Aug. 4-6, 2017
August is probably not the best time to ride the Rainbow Rim Trail along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. August is monsoon season. It rains almost every day. In fact, it rained so hard the day before we left, we almost canceled our trip. But after discussing our options, Jamie and Jason decided they were more interested in visiting the North Rim than mountain biking, so why not go for it.
The Rainbow Rim Trail, as far as I know, is the only mountain bike trail on the Kaibab Plateau. The trail lies just outside of Grand Canyon National Park, on the western rim of the Kaibab Plateau. The entire trail is 18 miles long, and connects to 5 lookout points. Locust Point is in the middle, so we camped there. Our plan was to ride the northern half the first day, then the southern half the second day, for a total ride of about 36 miles.
We left home early Friday morning and drove to Jacob Lake for lunch. While eating lunch, we considered the weather and wondered how muddy the dirt roads and trails would be. Our waitress said the roads shouldn’t be too bad, even though they got a lot of rain the previous day and some rain that morning. We decided we would stick with our original plan and attempt to camp at Locust Point.
After lunch, we drove south on Hwy 67 for about 20 miles. We turned west on Forest Road 22, which goes all the way back to Fredonia. Most directions I found suggested staying on 22 for several miles, then south on 206 for several miles. FR22 is a good road, allowing travel of about 40 mph, but it goes a long way out of the way. We took a slightly rougher road that was more direct (FR222 I think). This connected us to FR294, which goes out to Locust Point.
From Hwy 67 to Locust Point via our route was about 18 miles of dirt road. The first 15 miles were pretty good, the road covered in some form of road base, so it wasn’t muddy. The last 3 miles got a little rougher, and had numerous large mud puddles. Only one of them was quite deep, which sent gear flying all over the car when we hit it.
We found a great campsite just a few hundred feet from the point, and quickly set up our tents and rain fly.
We started our bike ride at about 4:00 PM – a few hours later than hoped.
Our plan was to ride north about 3 miles to Fence Point, then another 6 miles to Parissawampitts Point. We only made it about 6 miles before I had had enough. Being out of shape, the altitude and climbs were getting to me. In general, the 5 lookout points are the low points on the trail. You climb as you ride east to go around a small canyon, then descend as you ride west to the next point.
We all decided to turn back since it was getting late.
The trail is kind of like the road – mostly covered in broken rocks – so mud really wasn’t an issue. The trail isn’t all that technical, but it is somewhat rocky, so it takes some effort to keep your wheels rolling. There are also vicious thorn bushes all along the trail – so be prepared to get scratched up. Also, be prepared for flat tires.
We got back to camp just before sunset, so I sent the kids back down to the rim to take some pictures while I started getting dinner ready.
It got dark while we were cooking dinner, and it sprinkled on and off. Luckily, it didn’t rain while we were on our ride. Dinner was great. We enjoyed sitting and relaxing until bedtime.
It started raining during the night – not a hard rain – but steady. It rained through breakfast, and showed no sign of letting up.
None of us wanted to ride in the rain, so we decided to drive out to Parissawampitts Point to see what we missed. We never did find a lookout point there, so we weren’t too disappointed that we didn’t make it on our bikes.
By the time we got back to camp, the rain had let up and the sun was poking through the clouds. We packed our lunch and headed out on the southern portion of the trail at about 2:00 PM.
I found the southern portion to be more enjoyable than the northern leg. Some of it was because I had somewhat adapted to the altitude and I was starting to get my leg strength back. But mostly it was because the trail was smoother and I think it had less vertical climbing.
We rode about 6 miles to North Timp Point. Just before getting there we could look across the gully and see Locust Point. It wasn’t very far away as the crow flies – but 6 miles on the trail.
We ate our lunch at North Timp Point, and then continued on another 3 miles to Timp Point. This was my favorite section of the trail. There were a few technical bits, but most of it was pretty smooth and not too steep. I was able to ride most of this section, whereas the other sections I had to walk a lot of the climbs.
After a short break, we headed back. We took another break at North Timp Point, and then headed back to camp. About ½ mile from camp I rode over a branch on the trail and heard a pop. My rear tire went flat. The kids were ahead of me, heading to camp. It was getting dark, and my tires were muddy. I decided to walk back to camp rather than spend the remaining daylight repairing my tire. When I got home, I found that the branch actually sliced my tire, so a new tube may not have lasted long anyway.
The next morning, we found that Jason’s rear tire was also flat. He got a pinch flat, but luckily it was a slow leak so he was able to finish the ride.
Because I had to walk so many of the climbs, it took us a lot longer to ride the trail than we had planned. We averaged about 3 mph. While riding the flat sections, I was typically going about 6 mph, and 10-12 mph on the downhill portions. I imagine the kids could have done the ride in about half the time it took me. They were nice to wait for their old man.
On Sunday morning, we packed up camp and took a Jeep road south to Point Sublime. It was obvious that this road is seldom traveled, but it wasn’t too much for my Grand Cherokee to handle. At one point, we came to a downed pine tree across the road, which we cut with our bow saw and removed.
This road turned out to be a fun ride – but Jamie commented that it would have been a lot more fun on our dirt bikes. The bulk of this trail is inside the national park, but there is nothing more than a sign indicating the park boundary.
Point Sublime is perhaps the best viewpoint within the park. You have about a 270° view of the canyon, and can even see the Colorado River.
Most people that venture out to Point Sublime take the Point Sublime Road, which heads west from near the visitor’s center. I assumed this road would be better than the Jeep road we came in on, but that was not the case. This road was noticeably rougher, and not as enjoyable, as the other road. We also managed to get a flat tire about 15 miles from pavement. We had to completely unload the car to access the spare. By the time we had the tire changed, it was time for lunch.
After lunch we continued on, moving at a slower pace so as not to get another flat. No sooner than we started, when it started to pour. This was the hardest rainstorm of our three-day trip. We were sure glad we got the tire changed before the storm hit.
Our intent was to attend church at the North Rim at 1:00 PM, but because of the flat tire, we missed that. We spent a few minutes walking out to Bright Angel Point, and then headed for home.
We really lucked out with the weather. We got some rain, but never at inconvenient times. The temperatures were slightly warm for mountain biking, but great for camping. The elevation at camp was about 7700’.
The Rainbow Rim trail is really a pretty fun bike trail, and the wonder of riding along the rim of the Grand Canyon make it well worth the drive.