I have been to the south rim of the Grand Canyon a number of times but had never made it up the north rim (outside of visiting Toroweap a couple of years ago with my daughter).
It was a wonderful time, even if it was cold (we went in March, the north rim is higher than the south rim, so it tends to be cooler. But the sheer drop off of over 3000 feet really takes your breath away and is both beautiful and scary at the same time.
So I decided to make the trip this summer, and have just returned from a second trip to the north rim.
Sunrise at Toroweep Overlook along the north rim of the Grand Canyon in the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.
North Rim Information
For those who have never been to the north rim, it is much different experience from a visit to the south rim.
First of all, there is hardly anyone visiting - at least compared to the south rim. There were times I visited overlooks where I was the only person there. Or even at sunset at Cape Royal, the parking lot was only about a third full.
This makes for a more less hectic experience of the Grand Canyon that is markedly different from the huge crowds that all are vying for position to look at the Grand Canyon from the south rim.
Secondly, there is some serious car time between major viewpoints along the north rim, of which there are three that are readily accessible - Point Imperial, Cape Royal, and Bright Angel Point.
I have been spoiled by the viewpoints along the south rim which seem to be one right after another, kind of like listening to Emeril Lagasse and his famous quote of "Bam!" On the south rim, you drive from one lookout and "Bam!" there is another!
Not so on the north rim. It is a 17 mile drive from Point Imperial to Cape Royal which takes about 33 minutes. There are few viewpoints along the way. But the majority of the drive is through alpine forests that make you wonder if there really is a Grand Canyon just beyond the woods!
Alpine flowers on the forest floor of the spruce forest at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
And thirdly, much of your driving time will be through alpine woods of pines and spruces with stands of aspens here and there. There is the possibility of viewing several herds of buffalo as well as the occasional view of deer along the side of the road. The forest of the north rim stands in stark difference to the desert environment of the south rim.
The sun shining through the yellow leaves of the turning aspens on the north rim of the Grand Canyon
This makes sense as in places the north rim stands almost 2000 feet higher in elevation than the south rim. And unlike the south rim, the north rim closes in the winter as the roads are impassible due to snow fall.
The costs of entering Grand Canyon National Park north rim is $30.00. Makes the purchase of the annual pass at $80.00 worthwhile, especially if you are planning on several visits or you will be visiting other National Parks this year. If interested in the Annual Pass, see the link at the end of this article.
Bright Angel Point
This is the location of the visitor center, the lodge, and restaurant as well as the store and gift shop. It is from here that you take the short trail out to Bright Angel Point. Bright Angel Point essentially gives the visitor a view of the Bright Angel Canyon, a major side canyon.
You also get a great view of the Transept, a point that juts into the Grand Canyon and the location of the Widforss Point trail ending at Widforss Point, the end of the Transept.
Morning view of the Transept from Bright Angel Point on the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
Morning sunrise at Bright Angel Point, the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
There were a fair number of folks at this viewpoint at sunrise, it is just down the hill from the lodge and visitor's center, so take that into consideration when you come to photograph from this location. The vantage point isn't all that large, so when you get anywhere from 5 photographers and up it becomes a party!
About 15 miles from Bright Angel Point by car lies Cape Royal, perhaps the most scenic view of the Grand Canyon from the north rim (in my humble opinion). You first reach a parking sandy parking area that has two parking lots. There are restroom facilities consisting of pit toilets.
There is a trail that is under half a mile to the point. Along the way you get a view of Angels Window, a natural arch in the Kaibab sandstone and a little further up along the trail is a side trail that ends on top of the Angels Window arch.
At the end of the trail is Cape Royal. There is small side trail that leads to the other side of the point as well. You can get some beautiful views of Wotans Throne and Freya Castle. You can get great views to the west with Wotans Throne forming a leading line heading west.
A panoramic view of Wotan's Throne from Cape Royal on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
On the other side of the viewpoint, you get great views of south rim and at dusk you can see cars at Desert view and Grandview point among others. I found that area to be a great view at sunset as the light from the setting sun lights up the south rim as well as the shear cliffs of Wotans Throne. Evening view of the Wotan's Throne and Vishnu Temple at Cape Royal on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Point Imperial as I noted above is 17 mile drive from Cape Royal, and at just over 8000 feet is the highest viewpoint along this part of the Grand Canyon. It is high enough that you look down upon the desert on the other side and can view the Little Colorado Canyon as it joins with the Grand Canyon.
This is a viewpoint with a great vista of the upper Grand Canyon, a view of a section of the Grand Canyon that is not seen from the south rim.
Early morning view from Point Royal along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
This viewpoint has a paved parking lot and pit toilets along with picnic tables. There is small paved trail that leads down the viewpoint looking out into the side canyons and the plateau across from the Colorado River. I found this to be a great area for sunrise photography.
Sunrise at Point Royal, north rim of the Grand Canyon.
There are a number of other viewpoints along the north rim, but unlike the south rim, they require hikes to get there, in some cases 30 minutes hike like the hike to Cape Final or longer hikes such as the hike to Widforss Point which takes about an hour and half along a 5 mile trail to reach the picnic area followed by another 45 minutes of bivouac to get to the point itself for the view.
I hope you are able to make a trip to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The views are different from the south rim, as I was telling my wife last night, the views from the north rim are more expansive than they tend to be at the south rim. I love both, but I do enjoy the uncrowded experience of the north rim and the nice alpine forest drives.