Lisa Owen

Want to get up close to the Grand Canyon but don’t want to deal with hordes of tourists? Just head to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon instead of the South Rim. The North Rim is said to receive only 10 per cent of visitors to the Grand Canyon, and there’s a high chance you’ll have hiking trails and viewpoints all to yourself. The South Rim is more dramatic because you can look deep into the canyon, and it’s better set up for tourists with attractions such as the SkyWalk glass bridge. But the North Rim is more natural, as well as more detailed with its colourful ridges and rocky outcrops – and you still get jaw-dropping views. Many people I talked to who had done both rims said they preferred the North Rim because it was far less crowded. 

Grand Canyon

Hiking in the North Rim

One of the best bang for buck hikes is the 6.8km return Cape Final Trail. The Cape Final Trail is an easy walk along a forested path before you come to a spectacular view of the canyon and over to the Painted Desert. 

Grand Canyon

Not far from the Cape Final trailhead and at the end of the road is the 1.3km return Cape Royal Trail, which is a paved walk to more views of the canyon and the Angel’s Window rock formation. For sunset, your best bet is the lookout at the end of the Bright Angel Point Trail. A short but steep walk along a paved trail brings you to a rocky outcrop overlooking the canyon. Stick around for sunset, and you’ll be rewarded with hues of pink, orange, and purple in the desert landscape.

Bright Angel Point Trail

Another favourite hike in the North Rim in the North Kaibab Trail, which takes you into the canyon. The entire trail is very long, but you can choose to do only a short section. Talk to the rangers at the park for more information and details about difficulty and distance. The North Rim Campground is the only campground inside the North Rim section of the Grand Canyon National Park. The park has pay showers and free wifi at the General Store. Reservations are recommended May to October. However there are usually a handful of sites available daily on a first come, first served basis. There is also another campground outside the park entrance. 

Getting to the North Rim

As you approach the North Rim, you’ll be surprised that it doesn’t even feel like you’re driving to the Grand Canyon as you pass kilometres of green meadows with bison grazing and fields of pine trees. You can reach the North Rim one of two ways from Las Vegas or do the complete loop that takes you through Nevada, Arizona and Utah. From Las Vegas, you can drive south-east through Nevada via Flagstaff, or you can go northeast through Utah via St George. My road trip buddy and I started our drive to the North Rim from Needles, California as we had just been to Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park and went south-east of Las Vegas via Flagstaff. To tick another item off your bucket list, you can head to the North Rim partly via the famous Route 66, which runs from LA to Chicago.

Route 66

We passed the South Rim turnoff and kept going, ending up in Page, Arizona where we visited the beautiful Horseshoe Bend and the Lower Antelope slot canyon.

Highlights in Page, Arizona

Colorado River

Horseshoe Bend is located about 6km southwest of Page off Highway 89 and is free to view. It’s about a 15-minute walk in along a 1.2km sandy path to reach the viewpoint looking down at the azure coloured bend in the Colorado River. The Colorado River is what created the Grand Canyon – carving out the canyon over thousands of years.

Horseshoe Bend

You can also choose to visit Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon – or of course both. The slot canyons are located across the road from each other but are separate attractions with their entry fee. The canyons are made of red sandstone and have been formed by flash floods over time. When sunlight hits the sandstone, it reflects brilliant shades of red, yellow, orange and purple.

Upper Antelope Canyon charges a fee to enter which includes a compulsory tour. The best time to go into the canyon is around lunchtime when light filters into the canyon. It’s possible to buy tickets on the day, but you will need to be there at 8 am when they first open to have a chance at securing a ticket. 

 Upper Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon is located across the road and also costs a fee to enter, which includes a compulsory tour as well. The optimal time is to go in around mid-morning. The lower canyon offers a much larger window for optional light, so it’s the best option if you can’t get the midday tour at Upper Antelope Canyon. We visited Lower Antelope Canyon on the 8.30am tour, and even then the effects of the sunlight filtering into the canyon and bouncing off the red sandstone walls was impressive.

Lower Antelope Canyon

Less than an hour’s drive from Page is Monument Valley. You can choose to pay to enter Monument Valley and get up close to the rock monuments, or you can take the cheap backpacker option like I did and got a good view at the viewpoints along the highway leading up to the valley. I was up before sunrise to take the drive to Monument Valley and see the rocky outcrops as the sun came up and it was definitely worth the early start.

Things You Should Know:

  • Even during the high season of the summer months, trails in the Grand Canyon’s North Rim are uncrowded.
  • Reservations are possible from May to October for campsites in the North Rim Campground. A handful of sites are also available on a first come, first served basis.
  • There’s a lot to see around the North Rim Grand Canyon area. Highlights include Horseshoe Bend, Lower and Upper Antelope Canyons and Monument Valley. The state of Utah is also very accessible from the North Rim with the spectacular national parks of Zion and Bryce Canyon located only a couple of hours drive north.
  • There are fees to enter into the Grand Canyon National Park. If you’re visiting a lot of US National Parks, you can also buy an annual pass for $105 offering you unlimited visits to US National Parks for 12 months.
  • In addition to the tour costs at the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons, you must also pay a fee per vehicle to enter Navajo land where the carpark and entrance is located.
  • If you want to see Monument Valley and aren’t worried about getting up close to the red sandstone monoliths, you can just drive by for free. There’s a couple of pull-offs where you can get some good photos. 

Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 40 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @_thelittleadventurer Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.