Located on the northern edge of Arizona, as the eagle
flies, the South and North Rims are only 12 miles apart.
By car, it's a drive of 210 miles -- leaving the park by
driving beside the south rim to Desert View and taking
Arizona Route 64, then turning onto U.S. Highway 89 at
Cameron. You drive north for 59 miles and turn west onto
Alternate Route 89 at Bitter Springs (a few miles south
of the town of Page).
The final leg of the journey is via Arizona Route 67,
the North Rim Parkway that runs south from Jacob Lake and
continues through the park, ending near the North Rim at
the courtyard of the Grand Canyon Lodge.
Along the Way
Lee's Ferry Landing
The drive between Bitter Springs and Jacob
Lake is a fascinating one, as the road passes through the
Cornfield Valley and then climbs up to the Kaibab Plateau
-- past the Vermilion Cliffs and through House Rock
Valley. Eighteen miles beyond Bitter Springs, Alt. Route
89 crosses the Colorado River over the Navajo Bridge, at
Marble Canyon. It is here that a short side trip of about
30 minutes will provide a whole new dimension to your
enjoyment of the Grand Canyon.
Lee's Ferry was the only crossing of the
Colorado River in this entire region between 1871 and the
early 1900s. The ferry boat was operated first by John
Doyle Lee, a Mormon settler who moved here with his wife
and family, operating a farm that was irrigated by water
from the Paria River. Lee was put on trial and executed
in 1877 for his part in the Mountain Meadows Massacre,
when 140 California-bound pioneers were killed by Mormon
settlers who resented the presence of U.S. troops in the
Emma Lee continued to operate the ferry
until she sold it to the Mormon Church in 1879. The ferry
sank and was replaced by the Navajo Bridge in 1928. There
is a campground at the recreation site that provides
picnic tables overlooking the river.
The historical background of Lee's Ferry is
fascinating, but there is another important reason to
visit here; Lee's Ferry Landing marks the beginning of
the Grand Canyon and is the only spot along the canyon
where one can drive to the beach at the water's edge and
see the Colorado River racing its way into nature's most
impressive gorge. The Navajo sandstone, seen on the
opposite side of the river, is what forms the South and
The Landing is a favorite spot for anglers,
who put their boats into the water here, and this is the
location for the start of the 1- and 2-week rafting trips
through the canyon.
The road to the historic site takes you
through a scenic part of the Glen Canyon National
Recreation Area. The "balanced rocks" to the west of the
road are the result of boulders tumbling from the rim of
the cliffs and coming to rest on softer rock, leaving the
boulders resting on protected pillars. There's a
campground near the old Lee homestead, and a trail leads
across the Paria River to the original ferry crossing.
To think that about 280 miles downstream,
the river ends its journey through the Grand Canyon by
flowing quietly into Lake Mead, brings a sense of awe and
wonder. When I left Lee's Ferry, I hoped that the next
time I visited this place, I could start a 2-week
expedition on the full 280-mile canyon journey However,
the North Rim beckons and we're on our way -- back to
Marble Canyon and the red cliffs.
The Kaibab Plateau
For 30 miles beyond Marble Canyon,
Alternate Route 89 leads along the base of the Vermilion
Cliffs. Along the way are several small communities that
have been here since pioneer days. Cliff Dwellers Lodge
has two unique stone structures that housed the original
trading post. Above House Rock Valley, the summit offers
a wonderful view over the river to the Echo Cliffs. To
the south is the dark mesa called Shinumo Altar. The
Colorado River is more than 1,500 feet below the summit.
If time permits, drive from the highway to
visit House Rock Buffalo Ranch. The animals' range covers
some 60,000 acres of national forest land. The first
buffalo were brought here in the early 1900s by Buffalo
Jones, a former buffalo hunter who drove his herd across
the plains to the Kaibab Plateau. The herd is now owned
by the state, which allows the buffalo to roam free, with
the deer and other animals.
The route to the rim turns south at the
small community of Jacob Lake and then crosses the
plateau. This is a pristine area of aspens and pines,
filled with more wildlife including deer, bears, mountain
lions, and coyotes. The plateau was called Buckskin
Mountain by white settlers. Long before, the Indians
named it kaiuw a-vwi "mountain lying down". The route
passes Crane Lake before reaching Demotte Park, a
community with visitor services including Kaibab Lodge
and the North Rim Country Store -- just outside the
national park gate.
At the North Rim
A 7-mile drive leads from the north
entrance station to the end of the road beside the Grand
Canyon Lodge. The North Rim Parkway travels beside Little
Park Lake, passes a picnic area near Lindberg Hill and
meets Cape Royal Road. Beyond the junction is the
trailhead to the Widforss Trail and the mule paddock.
There's another picnic area closer to the North Rim
As you proceed down the Parkway toward
Grand Canyon Village, you'll see a series of open meadows
-- grassland parks in the midst of the Kaibab forest. One
of the wild creatures inhabiting the forest is the Kaibab
squirrel, with white tail and ear tips, living in the
large ponderosa pine trees.
When you reach the end of the road, it's
only a short stroll to see the canyon -- either from
Bright Angel Point or through the hotel to the stone
terraces. On a good day, when not too much smog is
drifting over the canyon from the Navajo Generating
Station, you can see all the way to the San Francisco
Peaks far to the south, near the city of Flagstaff.
Ten miles distant, you can see the Bright
Angel Trail dropping down from the South Rim to the
Indian Gardens on the Tonto Platform. You can also see
(maybe with some difficulty) the South Kaibab Trail.
North Rim Park
Grand Canyon Lodge, which overlooks
the canyon, provides the only lodging in the North Rim
section of the national park. There are modern motel
rooms in the pine forest in addition to cabins and fairly
new cottage accommodations. There is a dining room, gift
shop, and lounge inside the lodge, and other services may
be arranged here, including horseback riding and mule
trips into the canyon (if they're not fully booked). The
lodge is open from early May to late October, when snow
shuts down the park road. For information and
reservations, write TW Services, Box 400, Cedar City, UT
84720, or call (801) 586-7686.
The North Rim Campground is located
north of the village, with showers, a campers' store, and
nearby gas pumps.There are no hookups in this campground.
Other campsites are located outside the park gate, in
Demotte village and in the Kaibab National Forest.
For many years,. visitors have been able to
join a mule trip down to the river level, and Phantom
Ranch. The Park Service has been considering stopping
the mule rides for environmental reasons. You should
check with the park office as to whether you can reserve
a mule tripintothe canyon. Otherwise, hiking is the only
way to venture from the rim to Phantom Ranch.
Overnight accommodation is available at
Phantom Ranch, in a dormitory or in cabins. Although
there is no road to this rustic overnight stopping place
-- only a hiking path -- it's usually booked months in
advance. For reservations, call (602) 638-2401or 638-2631
or check at the lodge in case there have been
cancellations. Mule trips should also be booked well in
advance of your visit to the North Rim.
The park staff have an ongoing summer
interpretation program that includes guided walks and
lectures. For the daily schedule, see the park newspaper
or inquire at the Parks Service information desk in the
Grand Canyon Lodge.
The park medical clinic, staffed by a nurse
practitioner. Check the park newspaper for the clinic's
open hours, or call 638-2611.