Taking its classification as a primitive trail quite literally, the Ken Patrick Trail is perhaps one of the only trails in the park without moments of bright panoramas. Winding through bare trees and brush, it is located in a vast, pale forrest about two miles (3.2 km) from Cape Royal.
If you’re in it for the famous raspberry-tainted sunsets and deep orange and yellow foliage, this is not the trail you want to hike. However if you’d like to experience the Grand Canyon in all its colors (or lack thereof), the Ken Patrick Trail is exactly where you want to be as you won’t find this ghostly bare forrest environment anywhere else in the park.
Named after Ken Patrick, the first ranger to die on duty, the trail’s solemn atmosphere is quite fitting. Patrick, whose father worked at Phantom Ranch, was born and raised at the Grand Canyon and later became a park ranger. While he died after transferring to Point Reyes National Seashore, his days at the North Rim were honored.
At 20 miles out and back (32 km), this is one of the longer trails on the North Rim. Extending from Point Imperial to the North Kaibab parking area, the Ken Patrick Trail traverses various lookout points along the rim. The hike itself is moderately difficult and offers the perfect camping opportunity with the option of detouring to explore the Uncle Jim trail and Uncle Jim Point.
In 2000, much of this area was damaged by the Outlet Fire which was prescribed to maintain the North Rim’s fragile ecosystem. Unfortunately, unpredicted high winds caused an otherwise contained damage to become a wildfire and much of the North Rim’s acclaimed Ponderosa Pine population was greatly reduced. The area has since grown in (aspen and Mexican locust claiming the territory), however the missing pines are obvious in the empty vastness of the area.
While a contained fire gone awry can be tragic, the Ken Patrick Trail at least compensates with sweeping views. From beginning to end, the range of view expands from Mount Hayden, across the grand Nankoweap Creek basin, revealing generous views of Marble Canyon, the Little Colorado River and Marble Platform toward the east. While you won’t see much color variation in the foliage, a great view of the multicolored rocks of the Painted Desert are fully visible from the trail. Looking southward toward the horizon, you’ll also catch a glimpse of the San Francisco Peaks. While the trail itself is barren of its once forrest-environment, you’ll be treated to expansive views of the lush Kaibab Plateau toward the east.
As a day-hike, you’ll find the Ken Patrick Trail only moderately challenging mainly because of the distance and lack of water. The terrain itself is very forgiving, only occasionally undulating over gentle hills. What once would have been sheer drops and sharp cliffs have been tamed by erosion into soft slopes, lending to the tranquil environment of the trail.
A solemn primitive trail with a deeply soothing atmosphere, the Ken Patrick Trail captures the essence of the isolated North Rim and is the perfect day hike for those seeking a quite escape.