Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Day hike into Grand Canyon's North Rim

North Kaibab Trail. Photo courtesy of Grand Canyon NPS.
Topo map of North Kaibab Trail.

Segment of North Kaibab Trail perfect for walk

To avoid crowds at Grand Canyon National Park, visitors increasingly are heading to the North Rim. If doing the same, consider fitting in a day hike on the North Kaibab Trail.

The North Kaibab is the only maintained trail into the canyon from the North Rim. Rather than hike all the way to the bottom – which would require an overnight stay – hike about 500 feet down in elevation, which alone is a steep trail at a high elevation covering about a 1.5-mile round trip.

Because winter brings heavy snow to the North Rim (You’re at 8200-plus feet above sea level.), you’ll only be to hike the trail from mid-May through mid-October when the park road and facilities are open. Hitting the trail in May/early June or late September/ October will help you avoid the summer heat.

High alpine forest
To reach the trail, from Fredonia, Ariz., drive miles south on U.S. Hwy. 89A to Jacob Lake. Then take State Hwy. 67 to the Grand Canyon North Rim park entrance. An entrance fee is required.

The parking lot for the trailhead is off the main road about two miles before reaching the North Rim facilities. Two other trailheads share the parking lot, so watch the signs to ensure you're on the right trail.

While the North Kaibab is well-maintained, it’s also very steep with long drop-offs. Because of this, you won’t want to take young children on the trail. A fall can be quite serious, and even if careful, they’ll have a difficult time walking back up – as will you if you have to carry them. Mule rides also run on the trail, and you’ll want to keep little children away from the animals as they come through.

The trail descends from a high alpine forest consisting of aspen, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine into Roaring Springs Canyon. Meltwater flowing down this side canyon feeds the Colorado River.

Coconino Overlook
As the trail winds downward, you’ll have gone about 500 feet below the rim in 0.75 miles of walking. At that point is the Coconino Overlook, where an excellent view of Roaring Springs Canyon awaits.

A number of rock layers also are visible at the overlook, including the red brick of the Supai formation. The red rock is at least 270 million years old. At the time, this part of the Grand Canyon was a broad coastal plain with sediment settling from the Rocky Mountains as they began to rise in Colorado and New Mexico.

Turning back at the overlook is a good idea for day hikers. If early in the day, you’re physically fit, and any children along are in their late teens and also in good shape, you may want to consider going a little farther down to the Supai Tunnel.

A man-made passageway through the rock, the tunnel is about 1,440 feet and a 1.8-mile walk below the rim. Go ahead and walk through the small tunnel to see the looming cliffs with pinyon and juniper ahead.

Do not go any further unless planning to camp overnight, however.

Read more about day hiking the Grand Canyon in my Day Hiking Grand Canyon National Park guidebook.