Grand Canyon North Rim 2021 trip planning guide: Here are the best things to see and do

·9 min read

The North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park opens for the 2021 season on Saturday, May 15. Many facilities, services and activities were closed or curtailed last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfires, but things should be a little closer to normal this year.

The North Rim is remote and the drive time from Phoenix is a commitment, but don't let that put you off. It gets far fewer visitors than the South Rim – about one-tenth as many – and you're much more likely to have a little breathing room on the trails and at the overlooks.

Visitors have two lodging options inside the park: tent or RV camping at the North Rim Campground or booking a cabin at the historic Grand Canyon Lodge. Outside the park, travelers can stay at Jacob Lake Inn or Kaibab Lodge. Campers can choose from two campgrounds or opt for free dispersed camping along the many Forest Service roads.

The North Rim's season is short: Lodging and many services are available only from May 15 through Oct. 15. Start planning now if you want to visit this summer or fall. Breathtaking views at Point Imperial and Cape Royal await, plus hikes and scenic drives.

Use this guide to plan your trip to the Grand Canyon's North Rim.

The Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge offer unparalleled views of the canyon.
The Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge offer unparalleled views of the canyon.

North Rim COVID-19 updates for 2021

  • Masks are required indoors, as well as outdoors where distancing cannot be maintained.

  • The hikers shuttle to the North Kaibab trailhead will not be offered.

  • The campground's showers and laundry will be closed.

  • Mule rides along the rim and into the canyon will resume this year.

  • The Grand Canyon Conservancy bookstore and gift shop will be open.

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How to drive to the North Rim

From central Phoenix, take Interstate 17 north to Flagstaff. Go east on Interstate 40, get off at Country Club Drive (Exit 201) and take U.S. 89 north to Bitter Springs. There, go left on U.S. 89A to Jacob Lake, then follow State Route 67 south to the North Rim. It's about 350 miles and a seven-hour drive from Phoenix.

Grand Canyon drive time: How long it takes to get there from Phoenix

Grand Canyon Lodge

Grand Canyon Lodge has the only accommodations inside the park.

The property consists of the lodge building – which has a restaurant, gathering rooms and a patio with a great view – plus several room options scattered about. From least to most expensive, choose from Frontier cabins, Pioneer cabins and Western cabins. Some Western cabins have rim views; the rest of the lodgings are set in the pines.

There also are motel rooms, but those will be unavailable in 2021. They are being used by park employees who can't live in the staff dormitory because of social distancing needs.

Details: 877-386-4383, grandcanyonforever.com.

Get a room: Here's how to book a cabin at the North Rim Lodge in 2021

North Rim Campground

The North Rim Campground has 90 spaces for tents and RVs set among the pines. It usually fills up each day. Sites can be reserved online at recreation.gov, by phone at 877-833-6777 or in person at the campground kiosk. Amenities include restrooms, a general store and a dump station but no hookups. The showers and laundry will be closed in 2021.

Camping in Arizona this summer? Reserve your campsite as soon as possible

Kaibab Lodge

This rustic property 5 miles north of the North Rim entrance dates to about 1926. The setting is forest and meadow, and wildlife is abundant. It's a true getaway – there are no TVs or telephones, and you won't have cell service or Wi-Fi.

Accommodations consist of cabins in configurations ranging from single to quad to fit groups of varying sizes. The restaurant will have dine-in and takeout options for breakfast and dinner, plus a new salad bar for lunch. The lodge is open mid-May through mid-October.

Details: 928-638-2389, kaibablodge.com.

Jacob Lake Inn

This one-stop property sits at the junction of U.S. 89A and State Route 67 about 45 miles north of the park entrance. In addition to motel rooms and cabins, Jacob Lake Inn has a restaurant, bakery (trust us – buy some cookies), small grocery shop and a gift shop with an extensive collection of American Indian art. A gas station is close by.

Details: 928-643-7232, www.jacoblake.com.

DeMotte Campground

Sitting at the edge of vast meadows, fringed by mixed conifer forest, DeMotte Campground offers 38 single-family sites for tents and RVs near the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Sitting at the edge of vast meadows, fringed by mixed conifer forest, DeMotte Campground offers 38 single-family sites for tents and RVs near the North Rim of Grand Canyon.

DeMotte Campground is in Kaibab National Forest near Kaibab Lodge. It has 38 sites with picnic tables, grills and drinking water but no hookups. It's open from mid-May through mid-October. Reservations can be made at recreation.gov.

Kaibab Camper Village

This RV park and campground is in the woods near Jacob Lake Inn. It's open mid-May through mid-October. Kaibab Camper Village has 40 tent spots, 51 RV spots (water, electric and sewer hookups available) and can accommodate RVs larger than 40 feet. There also are three group campsites, coin-operated showers, a laundry and a store. Visitors can charge their generators during the day.

Details: 928-643-7804, kaibabcampervillage.com.

Lightning arcs into Grand Canyon near Point Sublime on the North Rim.
Lightning arcs into Grand Canyon near Point Sublime on the North Rim.

