by Matt. Updated Oct 2021
Jacob Lake, Arizona, is known as the “Gateway to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.” Are you visiting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and wondering what there is to do in Jacob Lake?
The main things to do at Jacob Lake are visiting the nearby Grand Canyon and getting a shake at the Jacob Lake Inn. However, there are SO many more amazing things to see and do in and around this little town, including hiking, climbing, watching wildlife, and swimming.
So keep on reading if you want ideas for things to do in Jacob Lake and the surrounding area (no more than 1 hour away). We’ve also done an entire article on visiting the North Rim. For more about planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, see our Grand Canyon page.
I’ll start with the things closest to the town and then venture out.
Jacob Lake and the North Rim in general receive fewer visitors than the South Rim, so it has a really nice laid-back atmosphere.
The North Rim is known as the “other rim,” but I am tempted to call it the “better rim” because it just has a different feeling than the South Rim.
People are known to return to the North Rim more often than the South Rim because it’s more of a vacation experience.
We loved playing board games in the Jacob Lake Campground in the evenings. By the way: our favorite family game right now? One Night Ultimate Werewolf. It’s easy to learn, fast to play, generates controversy, and will mess with your mind!
2. Eat shakes and cookies at the Jacob Lake Inn
Before we went on our vacation, virtually everyone said, “Oh, you MUST get an ice cream at the Jacob Lake Inn!” So we did!
And yes, they were delicious!
Our favorite cookie was the Lemon Zucchini, but you can’t go wrong with any of them. We also tried the shakes, and they were all fantastic.
It’s what this place prides itself on.
3. Eat at the Jacob Lake Inn Restaurant
While the ice cream and cookies get all the attention, the restaurant doesn’t have the same rave reviews. However, I put it on the list because it is literally the only place to eat in Jacob Lake (the Kaibab Lodge is 30 minutes away; see below).
Well, I did see a Navajo Taco food truck outside the gas station, but I don’t know how permanent that is.
I can’t rate either place because we cooked our own food at the campground.
4. Buy a Kaibab Squirrel Sticker
The Jacob Lake Inn also has a little store you can buy things such as Native American Art and stickers for the….Kaibab Squirrel!
The Kaibab Squirrel only lives on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon; it is found nowhere else in the world.
So the little town of 928 people is understandably very proud of its squirrel. You’ll see stickers, socks, and even paintings of the squirrel.
5. Visit the Kaibab Plateau Visitor Center
This building sits right next to the Jacob Lake Inn. It was closed when I was there, but it has some interesting displays inside and outside the building.
The Kaibab Forest encompasses the entire top plateau of the Grand Canyon (both North and South). It’s over 7000 feet above sea level and it is home to Ponderosa and Pinyon Pine Trees.
The visitor center has a plaque for Teddy Roosevelt, who visited the area a few times and liked to hunt mountain lions here.
It also has a plaque for the…wait for it…Kaibab Squirrel!!
6. Smell the Ponderosa Pine Trees
The Kaibab Forest is home to many Ponderosa Pine Trees. The bark on these trees is noticeably more red and thick than other pine trees.
They also have a fragrant smell to them! Get right next to them and smell the bark.
Most trees smell like either vanilla or butterscotch. Sounds crazy, but you’ll see (or smell) for yourself.
You can find these all over the area, including the Grand Canyon.
7. Climb the Fire Tower
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built this rickety fire tower in 1934. We found this little gem right on the main road, just a mile south of town.
It is STILL used today as a lookout tower to spot fires early on, when they can (hopefully) still be suppressed.
It’s 80 feet tall, and you can climb it! If you dare, that is. It feels lightweight, and it sways at the top. But it provides beautiful views of the surrounding forest.
Note that you cannot go into the top of the tower, where the lookout station is. You can only climb the stairs to it.
8. See the effects of the Mangum Fire of 2020
Unfortunately, the lookout tower couldn’t prevent a huge forest fire in 2020 in the drought-plagued area.
On June 8, 2020, a fire started at nearby Big Springs. By June 12, the town of Jacob Lake was evacuated. They feared the town would burn to the ground.
Indeed, the Jacob Lake ranger station was “within feet” of catching fire. The image of the fire below was taken from Fredonia, AZ, which is about 30 miles away.
As you drive in and out of Jacob Lake, you’ll see the charred remains of the forest all around.
9. Visit (what was) Jacob Lake
OK, I’m not actually suggesting you visit the lake in Jacob Lake because….there isn’t one. The lake has dried out. It’s literally just a hole in the ground. Perhaps the recent drought has taken the lake out of Jacob Lake.
From my understanding, sometimes there IS a lake. Although it’s always been small, it was known as the lake that provides for the abundant deer on the Kaibab Plateau.
It’s located right behind the Kaibab Camper Village.
10. Hike the Ceballos Trail
Although not a popular hike due to a little thing called the Grand Canyon (with its hiking trails) being near here, the people who have done this trail say it provides solitude and deer sightings.
It doesn’t provide much in the way of views unless you like seeing a lot of trees up close.
It’s 5.2 miles out and back, is very flat, and meanders through the forest.
There are quite a few lodging options around here, although they do fill up during the summer, so plan ahead!
The Jacob Lake Inn has rooms and cabins.
The Kaibab Lodge offers lodging, fine dining, and fly fishing tours. It’s only 5 miles from the Grand Canyon National Park entrance.
