The North Rim’s unspoiled beauty and natural quiet is best enjoyed on foot. North Rim trails offer amazing contrasts, from gentle rim-side strolls to demanding descents leading from high boreal forests (similar to those in northern Canada) into the desert heart of the canyon.
Because of its remoteness, your chances for solitude are much greater here. The flip side is that if you get into trouble, help can be farther away and slower in coming.
When hiking this side of the canyon, the same general guidelines apply, along with a few other points to bear in mind.
Wait for shade. During hot months, plan to hike before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. to avoid intense midday sun. Some people hike at night, but because of narrow trails and steep drops, this can be dangerous. Carry a flashlight or headlamp, just in case you get caught after dark.
Get wet. A lot of technical gear is designed to wick away perspiration. This is helpful in cooler months or climes. But on a hot Arizona summer day, when the relative humidity is 10–15 percent, cotton keeps you cooler. A light cotton shirt, cap, or bandana can be soaked with water—the evaporative effect will keep you cool much longer than synthetics.
Rest often. You’ll use water more efficiently if you sip a little at a time and have a light snack every so often. Besides, a short break gives you time to enjoy your surroundings.
Use your nose. Panting or breathing so hard that you can’t speak are both signs that you’re using more oxygen than you can take in. Besides, mouth breathing wastes moisture and doesn’t filter out dust as efficiently. Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy can help keep your mouth moist and remind you to keep it closed.
Be humble. The canyon is bigger and older and meaner than you. Don’t be stubborn about turning around if you find you’re out of your depth.
Rim-to-river trails on the North Rim tend to be longer because they start at a higher elevation and descend into tributary canyons before reaching the Colorado River. Only one maintained trail, North Kaibab, leads into the canyon. The North Rim’s other rim-to-river trails are wilderness trails—no water, faint routes, steep descents. Do not attempt to hike from rim to river and back in one day, a journey that’s feasible (for a few) on the South Rim but suicidal on the North Rim.
Inexperienced canyon hikers should stick to rim trails or hike on North Kaibab Trail before attempting other descents. Though no permit is needed for a day hike, planning is important. Be prepared, pace yourself, and be sure to allow enough time for the return trip. It takes twice as long to hike the same distance coming out of the canyon as it does going in, and the North Rim’s higher elevations can make even the best-conditioned hikers gasp for breath.
p class="body">Temperatures rise quickly, and the sun is intense at this elevation, so you’ll want to start early in the morning to hike the North Kaibab Trail. Descending even a short way into the canyon will reward you with a more intimate perspective on the North Rim’s geological layers and life zones. On summer afternoons, shadier rim hikes like the Widforss Point Trail are better options.
© Kathleen Bryant from Moon Grand Canyon, 5th Edition