The Grand Canyon Received Historic Snowfall. Now Rim-to-Rim Season Is in Peril.
Snowpack and trail damage on the North Rim prompted the Park Service to delay opening until June 2
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The North Rim of the Grand Canyon will remain closed until June 2, the National Park Service announced this week, driving a hatchet into the respective plans of rim-to-rim runners and thru-hikers on the Arizona Trail.
The Grand Canyon received over 250 inches of snow this year—about 100 inches more than normal—contributing to impassable roads and infrastructure damage. According to a news release, the delayed opening of the North Rim will allow park officials to prepare the region for safe passage
“Following a record-setting snow season, this delayed opening is necessary to ensure the safe plowing of State Route 67 and allow staff to reopen visitor facilities on the North Rim,” officials wrote. Included in the closure is the North Kaibab Trail to Cottonwood Campground, which suffered damage from rockslides.
During a typical year, the North Rim opens on May 15. At an elevation of more than 8,000 feet, it is not uncommon for the area to retain snow into the summer. But this is not a typical year for the Canyon.
Like much of the western US, the Grand Canyon was inundated by snow this year. The North Rim’s highest recorded snow year occurred in 1978, when the region received 272.8 inches—nearly 23-feet—of snow. This year’s snowpack was about two feet shy of breaking the park’s all-time snow record. While the moisture may benefit local flora and fauna, it is likely to create logistical nightmares for anyone who was planning on knocking a rim-to-rim hike off their bucket list this year.
David Logan is the owner of Four Season Guides, which offers guided hikes in the park, including the 21-mile rim-to-rim trip. He says he’s had to offer shortened itineraries to clients with trips booked in the last two weeks of May.
“If you’re coming from the north, there is no way to get to the trailhead,” he says. “If you were planning to come from the south, the trail is closed at Cottonwood Campground. You can’t go farther, so there is no rim-to-rim—no matter if you’re running it, hiking it, it doesn’t matter.”
Logan is quick to point out that a delayed start date could result in hikers trekking through potentially dangerous triple-digit temperatures, and that due to rockslides and other damage, it’s not even clear whether the park will be able to reopen closed sections of trail in early June. As a result, he is discouraging hikers from attempting a rim-to-rim trip this spring.
“It’s always hot in June, but the temps the last few years have been in excess of what we’re used to,” Logan says. “We’re just discouraging hiking…Yes you can do it, but it’s not particularly fun. You’re up at dark and trying to finish by 10 A.M.”
The closure is also likely to send Arizona Trail thru-hikers scrambling. The 800-mile Arizona Trail stretches from Mexico to the Utah border; hikers usually begin their journey in March, ending the trail in late May or early June. But this year, the northern terminus will not be accessible until June at the earliest, leaving many hikers searching for alternatives.
Northbound hikers who want to get as close to the terminus as possible could end their hike at the Grand Canyon’s Cottonwood Campground in passage 38, 83.9-miles away from the northern terminus. But the campground is typically at capacity all season long, which would require visitors to find alternative lodging options. Those who are interested in bypassing the Grand Canyon altogether could follow the bikepacking Western Wildlands Route, beginning just south of Tusayan, and heading east and then north towards the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.