Until James told me about the Lodge at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon several years ago, I had never heard of it. Apparently that's not that uncommon. A lot of people visit the South Rim of the Canyon, but not very many make the drive all the way around through Utah and Northern Arizona to the North Rim. No doubt, that's in part because the 1937 lodge, cabins and campgrounds are only open seasonally - from May 15 to October 15. The altitude of the North Rim is quite a bit higher than the South Rim, (8200 ft.) so it's snowed in the rest of the year.
We took our seven and ten year old nieces with us and spent three nights at the lodge, stopping for the night in Vegas on the way out and back. It was the longest they'd ever been away from their parents and they had to miss three days of school, but I figured it was worth it to see one of the natural wonders of the world.
The lodge is sort of sneaky, in that when you arrive, park and walk in - you still haven't seen the canyon yet. Then you go through the lobby and walk out back and find this waiting for you...
The first thing the girls was run down to this viewpoint just behind the lodge - that's them waving. They absolutely loved it - the older one kept exclaiming, "It's so beautiful here!"
The interior of the lodge is pretty swell too. It features the world's largest Navajo Rug - complete with documentation...
Some fantastic light fixtures hanging from the beamed ceilings...
and a classic National Park Lodge dining room with huge windows looking directly into the Canyon. This was a very popular destination in the evenings.
The main event at the North Rim is the sunset, and the place to be is the sundeck. On either side of the small indoor lobby are large stone patios with low walls and lots of bentwood chairs and tables. The jockeying for the best seats can get pretty intense, but the view is almost as good from a few feet back, and if you are willing to get there early or wait it out, you can almost always find a spot.
They have cocktail service on the deck, and you can also bring your own drinks or food over from the deli in front of the lodge - we ordered a pizza and ate it out there on our last night. One thing I really liked about this place was the laissez faire attitude. You could walk around with a drink in your hand, move the furniture around on the deck, climb on the rocks, go for a night hike to stargaze, pretty much whatever you wanted - and nobody was going to say boo. We even turned the girls loose for a couple of hours at a time (with a walkie talkie they could use to call us if need be) to do their "Junior Ranger" activities. They were sworn in on the last day...
The photographic opportunities were endless - everywhere you turned, everyone was taking pictures, all the time.
The lodge sits literally perched on the edge of the canyon and all of the accommodations are in cabins spread out on either side along the rim. There are about 30 Western Cabins - the nicer ones with front porches, and about four times as many Pioneer and Frontier cabins across the road. Those are a little more basic, but some offer two bedrooms, and since there are more of them they're easier to come by. There are also a few "motel" rooms in a building that used to be employee housing. The lodge takes reservations thirteen months in advance, and it's a good idea to plan ahead. The Western Cabins are in high demand. The "rim view" cabins with porches directly overlooking the canyon are generally booked the day they become available.
The Western Cabins each have two double beds, a little push button fireplace, a desk and small table with two chairs. There's a little closet/vanity room with a mirror and mini-bar sized refrigerator, and a small bathroom with pedestal sink and shower/tub. The best feature is the porch with rocking chairs - we spent lots of time on ours. The lodge was also just steps away, and we spent quite a bit of time on the sundeck - especially before and after dinner.
The evenings are lovely - on our first night they had a fire in the enormous outdoor fireplace. On the second, they turned out all of the lights for stargazing and we whiled away the evening spotting satellites and shooting stars.
We took the girls out on a little hike along the Transept Trail - which runs around by the Frontier and Pioneer cabins and over to the camp ground, where we caught the Bridle Trail back to the lodge.
They were good sports and had a ball taking pictures with the Polaroid instant camera - though I'm pretty sure their favorite part was the ice cream stop at the campground General Store. (Which is quite nice and has free Wi Fi.)
On the second day, we drove around to Cape Royal - on the opposite side of Roaring Springs Canyon - to check out a different view. We stopped at Roosevelt Point on the way, and hiked out to the beautiful spot above - literally clambering through the bushes and over rocks in some places. (I still have the scratches on my legs to prove it!)
At Cape Royal we walked out to the viewpoints to see the Colorado River, Angel's Window, Vishnu Temple, Freya Castle, and even the watchtower on the opposite side of the canyon. It was well worth the 45 minute drive.
After that, we backtracked and did a four mile round trip hike to Cape Final - a rock outcropping that hangs out over the canyon at one of its highest points. It was an amazingly beautiful spot if you have time for a two hour hike.
They had good strong cocktails, a nice beer selection (Lagunitas IPA and decent beers from the Grand Canyon Brewing Company) and good, strong, organic coffee in the mornings. The soft serve machine in the deli was fun. Dinner in the lodge is ok if you stick with the basics - I think they grill their steaks on a real wood-fired grill. The pastries and pizza are all made with the same frozen bread dough - which is efficient if not all that tasty. Skip the Grand Canyon Cookout Experience. It does not live up to it's grandiose name.
Overall, the food reminded me of what you might get at a college dorm cafeteria. Not something you'd cross the street for if there were a lot of other options, but of course here there are no other options. You don't go to eat anyway though - you go for the view, to spend time with friends and family, to relax and enjoy. If it's really important to you, all of the rooms have a fridge - just pack a cooler with some fruit, charcuterie and wine, and have lots of picnics!
Last year we vacationed over Labor Day weekend in another beautiful remote location in a National Park - read all about it here!