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My Favorite Fall Desert Trip

grand canyon road trip travel

fall desert road trip grand canyon

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

North Rim Grand CanyonJust the drive to the Grand Canyon North Rim is a hipster's road trip dream come true. You pass through the roadside towns of Apple Valley, Utah; Colorado City, Fredonia, and Jacob Lake, Arizona, all of which are ripe for Instagram virility potential. #roadtrip If old gas stations, long stretches of two lane highways, and slightly desolate yet simplistic beautiful desert scenery are your thing, your inner hipster will geek out on the drive. 


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. 

winter dirt roadThe 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. 

north rim lodge view

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...

nomadic buffalo

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!

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  • Mary Russell on

    Wow, I agree with everything you’ve written here. I think I missed the “cut off date” as I’m pretty sure the road into the canyon closed in the winter months and here it is November already! Reading this makes me want to pack up our Suburban and set off for the North Rim! I think they have recently added a lookout “ramp” that actually sticks out over the canyon rim that brave souls can peer fat down into the abyss from the glass or screen bottom!
    One year, when we lived in the little “hamlet called “Cane Beds”, which was a short drive to the North Rim (maybe an hour), we took an amazing road trip which began there then a little side trip to the scenic Sedona, AZ and my favorite old west town, Jerome, about 20 miles past Sedona which is perched atop a tall mountain and had fallen into decay and ghost town status until abunch if artists and “hippies” took the challenge to rebuild it into one of the most fun tourist towns ever! I’ll write more about Jerome sometime if you’d like it. From there we actually stopped over night at the little known, West Rim of the Grand Canyon and camped overnight down by the Colorado River, which cuts all the way through the canyon and history says the river actually carved out this masterpiece before recorded time. You need to make reservations with a Native American Tribe who live in the town you pass through to camp at the West Rim, only so many are allowed down there. It was a fun trip but didn’t have the massive views the North or South Rim do of the steep canyon walls.
    The next day, we set off for the South Rim, which felt very congested and touristy to me. It paled in comparison to me to the primitive feeling of the North Rim but attracts hundreds of people daily, has amazing campgrounds and I’m sure, if we’d spent more time there would have had a lot more to see and do than what we found. There were lots of tour busses and throngs of people from all over the world there so it must have been a great attraction as well,
    Our last leg of this “grand circle” road trip brought us driving past Lake Mead, my old stomping grounds since I grew up in Las Vegas. I learned to swim in these waters and I told my husband we had to stop so I could dip my feet in the waters lapping the shores. The feel of Lake Mead around my ankles brought memories crashing back over the many years I’d come out here almost every weekend with my family in our boat or even with a friend to swim and play on the raft we had to swim out to. I vividly recall my friend and I sitting on the rope separating the swimming area from the boats and waiting as the sun went down and it grew pitch black. My mother turned on the car headlights of the car to guide us back to the shore.
    Yes, this was a fascinating road trip! I’m so excited to do it again, maybe I’ll ask my husband if we can forgo our daily work schedule if remodeling some buildings on our property, trying desperately to finish up before winter is upon us and all outdoor work comes to a screeching halt!
    I HAVE to set out on the road again and go SOMEWHERE! It’s been too long since we’ve gotten away and followed our noses somewhere, anywhere!

  • Mary Russell on

    Great article! I agree with you on this being an awesome road trip, we’ve done it a few times. When we lived in Cane Beds, AZ…it was only about an hour’s drive. Took “Grams” there once. Your photos are absolutely stunning! Oh, I think they e built this “walk out” now where you can go out on this overhang that protrudes from the side and look straight down into the canyon. Wow! Pretty scary!
    After reading this, I think we’ll plan a trip there ASAP. Better hurry because it closes in the winter.

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