Maybe you’ve spent a night or two in one of the cabins, or maybe you’ve stopped in for a dozen cookies or a jägerschnitzel dinner. But if you’ve so much as visited the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, you know about Jacob Lake Inn, which marks a century in business this year. And while its location at the top of the North Rim Parkway (State Route 67) has been key to that longevity, so has the determination of the family running the place.
The operation dates to 1923, when Harold and Nina Bowman were running a business in Kanab, Utah. “Kanab wasn’t quite wide enough for their experience and ambition,” says Chris Rich, the couple’s grandson. “Grandpa hired a couple of my grandmother’s younger cousins and sent them out on the Kaibab [Plateau] with a tent, a pickup truck, a barrel of gas and some other things to test the market and see if they could put a store out there.”
The test was successful, and the following year, the Bowmans built a store on the shore of Jacob Lake, a small pond. That store was open only seasonally, but the completion of Navajo Bridge in 1929 brought an influx of tourists to the North Rim, leading the Bowmans to move Jacob Lake Inn to its current location along the road to the Canyon — and make it a year-round operation. In the 1930s, the inn added guest cabins, and today, hotel and motel rooms are also available. The operation has a staff of 60 to 70 who rotate in and out at different times of the year. Many of them are young people who Rich says receive “training in a friendly, consolidated situation that not many people have these days.”
The famous cookies aren’t quite as old as the inn, but they’ve been a mainstay since the mid-1970s. “We’ve always had a baker on staff, and my mother decided, ‘Let’s put in a bakery,’ ” Rich recalls. Other family members developed the cookie recipes, and Rich went to Salt Lake City and had a used bakery case shipped down. “It was just massively successful from the start,” he says.
But the place has had its share of brushes with extinction, too. In the 1950s, part of the garage caught fire, damaging buildings and sending drums of gasoline shooting skyward. A more omnipresent threat is wildfire, and in 2020, the 71,450-acre Mangum Fire came within 40 feet of some buildings, spurring the inn’s first-ever evacuation.
Thankfully, Jacob Lake Inn survived, as it always has. Rich notes that his grandparents were smart to set up shop where they did, but he also credits the inn’s long life to his family’s toughness and adaptability amid the challenges of providing services in such a remote location. “It’s what you’re willing to do,” he says, “for a place you love.”
KAIBAB PLATEAU Jacob Lake Inn, 928-643-7232, jacoblake.com