Grand Canyon National Park
By Robert Stieve
“The North and the South.” Mention that to most Americans and they’ll start rattling off names like Gettysburg, Fredericksburg … and maybe even Ken Burns. In Arizona, the North and the South are two rims of the Grand Canyon, and they’re very different. Especially the hikes. On the South Rim, the trails are usually crowded — think South Kaibab and Bright Angel. On the North, they’re not. If you prefer the latter, head for the Uncle Jim Trail.
Located a few miles north of the Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim, this trail is named for “Uncle Jim” Owens, a game warden who reportedly killed more than 500 mountain lions in an attempt to strengthen the area’s deer population. But the plan backfired. Without any predators, the deer population exploded and, as a result, thousands of deer died of starvation. Today, things are somewhat back to normal, and this trail is a good way to see it for yourself.
Like other trails on the North Rim, Uncle Jim winds through a mix of ponderosa pines, white firs, Douglas firs, blue spruce and quaking aspens, as well as ferns and grasses and pine needles. The first mile of the trail parallels the Ken Patrick Trail, so don’t be confused. As you get rolling, check out the views of Roaring Springs Canyon to your right. They’re incredible. After about 20 minutes, you’ll come to a point where the two trails split. Stay to the right for Uncle Jim, which begins with a gentle downhill run toward a lush drainage below. Deer must love this spot.
From there, the trail heads up the other side of the small drainage, climbing about 200 feet, and continues to another intersection on your right. This is where the Uncle Jim loop begins. The route to the right is hard to find, but if you miss it, don’t worry. You’ll still be on the trail. You’ll just be doing the loop in a clockwise rotation. Either way is OK.
Keeping left (clockwise) you’ll start catching glimpses of the Grand Canyon ahead. But even before you see it, you’ll sense it. There’s something about the terrain that says, “Something big is about to happen.” And it does. Not far from that first glimpse, the Canyon comes into full view. Like every other perspective, this one is magnificent. Fortunately, the trail skirts the rim for most of the rest of the way to Uncle Jim Point, the apex of the loop.
You’ll know you’re there when you see the hitching post, which is used for the mule trains that are so popular in this national park. The point itself is a little tricky to find, but when you do, you’re going to be amazed. Great views are typical on the North Rim, but the views from Uncle Jim Point are beyond words. From where you’ll be standing, you’ll be able to see Roaring Springs Canyon below and the San Francisco Peaks in the distance. And, if you look under your feet, literally, you’ll see fossils that began their timeline more than 250 million years ago, when the point was at the bottom of a warm inland sea.
Get comfortable and enjoy the views. Although you’ll have to finish the loop before it gets dark, Uncle Jim Point is a great place to sit and contemplate the merits of the two rims. They’re both special, but, as you’ll see, the North wins easily when it comes to solitude.
Photo: Hikers on the Uncle Jim Trail are treated to startling views of the steep, sheer walls of Roaring Springs Canyon. The hike is 5 miles round-trip. | David Elms
Length: 5 miles round-trip
Elevation: 8,269 to 8,427 feet
Directions: From the Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim, drive north for 2 miles to the signed right turn for the North Kaibab Trailhead. Uncle Jim shares a trailhead with the Ken Patrick Trail and a parking area with the North Kaibab Trail.
Vehicle Requirements: None
Dogs Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
USGS Map: Bright Angel Point
Information: Backcountry Office, Grand Canyon National Park, 928-638-7875 or www.nps.gov/grca