North Rim - Grand Canyon
Our first long trip with our new Banshee pop-up camper! We set out of town at 6am, expecting about an 8-9 hour trip. The weather report said thunderstorms and rain for all four days of our vacation, but we figured it wouldn't be ugly the whole trip. After a few minor issues, we arrived at the campground after 9 hours and set up camp.
We had booked our campsite, #72, back in June. The North Rim campground has only 80+ sites so it is important to book a site ahead of time. Some sites are smaller than others, so I picked the site which would fit our trailer and also made sure it would have the door facing into the site. (be sure to look at all photos online when booking, as well as read the details which state this info).
It is required to sign in at the Campsite kiosk on arrival and hear the presentation on all campsite rules. Across from the kiosk is the camp store and the fill and dump station. The Camp store is very large, has everything from milk to shovels stocked and for sale. There is also a coffee bar inside, tables in and outside, and firewood for sale. We always saw people on their phones or computers there so reception must have been good.
After setting up camp, we drove down to the Lodge to check it out, look at the views of the canyon before sunset, and get a general layout of the area. As we returned to the campground, we noticed some mule deer near the entry kiosk. Several females with fawns were grazing and two large bucks were resting nearby.
After breakfast at camp, we loaded up the truck and drove just up the road to the Kaibab trailhead. At 8:15am we headed down the trail. The trail begins in the heavy forest, a mix of conifers and aspens. It is a very steep trail and mules are used down to the 2 mile mark so it is necessary to dodge mule byproducts on the trail.
The Supai Tunnel is at the 2 mile mark and has a restoom area as well as a fresh water filling station for hikers.
The sun was getting hot by the time we reached this part of the trail, and the heavy tree cover had disappeared. Full sun beat down on us and the temps in the canyon began to noticeably rise. Luckily we had started early down the trail! Our beginning air temp was in the 50s, but by the time we passed the tunnel, it had gone up at least 20 degrees. From this point we could see down to the first bridge which crosses a large dry wash. Switchbacks were visible all the way down and we headed down.
We reached the bridge at approx 10am, and my GPS noted 3.5 miles and 2100' elevation loss at that point. We crossed the bridge, then found a shady spot under a small scrub oak to have our lunch-snack and share a bottle of Gatoraid.
After a 15 minute break there, we started back up the way we came. Hikers were beginning to come down the trail passing us along the way. We reached the top at 12:30, just over 4 hours after we had left! This was quite a stenuous hike, 7 miles roundtrip and 2100' of elevation change in full sun most of the way. Woo hoo!
We returned to the campground, washed up and changed clothes and made a quick lunch. It began to rain so we took this time to head to the Camp Store to shop, as well as down to the Lodge to visit the stores and info center. About an hour later, the rain stopped, so we decided it was the perfect time to drive out to Point Imperial and Cape Final.
The road out onto this plateau is very windy and through heavy forest, much of which was damaged in a recent fire. New aspens are now growing up between the burned trees. We stopped several times along the route to check out the overlooks. At the end of the road, Cape Final has a large parking lot and restroom. Two trails head off to overlooks, Angel's Window and Cape Final overlook. Each trail is about 1/4 mile and worth visiting as long as there isn't thunder! We were able to get out to Angel's Window, but looming clouds and rumblings led us back to our vehicle. We returned to the campground before rains hit.
Ron built a fire and we cooked dinner before heading to bed by 8:30pm. Most of the others at the campground were in the same situation, tired from hiking, so it was dead quiet as we crawled into our camper.
Our plans for this day - hike Widforss trail in the morning, then buy some souvenirs for family and have dinner at the North Rim Lodge dining room. After breakfast, we headed to the Widforss trailhead which is just north of the campground about a mile. As we drove down the dirt road to the trailhead parking lot, we saw a large group of wild turkeys in a field.
Widforss trail is named for an early artist famous for his Grand Canyon paintings. The trail stays on the rim just west of the campground, circling out onto another mesa. It stays in tree cover and is very shady for most of the trail, emerging from the trees every now and then for spectacular views. The trail is 5 miles long and ends at the point of the mesa, so a full hike of the trail would be 10 miles. We were both a bit sore from our previous day's hike, on North Kaibab trail, so we decided to hike until we started getting tired then turn back. At just under 3 miles we headed back to the truck. The trail is amazingly beautiful, and with only rolling hills the elevation change was around 800' total. I am glad we did this hike the second day as our legs were not up to another strenuous hike.
The lodge also has a cafeteria-deli which is where we had lunch after our hike. Food is okay, nothing special. We then returned to camp, grabbed some clean clothes and headed over to the campground showers. It costs $1.25 in quarters to take a 5-6 minute shower. We changed into clean dry clothes and headed back down to the Lodge. Our dinner reservations were for 6:15pm, a few hours away, but we thought we might be able to catch one of the Ranger Talks out on the Lodge deck. Sure enough, the Ranger had just started her "Condor Talk" presentation.
The presentation was excellent and informative! We then headed into the Saloon for drinks, and then into the bookstore to shop. At 5pm we wandered back into the main Lodge and noticed that they were just starting to seat people for dinner. The matre'd was there, so we asked if we could swap our 6:15pm reservation for 5pm. He said yes, so we were seated for dinner.
Food was excellent! Ron ordered the bison steak and I ordered roasted chicken. Both were well prepared, with mashed potatoes and broccoli on the side. We also ordered salads and ate those with the loaf of garlic bread they brought out to each table. Yum. Food was not cheap, but definitely worth every penny. Too full for dessert, we left the restaurant and headed back to the Camp Store. We needed to grab a few things and decided on ice cream bars for dessert back at camp, along with our beers. All in all, a fantastic evening.
We spent the next couple of hours packing up things for our 8 hour drive home on Sunday.
Up early, we packed up the entire Banshee and truck, leaving the campground at 6:30am. We stopped at the Jacob's Lake campground to fill up gas, use restrooms, and grab some breakfast goodies for the road. This campground is just outside of the Grand Canyon National Park and I highly recommend you stop there for gas and goodies. The cookies are worth a stop alone.
We arrive back in Albuquerque around 4pm, plenty of time to pick up our dog at the kennel and unpack everything before dark.
The North Rim is only open mid-May until mid-October. Make reservations as soon as you can!
Temps dip into the 40s-50s at night at the rim, but inside the canyon is always 20-30 degrees warmer! If it is 75 degrees at the rim, it is 95 degrees a few miles down into the canyon.
Buy a good hiking guide and MAP before your trip. The one they give you at the gate is nice but does not give details that you want to plan your trip.
Hiking down into the canyon is fun, hiking back UP is very strenuous! Know your limits. We encountered a gentleman on the trail who was having physical problems and admitted that he probably overestimated his abilities. We reported this to a Ranger so she could call down to the next rest point to have them check on him. Hopefully he was okay and made it out.
The North Rim is not for everyone. There are no activities besides hiking or siting around reading or staring at the views. We saw several teenagers who looking like they were very bored.
The North Rim is very different from the South Rim. It is slightly higher, cooler temps, and hard to reach. The South Rim is very crowded with people year-round, but it has more hiking trails down into the canyon, as well as more restaurants, hotels, and activities. The North Rim only as the one hotel and one campground so many less visitors.