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Visiting the Grand Canyon in winter may not be the idea you think of when planning a trip to this national park.
Most US national parks remain open throughout the winter, and the same goes for Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon in winter looks even more fascinating and is one of the secret seasons many do not know.
Colder temperatures, shorter days, and snow bring fewer people. Still, the skies are the clearest, and the temperatures are the coolest, making it one of the fabulous winter getaways in Arizona.
In this detailed guide, we’ll share what to do in Grand Canyon in winter, winter weather in Grand Canyon, helpful tips, and things to do in Grand Canyon in the winter months.
VISITING GRAND CANYON IN WINTER – THINGS TO KNOW
SHOULD YOU VISIT GRAND CANYON IN WINTER?
Yes, it is worth visiting Grand Canyon in winter. The Grand Canyon during winter is spectacular, and it may be even better for you if you love snow-sprinkled landscapes.
The winter season sees the lowest number of tourists – a significant factor to consider when you plan a trip to one of the most visited national parks in the United States and the most seen among Arizona National Parks.
The temperatures are much lower, unlike typical baking hot Arizona weather, and the unique landscapes look distinct, making you instantly fall in love with its fascinating panoramas.
WHAT IS THE WEATHER LIKE IN GRAND CANYON IN WINTER?
With a vast difference in elevations throughout the park, which ranges from 2000 feet to 8000 feet, the weather changes rapidly and is unpredictable.
Winter is still a great time to visit Grand Canyon. Winter Weather typically begins in November, and fog can occasionally form sometimes.
But the unpredictable means you get to see stunning landscapes, especially if you happen to be in Grand Canyon in Winter after heavy snow pours without any haze.
Grand Canyon weather in winter can be freezing and windy, so be prepared.
In December and January, average daytime temperatures reach 7°C and drop to -8°C at night. February is slightly warmer, with a slight temperature uptick, but it will still be in the single digits.
The temperatures are relatively higher than the rim, where the low temperatures prevail.
DOES IT SNOW IN GRAND CANYON IN WINTER?
Yes, it does snow in Grand Canyon. For the best chances of viewing snow-carpeted landscapes, check out the North Rim, which gets the most snow, averaging from 50 to 100 inches annually, while the South Rim gets slightly less.
You can see snowfall in Grand Canyon if you visit during December, January and February when the chances are highest.
By March, most areas would be clear as it starts melting, with some snow remaining at higher elevations even in April, depending on the intensity each year.
IS THE NORTH RIM OPEN DURING WINTER?
Yes, the North Rim remains closed from the 1st of December to the 15th of May, sometimes even earlier, as the region gets heavy snowfall, including State Route 67 south of Jacob Lake. The hotel, restaurants, store and gas station are closed as well usually.
IS THE SOUTH RIM CLOSED IN WINTER?
While the North Rim remains closed throughout winter and spring, the South Rim is open to visitors with many attractions and activities to explore.
But note that trails and roads can be slippery, and it is best to check with rangers and stay on course, especially if you plan to hike during winter.
Many hotels, campgrounds and shops on the South Rim also operate regularly during the winter months.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO DRIVE IN GRAND CANYON IN WINTER?
Driving in Winter at Grand Canyon may sometimes be challenging, mainly if snowstorms occur. Although roads are cleared regularly after a heavy snowfall, they may be closed for a time until the snow is cleared.
Check for live road conditions and weather forecasts before you start.
It is best to be prepared for winter driving, including snow, ice and high wind.
Both roads in and out of the Grand Canyon remain open in winter. The Desert View Drive remains open during winter, offering you to stop at many points along the way.
The Hermit Road or the Hermits Rest Route, from the South Rim area, remains closed for vehicular traffic for the rest of the year and is only accessible via the shuttle bus.
But one of the parks of arriving at the Grand Canyon in winter is during December, January, and February. You can drive along Hermit Road and access parking in specific areas to access hiking trails and viewpoints.
Since plenty of attractions, trails and viewpoints offer gorgeous panoramas; you will love driving on Hermit Road in winter.
IS CHRISTMAS A GOOD TIME TO VISIT GRAND CANYON?
Yes, Christmas is a great time to visit the Grand Canyon, with only fewer tourists and excellent views, pleasant weather, and many viewpoints, camping sites, and hiking trails ideal for exploration in the rugged outdoors.
CAN YOU HIKE IN GRAND CANYON IN WINTER?
Yes, the trails are open. Winter is a great time to hike in Grand Canyon.
