Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Grand Canyon, North Rim 2013

What a great idea!  Camp and ride on the North Rim. The horse campground here is available with a "Special Uses" Permit. It is limited to 6 horses and 6 people.  The cost this year is $10 for the permit and $5 per night. Senior Access Pass is not applicable to this, but it will get you in the park for free.  

Here is the website for more information:  The North Rim is open from about May 15 to about October 15, depending on when the snow closes the road.  We got our reservation in late February.  At that time, we were told the month of June was "wide open."  I would have loved to look at something like this blog before we went.  We really had very little idea of what to expect. 

June 17:  It took some time to check in with the Backcountry office to get the instructions and directions to the horse area campsite.  We had the required travel papers (negative Coggins, etc.) for the horses. We were given the combination to the gate (yes, a gated private campsite) and instructions on how to avoid the mules on the trails. We found the campsite and unloaded the horses into their temporary home.  The camp had probably not been used this year judging from the grass in it. Horses made quick use of the grass.  Roomy corral with partial shade and a large water tub.  The campsite was absolutely wonderful!  Plenty of room all to ourselves.  Three picnic tables, plenty of tent sites, three nice outhouses that had hardly been used at all and were roomy. We were about a hundred yards from the mule barns, so we could occasionally see glimpses of the mules coming and going.  We were allowed to ride down into the canyon with our permit, but it had to be at certain times according to the mule schedule.    Maybe next time.  There is no cell service, thus no internet. (Update:  There IS cell service now at the lodge.) So, be prepared. There are pay phones at the lodge. Showers are available at the people campground 2 miles away.  $1.50 for 3 minutes.

Click on any photo to open enlarged images.

The horses' corral...

Ferns right next to our camp

view of the camp site

View of the canyon from about 100 yards from our camp

            We noticed there were almost no flies and no mosquitoes.  Yay! And we didn't have to worry about bears or squirrels. The first night was very cold, around 34, but the day time temperatures were in the 70s.  It was breezy most of the time, but comfortable.

            Our ride on the first day was the Uncle Jim Trail. A nice, partial loop ride through forests and up to some rim views.

June 18, 2013, Total distance: 5.11 miles, Maximum altitude:8,517 feet;  Total elevation change: 900 feet; Trail condition: 70% dirt, 30% rocky

  The second day's ride was later in the afternoon on the Ken Patrick trail through the forest. This particular section of the trail was the same as the beginning of the Uncle Jim trail.  Once past the mule turnaround, it was very little used and we saw no one else.  Lovely, secluded forest riding, limited to hiking and horseback riding only.  (Note:This trail DOES have spectacular views of the canyon, but we didn't know this until the next year we rode further.) Who would imagine this much solitude so close to the crowds at the Grand Canyon?  
June 19, 2013; Total distance: 5.37 miles; Maximum elevation: 8,522 feet; Total elevation change: 982 feet; Trail condition: 70% dirt, 30% rocky

             The next morning for the third day's ride, We packed lunches then loaded the horses and drove to Point Imperial.  Beautiful morning.  We were the only ones there when we arrived. Here is link to maps:  Ken Patrick Trail

June 20, 2013; Total distance: 3.34 miles; Highest elevation: 8,765 feet; Total elevation change: 636 feet; Trail condtion: 50% dirt, 35% rocky and 15% hell.

 A few other tourists trickled in as we got ready.  My plan was to ride down the Ken Patrick trail, which according to the map intersected with the Cape Royal road after about 3 miles.  Riding down and back at 6 miles seemed like a good option with the trail close to rim with supposedly good canyon views.  We began and it was just simply wonderful with the changing views of the canyon as we rode. 

 After about a half mile, the trail turned north and became somewhat rocky…no big deal. (I WOULD RECOMMEND TURNING BACK HERE.)
  Then, all of a sudden the trail got very steep. I watched as Bob and Shrek negotiated the heavy dirt and logs that were originally steps of some sort.  They were in disrepair, some rolling off and some disintegrating.  Both of us were already so far down and there was NO place to turn around.  We had to proceed.  Bob dismounted and suggested that I do the same.  We were on such precarious ground that Ellie didn't want to.  She stepped on a log that gave way.  I couldn't get her to hold still enough and there was no place for me to dismount.  We went forward a little, even though she was very much hesitant.  There was a 90 degree turn nearer the bottom and I was able to dismount and proceed leading her.  She followed, but lost footing as logs crumbled and often bumped into me.  I thought at one point she would come crashing down and push me ahead of her.  Adrenalin rush.  Bob had made it down to the bottom of the ravine and then I did too.  Whew, that was intense.  I wondered how we would ever get back up.  We both mounted again, traveled a few yards, then came to a place where the trail went between two trees that were extremely close together and there was no place to go around.  Bob said he didn't think we could get through, but he dismounted and led Shrek through.  Made it.  I thought I could get through if I put my legs up on Ellie's neck.She would have none of that.  So, I dismounted again and attempted to lead her through.  I had to put the saddlebags on top.  She came through, barely, scraping the sides.  The trail then went along a steep hillside with no room to mount,  a drop off on one side and heavy thorn thicket on the other.  So, lead it was.  At one time, this trail probably had logs as there were metal stakes every few feet.  Now these were bare and dangerous.  A horse stepping on one could puncture a hoof.  This went on for about a hundred yards.  A couple of times, I stumbled in the crumbly dirt, trying to lead a horse.  I went into a thorn thicket.  One time, Ellie's back legs slipped off the hillside and I thought she would go down and take me with her. (This was supposedly a "maintained" trail.)  Unfortunately, I did not get photos of this dangerous area. 
 After about 15 minutes, we came upon a clearing where the trail opened up again and we were able to rest and remount.  I said "No way am I going back that way."  Bob said we had no choice and I said the road intersected this trail at 2 miles (according to the sign) and I would stay with the horses, while Bob hitch-hiked his way back to get the trailer. We proceeded to some more beautiful views, but the trail was lightly used and was overgrown with locust thorns.

 We reached the 2 mile mark (according to the GPS) and no road intersection.   Keep going.   At about 3.1 miles,THERE WAS THE ROAD!  There were about 10 rock stairs to it, but there was a place to hang out in the shade with grass for the horses.  Even though we had only gone 3 miles, it seemed like 10, physically and emotionally.
 I waited while Bob grabbed a water bottle and a couple of granola bars and began hiking along the road, looking for a ride.     He said expect him to be gone about 2 hours if he ended up hiking the whole way.  He was actually only gone about 40 minutes.  He got a ride at the intersection back up to Point Imperial, picked up the trailer and drove back to get us.  We loaded the horses and back to camp for lunch and naps.  We were both thrashed.
(If you want to do the last portion of the trail without the dangerous areas, I would recommend parking at the place where we came out.  There is room for one trailer parked here. Refer to the map above to our take out point).
  Later in the afternoon, we went to the People Campground (about 3 miles away) for showers and then went to the Lodge to wait for our 6 pm dinner reservation. I recommend dinner at the lodge.  The food was good and priced within reason. Here is the link to the lodge with menus:

The view from our dining table at the lodge.

All in all, we loved this trip and definitely plan on going back.  We now know what parts of the trail to avoid and can try some of the ones we missed the first time around.  Be sure to take a look at my other post on riding the North Rim on mules.



  1. Great info! How do I subscribe to your blog?

    1. I now have 2 options to subscribe listed, one by email and one by posts.

    2. Thank you Judy! I now subscribe to both :)