Grand Canyon National Park is home to some of the most grandiose hiking in the whole country. Imagine descending trails into jagged canyons that have been sliced and carved by the sheer strength of the elements, or standing on the precipice of cliffs with stunning views of unobstructed drop offs, or gazing at the stark contrast of chiseled red and orange sedimentary rock on a backdrop of stately, towering, National Forest pines. What most people may not realize is that the Grand Canyon is more than just a desert. It is surrounded by an intricate and unique tapestry that weaves together a fascinating blend of topography and ecosystems, which is what makes this an unbeatable and unparalleled hiking destination. There are a lot of varying ways to see and experience the trails in the Grand Canyon, but not everyone has the desire or ability to hike down in and then back up again. So for those looking for a challenging, yet do-able day hike, that exposes them to the very best this National Park has to offer without any unnecessary distractions, I present this guide to the Widforss Trail on the North Rim of Grand Canyon, including a full trail report from the start of the Widforss Trail trailhead to the completion at Widforss Point.
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Table of Contents
Guide to the Widforss Trail on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
Here’s what you can expect from this guide:
- Background on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
- What to Know Before You Go
- Location of the Widforss Trail
- Overview of the Widforss Trail
- Full Trail Report
- Widforss Point
- Gear Recommendations for the Widforss Trail
- Other Nearby Attractions to the Widforss Trail
Background on the North Rim of Grand Canyon
First off, I want to encourage you to visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, not just the South Rim, where the majority of visitors congregate, for 3 main reasons:
#1:You Will Have the Trails to Yourself at the North Rim of Grand Canyon
Simply put, there are far less tourists at the North Rim versus the South Rim. As in significantly less, even in summer. You will actually stand the chance to find an overlook and have the spot to yourself. With nothing else around except the wind whipping through the gnarled branches and over the cascading slopes of the canyon to keep you company. I can personally attest to this, as I have been able to enjoy Widforss Point on the Widforss Trail almost entirely to myself for a 30 minute break, which is unheard of at the South Rim! There are more opportunities for solitude on the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
You do not need anything more than that. The North Rim Grand Canyon puts on an unrivaled show all on its own, with no extra glitz or glam necessary. When something that simply magnificent occurs in nature, it is best enjoyed without distractions. I can confidently guarantee that you will not have the same experience at the South Rim.
At the South Rim, you will find literal bus loads of tourists, and a visitor’s center that, although it serves an important educational purpose in the National Park, sticks out like a sore thumb against the rugged, natural horizon of the Grand Canyon. The peaceful solitude of the North Rim is replaced by the sounds of selfies, snacking, and socializing at the South Rim.
In a way, a visit to the South Rim can somewhat detract from the sheer magnificence of this canyon, while the North Rim celebrates it to its fullest. The North Rim Grand Canyon will make a hiker and true outdoor appreciator feel at home.
Don’t get me wrong, the South Rim is still awe inspiring and amazing to visit. But know what you are getting into, and know that there are alternatives, like the Widforss Trail, on the North Rim of Grand Canyon!
#2: There is a More Local Feel at the North Rim of Grand Canyon
The main outpost on the outskirts of the North Rim of Grand Canyon is Jacob Lake (Google Map location), a small, rustic clustering consisting of the Jacob Lake Inn and restaurant, a gas station, and Jacob Lake, sprinkled inconspicuously amid the forest. Adjacent to the Jacob Lake Inn you can also find the Kaibab Plateau Visitor Center, the Jacob Lake Ranger Station, the Kaibab Camper Village, and the Jacob Lake Campground. This campground fills up quick in the summer, but not to worry, there are plenty of available National Forest roads to boondock along enroute to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park and the Widforss Trail.
Jacob Lake has a much milder, smaller, local feel to it than the main outposts of Williams, Tusayan, and Flagstaff at the South Rim. At the Jacob Lake Inn, you’ll find local Arizonians in their rv’s and mountain trucks, fueling up on gas and homemade scones before scoping out a campsite or camping spot in the far less competitive areas along the North Rim and its respective Kaibab National Forest access.
#3: “Off the Beaten Path” Experiences and Views
It is true that the South Rim boasts some well known and recognizable trails, such as the Bright Angel Trail and South Kaibab Trail, which happen to both connect to the North Rim as well through the North Kaibab Trail. However, there are so many notable trails along the North Rim that do not get their due, and they deserve a little more of the spotlight! The Widforss Trail is one of these shy, hidden gems along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Furthermore, instead of the tourist buses of the South Rim, driving up to the North Rim contains a humble, scenic drive that takes you past some additionally worthwhile stops, such as:
- Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
- Wupatki National Monument
- Marble Canyon
- Lees Ferry and Glen Canyon Recreation Area
- Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
These spots are perfect add ons to any North Rim of the Grand Canyon hiking itinerary.
