A two-hour-long drive from Zion National Park, the forested North Rim of the Grand Canyon offers a shady alternative to the rocky South Rim. In summer, the national parks of the Southwest get unbearably hot, so we went in early November
. Depending on how much snow falls, the North Rim sometimes closes in October, but the visitor center was open when we went. It was cold enough in the evenings that we were obliged to wear our winter jackets, but in the afternoon we hiked in T-shirts. (It gets hot in the day - bring lots of water!) Another advantage of visiting the North Rim instead of the South Rim is that, because only ten percent of all tourists traveling to the Grand Canyon visit the North Rim, it is not crowded. The campground was closed during our visit; consequently, we camped at the much warmer Zion. The following trails we hiked in a day, so none are very long or strenuous - no one wanted to hike 21 miles to the South Rim!Bright Angel Point
Even though Mikaela hates heights (she is terrified of Ferris wheels, although they are Katrianna's favorite amusement park rides), this hike allowed for good photo-taking opportunities. The view is best when seen in the morning because air pollution worsens in the afternoon, making it harder to see. The paved, often narrow trail climbs though switchbacks, using fences in some spots and only shrubs in others to block the steep cliffs, to the viewpoint. The Colorado River can be seen from the overlook, still carving away at the canyon it formed. Coconino Overlook is more scenic and
less scary but Bright Angel Point is more dramatic. Of course, nothing is as terrifying as the cracked Angel's Window, but this hike will not be enjoyed by people with acrophobia.
People who hike from rim to rim pass this pretty panorama on their way up or down. We only went 1.5 miles round trip along the North Kaibab trail, which leads through switchbacks into the canyon. It is very easy on the way down and, although the return trip is uphill, it is not very difficult even coming out. The unpaved trail goes through a forest and over a fallen log slanting across the trail. For a short part of the walk, you travel under overhanging boulders (which look scary but assuredly will not fall on your head). Katrianna found it fun to yell things into the canyon and listen to the echoes. The view of the river was Mikaela's favorite scene of the canyon because it was shady and forested. Best of all, she was not scared.Cliff Springs Trail
Driving along the paved road to Cape Royal, you will see a pullout with a hard-to-spot sign reading, "Cliff Springs." If you park there and cross the road, you will see a flight of pine-needle covered steps leading down into the forest. We hiked this trail at dusk, when it is mysteriously shadowy and very nice (even though it gets cold after sunset). A few steps down the trail, we came to an ancient Puebloan granary. The old walls had partly crumbled, revealing the inside chambers. Continuing down the trail, we hiked though a subalpine
forest of aspen, pine and fir trees, a habitat we had not expected to find in Arizona. But the actual "spring" was the best part. To access it, we had to walk under a rock ledge that in parts was dripping water - and growing mold - across damp, sandy patches and through a small stream (which Dad found slippery, and proved it by almost falling in). The sunset was making the rocky hills on the other side of the valley glow with a soft pink light. It was definitely a worthwhile trail.Cape Royal and Angels Window
Those with a fear of heights should not attempt to walk out on Angels Window. Cape Royal Overlook was also scary - in Mikaela's perspective - but is tolerable to acrophobics and will not leave them with quaking knees. We went a few steps out onto the window (which in national parks does not refer to a software program, instead meaning a narrow rock formation with a hole in the center). From our viewpoint you could not see straight down but on either side was a sheer drop with a frightening panorama. When we had returned to the first view of the window and were looking back at it, we were startled to see the crack that had been directly under our feet. The window is prettiest at sunset, when it is softly pink with the fading light. Cape Royal was another overlook and is easily confused with Bright Angel. The view from the point, however, is worth the short walk.To Keep Passengers Entertained On Long Drives
Get a copy of Brighty of the Grand Canyon
, by Marguerite Henry. It's a short (224 pages long) novel based on the life of a real burro named Brighty. In the book, Brighty has many adventures. In one chapter, the burro accompanies Theodore Roosevelt on a mountain lion hunt and in another he is the first to walk across a bridge spanning the Grand Canyon. His owner, a prospector named Old Timer, was killed by a miner who wanted the valuable minerals on Old Timer's property. In the end, Brighty and his new owner, Uncle Jim, take the miner into court for a trial. The story is especially interesting to visitors to the Grand Canyon. WARNING: This book is extremely hard to put down and will inevitably be the cause of quarreling between readers in the backseat, who turn to questionable means to get the book (including hiding it between the folds of a jacket or snatching it from another reader's lap when they were not holding it). Nevertheless, it is still worth getting.