Summer is around the corner and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon will soon open up. As soon as the snow melts enough and the road into the park opens, people flock from around the world to see the iconic views. This post will lay out the basics of what you need to know for a successful trip when visiting the North Rim.
While the North Rim isn’t as popular as its southern counterpart, planning ahead is important if you want accommodation or a camp spot, a backcountry permit, a tour, etc. These are all limited and often fully book or sell out months in advance.
That’s not to say that you can’t go last minute. We drove up there on a whim to meet Matt’s sister and grandpa and still had a great experience – minus not being able to camp on the rim near Cape Final because the permit was taken. We camped in Kaibab National Forest and Matt’s Grandpa was still able to book a room at the Jacob Lake Inn where Matt’s sister was working for the summer.
Where to Stay
There are some amazing places to pitch your tent or park your vehicle for the night when visiting the North Rim. There are several developed campgrounds, including the North Rim Campground, Jacob Lake Campground, and DeMotte Campground.
The North Rim Campground is the only one that is vehicle accessible within the park boundaries on the North Rim. Other options sit in Kaibab National Forest surrounding the park. Most campgrounds take reservations, which can be made up to 6 months in advance. They frequently sell out very quickly. These cost $18+, not including park entrance fees. Some passes, such as the Golden Age Pass, offer discounts on camping.
We recommend dispersed camping if you like a little seclusion. There are many miles of Forest Service roads outside of the park boundaries with some great camp spots. Always try to camp in spots that have already been established – i.e. with a fire ring or visible pullout. We camped only several minutes away from Jacob Lake in the National Forest to be closer to family at the Jacob Lake Inn. But you can venture deep into the forest to find other great spots on the Kaibab Plateau.
If you want to backpack and camp in the backcountry within the park, you are required to obtain and carry a permit. See our section below for more information on permits.
The Grand Canyon Lodge offers a series of private cabins and some simple motel rooms. Around the lodge, you will have access to a couple dining options and the stunning views of Bright Angel Point. While you can always check for last-minute availability, the lodge is usually fully booked in advance.
A seven-day pass to Grand Canyon National Park costs $35 per vehicle. Entry on a motorcycle costs $30, and individual entry on foot, shuttle, or rafting trip costs $20 per person. You can buy a pass online beforehand on the recreation.gov website, or purchase it at the North Rim entrance station.
If you spend a lot of time outdoors, we highly recommend buying an annual parks pass. This costs $80 and can be purchased online, at some sporting goods stores, and at many national park or recreation area entrances. Just on this trip, this pass covered our entrance to Wupatki National Monument, Grand Canyon National Park, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, and Glen Canyon Recreation Area. So worth it!
Backcountry permits are required for overnight camping in the park outside of developed campgrounds, camping at Tuweep campground, winter camping anywhere along the North Rim in the park, and camping along the river as a river trip participant. Permits cost $10 plus additional fees for extra people or stock animals. This fee does not cover entrance into the park.
To apply for a permit, you must fill out the permit request form and submit it by faxing it to the Backcountry Information Center or mailing it to the Grand Canyon National Park Permit Office.
See the below table for when to apply for your permit. You may submit a verbal request or written request after the earliest consideration dates, but know that the permits spots are typically filled early.
For more details on permits and for park contact info, visit the park website.
Food, Groceries, & Gas
Gas on the Kaibab Plateau was considerably more expensive than nearby areas in northern Arizona & southern Utah when we visited. There is one gas station in the park near the North Rim Campground. This was more expensive than the station near the Jacob Lake Inn, so we made sure to fill up in Jacob Lake before heading into the park or national forest.
There are no large grocery stores in the area, so bring your snacks and other food if you don’t want to eat out. The North Rim General Store and North Rim Country Store offer basic snacks, some premade food items, and basic grocery and outdoor items. The country store at the Jacob Lake Inn also carries snacks, toiletries, alcohol, and other basic grocery items. Adjacent to the inn is the gas station where we also bought our ice refills for the cooler.
There is not an abundance of places to eat out on the North Rim. Outside the park are the Kaibab Lodge Restaurant and the Jacob Lake Inn Dining Room, which offers a variety of dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In the park, there’s the Grand Canyon Lodge Dining Room, Deli in the Pines, or the Roughrider Saloon.
What to Do
Perhaps one of the reasons the Grand Canyon is so popular is because of the range of outdoor activities great for a variety of skill levels. You don’t have to go far to experience the amazing views. Multiday backpacking or raft trips are a great way to venture deeper into the canyon and park; however, they require more planning and money. If you are not skilled in the backcountry, please hire a professional to guide you on a backcountry trip. Each year there are people that underestimate the weather and landscape, resulting in costly rescue missions and deaths.
If strenuous hikes and backcountry camping aren’t your idea of a great time, there are plenty of shorter hikes and viewpoints that still offer plenty of stunning canyon views. Many of the North Rim viewpoints are accessible by vehicle, allowing you to admire the view from your car or with a short walk to an overlook. Hiking trails are also abundant on the North Rim. Many people choose to hike short sections of longer trails, like North Kaibab and Nankoweap.
Plenty of information on trails and hikes can be obtained at the Kaibab Plateau Visitor’s Center or at the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center near the lodge.
The weather on the North Rim is more drastic than on the South Rim. At a higher elevation, it gets more snow, which is why most all services here close from October until May. In the summer, the days can be really hot (over 100˚F), but the nights still get pretty chilly. Definitely bring your layers!
If venturing to the canyon floor, be very cautious of flash floods. These can occur at any time of year, but are most frequent from mid-July through mid-September. It doesn’t have to be raining where you are for a flash flood to happen, so learn to recognize the signs and study your trail to know your routes and areas of higher ground.
Things to Bring When Visiting the North Rim
Other than the general camping or hiking gear you typically bring on an outdoor adventure, here are a few additional things you’ll want to make sure you have when visiting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Bug Spray: When on the trails and at camp, we noticed quite a few flies and mosquitoes.
Your Spare Tire: Okay, this should be attached to your vehicle wherever you go, but make sure it is filled before your trip. This is especially important if you plan to drive down the rough and rocky roads in Kaibab National Forest. If you get a flat, you’ll want your backup to be in good shape.
Layers: The high daily temperatures may deceive you into thinking a t-shirt will be just fine. But you’ll want some extra layers for the winds and the cold morning and evening temps.
First Aid Kit: It’s always a good idea to have a little first aid kit put together to throw in your hiking bag.