National Park Road Trip 2011: North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park
Editor's note: As this is the third straight wet, cool May in the Rockies, perhaps it's no surprise that David and Kay Scott were snowed upon during their visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The two spent two nights at Grand Canyon Lodge to update their book, The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges.
It snowed both mornings during our two-night stay at Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. The first morning was a relatively light snow that coated the lodge roofs white by the time we awoke. The next day we experienced a real snow that continued for hours and covered everything. This was quite a change from the warm and sunny weather we enjoyed the previous two days at Lake Powell Resort near Page, Ariozona.
The 4,000-foot gain in altitude between Lake Powell and the North Rim results in a much different climate and the forecast of brisk winds with rain or snow had proven accurate.
The drive between Page and the North Rim is quite scenic. This is our sixth visit to the North Rim, and each time we comment to one another that we had forgotten how beautiful the drive was. There are a lot of other things we seem to forget as we grow older, so this wasn’t anything unusual.
On our second night at the North Rim we presented an evening program about national park lodging in the lodge auditorium. This is always fun since guests at a lodge are often considering trips to other parks and stays in other lodges. With the lodge being in such an isolated location, the auditorium gets a lot of use as guests are searching for things to do. The rangers here do an excellent job of providing interesting programs throughout each day.
A visit to the North Rim produces a much different experience from that of the South Rim. Limited facilities and an isolated location result in a fraction of the visitors found on the much busier South Rim. Canyon views, while still spectacular, are less dramatic on the North Rim. Actually, there is a feeling of being in a completely different park. A visit here isn’t necessarily better than a visiting to the South Rim, just different. So different, in fact, that it is worthwhile to visit both sides of the rim.
Lodging on the North Rim consists of three types of cabins, plus a limited number of rooms in two motel-type buildings. No guest rooms are in the main lodge. Most cabins were constructed in the late 1920s when the original lodge was built. Western Cabins are generally considered to be the top accommodations. These cabins are fairly large and each have two queen beds. Similar cabins are at Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks.
Pioneer cabins each have two bedrooms, one on each side of a bathroom. This trip marked our first stay in a Pioneer and we found it very comfortable. The second bedroom was perfect for storing luggage and working on the computer. Frontier Cabins are quite small and the least expensive cabin option. Rates range from $113 per night for the motel units to $172 for Western Cabins.
Like the lodges at Bryce Canyon and Zion, Grand Canyon Lodge was built by the Union Pacific Railroad. The first lodge on the North Rim burned in 1932 and had been replaced on the same site with the current lodge by 1936. Fortunately, all but a few of the cabins escaped damage by the fire. The Union Pacific’s operations at Bryce, Zion, and the North Rim were eventually given to the U.S. government.
The main lodge building houses the registration area, a beautiful dining room, a sun room, and an auditorium. A large terrace with chairs skirts the back of the building. Weather permitting, this is where many guests spend time reading, talking, and gazing at the spectacular landscape. On several previous visits we walked to the terrace early in the morning and sipped coffee while watching the rising sun produce a rainbow of colors on the canyon walls. The wind and cold kept us from doing it on this trip.
A word of warning: North Rim accommodations are fully booked nearly the entire season. If you wish to stay here, be certain to make a reservation very early. Consider that our visit here was marked with windy and cold conditions and even the campground is at full capacity.
As an aside, we stopped at the lodge gas station on the way out. We had seen the price of regular posted at $3.40 and figured it might be a mistake. The attendant told us that they were still using last year’s price at the station, but would probably change it later in the day.
From the North Rim we're heading for Bryce Canyon, where we will stay one night at Bryce Canyon Lodge. Then it is on to Zion for a one-night stay in Zion Lodge where it should be warmer.