The article "In Pursuit of Wildness: North Rim Grand Canyon National Park" by Robert Griego was originally published on the "RoadRUNNER Touring & Travel" magazine website on 12/11/2020.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona has been on my bucket list due to its grand vistas. Still, in all honesty, I never would have come this far if a close friend, who once lived at Grand Canyon National Park and hiked most of it, hadn't recommended the destination.
“The South Rim is beautiful, but the North Rim is special,” he said. He told me there are fewer people and the views are breathtaking. Dispersed camping in the Kaibab National Forest is available outside of the park, and on a bike it will be a nice ride.
And with that, I was hooked. The North Rim sounds like a perfect destination. Now, I need to convince my brother, Gilbert, that this will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“How many miles from California?” is his first question.
“Well, I’m not too sure, but maybe about 2,500 miles round-trip.”
He continues: “Have you been there before?”
“No, but my friend Scott who once lived there made the recommendation. We could camp along the way.”
He didn’t think long, and simply replied: “OK.”
Onto the Road
There is something unique in traveling across the country on motorcycles with your likeminded brother. He rides a Harley-Davidson Street Glide, while my mount is a Yamaha Road Star. Over the years, we have traveled together across 25,000 miles, visiting natural areas mostly in the West. We camp lightly on the land, always following the “leave no trace” rules. Our campsites are always in a better condition when we leave.
We head north from Flagstaff, AZ, on US 89. Since neither of us has been on this route before, we stop often to explore. The Cameron Trading Post next to the Little Colorado River catches our attention. The parking lot, full of motorcycles, is a good rest stop to look over the map. It should be a short 60 miles to Bitter Springs, from where we follow US 89A to Jacob Lake. We fuel up and buy some food before heading south on SR 67 to the North Rim.
Gilbert spots a dirt road leading into an aspen forest, where we make camp next to an abandoned horse corral. We settle for the night in the cool high-elevation air and have a hearty dinner with popcorn for dessert. The night sky is brilliant, with a shooting star streaking across the vastness above us. The next day, we enter the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Gilbert wants to hike some trails and we are both eager to explore some of the vistas. We remove our riding gear and slip into comfortable shorts and tennis shoes. Looking over the park map, we set off on the Bright Angel Point Trail—a short half-mile round trip—from the Grand Canyon Lodge. The pace of everything around us slows down. It is quiet. Looking down into the depths of the canyon is mesmerizing. The solitude and serenity I feel with each step exceeds my expectations.
We continue onto the Transept Trail, which is a longer four-mile round trip offering views of the Transept, a stunning side canyon. We soon realize that there are more rigorous trails that we will save for a future trip. The North Kaibab Trail interests me. It is the only maintained trail into the canyon from the North Rim and one best taken on the back of a horse or mule with a wrangler guide.
|Robert and Gilbert Griego.
Reluctantly, we leave, knowing that we’ll be back for a longer stay.
“Robert, I thought you said that this ride was about 2,500 miles round trip. By the time we get home, it will be more like 1,500 miles,” my brother says.
“That’s true, but I thought we could go see Monument Valley and Goosenecks State Park in Utah on our way back,” I reply.
With a smile on my brother’s face, we continue our adventure.
PLANNING A VISIT
When planning a visit to the Grand Canyon, it’s best to start by picking between the South and North Rims. The hiking distance from the south to the north is a strenuous 21 miles, while driving would take about 5 hours over 220 miles. The North Rim—more than 8,000 feet in elevation—is visited by only 10% of all Grand Canyon visitors.
The best time to visit the North Rim is between May 15 and October 15. During the winter months, the North Rim is closed due to snow. For lodging, it is best to make reservations either for the Grand Canyon Lodge or the North Rim Campground.
Point Imperial and Cape Royal along the North Rim Scenic Drive can be reached via winding roads with ample pullouts providing grand scenes across the canyon. Plan on taking half a day or more for these drives with some short walks along the way.
Cape Royal is a popular destination for both sunrise and sunset. Point Imperial is the highest point on the North Rim at 8,803 feet and provides sweeping views of the Painted Desert and the eastern end of the Grand Canyon.
There are free, daily park ranger programs to learn about geology, fossils, plants, and animals, in addition to numerous park trails.
The North Rim Visitor Center is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. There is a hiker shuttle service from the Grand Canyon Lodge to North Kaibab Trailhead. Reserve space 24 hours in advance at the lodge front desk.
Entrance fees, good for seven days, are $30 per motorcycle, $35 per vehicle, and $20 per individual (bicyclist, hiker, or pedestrian). An annual park pass is $70. For more information, see www.nps.gov/grca.
Text and Photography by Robert Griego