The Kaibab Camper Village is owned by the same company, although it’s closer to Jacob Lake.
12. Visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
We will cover this in its own post, but this is clearly the number one thing to do at Jacob Lake.
The views from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon aren’t as iconic, and the drop-offs aren’t as sheer, as the South Rim. But they are more colorful (red rocks and green trees), and the atmosphere is so much nicer.
At the North Rim, you can get a drink from the Roughrider Saloon and take in relaxing views of the canyon from the deck of the Grand Canyon Lodge.
You can also stop at the visitor center, go hiking, and ride a mule. You might also see bison on your way into the park!
13. Watch Condors fly at the Vermillion Cliffs
Vermillion Cliffs is an amazing hiking area, but most of the hikes are over an hour away from Jacob Lake. However, you can drive along the cliff face of the cliffs for gorgeous views. You can also see California Condors!
The California Condor is one of the biggest conservation success stories in history.
The Condor has the largest wingspan of any North American bird and it looks like a vulture. In 1987, there were only 27 Condors left in the world.
Every Condor was captured and put in a breeding program. Over 1000 Condors have been released back into the wild. Today, the Condor remains one of the rarest birds in the world, with a little over 500 alive.
Each bird is captured and tagged with a number. If you see a Condor up close, you’ll see a number on its wing.
The birds are captured and released at the Vermillion Cliffs, within 30 minutes of Jacob Lake. They move around all over the West, but many make their homes in the Grand Canyon and Zion canyon.
There’s no guarantee you’ll see these birds here, but since food is often put out at this spot to entice and catch the birds, they tend to hang out a lot here.
You can also see Condors at Navajo Bridge (see below).
Below is a poor image taken with my iPhone, and a better image from Wikipedia.
14. Eat or stay at the Cliff Dwellers Lodge
There is a town (ghost town?) nearby called Cliff Dwellers. It sits next to the Vermillion Cliffs. It has an interesting story behind it.
Apparently, a Broadway actress was traveling through the area in the 1920s and her vehicle broke down. So she just decided to start a restaurant and lodge to cater to travelers coming through.
You can still eat at the Cliff Dwellers Lodge today!
You can also play Real Life Where’s Waldo (our own game we made up) in the interesting rock formations near the lodge. There are similar rock formations near Lee’s Ferry (see below), and that’s where we played Real Life Where’s Waldo.
15. Stand over the Colorado River at Navajo Bridge and find Condors
Before the automobile, Lee’s Ferry was the only way to cross the Colorado River for hundreds of miles in either direction.
The Navajo Bridge was built in 1929 to accommodate the automobile. But in 1995, a new bridge was built to accommodate the larger vehicles and increased traffic of today.
Thankfully, they left the old bridge for us to walk on today.
This area is still technically the Grand Canyon! It’s not part of the National Park, nor does it have the iconic views that you think of with the Grand Canyon. However, it is federal land, and still provides really great views of the Colorado River.
We saw 6 or 7 California Condors flying around here, and they even perched on cliffs nearby, and right below our feet on the bridge itself!
This was one of the highlights of our recent trip to the Grand Canyon.
16. Get in the Colorado River and play Real Life Where’s Waldo at Lee’s Ferry
Right next to Navajo Bridge is a turnoff to Lee’s Ferry. This was another highlight for us.
At Lee’s Ferry, you can drive right down to the Colorado River — the only place you can do this for many miles in either direction (not counting Page, AZ which has Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell).
It was 115 degrees outside, and even though the river was a bone-chilling 48 degrees, it was nice to cool down and get wet.
You can raft, boat, and kayak here. There are also a few historical buildings and some hikes.
On the way to Lee’s Ferry, there are some interesting rock formations very similar to the Cliff Dwellers area mentioned above.
We stopped here and played Real Life Where’s Waldo in the rocks. One person closes his eyes while everyone goes off into the rocks to partially hide their bodies (heads must be completely visible to the searcher!). Then the searcher opens his eyes and tried to find the rock dwellers just by standing there and pointing them out.
It’s more difficult than you think!
17. Go Hollywood at Kanab, Utah
There are so many things to do in Kanab, including world-famous hikes like “The Wave” and the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, that I can’t go into all of it here. But the town is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts who like to ride jeeps and hike in slot canyons.
Kanab was known as “Little Hollywood” because so many Westerns were filmed in and around the area in the heyday of Western movies. You can even visit the Little Hollywood Museum in Kanab.
18. Learn history and take in great views at Pipe Springs National Monument
Pipe Springs has a very interesting history and provides some nice views as well.
As the name indicates, there is a spring of water here. Water was (and is) like gold in the Western desert. So pioneers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints settled the area. Paiute Indians and others also relied on the water from Pipe Springs.
Here you can learn the history, see longhorn cattle, and take a short walk to an overlook of the area.
Pipe Springs was named by Jacob Hamblin, a missionary for the Church, who ventured through this area.
Jacob Hamblin is also the person whom Jacob Lake was named after!
If you’re visiting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, make sure to check out our Grand Canyon Travel Guide and Audio Guide.
We’ve spent months researching and visiting the Grand Canyon so we can provide you with the best tips and the best stories about the park.
If you’re visiting for the first time, you don’t want to miss out on the best that the Grand Canyon has to offer. Check it out!