Compared to summer, when the temperatures are high and scorching, winter has delightful temperatures. Visibility is greater. The air is clear in winter, without fog lasting all day, common in summer.
But winter at 7,000 feet can mean cold temperatures, snow and ice, and common storms, which usually lead to road closures and make hiking trails dangerous.
While any trail into the canyon is strenuous, winter presents more difficulties. The upper reaches of the trails are often snow-covered and slippery.
Since you’ll be hiking down first and then up – Grand Canyon is mostly an inverted mile-high mountain so that you will feel it the most challenging on the return trip.
Dress in layers to stay warm and dry. Keep emergency supplies in your vehicle. Check for weather and trail conditions before your trip. Use traction devices for hiking boots and trekking poles for added safety.
If you want to hike into the canyon and stay overnight, don’t forget you must apply for a Backcountry Permit.
Read further below for details of all the trails available for winter hiking in the Grand Canyon.
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IS CAMPING POSSIBLE IN GRAND CANYON IN WINTER?
Yes, it is possible to camp during winter in Grand Canyon. You need a backcountry camping permit and reservations to access camping. Check more details about camping below.
HOW MANY DAYS TO SPEND AT GRAND CANYON IN WINTER?
You can easily cover the highlights and major attractions of the Grand Canyon over a weekend, including driving to all panoramic spots along Desert View Drive.
You can also hike some short sections of the Rim Trail, and walk the interpretive trail around Mather Point.
But if you plan to do other hikes like the South Kaibab Trail or even Angel’s Landing or if you want to camp, you’ll need another day or two more.
HOW TO GET AROUND GRAND CANYON DURING WINTER?
You can take a shuttle or drive around Grand Canyon, depending on what you prefer. Find more details on this in the further sections.
THINGS TO DO IN GRAND CANYON IN WINTER
STOP AT THE VISITOR CENTRE
The best way to acquaint yourself with everything you need to know to explore the Grand Canyon in winter is to stop at the visitor centre first, located in the south entrance station at the south rim.
You can get detailed information about the weather conditions, road closures, details and the current status of hiking trails.
When you are at the visitor centre, do not miss Mathers Point, a five-minute walk away and a popular viewpoint thanks to the splendid views of many landmarks here.
Opening hours – 9 AM to 4 PM
ENJOY LUNCH IN GRAND CANYON VILLAGE
The Grand Canyon Village, located on the South Rim, is a popular spot among tourists to stop by to relax, dine, and shop between driving and hiking the Grand Canyon.
Most of these restaurants also offer beautiful panoramic views thanks to their stunning location.
One of the recommended places to have lunch is the Arizona Room, a part of Bright Angel Lodge, offers incredible views over the Grand Canyon near the Bright Angel Trail trailhead.
Other popular spots are El Tovar Dining Room, and the Maswik Food Court, if you want to dine on a budget.
CHECK OUT TOP ATTRACTIONS VIA A SHUTTLE
If it’s snowy or you do not prefer driving, one of the best ways to get around prominent attractions and viewpoints in the Grand Canyon in winter is by taking a shuttle bus to the views rather than driving yourself.
The shuttles are the best and safest choice if you are not a seasoned driver having experience in driving in winter conditions in ice and snow.
There are four shuttle bus routes around the Grand Canyon South Rim – orange, blue, red and purple. Only two, orange and blue, operate in the winter from December 1 through February.
The orange route, Kaibab Rim, beginning at the visitors centre, leaves every 30 minutes. It is the best route to check out many top attractions for free.
This route, connecting the visitor centre to the South Kaibab trailhead, stops at many gorgeous viewpoints, including Mathers Point, Yavapai Geology Museum, South Kaibab Trailhead, Yaki Point and Pipe Creek Vista.
The Village Route (blue) starts from the visitor centre to locations around Grand Canyon Village.
DRIVE TO BEAUTIFUL SPOTS
If you are into hiking or prefer avoiding hiking during your winter visit, one of the easiest and most convenient ways to explore the Canyon is by driving to all the various viewpoints along the rim.
Overall, there are 32 miles between Desert View, the easternmost viewpoint, to Hermits Rest in the west available for driving.
The views get more fascinating as you head towards the west.
Hermit Road, at the west end of the south rim, is a popular 7-mile route that takes you along many panoramic viewpoints. Winter is the only time of the year when this road is open to private vehicles, so make the most of this!
Along this route, stop at the many best Grand Canyon viewpoints, including Grandview Point, Moran Point, Yaki Point, Hopi Point, Mohave Point and Pima Point.
