By Casey Cordeiro
Everyone has their favorite ride destinations around the world. Some spots are sandy, some have mountains, and some are in vast deserts. We like a bit of everything, and that’s why this specific ride is so special. It might not be in the desert, but it has fast roads that wind through the mountains. It might not have the sand, but it has some of the most epic views of ancient cliffs and deep canyons. Welcome to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
It’s a magical place, and if you haven’t been to the North Rim before, it’s a place that should absolutely be on your bucket list.
Sure, it’s a great place to explore by passenger car, but there is something extra special about getting off the beaten path, taking your UTV on the trails, and finding a camp spot that smothers all over camp spots in terms of scenery. The North Rim delivers, and in this place, you can literally camp on the edge of the Grand Canyon, one of the most special views on the planet. So, what are you waiting for?
No matter if you come from the North or the South, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is accessed via Highway 89A in Northern Arizona. You can get to the 89A from the south or east via Highway 89 from Flagstaff, AZ. Or, if you’re coming from the west (i.e. Las Vegas) or north (i.e. Salt Lake City), then you’re going to get off the I-15 on Highway 9 near St. George, UT. Follow it east to Highway 59, then to Highway 389. You’ll then jump onto the 89A towards the North Rim. There is a T in the road at Jacob Lake. Fuel up here at the Chevron and follow these directions…
First, we need to determine how long you want the off-road portion of your ride to be. If you want a hundred + mile ride and the longest stretch of trails, then you should park by the Jacob Lake Ranger Station off Forest Road (FR) 461 – these “FR” roads could also be marked “NF”, as in National Forest; the terms are universal and you only need to reference the numbers. To get there, go south on Highway 67 from the Kaibab Plateau Visitor Center in Jacob Lake for about ⅓ of a mile. Turn right onto FR 461 for about ⅔ of a mile and you’ll see Jacob Lake, the Ranger station, and the Kaibab Camper Village on your left. If you want a place to leave your trailer in a campground, this Kaibab Camper Village is a great place to stage with direct access riding to the trails. If you want a more primitive experience, then continue with your truck and trail on FR 461 until you see a secure pull out on the right hand side. You can primitive camp pretty much anywhere in this forested area, and there are some great, pre-cut out campsites in the area. We chose one and were plenty comfortable leaving our truck and trailer here for the night. Just be sure you don’t have any food inside the truck as critters might try to claw their way in.
If you want to enjoy a shorter ride and be closer to the canyon, you can pretty much pull off on any Forest Road along Highway 67 south, as long as its before the main entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park. To get a full view of the canyon, you’ll want to park on the West side of the highway (right). Again, if you take one of the Forest Roads with your vehicle and trailer (they are all quite smooth and hard packed in this area), you’ll be able to find a plethora of primitive camping spots to park and enjoy some beautiful scenery.
Since we parked off of FR 461 near Jacob Lake, that’s where we’ll start this approximate 110 mile journey…
Once you unload in the surrounding of the beautiful trees and Kaibab forest, it’s time to ride! Make sure you are fully gassed up as mileage quickly accumulates on these smooth, throttle-happy roads. Take extra fuel if you can, too.
To take the most direct route, you need to go West on FR 461 until you hit FR 462. Take this FR south (Left at the intersection) and follow it. There are SO many Forest Roads that cut off on the right and left that it is almost impossible to follow them all (you’ll run out of fuel before you run out of places to explore). For our route, we continued down FR 462 (south) and then took the following succession of Forest Roads to reach our final destination: 206 (south), 609 (generally south), 233 (west). The 233 takes you to the edge of the North Rim and gives you a panoramic view of some great canyons. You won’t be able to see the Colorado River from here, though, so you’ll have to keep exploring if you want to find it. And, keep in mind, there are plenty more roads to travel down that could (and probably do) have better views than the great one we enjoyed at the end of 233. This area is a real gem to explore!
On the return trip, here are the roads we ventured on: 233 (east), 270 (north), 462 (north), 641 (north), 429 (north), 282 (north), 212 (west, but only for a short time), 282 (north). The 282 will take you back to the Jacob Lake area. When you initially park in this area, be sure to mark your vehicle location in your GPS, or remember to notice how far you went when you passed Jacob Lake in your street vehicle on the 461. Follow the 461 back to your vehicle park spot.
Keep in mind – this riding area requires you to be prepared for anything. Having enough fuel, spare parts, first aid kit, and water/food is essential. Make sure your UTV is prepped and ready before you get here. Also, make sure you track your route on a GPS system or navigation app on your mobile device. Garmin, Magellan, and Lowrance make great portable and in-car navigation systems, or you can use mobile apps like Avenza or LeadNav to track and map out your routes.
The terrain here consists of hard pack dirt with the occasional washout. From a driver’s perspective, it is fairly easy terrain to navigate, and it is also great fun for those who like to venture through forested terrain and have some fun with sliding a UTV around. Be careful around the tight corners for oncoming traffic – these are all two-way trails. Also, deer and other large animals are prominent here. Make sure you have plenty of room to stop or veer out of the way of animals in the trail. Overall, the terran is easy and great fun to drive on!
At the end of FR 233, there is a large, flat camping area to post multiple tents. The road in is a bit tight for wider vehicles – a 72” wide UTV will make it, but you’ll just have to navigate through the trees. There are also tall trees in this area so you can hang your food at night – you don’t want any animals to get into your supplies. Bring some rope or an extra tie down with you to do this.
Along with this camping spot, I have mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again – there are plenty of camping spots in this trail system. If you don’t want to camp on the edge of the canyon (a fear of heights is a real issue for many people…), then you’ll want to choose a camp spot that is situated along one of the main roads away from the canyon edge.
As with any time you are camping, please “pack it in, pack it out” with all of your trash. There are no dumpsters out here, so please be prepared to take all of your trash out with you. Bring a small shovel to properly dispose of human waste, too.
BEST TIMES TO VISIT
At 8000 feet in elevation, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is closed for the winter months (November to early May). This is due to heavy snow that will blanket the area.
With that in mind, the warmest months will be June, July, and August. June and early July are probably the safest months to go visit. This is because the monsoon storms kick up in August and September, mostly, and the potential for heavy rains in the area is a daily occurence. If you like the rain and some great lightning storms, then these 2 months are a great time to visit (the pictures that you can get off the rim are great as well). But, if you like to play it safe and enjoy the warmest weather that the North Rim has to offer, then visit in June and July.
No matter where you go in this area, there are SO many places to visit. We decided to head out through some pretty straight and easy roads because we didn’t want to take a chance of running into issues along our route. Plus, we only had a day and a half to spend here as we ventured to Lake Powell and other surrounding, equally as awesome, riding destinations!
You can get more information at the Kaibab Plateau Visitor Center, which is right at the T-intersection where you turn south towards the park entrance. There are paper maps here of the trail systems, which are always handy to have in case something goes wrong with your digital devices.
Also, be advised that cell service is spotty out here at best. When you’re on the rim of the canyon, you might pick up some of the cell towers that are located on the South Rim, but the service won’t be great. So, pack all of the necessities with you before you leave your truck – tools, spare tire, first aid kit, extra blankets (it can get cold at night), extra fuel, and a tow rope.
If you don’t like the “way out” destinations or tent camping, then this might not be the place for you. But, if you like to take your UTV on epic adventures that can be a single night or span multiple days, this is one heck of a place to visit. Make sure you plan it out and take the necessary precautions, like having someone know where you are going before you leave.
One thing we can guarantee – the camping spots and the views don’t dissapoint!!