October 2016 – After driving through the red rock wonderland of the Vermillion Cliffs in northern Arizona, we found ourselves at 10,000′ elevation on the Kaibab Plateau in beautiful pine forests. This is the home of the Grand Canyon where the earth seems to have split apart, revealing the massive crimson hued jagged walls that rise up from the Colorado River thousands of feet below.
The Grand Canyon runs east to west for 277 miles and spans as much as 18 miles between its north and south rims.
A huge region towards the middle of the chasm has been set aside as Grand Canyon National Park, and it has two entrances you can drive to, one on the north side of the canyon and one on the south side. At each of those spots you can wander along the rim and peer over the edge to look 6,000′ down.
The South Rim is much more popular than the North Rim and is quite overrun with tourists, many making a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list trip from far distant corners of the planet. It is wonderful, but it is extremely busy.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is a bit out of the way, so far fewer people go there, and most visitors are from the surrounding states. The North Rim sees 10% of the tourist traffic that the South Rim does and is 1,000′ higher in elevation.
The North Rim has a very special lodge that was built by the National Parks Service in 1927. This wonderful and inviting stone building is perched right on the edge of the Grand Canyon, and the huge picture windows look out on a spectacular view.
There is also a huge dining room where diners can eat dinner while watching the sun cast its golden glow across the ridges of the canyon right next to their table!
Outside the lodge there is a low stone wall and a line of big wooden chairs where you can sit and take in the view over a beer.
What a fantastic place!
There is a feeling of intimacy and wonder on the rim here as strangers chat with each other and snap pics and take in the incredible view, enjoying a unique National Parks experience.
A short trail leads from the edge of this deck out onto a peninsula that just into the Canyon and ends at Bright Angel Point.
This is a fun paved path that provides endless opportunities for jumping up on the rock pinnacles on either side to get a better view.
Of course, the best light in the Canyon is early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
The sun was sinking in a very hazy sky when we were there, but the towering walls of the Grand Canyon still radiated a soft light, as if from within.
Here and there couples and friends staked out a spot on a precipice to watch the sun fade away.
As the shadows crept up the canyon walls from the bottom, the tips of the craggy peaks held the light the longest.
In the final few moments of daylight, a thin ribbon of orange hovered over the Canyon.
As the sun sank deeper behind the horizon, the colors in the sky grew ever more rich.
Once the sun was gone from the sky, the contours of the Grand Canyon flattened out, revealing beautiful patterns.
Without any shadows to show depth, near and far blended together.
Because of the 10,000′ altitude at the rim, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is very cold, except in midsummer, and the Grand Canyon Lodge closes October 16. The 45 mile drive on Highway 67 between the hamlet of Jacob Lake and the North Rim remains open but isn’t plowed, and the self-service gas station in the park closes December 1.
In mid-October we shivered in overnight temps that dipped into the 20’s. Nevertheless, we snuck out onto the trail in front of the lodge in the pitch dark, lighting the way with our new and very cool Lumintop flashlight (we reviewed it here) and got set up to take some shots.
Above us, the lodge was well lit and looked very cozy and inviting. Occasionally we heard the excited conversation of revelers out on the deck and saw flashes from their cameras.
Slowly the stars began to shimmer above us, forming a dome full of glitter over the Grand Canyon.
Both rims of the Grand Canyon are decorated with the skeletons of dead trees whose gnarly branches reach out in all directions. The Milky Way formed a majestic backdrop in the sky.
The moon was setting and slowly sank into the horizon. It was nearly full and glowed orange.
Seeing the moon at the horizon below the Milky Way reminded us of our many nights at sea on the Pacific Ocean. Sailors doing their first overnight passages are often shocked as they fly along in the pitch dark at full speed, squinting hard to distinguish the sky from the ocean, and then suddenly see a very bright light on the horizon right in front of them.
More than a few hearts have skipped a beat, and more than a few frightened sailors have dashed to their radar display in a total panic as they tried to figure out what kind of mammoth ship was about to crash into them.
Then they’ve suddenly collapsed in embarrassed laughter when they realized the enormous ship approaching them was actually the rising moon.
We’d read these stories before our cruise, and of course we knew we were far too smart ever to fall for Nature’s little nighttime tease. So, it was particularly funny when it happened to us too!
If the Grand Canyon is on your horizon for your RV travels, you can camp right on the rim in the campground at the North Rim. How totally cool is that?!
However, you need to have a small to mid-size RV to fit into the campsites and drive the camground loop, and it is best to reserve a spot in advance. There are other RV camping options for slightly bigger RVs in Jacob Lake.
For folks without an RV, the Grand Canyon Lodge has a collection of charming small cabins that surround the main lodge building, and they are just steps from the rim as well.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is quite vast, and many of the overlooks require a drive of 50 miles or so round trip to reach them. We breezed through the North Rim on this RV trip because it was late in the season and we couldn’t drive through Jacob Lake on our route from east to west across northern Arizona without dipping down to say “hi” to the Grand Canyon, if only for a moment.
However, like all the National Parks, the Grand Canyon deserves a week or more to enjoy its many nooks and crannies in depth. During our second year of full-time RV adventures, we stayed for a month at the North Rim.
More info and links below.
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Some details about Arizona’s North Rim of the Grand Canyon:
- North Rim Grand Canyon Official Website – National Park Service
- RV Camping at the North Rim – National Park Service
- RV Camping at Jacob Lake – RV Park Reviews
- Grand Canyon Lodge at the North Rim – National Parks Service Website
- Location of the North Rim – Interactive Google Maps
Other blog posts from our RV travels in Northern Arizona:
- What is happening to our Public Lands? 10/02/14
- Petrified Forest NP and Mogollon Rim – Cool pines & hot rocks in AZ! 05/29/12
- Parowan UT, Las Vegas NV, Williams & Sycamore Canyon AZ – Wow! 08/28/11
- Wupatki Nat’l Monument – Ancient Indian Ruins & Great Camping in AZ! 08/25/11
- Grand Canyon’s North Rim – Its Better Half! 07/31/08
- Sunset Crater, AZ – Looks Like it Exploded Yesterday! 06/15/08
National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites we have visited
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