If you’ve wandered to the North Rim in search for hiking trails, chances are you’re ready to leave the crowds behind and enjoy the beautiful isolated hikes this rim has to offer. Francois Matthes Trail is an old forest road that has shaped into a trail over the years, albeit a primitive one.
This is a primitive trail, so there are no signs marking the trailhead. Thankfully, Cape Royal Road is marked- you’ll find the trailhead to Francois Matthes Trail a little less than a mile (1 km) from the Vista Encantada Outlook along Cape Royal. At 8,416 ft above sea level (2,565 m), the views can be outstanding if you ignore the heavy brush. On the other hand, you are almost guaranteed solitude at every outlook since this place is rarely visited.
Winding through aromatic pine and aspen (some of them sprouting through burned patches recovering from fire damage), this trail is a green escapade with the canyon as background. Along the way, you’ll see only glimpses of the canyon and even at the outlook itself the brush will cover most of the panorama. Needless to say, people don’t come here for the views, they come for the isolation and tranquility- although a glimpse of Zoroaster Temple and Wotan’s Throne certainly won’t be an intrusion.
At a pleasant 10.6-mile round-trip (17 km) on fairly even ground, this trail is worth it if only for the isolation as the views are nothing extraordinary. That being said, the trail’s namesake, Francois Matthes was indeed an extraordinary person. Assigned to do the topographic mapping of the Grand Canyon in 1902, Francis Matthes was an early pioneer in the development of the park. His group started work on the southern rim at a time when a bridge across the Colorado River was nonexistent and a rim-to-rim trail, unfathomable.