First Stop – Grand Canyon North Rim Surprise
After touring through Yellowstone Park on our national park tour, the next place on the hit list was the Grand Canyon. While we planned to see both the north and south rims of the Grand Canyon, we were blown away by the Grand Canyon North Rim surprise!
Leaving Jackson we travelled up over the Grand Tetons and hit I-15 for our run south. Leaving WY we entered Utah and proceeded to drive through the almost fully interconnected cities of Ogden, Salt Lake City and Provo. As we travelled down I-15 we followed the flight path we had taken on our recent visit to Albuquerque, NM for the Balloon Fiesta. The distinctive land features we had seen from the air could be seen as we drove and snapped pictures. We could start to see the red earth and distinctive layering of the soil that would sharpen as we hit the Grand Canyon.
The plan was to stay in Cedar City, UT for the night before pushing on to Arizona and the Grand Canyon. We had our first road trip panic moment when our car key fob started sending “low battery” alarms. Every time we stopped that day we were worried that the car would not start again. A little internet research showed us how to change the battery and as soon as we hit Cedar City we went battery shopping. We breathed a sigh of relief once the alarm light went out.
While many people only get to see the Grand Canyon South Rim from the Skywalk glass observation floor at Grand Canyon West in the Hualapai Indian Reservation (an easy drive from Las Vegas), we were planning the full tour. In doing the planning, I was sure that I wanted to start with the North Rim (even though only 10% of people visit this side of the Grand Canyon). Little did we know that the Grand Canyon North Rim surprise would prove to spoil us for the rest of the Grand Canyon tour.
As the rain drenched us heading into Cedar City, we wondered about the weather for our Grand Canyon visit the next day. It seemed that the warmer fall would keep the roads open on both the north and south sides but rain and visibility was another issue. When the rain stopped that night, we thought we were safe to sit on the patio for a really great Italian pizza at Centro Pizza, but had to retreat inside to eat.
Checking multiple weather sources suggested that we would see rain and maybe thunderstorms for our day at the north rim but we may be ok if we were there earlier in the day. Hustling out of the hotel by 7am proved to be the right decision. Had we really been trying to do as many national parks as possible, we would have planned to visit both Bryce and Zion National parks in Utah. I have seen a lot of amazing photos of both of these awesome places but on this trip we would have to pass them by.
It was an easy drive to get us to Jacob Lake and the turnoff to the Grand Canyon park north rim entrance. After a quick snack and bathroom break we were ready to move on. We were still trying to beat the weather.
Entering the park, it was still another hour to the North Rim Visitor Centre. Despite there being several road signs about wildlife, we saw no buffalo and no other animals. We could see large tracts that showed signs of massive forest fires that had raged. It was late fall and while there was still some colour in the trees, as we went higher the trees were quite barren.
It was quiet when we reached the North Rim Visitor Centre with few visitors and what looked like empty lodge cottages. We looked at the map of the North Rim and decided that we would try to get to all the observation points on this visit – hopefully before the weather set in. We would get quite a different Grand Canyon North Rim surprise at each of our stops.
The main path to the rim was easy to find. While I had seen pictures of and we had recently flown over the Grand Canyon, I was not prepared for the steep cliffs and the amazing geology that lay in front of us. This first view was just a taste test of what was to come!
We easily found the path to get our first view of the north rim and then headed off on the longer path to take us out to Bright Angel Point. As the path went steadily down I was worried about the effort it would take to climb back up at this altitude. But when the huffing and puffing man coming back from the view point stopped to tell us that the trek was worth it, I proceeded on, comforted by knowing that I could stop as I needed on the return trip.
The views from all of the observation points at this stop were great. We got a taste of the brilliant rock colours of the Grand Canyon and an equally interesting view of the clouds or fog rolling around the peaks.
Our first view certainly proved to be a Grand Canyon North Rim Surprise!
Grand Canyon North Rim In Clouds
Not wanting to miss a thing on this north side of the Grand Canyon, we headed off for a longer drive to climb to Point Imperial. As we drove steadily higher, coming in and out of patches of fog, we were not sure if it would be worth the trip.
Once parked, we looked out and could see nothing but cloud. If you stood still you could see just the tip of one peak in the clouds.
If you waited for a bit, you could see the cloud swirling in and out of the valley and hope to see more of the view from this highest point on the north rim.
But not deterred we headed off deeper into the park to Cape Royal. Getting out we were worried again that the fog would again steal our view.
But we set off along the trail, aiming for the place where we could see blue sky. We were not disappointed. From several points we could see different views of the sharp steep rocks on this north rim. The colours of the Grand Canyon shone bright when the sun peaked from behind the clouds.
From two different points, far down below in the sharp valleys you could just see the Columbia River.
Everywhere we looked we were amazed and glad we had started with this Grand Canyon North Rim Surprise! We left totally in awe, fully believing that starting here had been the right idea and worth the extra detour that so many people do not make. While the weather had not been totally bright and sunny, we got some interesting views of the north rim as the clouds moved in and out.
We were now off for the 5+ hour drive to get to the Grand Canyon South Rim. It was a good thing that we had planned to stay over night!
Did you visit both the North and the South Rim at the Grand Canyon? Do you agree that the Grand Canyon North Rim surprise was more stunning? Did you visit in off season when you were free to roam the parks?