Thursday, May 9, 2013

Day hike North Rim’s Cape Royal road trails

Unkar Delta is framed through the natural arch
of Angels Window on the Cape Royal Trail.
Photo courtesy Grand Canyon NPS.
Plenty of North Rim trails at Grand Canyon National Park can be day hiked without driving all the way to the Grand Canyon Lodge. A good set of them are along Cape Royal Road.

To reach this part of the park, as driving south on Ariz. Hwy. 67, turn left onto Point Imperial Road about three miles before the visitor center/lodge. In 5.4 miles, turn right onto Cape Royal Road.

The Ken Patrick Trail crosses Cape Royal Road in about a half-mile. There’s no parking lot here but is a pullout area just south of the trail crossing; be careful of road traffic.

If taking the trail on the road’s left side, you’ll head just under three miles one way (slightly less than six miles round trip) briefly through an alpine forest and then along the canyon rim to Point Imperial. Picnic tables and restrooms make this a perfect stop for a midmorning snack or noontime meal with great views of the Painted Desert and Mount Hayden. The trail does continue heading north, but the point makes a good turnaround spot on what already is a long day hike.

Taking the trail on the road’s right side leads along the canyon rim to a small point overlooking Bright Angel Canyon in about a mile (two-miles round trip). While there are no facilities there, it offers a more “out in the wilderness” experience and at times can be difficult to follow. The trail does continue heading southwest along the rim, but the point makes a good turnaround spot.

Alternatively, you can skip the Ken Patrick Trail and take Cape Royal Road across a narrow isthmus, with the canyon on both sides, onto the Walhalla Plateau. You’ll pass Greenland Lake and Vista Encantada (which has picnic tables) before coming to Roosevelt Point. Park at the Roosevelt Point parking lot for the Roosevelt Point Trail, for a 0.2-mile loop through a woodland along the rim. Breaks in the trees frame great views of the canyon. Benches also are along the trail.

Continuing farther onto the plateau on Cape Royal Road brings you to Cape Final Trail. Running four miles round trip with 150 feet elevation change, the trail heads to a canyon overlook. The path is part of the Arizona Trail, which runs across from the state from the Mexico border to Utah.

A little farther along the road is the extremely short Walhalla Ruins Trail. From the Walhalla Overlook parking lot, a 0.2-mile round trip trail heads to the archeological site. Ranger talks often are held at the overlook, from which you can see a delta of the Colorado River, the Unkar Delta. Ancient Native American who once lived in the canyon farmed the delta.

About 0.75 miles south of that trailhead is Cliff Spring Trail. Park in the pullout; the trailhead is across the road. The one-mile round trip trail changes 600 feet in elevation but offers plenty of great sights. It begins by cutting into a forested ravine then parallels a sandstone wall with shade from overhangs. It ends in a fern oasis at a man-high boulder under an overhang; look for the spring between the boulder and sandstone wall. Though the water appears crystal clear, it can be contaminated, so do not drink it.

Cape Royal Road ends its 15-mile stretch by winding down to its namesake, Cape Royal, a peninsula sticking out the of Walhalla Plateau onto Bright Angel Canyon. The Cape Royal Trail takes you from the parking lot at the road’s end to farthest point on the peninsula, which sits at 7685 feet.

The 0.6-mile round trip paved trail is among the easiest walks of those in this section of the North Rim. Look for the trailhead at the Cape Royal parking area’s southeast side. The flat trail offers pleasant views of the canyon and the Colorado River with a short side trip to Angels Window. Interpretive markers about the area’s natural history line the trail. This path also is part of the Arizona Trail. There are picnic tables and restrooms here as well.

Be advised that a wildfire swept through this part of the North Rim in autumn 2011. Because of this, some trails and facilities may be temporarily unavailable to visitors.

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