Which Grand Canyon Rim is the Best?
For every 10 visitors who arrive at the Grand Canyon, nine will go to the South Rim and one will head to the North Rim. Since the first sightseers arrived in stagecoaches in the 1850s the Grand Canyon has essentially meant the “South Rim.” When the railroads arrived a few decades later and began building hotels, it was the South Rim where the steam engines chugged into the station. The first facilities weren’t constructed on the North Rim until the 1920s.
So does that mean the South Rim is better than the North Rim? The answer depends on many factors: what experience you are seeking, when you go to the Grand Canyon, when you are traveling and the outdoors abilities of those in your party.
The Grand Canyon Rim for the Tourists
All of the development at the Grand Canyon is huddled on the South Rim, known as the “Village.” It is here you can find food, gas, and an assortment of accommodations. When you see dramatic images of the canyon on television and in the media, they were most likely obtained on the South Rim.
The South Rim is planned to maximize as much Grand Canyon with as little effort in as short a time as possible. The trail along the canyon edge is largely paved and accessible to all. There are more than twenty viewpoints to soak in those famous vistas from the South Rim. The Bright Angel Trail leading down to the Colorado River from the center of the Grand Canyon Village is wide and well-maintained.
The Rim for Those Seeking a Bit More Adventure
Life is totally different ten miles across the canyon on the North Rim. For starters, the elevation is considerably higher. At the South Rim you are 7,000 feet high. Most of the time on the North Rim hikers are at least 8,000 feet above sea level, topping out at Point Imperial at 8,803 feet. The South Rim remains open year-round and enjoys a four-season climate, while the North Rim is only open form May 15 through the end of October.
The only paved access is a 44-mile jaunt from US 89A at Jacob Lake south across the wooded Kaibab Plateau. It is a long way to come just to look into the Grand Canyon with only three viewpoints available. However the views are quite different. Where the South Rim dazzles with overlooks that permit gazing deep into the canyon – even the rapids in the Colorado River are visible to the naked eye – the North Rim vistas emphasize more of the canyon’s stunning width. In the fall, the show put on by the aspens, maples and oak trees is as big a draw as the canyon itself. The lower South Rim, by contrast, is dominated by Ponderosa pines.
The relative peace and quiet and escape from the crowds on the North Rim are a clarion call to outdoor adventurers. There are more above-the-rim trail choices here than on the South Rim and even when the wide metal gate swings shut on AZ 67 the national park is still open for exploration. A multi-day journey can be supported by a professional outfitter such as Four Season Guides. The reward for this frosty adventure is having one of the wonders of the world at your fingertips. That’s the general idea of the North Rim and why that one person in ten travels there.