There are two things you must know if you are considering a camping adventure to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon – First, it takes quite a bit of effort to get to and, second, every bit of that effort is worth it! This well kept secret could be your opportunity to experience views that expand for miles, phenomenal hikes, stunning drives, and incredible wildlife! The North Rim camping opportunities are unrivaled. In this guide, I’ll give you insights for when to visit, how to get there, camping and hiking recommendations, what wildlife you may encounter, and more.
Timing is Everything
I visited in early October. The timing of this trip was based around permits that my friend and I had to visit Havasu Falls that week. This turned out to be an extraordinary time to be there. The primary reason for this was ASPENS! Everywhere I looked they were shimmering golden in the sun. I’ve only had the joy of experiencing Aspens in the Fall once before. It was not to this extent and it would have been worth the trip for the splendor of this alone. We were there at the peak for the Fall 2019 season. This really added another dimension to an already beautiful place. I loved seeing them around the gorgeous campsite!
Early October also means less crowds. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is high enough in elevation that it closes for the winter due to weather. This typically occurs from mid-October to mid-May for services. However, road closures follow a separate schedule. As always, check the Park’s official website for current information – https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/north-rim.htm. Aim to time your visit to take advantage of the window with less crowds slightly before the winter closure. In case you’re curious, North Rim camping in winter is allowed. You must have proper permits and this is only accessible by hiking through the Canyon from the South Rim.
During our visit, there were several people visiting from an antique car club for Model As. It was such a unique thing to see them all gathered there, reminiscent of the days of what it originally meant to tour by car. My grandfather curated an antique car museum and lived for this type of event. I could feel him smiling down upon the whole scene.
Getting to the North Rim
Our adventure began the night we arrived. The North Rim is a 4.5 to 5 hour drive from Las Vegas. There are two REIs in Las Vegas. After that St. George, Utah will be your last major stop for supplies if you are taking a northern route. Departing the more populated areas introduces you to stunning red rock views and changing vegetation as the elevation changes.
As you get closer to the Park on 89A, and especially on 67, be aware of wildlife. The night we arrived (around 7PM) we encountered an incredible amount of wildlife on and near the road including dear and elk. We also saw our first sign warning of bison. Sure enough, we saw some of the Park’s House Rock Bison Herd on the Little Park Meadows the next day.
Essential Info for camping at the North Rim
After setting up camp in the dark, I had little idea what to expect at the campsite the next morning. All I can say is “Wow!” This is $16 a night well spent. North Rim camping is reservation-based and offers three options – RV, tent (individual), and tent (large groups). We stayed in the individual tent campground. Going forward this will be the campground that I compare all others to. The Rim of the Canyon is RIGHT there, a 30 second walk away. This takes you to the Transept Trail, which you can follow to the Lodge and Visitors Center after a two mile hike.
There are only 12 campsites at this location and each comes equipped with a picnic table, fire pit, and flat surface to pitch your tent. Additionally, there is a filtered water drinking water source, a separate dish-washing station, the bathrooms (toilets) are clean and spacious. Coin-operated showers are a 5-minute walk away. There is a store nearby with fresh coffee and cocoa. As expected given the elevation and the time of year, it was “wear-all-your-layers cold” at night while we were there. That cup of warm coffee was heavenly, while watching the morning light fill the Canyon, steps away from our tent.
At the North Rim Visitor’s Complex
All of the services in the North Rim are centralized around the Lodge and Visitor’s Center. In this area, you will find the buffet, deli, and double-duty coffee-shop/saloon. Behind the Lodge, enjoy the views either from the expansive desk or the spacious sunroom. Just outside the Lodge, there are lookouts that provide Canyon vistas as well as look back at the Lodge and its Cabins next door. Hike the half mile to Bright Angel Point for the opportunity to take in colorful views from every direction. One of the reasons I love the North Rim, is the greenery adds depth to an already stunning landscape.
Scenic Drives and Hikes around the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
Venture outside the main drag to be rewarded with incredibly scenic drives and equally majestic hikes. Some of the highlights I enjoyed are:
- North Kaibab Trail – This hike will take you into the Rim with several options for turn around points. We hiked to the first vista at Coconino Overlook. The National Park Service has excellent resources on the various turn around points, including distances and elevation changes, and how to prepare. Consult NPS resources for guidance and ensure proper preparedness before heading out. This trail is also a starting point for the Rim to Rim trail.
- Point Imperial – Boasting the highest elevation on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, this is where you’ll want to go for some invigorating fresh air at 8,803′
- Cape Royal – The Cliff Springs Trail (1 mile easy RT) will guide you to multiple lookouts, a natural arch known as Angel’s Window, and more Aspens.
- Cape Final Trail – This is the only one on this list that I did not have a chance to try and is first on my list for a return visit. This 4 mile easy RT hike weaves through ponderosa pine forest on an old jeep road ending in expansive canyon views.
North Rim Highlights
- 4.5 hour drive from Las Vegas
- 5.5 hour drive to South Rim
- Slow down to reduce the risk of collisions with wildlife, especially at night both in and approaching the park
- This area has high wildfire danger. Follow all NPS rules and regulations to practice fire safety and common sense.
Known as the House Rock Bison Herd, the head of bison on the North Rim fluctuates around an estimated 500 strong. They have lived in this valley since the early 1900’s and have more recently become centralized in the park. Bison are the National Mammal of the United States. Given that Bison can run at speeds up to 35 mph and weigh up to 2,000 pounds (for males), these grazing giants are best observed from a distance.
Best Time to Visit:
- Fall for the colors, Aspens, and reduced crowds
- Be aware of overnight temperatures if camping
- National Park Service – Grand Canyon North Rim: https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/north-rim.htm
- North Rim Camping Info: https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/cg-nr.htm
Populus tremuloides – Quaking Aspens
Aspens range from Canada to Mexico, giving them the distinction of having the widest natural range of any Northern American tree species. Within the North Rim boundaries, these trees are found in Boreal Forest at higher elevations.
Aspens are among the first trees to begin regrowth after forest fires. This makes them crucial to the rebirth of ecosystems. They provide shelter to birds and insects, food for mammals, and even building materials for beavers. The tree of the “noisy leaf” brings solace to many species.
Expeditions with Evelyn Exclusives (EEE):
- The National Park Service offers a single permit to camp at the end of Cape Final Trail each night. Check their website for details on how to enjoy this epic location in solitude.
- Twice a day, there is a free shuttle available from the Grand Canyon Lodge to the North Kaibab Trailhead. You can arrange transport in advance at the Lodge’s front desk.
Does North Rim camping make your campground bucket list?
Let me know your thoughts and questions down below. If you make it out to visit the North Rim, I’d love to hear about your trip! Happy Expeditions!