A cornucopia of color lines Kaibab Plateau roads and trails
By Joanna Dodder Nellans
If you’re accustomed to the Prescott Basin’s backcountry roads, which are chock full of rocks and bumps and inclines, experiencing the seemingly endless smooth, flat unpaved roads that crisscross the vast Kaibab Plateau feels like a dream. This forested island rises abruptly above the Grand Canyon to an elevation of 9,200 feet. “Kaibab” is appropriately a Paiute word meaning “mountain lying down.”
To pour on the beauty, try visiting the plateau during the fall when these dreamy roads are lined with miles of aspens sporting their seasonal golden foliage.
“It’s almost like tunnels of aspen,” observed Matt Switzer, public affairs specialist for the Kaibab National Forest.
Mid-September through mid-October is generally the peak time for fall colors. The perfect photo might frame the resident buffalo herd with this golden backdrop.
“Aspens are the main deciduous trees that visitors will see on the North Rim,” said Elyssa Shalla, North Rim & Canyon District interpreter at Grand Canyon National Park. “Driving Cape Royal Road towards Point Imperial is stunning in the autumn with hillsides of aspens turning color – gold, orange, and sometimes a bit of red!” And since the North Rim gets only about 10 percent of the national park visitors, the drive is even more pleasurable.
A good long cruise down one of these plateau roads to the North Rim can be done in a day if you get up plenty early. If you stay on the paved Kaibab Plateau North Rim Parkway (State Highway 67) for the last leg, it’s about a five-hour drive to the North Rim from Prescott. The 44-mile-long parkway was designated a National Scenic Byway in 1998. It passes through some thick young aspen groves that sprouted after the 2006 Warm wildfire.
“The quaking aspens have just been exploding there,” Matt said.
It’s not a bad idea to have a backup plan in case you want another day in this magical place, so you can further explore more of the shimmering aspen groves via car or on foot.
Alongside camping, there are three lodging options on this relatively remote 1,152-square-mile plateau. All three are located along the parkway: the Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim inside the national park; the North Kaibab Lodge not far to the north of the park; and the Jacob Lake Inn on the north end of the parkway where it meets Highway 89A.
It just so happens that 2023 is the 100th anniversary of the Jacob Lake Inn. So even if you don’t stay overnight, take the opportunity to stop by and munch on one of their regionally famous cookies or other bakery items. All three lodges also feature restaurants.
If You Go
What: Kaibab Plateau fall colors
Where: North side of the Grand Canyon
When: Generally mid-September to mid-October
Services: There are two gas stations on the Kaibab Plateau: one at Jacob Lake Inn and the other near the Kaibab Lodge to the south.
For more information: Grand Canyon National Park: 928.638.7888 and https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/north-rim.htm. Kaibab National Forest – North Kaibab Ranger District: 928.643.7395 and https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/kaibab/recarea/?recid=11697.
Fall color recommendations from the experts:
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK – NORTH RIM
- Cape Royal Road
- Bridle Path between the North Kaibab Trailhead and the Grand Canyon Lodge.
- Widforss Trail also has some nice patches of aspen along with spectacular canyon views.
- The Arizona National Scenic Trail has long corridors of aspen trees, and it is often a quiet and beautiful trail in the autumn.
KAIBAB NATIONAL FOREST-KAIBAB PLATEAU
- Highway 67 (paved)
- Forest Road (FR) 22 – well-maintained wide gravel road, good for all vehicles.
- FR 222 – well-maintained gravel road (may get muddy/have deep puddles after rain). Take FR 22 to FR 270, then turn right onto Forest Road 222. It follows alongside the aptly named Quaking Aspen Canyon. Bonus: this road leads towards the overlooks along the Rainbow Rim.
- FR 610 – well-maintained dirt/gravel road. Drive Highway 67 south just past Demotte Campground and turn left onto FR 610 opposite FR 22. Bonus: FR 610 ends at the Nankoweap Trail parking area with stunning views of the Grand Canyon.
- The Arizona National Scenic Trail #101 from any of the trailheads on highways 89A and 67. For a list of trailheads, go online to https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/kaibab/recreation/hiking/recarea/?recid=32208&actid=50.
- Lookout Canyon Trail #120/121/122 off of FR 22.