I am a lucky soul to live so close to so many amazing desert locations. Honestly I'm not sure I would define it as luck...more like destiny or fate. Fate that I get to live within 90-180 minutes of Lake Powell, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Escalante, Lake Mead, Valley of Fire, the Mohave Desert, Las Vegas...I think you could go to an epic spot every day for a decade in the Southwest and never see the same spot twice. But my absolute favorite desert trip to take in the fall is the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
The Ultimate Desert Road Trip
However, if there isn't a hipster bone in your body (not to be confused with HIP bone), we promise you will fall in love with the trip for the southwest scenery. Much of the drive is lined with the famous red rocks of Southern Utah, until you arrive at the Fredonia junction. After you leave Fredonia, it starts to get just a little desolate as I mentioned and you might be questioning my expertise...but then the road starts to climb and before you know it, you are in the Ponderosa's of the Kaibab National Forest. I love coming to the Grand Canyon North Rim in the fall because the Aspen trees will be turning goldish orange colors by now and the hills will be glowing with beautiful blazing fall hues.
The highway to the National Park entrance is a wide two lane road with passing lanes going up the hillside. If you have four wheel drive, there are some great backroad four wheeling routes that will take you places less traveled. My husband and I once got lost back in the pre-Google map/cell service days in my little red VW Jetta...in the winter...with one of those old paper map things...but we lived to tell about it so that's what matters. I don't recommend taking the back dirt roads unless you have great mapping, lots of water and blankets, possibly a HAM radio and year's supply of food storage, and four wheel drive. Oh and few spare tires.
When You Reach The End You Made It
You'll know you've made it to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on your desert road trip because the road stops. The Highway will not go any further. There is a MASSIVE canyon in the way. It starts up again 12 miles to the south...but to access it by car you've got to drive for another six hours to reach the southern point.
Find yourself a parking spot next to one of the Natural Wonder's of the World and give yourself a minute to take it all in. I get a little light headed every time I am there because of my annoying fear of heights. But even if you are afraid of heights, don't let it hold you back from visiting. There is plenty of trails and walking paths with rails. My favorite thing to do is sit on the patio of the North Rim Lodge and just stare at the cliffs. With a cold beer or glass of wine preferably and a tasty appetizer from the Lodge Restaurant.
I imagine the early settlers who had been traveling for months in wagons and on horseback thinking maybe they were getting closer to their destination, only to come upon a roadblock like this. I think about the brave hikers who venture down the canyon walls to trek across the bottom of the canyon and up the other side. I think about the early civilizations who roamed the edges of the canyon, hunting and foraging to survive. I can't imagine the stories that would be told if the canyon walls could talk...and in places they do with ancient petroglyph rock art.
A Few Tips and Info For Your Desert Road Trip
Depending on your starting point, it is easy to visit the Grand Canyon North Rim in a day. We live just over 2 hours away and have only stayed the night once. However, if you find availability and your schedule allows for it, I highly recommend reserving a room or cabin at the North Rim Lodge. And if you know you want to stay the night and can plan ahead, do everything you can to get a Rim View Cabin. These quaint and cozy cabins perch on the edge of the canyon with only a walking trail separating them from the majestic drop-off. I've always wanted to sit on the porch and watch the sunrise and sunset from the rustic rocking chairs. Maybe next year...
The restaurant is superb in the Lodge and the views are to die for. Be sure to visit the gift shop with a great assortment of hats and t-shirts for memorabilia. Dress warm and bring a light jacket. You will be at a higher elevation than expected and it will get cold at night and in the morning.
Last time we went we passed a herd of American Buffalo just past the park entrance...I was told they've relocated the herd and they aren't in the area any more, but for some reason I don't believe "them". I'm sure there has to be one Nomadic Buffalo left wandering around so keep an eye out for him...
If you love the North Rim as much as I do, please share any tips and tricks for a visit with our readers. If you've hiked the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim, I would love to hear your story.
Thank you so much for reading and please share this article with anyone who might be interested in a visit to the North Rim of the Grandest Canyon of them all!