Meeting the North Rim – North Kaibab Trail

Meeting the North Rim – North Kaibab Trail

Location: Grand Canyon, North Rim
Round Trip: 28 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation Change: 5,760 feet
Highest Point: 8,241 feet (at the trailhead)
GPS Coordinates: N 36 13.023 W 112 3.414
Visitor’s Information Open: mid. May – mid. October

Planning to visit the Grand Canyon, you’ll have to decide first from which Rim to experience this breathtaking natural feature of Arizona State: South Rim, West Rim or North Rim. The North Rim is considered the least popular among tourists and hikers, but the reason for this is not the lack of picturesque views, scenic trails or breathtaking viewpoints. The only reason of its being less popular is its location. The North Rim is much more remote then the South Rim, and it’s opened only from the middle of May till the middle of November (the dates of closing may vary as it is closed with the first snowfall and reopens again only in the second half of May). But if you do decide to spend your time and visit the North Rim, you will be amply rewarded!

One of the most popular trails of the North Rim is the North Kaibab Trail. It’s a spectacular 14 ml trail (one way), showing the hikers the diversity of fauna, starting from fir-trees, aspens, ferns and various wildflowers at its beginning at the top, and finishing with some riparian and desert vegetation coming closer to the canyon’s bottom. It’s the only trail on the North Rim that will take you down to the very bottom of the canyon – Colorado River. It’s also the only maintained trail of the North Rim. But do not let this fact to mislead you! Being maintained doesn’t make this trail an easy one. Don’t forget to consider a great elevation change and the fact that the path is often in full sun… It’s really quite easy when you walk down, but coming back up the trail is rather strenuous. And don’t forget, the lower you are going, the higher becomes the temperature.

That’s why the North Kaibab Trail is not advised for a day hike. But it’s divided into several parts, and you may choose your day-hike route, hiking to one of the following points.

The trailhead of the North Kaibab Trail is located about 1 mile (north) from the Grand Canyon Lodge of the North Rim, just at the parking area. You’ll start your hike at 8241 feet above the sea level.

At the beginning the trail seams quite easy, running through a forest of aspen and pines, with its trees giving such a pleasant shadow. But very soon it gets very steep. The first stop can be made at Coconino Overlook, which is only 0,7 miles away from the trailhead and which can also become your turnaround point if you came here for an easy day-hike. The views provided by this overlook are just magnificent. You can admire the view of Roaring Springs Canyon here.

If you decide to continue your hike, numerous switchbacks will take you to Supai Tunnel (which is located at 6800 ft elevation, and from the trailhead is approximately 2 miles away). This is a man-made tunnel through the fascinating cliffs of Redwall Limestone. Walking through it is quite an awesome experience, especially taking into consideration the time when it was made and poor technologies people had! Supai Tunnel may offer the hikers treated water (only until the middle of autumn, when it is turned off) and toilets. You may have a good rest before starting the next part of the trail, which is considered to be the hardest one.

The next part of the trail, which is also described by the hikers ass the steepest one, will take you to the Roaring Springs (which is located at 5220 ft elevation, and is 4,7 miles from the trailhead). Following this descending trail you’ll have a chance to enjoy the views of the exceptional beauty inside the canyon. But be careful and attentive as you’ll have to share the trail with some tourists or groups of tourists riding the mules.

The Roaring Springs is a wonderful place with remarkable views, where water spurts from the cliffs giving an origin to Bright Angel Creek. The Roaring Springs is the last point on the North Kaibab Trail, recommended as a day-hike. Here you may chose any of 2 options. You may turn back and climb up the same trail you just came here thus finishing your day-hike. Or you can walk about two more miles and overnight at a Cottonwood Campground (one of 2 campgrounds, available on the North Kaibab Trail). But to overnight at any of these campgrounds you need to receive a permit from the Grand Canyon National Park Backcountry Information Center. And any at-large camping is strictly forbidden on the North Kaibab Trail.

If your time allows you and you decide to camp at Cottonwood Campground, you’ll become a proud owner of a superb opportunity to explore one of the most remarkable natural features of the North Kaibab Trail – Ribbon Falls. It is located about 1,6 miles from the campground. The trail which leads there is not maintained, and to get there you’ll have either to use a footbridge or ford the Bright Angel Creek (which is not recommended during the flood period). Ribbon Falls is a great place to have a rest or eat your lunch after a tiresome hike.

The last stopping point on the North Kaibab Trail is the Bright Angel Campground. But on your way to it you will be amazed by a part of the trail, called “The Box”. It’s a place at the Bright Angel Canyon where the walls of it are very close and give you an impression of being boxed. The trail here is not steep, but because of low elevation here, the temperature gets hot here already in the morning, making the hike really hard.

And after hiking 14 miles from the trailhead, you will find yourself at the Bright Angel Campground, which is located alongside the Colorado River, at the very bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Here, at this place, the North Kaibab Trail is connected with the South Kaibab Trail by a Black Suspension Bridge.

Some experienced hikers have rim-to-rim hike as their day-hike, starting from the South Kaibab Trail and ascending by the North Kaibab Trail. But taking into consideration that North Kaibab Trailhead is almost a thousand feet higher than the trailheads on the South Rim it’s understandable that it’s easier to start your rim-to-rim hike from the North Rim, to have a shorter way to climb up the South Kaibab Trail.

Thus, the North Kaibab Trail is a fantastic hike with priceless views which is suitable for almost anyone. It’s a great family hike or beginner hike if you take just the first part of the trail, and a fantastic adventure for experienced hikers doing rim-to-rim hike.


Photo: Roman Khomlyak
Photo Editing: Juliana Voitsikhovska
Information: Svetlana Baranova

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