If you do not want to drive in the snow, take the Orange Shuttle running every 30 minutes, which stops at major viewpoints.
ENJOY THE GORGEOUS SUNRISE AND SUNSET
Grand Canyon offers spectacular sunsets and sunrises, and you can view them at different points scattered in the national park.
Among the most popular stop for watching sunrise and sunsets in Grand Canyon is Hopi Point along the south rim offering incredible panoramic views of the canyon
Yavapai Point is another best spot to see the splendid colours of sunset and magnificent views of the Grand Canyon, accessible by a short walk from the visitor centre.
The after colours are gorgeous when the sky gets painted with brilliant hues of orange, golden, yellow, red, pink and purple, so stay for some time after the sun goes down.
There are a few advantages of visiting in winter.
Apart from fewer crowds, the sunrise and sunset happen relatively later than during summer, which means you do not have to wake up at 5 AM to run early and secure a spot!
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GO FOR WINTER HIKES
Winter in the Grand Canyon is perfect for hiking. Apart from almost empty trails, you will have pleasant weather to enjoy the stunning snow-blanketed views.
The trails around the rim are relatively easier and suitable for beginners. Below are the trails worth exploring in the Grand Canyon during winter.
BEST HIKES IN SOUTH RIM
Distance – 13 miles; Elevation – 200 ft; Duration – 6 hours
The entire trail is known as Rim trail, a flat, mostly paved trail beginning from South Kaibab Trailhead to Hermits Rest on the western side, running along the edge of the Grand Canyon for about 13 miles. But you can hike just part of it and take the shuttle bus back.
The first part of the trail, from South Kaibab Trailhead to the visitor centre, and the last part past the Village to Hermits Rest is known as the Hermit trail.
Another popular section of the trail is the 1.5 miles path between the visitor centre and Yavapai Point, approximately 1.5 miles, offering some beautiful panoramas.
BRIGHT ANGEL TRAIL
Distance – 12 miles; Elevation – 2900 ft; Duration – 10 to 12 hours
If you have more than two days in Grand Canyon, one of the recommended things to do in the Grand Canyon in winter is go on a day hike along Bright Angel Trail.
It is a strenuous hike only recommended if you are a seasoned hiker.
It is a well-maintained trail that will reward you with splendid views of the Canyon, but an additional challenge when doing it in winter is that the initial part of the trail is steep and slippery as it is layered with ice.
It is best to carry hiking poles and traction devices.
You can only hike until Plateau Point for completing in a day, which is about 12 miles. Although it may feel like a short distance, the elevation will take longer.
You can turn back after reaching other points along the way if you want shorter versions of this hike.
SOUTH KAIBAB TRAIL
Distance – 6 miles; Elevation – 1500 ft; Time – 4 to 5 hours
Another among the longest and most popular hiking trails enjoyable in Grand Canyon in winter is the South Kaibab trail.
The 16-mile round-trip with over 4,000 feet of elevation change is best done over 2-3 days, including camping, as it involves descending all the way into the canyon to the river and hiking back up
You will need the Backcountry Permit for this hike.
If you do not want overnight camping in winter, you can also hike part of the South Kaibab Trail as a day trip until the recommended point by NPS, Skeleton Point, which is a 6-miles round trip.
Another shorter option along the South Kaibab Trail is hiking 1.8 miles return to the Ooh Aah Point.
The hike down to Ooh Aah Point is also mainly downhill, which means it involves uphill climbing back up.
The views are fascinating no matter what trail you want to tackle if the weather favours you.
ENJOY CAMPING IN THE COLD
If you do not mind the cold or love camping in the winter, Grand Canyon has a few options that remain open at this time.
Here are some of the campgrounds you can check out for camping in the Grand Canyon in winter. The Mather Campground, in Grand Canyon Village is open on a first-come, first-served basis.
There are no online reservations possible if you plan winter camping.
You can book your spot using an automated fee machine at the campground office kiosk at the entrance to the campground.
It may fill quickly if you are here during holiday weekends, especially around Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
The North Rim Campground is available for winter camping. But the challenge is accessing the grounds, which may not be everyone.
It can only be reached by hiking the inner canyon trails from the South Rim or by hiking, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing 45 miles from Jacob Lake.
Trailer Village RV Campground is also open all winter and offers full hookups. Desert View Campground at the South Rim’s east entrance is closed for winter.
To camp at the North Rim during winter, you need a backcountry permit.
EXPLORE WILDLIFE IN GRAND CANYON
Surprisingly, not many know that winter is an excellent time to see the rich wildlife in the Grand Canyon.