Know Before You Go
Here’s what to know before you go to the Widforss Trail on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon:
Location: the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, in Grand Canyon National Park, south of Jacob Lake. (Google Map)
Directions: take Highway 67 south from Jacob Lake, until you reach the turnoff for the Widforss Trail trailhead and parking.
Fees: there is a $35 per vehicle entrance fee into Grand Canyon National Park, good for 7 consecutive days
Hours: the Widforss Trail is open daily
Parking: there is parking at the Widforss Trail trailhead
Facilities: there are vault toilets at the Widforss Trail trailhead
Best Time of Year to Visit: Summer – NOTE: Highway 67 south of Jacob Lake is closed in the winter (typically December 1st – May 1st)
Pet Policy: Pets are NOT allowed on the Widforss Trail
Location of the Widforss Trail
The Widforss Trail is located on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. To get there, follow Highway 89 from Flagstaff towards Jacob Lake. From Jacob Lake, visitors will drive approximately one hour south on Highway 67, also called Grand Canyon Highway.
Insider Tip: Highway 67 is closed in the winter south of Jacob Lake, typically Dec 1st – May 15th
Visitors accessing the trailhead for the Widforss Trail will enter Grand Canyon National Park on Highway 67 and pay the entry fee of $35 per vehicle. The trailhead is a few miles within the park boundaries. The turnoff from Highway 67 is marked with a small sign, and is located right before the North Rim Visitors Center. If you reach this facility, you have gone too far. There is a small parking area, bathroom facilities, and informational bulletin boards at the Widforss Trail trailhead.
Quick Facts about the Widforss Trail
Length: 9.3 miles roundtrip point to point trail
Estimated Time to Complete: 3-4 hours
Elevation Gain: 1,082 feet
Additional Tips: To ensure a safe and responsible hike, whether you are tackling this day hike solo or in a group, follow my beginner’s guide to hiking and hiking mistakes to avoid.
Be sure to check out my gear recommendations for the Widforss Trail at the end!
There are some uneven sections of under footing along this trail, consisting of rocky slabs and tree roots. There is a moderate amount of elevation gain over these 9 plus miles, though the elevation gain is generously spread out, and offers a pretty consistent ascension.
The length of the trail is the most important thing to keep in mind when considering your preparedness level. Some experience with longer distance hiking (5+ miles) would be beneficial for attempting this hike. If you are looking to work your way up to a hike such as this, check out some simple hiking training exercises, as well as starting with a hiking for beginners guide.
Trail Report on the Widforss Trail
The Widforss Trail trailhead begins deep in the forested heart of the Kaibab National Park. At the onset, hikers will find themselves in the midst of thick forest, with looming pines, fir, aspen, and spruce, as well as deafening silence. There is a very slight grade for the first part of the trail, and the elevation gain is slow and consistent. The trail is well marked and mostly flat, with the exception of a few tree roots here and there to watch out for.
This topography continues as hikers traverse the first couple of miles that parallel along Transept Canyon, until the forest begins to open up after the initial few miles and hikers get their first reward. Glints of reds, yellows, and oranges began to seep through the forest growth. Then come the series of overlooks on the left hand side of the trail, that provide slightly obstructed, yet still breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon.
These overlooks have a surprisingly excitable way of sneaking up on you, as you may not expect them to appear whilst hiking through a heavy forest. The overlooks pass one after another pass in fairly quick succession, and each one becomes more impressive and expansive as you continue along the trail. This hike has a way of enticing you to keep going, as the views just keep getting more and more promising as you proceed.
Finally, in one of the most dramatic displays of irony in nature, the snow-capped outline of the highest peak in Arizona, and another one of my favorite hikes in the area, Humphrey’s Peak, is clearly outlined on the horizon, resting immediately above the largest canyon in the United States in the foreground.
After hiking past these series of overlooks, the path veers away from the cliff sides for the second half of the trail, and proceeds through more forest on mostly flat terrain and minimal elevation. The vibrant green grasses blanketing the forest floor here gradually become taller, lusher, and thicker, and lend a more pasture like feel to the hike, allowing visitors to experience yet another unique North Rim ecosystem. Here, depending on the season, you are likely to pass multiple species of wildflowers blooming in the dappled sunlight, and maybe even see some resident deer and other wildlife!
Once the trail begins to gradually ascend again, the forest starts to thin out once more, and canyon views begin to peek through simultaneously. There is evidence of forest burns here, and twisted, barren trees dominate the edge of the path. You will know you are nearing the turn around point of this out and back trail at Widforss Point. Just before the turnaround spot at Widforss Point, you will pass some dilapidated picnic benches on the left, before emerging from the thicket for the final view!
At the final overlook, hikers emerge from the trees and are greeted with a small cluster of purple blossomed shrubs, which enclose a humble wooden post marking the midway or turnaround spot of the Widforss Trail and its respective overlook, Widforss Point.
