We heard a lot about the North Rim of the Grand Canyon before arriving. Mostly we heard that it was better than the more popular South Rim. Remote, authentic, undeveloped, peaceful were all adjectives used as platitudes in describing the north. And they’re mostly true.
The North Rim is nearly a two hour drive from the nearest town, Fredonia, Arizona. Half of that drive is on a road only open several months per year. The nearest airport is 275 miles away by car in Flagstaff, AZ. It is not easy to get to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, which is why fewer people do. And yet the one reason we heard repeatedly mentioned to favor the North, smaller crowds, didn’t exactly pan out.
While it’s true that the North Rim is less trafficked than the South, it didn’t really feel that way. Call it the downside of undeveloped. Small parking lots were mostly full even in the early morning of late off-season. In many spots trails are only wide enough for one or two people to pass. Bottlenecks abound giving everything a more crowded and congested feeling.
We also found less to do here: fewer trails, fewer overlooks, fewer options. We covered the scenic drive, all the overlooks, and a good selection of rim trails in a single afternoon. At the South Rim you can spend an entire day just exploring the main overlooks. Of course both North and South offer almost unlimited hiking for the intrepid, including the 21 mile Rim to Rim trail that connects both Grand Canyon areas, albeit separated by a one mile vertical climb out of the canyon. Difficult hikes are easy to find at both rims, but the South has a far greater number of moderate trails.
For scenery, both are spectacular and we’d be hard pressed to judge one superior. The North Rim is almost 2,000 feet higher than the South and is blanketed by more vegetation, but I can’t say I noticed the difference.
So why go to the North Rim? If you view remoteness as a compelling virtue in and of itself, you might think the added effort in getting there worthwhile. For most of the rest of us, the big reason to go is the fact that the North isn’t always less convenient. If you’re traveling through southern Utah, perhaps after visiting Zion National Park, then the North Rim is probably the easiest way to see the Canyon. Otherwise, we’d opt for the larger and more convenient South Rim. More people may go there, but they do so for good reason.