Many animals, plants and birds thrive through cold winter days, but you need to be patient and know where to enjoy them in their natural habitats.
You can see animals foraging along the trails and forests, spotted commonly on hiking trails and drives.
Look out for the local special species of Mule deer, rock squirrels, elk and ravens, common during these colder months.
HOP ON THE GRAND CANYON POLAR EXPRESS
Every winter the Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express comes to life on a journey from the nighttime wilderness of Williams in Arizona, to the enchanted beauty of “the North Pole, Grand Canyon South Rim depot.
Here you will have Santa Claus and his reindeer waiting with a keepsake present. Enjoy hot chocolate and chocolate chip cookies while listening to this timeless story.
The ride lasts a little over an hour, with the train leaving each night at 5:30 PM and 7:30 PM.
Tickets begin at $57 for adults and $38 for children if you book early, but worth getting on the trail for a unique family holiday spirit to enjoy a special winter holiday in Grand Canyon.
TOTAL ROUND-TRIP TIME: Approximately 90 minutes.
GET ON TOP OF DESERT VIEW WATCHTOWER
Among the many viewpoints, one of the landmarks you should not miss is Desert View Watchtower, located next to the East Entrance Station.
If you are entering Grand Canyon National Park from the east entrance, you can enjoy stunning first views of the canyon by climbing to the top of Desert View Watchtower.
This 70 ft-high stone tower, built in the 1930s in the style of Puebloans with murals inside, is one of the famous attractions that allows you to admire beautiful views of the Canyon at different levels.
WHAT TO PACK FOR GRAND CANYON IN WINTER?
Here are the things we recommend you pack for the Grand Canyon in winter.
- Hiking Boots
- Camping Sleeping Bag
- Wind Jacket
- Day pack
- Pocket-Sized Water Filter
- Reusable food storage bags
- Ultralight First Aid Kit
- Hiking Leggings
If visiting the Grand Canyon during winter, one of the things to keep in mind is to pack in layers.
- Base Layer – Long Sleeve Sun-Protected Light Weight Top + Light Weight Hiking Pants
- Insulating Layer – Light Weight Pullover
- Outer Layer – Light Weight Windproof jacket with hood or Insulating Light Weight Jacket for fall/winter weather.
Here are some of the camping essentials you need:
- Cooler for food and water – Ultra Travel Cooler
- Camping Chair – Quad Camping Chair
- Camping Cot – Folding Camp Cot and Air Bed with Side Tables and Battery Operated Pump
- Sleeping Bags – Brazos Cold Weather Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Tents – Ultralight Tent 3-Season Backpacking Tent 1 Person/2 Person Camping Tent
- Camping Lantern – Rechargeable LED Camping Lantern
- Reusable Water Bottle + Light Weight Water Filter
Even if you aren’t into photography, you may want to bring a camera with a good lens. Panasonic LUMIX DC-ZS70S is best if you prefer lightweight gear.
WHERE TO STAY IN GRAND CANYON IN WINTER?
Since it is winter, you can expect snow storms or heavy snowfall and ice, which may delay your trip further, so staying as close as possible to the Grand Canyon is recommended.
STAYS INSIDE GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
One of the top advantages of visiting the Grand Canyon in winter is staying at one of the Grand Canyon’s historic South Rim lodges, sometimes even at the last minute.
If you have been here during the summer, you will know that it is nearly impossible to get your booking to stay in South Rim during the busy summer unless you book months in advance.
There are six places to stay at Canyon Village. All of them are elegant, offering stunning views and excellent amenities for comfortable stays.
- El Tovar Hotel – It is one of the best historic National Park lodges in the US, and come here during winter to enjoy your stay at this elegant place
- Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins – One of the best cabins known for its rustic vibes.
- Kachina Lodge – A pretty modern-day hotel surrounded by fantastic views
- Thunderbird Lodge – Stay here if you want to be close to the centre of Grand Canyon Village.
- Yavapai Lodge – Also located in the heart of Grand Canyon Village.
- Maswik Lodge – Surrounded by wooden forests, it is a unique stay close to shops and restaurants.
STAYING IN NEARBY CITIES
If, for some reason, you prefer staying in the cities nearby, the closest town is Tusayan, Arizona.
This little town is very close to the South Entrance of Grand Canyon National Park. But the downside is that there are limited stay and food options
If you prefer bigger cities, Flagstaff is the largest town near Grand Canyon.
There are many incredible things to do in Flagstaff, which deserves a day or two to be explored and is packed with more varieties of hotels.