What is not so humble is the vista immediately behind this marker. This overlook at Widforss Point dominates all the previous ones, with sweeping 360 panoramic views extending down both sides of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and their resident gorges and buttes, with state high point Humphrey’s Peak resting along the horizon.
Insider Tip: a fun way to spend your rest break at Widforss Point is to bring along a topographic map and search out the many different geographical features, such as the Manu Temple and Buddha Temple peaks. The best topographic maps come from MyTopo.
Not only that, but visitors to this little plateau can see clear across the immense canyon, even tracing the trail head of Bright Angel Trail and the South Kaibab trails as they slink and switchback down the opposite edge of the South Rim.
RELATED: Want to explore the Bright Angel Trail more?
I have hiked the Widforss Trail during peak summer months at the Grand Canyon, like June, and even then, I’ve experienced being able to sit with my group unnoticed and alone for a solid 30 minutes at Widforss Point, basking in the northern Arizona sun, before even one other hiker showed up. That kind of solitude is unheard of on most popular National Park trails, especially in the summer.
Further proving the point that the trails on the North Rim of Grand Canyon are one of this National Park’s best kept secrets. A secret that I am admittedly a little hesitant and reluctant to pass on, because I would love to see this part of the park and its pristine trails stay un-obscured by commercialism and free from overcrowding. But nonetheless, experiences like this and views such as these are meant to be shared! Just be sure to enjoy them to their fullest before the word gets out!
Aside from its secluded setting, the main advantage of the Widforss Trail is that it exposes its hikers to the best of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, in a way that a larger majority of hikers of various fitness levels and hiking experience are able to enjoy. Visitors can enjoy the stunning canyon views, without having to delve into the unique hiking challenges that a rim to river hike or rim to rim hike entails, thanks to this trail that parallels the plateau for a majority of the time. There is elevation gain, but it is spread out over over 9 miles, so nothing is too overwhelming. You can complete the entire trail, or turn around early if you want a shorter hike. You can get the best of both this canyon and forest world simultaneously from this hike.
Gear Recommendations for the Widforss Trail
There are specific gear items that are helpful when hiking Grand Canyon trails in particular, and below is a quick summary:
- Water Hydration System: always make sure that you have enough water in the desert. I always hike with at least 3 liters in this Platypus Hydration Bladder. The wide mouth makes filling, cleaning, and drying easy!
- Daypack: for the Widforss Trail, you will want a daypack sufficient to carry your 10 hiking essentials, including plenty of water, hiking snacks, and your other necessities. I recommend the Osprey Daylite daypack or Camelbak Helena daypack. I’ve used these packs all over the Grand Canyon, from the Widforss Trail to the Bright Angel Trail, even on the epic Rim to Rim hike! And they are both water hydration bladder compatible.
- Trail Runners: lightweight, cushioned, and superb grip like my favorites, Hoka One One Speedgoats
- Performance Socks: on a longer, lengthier hike like the Widforss Trail, it is easy to have blisters form if you are not careful. The “twin skin” of my favorite Hilly Twin Skin socks helps to mitigate the friction that can cause blisters when hiking.
- sun protection, including sunscreen and a head covering
Other Nearby Attractions to the Widforss Trail
Below are nearby attractions to the Widforss Trail, divided into 2 categories:
- attractions on the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park
2. attractions nearby but outside of the National Park borders
Nearby Attractions within the Grand Canyon’s North Rim
- North Kaibab Trail
Take the North Kaibab Trail down as far as you want, including all the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon at Bright Angel Campground, or even further to connect to south rim trails and complete one of the toughest hikes in the U.S. on a Rim to Rim hike! Prefer a shorter hike on North Kaibab? There are plenty of good turn around spots along the trail, like the Coconino Overlook and Ribbon Falls.
- Uncle Jim Trail – in close proximity to the Widforss Trail
- The Arizona Trail – the iconic long distance trail in Arizona
- Bright Angel Point Trail – not to be confused with the South Rim’s Bright Angel Trail, this is a short 1 mile, paved, low elevation gain, scenic trail on the North Rim.
- Point Imperial Trail
- Roosevelt Point Trail
- Cape Royal Trail
Nearby Attractions Outside Grand Canyon National Park
- Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
- Wupatki National Monument
- Marble Canyon
- Lees Ferry and Glen Canyon Recreation Area
- Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
RELATED: Want to hike through an ecosystem that includes milky aspens, ageless pines, and old rockslides? Want to be able to brag about standing on the highest point in Arizona? Want to hike a 12,000 foot summit in one day? Then you want to check out my guide to hiking the Humphrey’s Peak Trail, another of my favorite Arizonian trails, located several hours south of the North Rim of Grand Canyon in the iconic mountain town of Flagstaff, Arizona.
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