and duration increase the physiological strain, calorie and water demands on the body. This makes canyon hiking more difficult than traveling the same distance on level ground or in cooler temperatures.  I have learned to prepare and the more you prepare for the rigors of 4,000 to 5,000-foot descents and ascents, the fewer problems you are likely to have. 

Is physical conditioning important? 

Physical conditioning is important for a safe and enjoyable trip, and with adequate conditioning, you have won half the battle.  Positive mental attitude – an adaptable attitude for the changing conditions you meet on the trail is crucial to have.   You can’t fight the heat, the steep and rocky trails, or the interminable ascents.  Having a positive attitude on the trail is a must no matter what the canyon serves up, whether it be extreme heat, heavy rains, strong winds, cold, or snow.

How much water do I need to drink to stay hydrated?

Inner canyon air is dry and hot.  Drinking plenty of water and eating salty snacks on the trail are important. Sweat evaporates instantly and fluid/electrolyte loss can exceed 2 quarts per hour if you hike uphill in direct sunlight and during the hottest time of the day.  Mid-level of dehydration can happen almost instantly and less efficient you become on the trail.  I usually start hydrating several days in advance before I hit the trails and take at least several liters of water depending on the trip.        

What are the popular trails in North Rim? 

Nankoweap Trail – Marion Point is a very strenuous trail. Marion Point is a rather interesting, narrow summit located off the eastern edge of the North Rim along the famed Nankoweap Trail. The point, named for Prescott based publisher John H. Marion (1835-1891), serves as a major checkpoint for those hiking the Nankoweap Trail.  The spectacular Nankoweap Trail is perhaps the most difficult and demanding trail in the Grand Canyon.This trip requires previous Grand Canyon hiking experience, route-finding ability, good judgement, and ample planning.  It is not uncommon for the trail to be covered in rockfall.  The trail, with the greatest elevation loss from rim to river in the canyon, is ill-defined in places, involves much scrambling over and around boulders, and often has a very narrow tread with considerable exposure along the edge of plunging cliffs. TI he Nankoweap Trail can be accessed from the west via Forest Road (FR) 610 (4.6 mi / 7.4 km north of the North Rim entrance station) or from the north through House Rock Valley via FR 8910 (south of Lees Ferry along Highway 89A). FR 8910 is a lower elevation access and more reliable year-round. Note that both trailheads are called Saddle Mountain AND that both USDA Forest Service trails are numbered 57.  Entire distance out and back is 27.8 miles.  To Marion Point and back is 8.30 miles.

Patrick Trail is moderately easy. The Ken Patrick Trail stretches 10 miles across the Kaibab Plateu from Point Imperial to the North kabob trailhead, surveying cool Canadian Zone forests throughout its length.  Only the 3-mile segment between Point Imperial and the Cape Royal Road follows the plate rim.  This segment of the trail maintains mostly gentle grades as it traverses the east rim of the Kaibab Plateu, alternating from cool, shady comfier forests to openings that afford panoramic vistas into Nankoweap Creek canyon and beyond.  This trip is an excellent choice for a summer day hike when searing heat envelops the Iner Canyon.  The trail is also a good warm-up for hikers planning a trip on the Nankoweap Trail, for it offers an aerial perspective of that trail. Views from the beginning are dramatic, stretching past the slender Coconino sandstone spire of Mount Hayden into the broad basin of Nankoweap Creek.Distant features in your view include Marble Canyon, the tortuous gorge of the Little Colorado River, Marble Platform, and the Pointed Desert, stretching east to distant mesas that fade away into the desert’s heat haze.

Cape Final Trail is easy and offers the greatest rewards from the smallest investment of time and effort of any of the North Rim’s plates-top trails.  The route follows a gently rising, long-closed road through parklike forests of ponderosa pine to a panoramic viewpoint on the east rim of the Kaibab Plateu, affording an unusual perspective of the Grand Canyon from high able Unkar Creek Canyon. The trip can be taken as a leisurely day hike or as an overnighter and is particularly attractive when summer heat grips the Inner Canyon.  Few places in the park offer a finer setting for aGrand Canyon sunrise over the Painted Desert.  The entire distance out and back is 4 miles with an elevation gain of 200 feet.

Cliff Springs Trail is an easy short but fascinating walk below the rim of Walhall Plateu.  The trail is a fine, albeit brief, introduction to the plate and rim environments of the Grand Canyon’s North Rim.  Distant views, a well-preserved Ancestral pueblo granary, and a dripping spring hidden in an alcove beneath the rim offer a rewarding diversion fro North Rim visitors budgeting their time and energy.  Entire distance out and back is 2 miles.

Widforss Trail is  moderate and is arguably the finest plate-top trail in the park.  The route hugs the rim of the Transept, an abysmal tributary of Bright Angel Creek, as it passes splendid Grand Canyon viewpoints between shady stands of conifer and aspen.  The middle undulating trail is well defined and easy to follow through its length to the North Rim high above Haunted Canyon, where a panoramic vista of the Grand Canyon unfolds.  The trip is popular with both day hikers and summer backpackers who wisely choose to observe the over-like Inner Canyon from the cool heights of the rim.  No water is available en route; be sure to pack an ample supply.  Entire distance out and back is 9.8 miles.

Uncle Jim Trail is moderately easy.  Much like the longer Widforss Trail, the mildly undulating Uncle Jim Trail traverses cool Kaibab Plateu forests en route to a splendid Grand Canyon viewpoint.  From the trail’s end, hikers gain an excellent overview of Roaring Springs Canyon and can visually trace the route of the North Kaibab Trail as it winds its way from the North Rim to the Redwall limestone.  The trail, waterless throughout its length, is rougher and rocker than other North Rim trails due to occasional mule traffic.  Overnight camping is allowed on this route with a Backcountry Use Permit, of course, making it a good choice for a short backpack  when intense summer heat grips the Inner Canyon.  Most hikers can complete this semi-loop hike in about 2 hours, but 3 hours allows for amore leisurely pace.  Entire distance for the trip is 4 miles out and back.

North Kaibab Trail – Ribbon Falls is a strenuous trail and North Rim’s only maintained trail, lying within the frequently patrolled Corridor Zone of the park.  Unlike many of the Grand Canyon’ trails that follow the path of least resistance in search of breaks in the cliff bands, this straightforward trail forges its way through the canyon’s obstructions. 

More hikers pound this trail than any other on the North Rim, and for ample reasons.  The tread is wide, only occasionally rocky, and it descends moderately, rarely steeply.  The way offers a classic sampling of all the life zones presents in the Grand Canyon, and the landscapes it traverses and the views it affords are dramatic.  Ribbon Falls, a magical oasis that looks as if it were borrowed from a tropical island. In the middle of this sweltering, exhausting Canyon, a silvery spray of water tumbles down rock walls in a picturesque grotto.  The trail plunges steeply for the first 4.7 miles, dropping to the junction of Roaring Springs Canyon and Bright Angel Creek. The grade eases over the next 2 miles as you trace the creek to Cottonwood Campground.  Entire distance to Ribbon Falls is 12 miles round-trip

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