Where to eat at the North Rim

The Grand Canyon Lodge dining room will offer breakfast from 6:30 to 10 a.m. Lunch will not be served, but guests can buy food at the adjacent Deli in the Pines and eat in the dining room. Dinner is by reservation only from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Preference will be given to guests of the lodge and campground. Takeout will be available.

Grab-and-go food – including breakfast, pizza and sandwiches – is available at the deli and the Rough Rider Saloon. Coffee service will be at the deli this year instead of the saloon. The deli is open 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.; the saloon's hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

The general store sells groceries, but be sure to bring whatever you'll want to meet your dietary needs and preferences.

There are plenty of places to picnic at the North Rim – sites have tables and some are perched right near the canyon's edge. Pack a cooler and eat outdoors, or pick up supplies at the general store.

Things to do at Grand Canyon North Rim

You could easily spend several days exploring all of the hikes and scenic drives at the North Rim. Here are highlights.

Mule rides: The North Rim's mule rides resume in 2021. Choose from a one-hour rim ride, a three-hour ride to Uncle Jim Point or a three-hour ride into the canyon to Supai Tunnel. Make reservations at canyonrides.com.

Cape Royal scenic drive: From Grand Canyon Lodge, go north on State Route 67. To the right (east) about a mile beyond the well-signed North Kaibab Trailhead is the road that crosses the Walhalla Plateau to Cape Royal and Point Imperial, two don't-miss viewpoints. Follow it about 5 miles to a "T" intersection. Turn south and go about 14 miles to Cape Royal, one of the canyon's premier viewpoints. A fairly short, easy trail begins on the southeastern side of the parking area and leads out over Angel's Window, a huge natural arch that juts into the canyon.

Point Imperial scenic drive: Point Imperial is 3 miles north of the "T" intersection that also leads to Cape Royal. At more than 8,800 feet, it is the highest point on either rim and offers unrivaled views, especially of Mount Hayden and Saddle Mountain. An easy 2-mile trail leads north from Point Imperial through an area burned by the Outlet Fire in 2000. The trail officially ends at the park boundary, but you can continue on to the Nankoweap Trail and Saddle Mountain area.

Vista Encantada scenic view: This overlook, several miles south of the "T" junction on the way to Cape Royal, offers impressive views of the Painted Desert to the east.

Walhalla Glades: The remains of this prehistoric structure, believed to be almost 1,000 years old, are on the west side of the road a mile or so north of Cape Royal.

8 North Rim hikes at a glance

Bright Angel Point: The paved quarter-mile trail leads from the patio behind Grand Canyon Lodge out along a finger of rock to a magnificent overlook.

Transept Trail: The 1½-mile-long route snakes along the canyon's rim northwest of the lodge to North Rim Campground and provides fine views of a side canyon known as the Transept.

Cape Final: About 2½ miles before the end of road to Cape Royal is the Cape Final Trailhead. The 4-mile round-trip hike through woods is mostly flat and takes you to several dandy overlooks.

Uncle Jim Trail: This 5-mile round trip starts at the North Kaibab Trailhead and follows the Ken Patrick Trail for three-quarters of a mile. At a well-marked junction, turn south on the Uncle Jim Trail, which loops through a forested area to Uncle Jim Point, looking into the canyon.

The Uncle Jim Trail makes a 5-mile loop through North Rim forests and offers lovely vistas.
The Uncle Jim Trail makes a 5-mile loop through North Rim forests and offers lovely vistas.

Widforss Trail: A terrific 10-mile round trip through the forest to a remote viewpoint. Much of the first half skirts the rim of Transept Canyon. The latter half ducks into the woods before emerging at a splendid canyon overlook.

Ken Patrick Trail: This trail meanders 10 miles one way through forest from the North Kaibab Trailhead parking area to Point Imperial. You may want to arrange a shuttle or have someone pick you up at the other end. Some segments are sketchy, so bring a map and compass.

Francois Matthes Trail: This is a rather level, easy-to-follow path through pine and aspen. The overlook at the end is pretty brushy, so don't expect the sweeping vistas you'll find at Cape Royal or Point Imperial. But you'll almost certainly have the overlook to yourself. It's not a bad trade-off. The hike is a 10.6-mile round trip.

Tiyo Point: This hike begins in a beautiful tree-ringed meadow about 4 miles along the rugged dirt road that leads to Point Sublime. The trail gradually loses elevation as it approaches the canyon. You may not notice on the way out, but you will on the hike back. Tiyo Point is fairly brushy, with restricted views. But a short, unofficial side trail leads to a large open area to the south. The moderately strenuous hike covers 12.6 miles round trip.

Contributing: Weldon B. Johnson, Arizona Republic

You can connect with Arizona Republic Culture and Outdoors Reporter Shanti Lerner through email at shanti.lerner@gannett.com or you can also follow her on Twitter.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Grand Canyon North Rim reopens for 2021: Lodge, RV camping, activities