Bursting with yellow splendor, oak trees in the Kaibab National Forest's Jacob Canyon catch the late-afternoon sunlight.
© Steve Bruno
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Jacob CanyonLooking for solitude? More than likely, you'll be the first person in awhile to hit this trail on the North Rim.
By Rose Houk
Most people know the Kaibab Plateau as the forested promenade that leads to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. And most approach the rising swell from the east side, winding up the road from House Rock Valley to the small settlement of Jacob Lake, which sits at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. There, they gas up, grab a burger and a milkshake, and head to the Canyon's edge.
The west side of the plateau, deep within the Kaibab National Forest, gets far fewer visitors. Instead, this is the working side of the mountain where ranchers run cattle, loggers cut trees, and prospectors once looked to strike it rich. One of the largest side canyons to crease this part of the plateau is Jacob Canyon, about 14 miles from Jacob Lake.
In late summer, storm clouds billow over the brow of the Kaibab. This time of year, however, snow showers are more likely. Either way, beware of changing weather conditions.
A sign at the mouth of Jacob Canyon refers to a "route," open to hikers, bicyclists and horseback riders. It's a sliver of a trail winding up the dry wash, which is layered with small pebbles and overgrown with thorny New Mexican locusts. More than likely, yours will be the first hiking boots in awhile to tackle the unmaintained path. Usually, only deer tracks and horseshoe prints are visible.
Occasional rock cairns mark the way, but mostly, this is a walk up the streambed, with easy footing and a gentle incline. Burnished cliffs scribe the skyline, and in places, the route passes through portals of truck-sized boulders.
The canyon, like other places in the area, bears the name of Jacob Hamblin, the Mormon pathfinder and missionary who began exploring this country in 1858, heading from southern Utah to the Hopi mesas in Northern Arizona in search of native converts and new settlements for Mormon colonists. Guided by Paiutes, Hamblin followed this logical break in the formidable flank of the Kaibab on his first expedition. For another 10 years, he was determined to locate a better, shorter route across the Colorado River, even wrangling the makings of wooden boats across the Kaibab by wagon. After several tries, Hamblin finally pioneered a crossing of the Colorado at modern-day Lee's Ferry.
Jacob Canyon comes with more than history, though. It's also an arboretum with tremendous botanical variety. Dusty sagebrush and cone-heavy piñon pines grow at the mouth of the canyon, yellow-bellied ponderosas appear a little higher up, and then comes a niche of Douglas firs, maples and wild clematis. Snowberries, currants, Apache plumes, fernbushes, paintbrushes, penstemons, lupines and geraniums add to the mix.
As you head up the canyon, the path sashays across the rocky creek, and about a mile in, the canyon forks. Stay left for the main route and continue the ascent as far as you'd like, until raindrops — or even snowflakes — hit the ground. For the return, simply retrace your steps, savoring the views, the plants and the remoteness of the place.
Trail Guideclick to expand
Elevation Gain: 4,500 to 6,500 feet
Getting There: From Flagstaff, follow U.S. Route 89 for 102 miles to Bitter Springs, then take U.S. Route 89A northwest to Jacob Lake. Turn left onto State Route 67, go 0.3 miles south and turn right onto Forest Road 461. The road drops down through Warm Springs Canyon. Take this road 6.4 miles and turn right onto Forest Road 462. In 2.1 miles, take a right onto Forest Road 22. Go another 3 miles to Forest Road 422A; turn right and go 1.1 miles to Forest Road 243 (watch closely for this turn). The road narrows considerably in about a mile and dead-ends at a turnaround at the trailhead.
Travel Advisory: A high-clearance vehicle is advisable for the last mile of unpaved road to the trailhead. Carry water. No amenities.
Information: Kaibab Plateau Visitors Center, www.fs.fed.us/r3/kai or 928-643-7298
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