A Bird’s-Eye View of the Grand Canyon

North rim of the Grand Canyon. | Photo by Genevie Durano

North rim of the Grand Canyon. | Photo by Genevie Durano

As vast as the Grand Canyon is, most visitors only get to see its most popular corridors, namely the southern and western rims. Since it encompasses more than a million acres, it would take several lifetimes to explore the canyon’s many facets. The north rim, because of its inaccessibility, can be considered the holy grail of the canyon—offering spectacular views minus the throng of tourists lining up for a photo op.

Your starting and ending point for exploring the north rim is Bar 10 Ranch, which can only be reached by air. After a 45-minute flight from Vegas—which affords stunning midair views of Lake Mead, Hoover Dam and the west rim of the Grand Canyon, you land on an airstrip that barely resembles a dirt road. The ranch is located in the heart of the Arizona Strip, which National Geographic has dubbed “the Tibet of the Americas,” because of how isolated and sparsely populated it is. When you exit your plane into a seemingly endless landscape of sagebrush and creosote, you feel like you’ve just landed in a whole other planet.

At the ranch, you can opt for a tour on a jeep with a guide, or take an ATV about 12 miles out to Whitmore Canyon. The jeep ride is in and of itself a thrill, a 30-minute bump and jostle through unpaved roads—it would behoove you to wear your seatbelt and hang on tight. Before you know it, you’re at this exclusive vantage point of the Grand Canyon. There are no guardrails (so yes, vigilance about where you walk is essential), just vertiginous canyons as far as the eye can see. The Colorado River below carves its path along the canyons as it has done so for millions of years. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can climb down all the way to the river (about an hour’s scamper on a path, according to the guide, and double that on the way back up).

This is the first year that Papillon, which offers the flights, is partnering with Bar 10. “The thing that got to me when we first launched it was it was nice to have an area [in the Grand Canyon] that’s kind of like yours,” says Robert Graff, vice president of marketing for Papillon. “You don’t have thousands of tourists around, so there is a bit more of a spiritual connection.”

How to get there

Papillon’s Grand Canyon Scenic Airlines is the exclusive provider of roundtrip flights to Bar 10. Guests can be picked up in various points in Las Vegas and shuttled to the Boulder City Aerocenter, where they will board a small plane to Arizona.

Where to stay

Daytrip and overnight excursion packages to Bar 10 are available from April through November. During the winter months, there are limited tours that you have to book in advance. You have the option of staying at the Old West-themed lodge for more traditional accommodations, or in authentic covered Conestoga wagons for that more outdoorsy ambience.

Where to dine

It’s home-cooked ranch dining all the way, prepared in cast-iron Dutch ovens, to be enjoyed communally on long tables. The family-owned Bar 10 is a working cattle ranch, so all the beef served is natural and grassfed.

What to do

In the warmer months, activities include horseback riding, hiking, river rafting, skeet-shooting and ATV rides. In the winter, you’ll likely do quieter activities—hiking, taking in the views and just appreciating the sheer size of the canyon.

Covered wagon at Bar 10. | Photo by Michele and Tom Grimm

Covered wagon at Bar 10. | Photo by Michele and Tom Grimm