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Overview: Point Sublime is an outstanding viewpoint on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. At the end of the 17-mile dirt road to Point Sublime, a short (5-minute) hike takes you to a point where you will be surrounded on 3+ sides by the Grand Canyon.
Due to its distance from civilization, the North Rim generally gets about one-tenth of the tourist traffic that the South Rim receives, and Point Sublime is remote even by North-Rim standards. Also, the North Rim is about 1,000 feet higher in elevation than the South Rim. Thus, if you're looking to escape overcrowded viewpoints and/or the desert heat, the North Rim is the place to go.
As you arrive at Point Sublime, you will notice that the elevation and topography combine to make a warmer climate than you have seen in nearby areas -- Although the elevation at the Point is well above 7,000 feet, the climate and plant community resemble something more like 5,000-6,000 feet.
Landmarks to Notice: From Point Sublime, if you look out to your left (~southeast) you will see a stretch of the Colorado River. However, most of the river will be obscured by the Canyon's large spires and other geologic formations.
Directions: To provide some basic orientation, keep in mind that after entering the park, you will encounter several manmade landmarks in the following order: (1) the turn-off to Widforss Point / Point Sublime, (2) the Backcountry Permit Office, (3) the main North Rim campground and general store, and finally (4) the Lodge and its associated developments.
When you are ready to head from the developed North Rim area to Point Sublime, turn west from the main road onto the road that goes to Widforss Point / Widforss Trailhead. Rather than stopping at Widforss, continue westerly down the dirt road. You will encounter a few forks in the road; a couple of them have signs directing you to Point Sublime, and the forks without signs are generally pretty easy to figure out because the "wrong" turn promptly leads you to an overlook at a dead-end (which is a worthy stop anyway).
Depending on your vehicle's capabilities and your experience and comfort-level with driving on rugged dirt roads, expect the road to take approximately 2-2.5 hours, which means that you'll average 7-10mph over the course of the 17-mile drive. (An experienced off-road driver with a highly capable [high-clearance and 4x4] vehicle can make the drive in less than 1.5 hours if he/she drives straight through without stopping at scenic overlooks, averaging closer to 15mph, but this is an unreasonable expectation for people with average off-road experience and/or an average vehicle.)
Permit Requirements: After gaining access to the Grand Canyon National Park on the North Rim, day-trips to Point Sublime are free and unregulated. However, if you wish to camp overnight at Point Sublime, you'll need to get a backcountry camping permit ($15) from the Backcountry Permit Office, which is located a couple miles north of the Grand Canyon Lodge at the North Rim.
IMPORTANT CAUTIONS: Planning a trip to Point Sublime requires serious safety precautions because the road is very rugged and the point is very remote. Take the following considerations into account:
- The road to Point Sublime is very rugged, and should not be attempted with a two-wheel drive, low-clearance vehicle. If you have either high clearance or four-wheel drive, you might make it (but then again, you might not). The best policy is to only attempt this drive with a 4x4 high-clearance truck or SUV. Keep in mind that when the road is at its best , you will encounter (1) several long sand-beds, which can high-center a low vehicle or otherwise trap a two-wheel drive vehicle, (2) several very steep inclines and declines, and (3) medium-sized rocks and a few small boulders that you'll either need to drive around or over. When the road is at its worst , you might encounter washed-out roads, mud pits, fallen trees, or other unforeseen obstacles. In a recent visit to the backcountry office to obtain a permit, the ranger said that "there aren't any sinkholes this year," but that "last year the road swallowed a road-grader." Any road that can swallow a piece of heavy equipment is a force to be reckoned with.
- The nearest gas station is approximately 40 miles from Point Sublime, and you might use more gas than expected if your vehicle becomes stuck or if you otherwise become stranded (e.g. flat tire). So, when you see the gas station on your left (across from the Kaibab Lodge) a few miles before you reach the National Park, make sure you have at least a half-tank of gas.
- There is generally no water at Point Sublime or along the road that accesses it, so make sure you bring enough water to stay hydrated in an emergency; perhaps two gallons per person per day. This is especially important considering that the point will likely be warmer than you expect -- perhaps 10-15 degrees warmer than other parts of the North Rim. Due to the warmer climate, you might find it uncomfortable to much time at Point Sublime during the day during hotter months (perhaps Memorial Day until Labor Day) .
- Cell phone reception along the road and at the point is generally spotty or non-existent.
- No campfires are allowed in the park, so don't plan on having a campfire -- If you don't realize this in advance, you can end up quite disappointed, especially if you went through the trouble to pack in your firewood. So, if you're planning to cook, you'd better bring a propane stove or something similar.
Summary: This is a great viewpoint that is quite remote. Many backcountry campgrounds in the park require obtaining a permit months in advance; however, past experience proves that you might arrive on a Friday morning, walk into the backcountry office, buy a permit, drive out to Point Sublime, and be the only person camping out there that night (although a handful of vehicles may come out to have a picnic, take photos, or just enjoy the view before returning to the main North Rim area).