Visiting the Grand Canyon in Winter
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A visit to the Grand Canyon National Park in Winter can be a magical experience with the winter months bringing low crowds, clear skies and a unique opportunity to see the canyon covered in snow. The trade-off is freezing temperatures and the prospect of ice and snow-covered trails.
So is a trip to Grand Canyon National Park in Winter worth it? Having recently visited Grand Canyon National Park in Winter we wanted to share our experience and our tips for visiting Grand Canyon in Winter.
Grand Canyon in Winter: North or South Rim
Most winter visitors to the Grand Canyon will only have one option when deciding between the North and South Rim – the South Rim!
South Rim in Winter
The South Rim is accessible year round and most of the facilities, trails and lodging remain open during the winter months.
North Rim in Winter
All facilities and lodgings at the North Rim shut down for winter. Access to the North Rim is seasonal and roads are closed to all vehicles between December 1st and May 15th. The North Rim is over 8,000 feet in elevation and, although snowfall is a challenge, the extreme cold also contributes to the North Rim closing for almost half the year. The North Rim infrastructure cannot service the facilities in the harsh winter months as many of the pipes reside just a few feet below the ground..
For those who want to visit the North Rim in Winter there are two options:
- Rim to Rim: it is It is possible to hike Rim to Rim descending from the Bright Angel or South Kaibab trail on the South Rim and ascending to the North Rim via the North Kaibab trail This is an extremely challenging hike and one which only a small number of visitors undertake.
- Hike/Ski/Snowshoeing from Jacob Lake: the road to North Rim closes to vehicles at Jacob Lake, a town 25 miles south of the rim. It is possible to both hike/snowshoe and cross country ski from Jacob Lake to the North Rim.
A Backcountry Permit is required for overnight camping at the North Rim during the winter months.
Grand Canyon in Winter tip: the Grand Canyon West Rim is also open year round. It is a popular day trip from Las Vegas and is where the Skywalk is located and the helicopter tours visit. This part of the canyon is owned by the Hualapai Tribe and is not part of the Grand Canyon National Park.
Where to Stay at the Grand Canyon in Winter
There are two options for accommodation at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon:
- Within the park: stay in the historic El Tovar Hotel or one of the four lodges in Grand Canyon Village. Camp in one of the park’s 3 campgrounds
- Outside the park: stay in one of the motels or Airbnbs in the nearby town of Tusayan
In Park: Where to stay in Grand Canyon Village
Grand Canyon Village is the center hub of the South Rim and the park’s accommodation is located right in the center of all the South Rim action. The village is also well serviced by park’s shuttle service. Although it can be expensive, we love staying in Grand Canyon Village and highly recommend it for an awesome Grand Canyon experience.
Grand Canyon in Winter tip: rooms and cabins at the lodges in Grand Canyon Village usually sell out months in advance. However during the winter months availability is is usually better and we managed to get a cabin at Bright Angel Lodge around 6 weeks before our trip.
Hotels and Lodges
- Bright Angel Lodge: we stayed at Bright Angel during our most recent visit to the Grand Canyon and had a fantastic stay. The lodge offers rooms and cabins and is located on the rim at the top of the Bright Angel trail head. Bright Angel is often one of the cheapest options within the park – check prices now!
- El Tovar Hotel: the South Rim’s premium accommodation option, the elegant El Tovar is a National Historic Landmark with 78 unique rooms and a fine dining restaurant. – check prices now!
- Kachina Lodge: for those seeking regular style hotel rooms Kachina is a good option with clean and comfortable rooms. The lodge sits directly on the rim of the canyon and the views are incredible – check prices now!
- Thunderbird Lodge: situated between Bright Angel and Kachina Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge is also located directly on the canyon rim and many of the rooms offer partial views of the canyon – check prices now!
- Maswik Lodge: located in a wooded area near the rim of the Canyon, Maswik Lodge has 280 rooms across 12 buildings. The lodge has more of a contemporary style and rooms accessed via outside walkways. It’s a quick shuttle ride or quarter-mile walk from the lodge to the rim – check prices now!
- Camping: there are 3 in park camping options although only 2 are open in the winter months. Mather Campground, close to Grand Canyon Village is first come, first served in winter. Trailer Village RV, located in the Grand Canyon Village, has 111 sites, many of which are full hookup and reservations can be made 13 months in advance.
Outside the park: Where to Stay in Tusayan
- AirBnb: there are some great AirBnB options in Tusayan and its surrounds. This Yukon RV camper is only five minutes from the park entrance while the one of a kind Love Shack is 30 minutes away as is this beautiful Grand Canyon tiny house
- Best Western Premier Squire Inn: clean, modern and only a 10 minute driver from the Tusayan entrance ot the park. This Best Western is our first choice for when we stay outside the park – check prices now!
- The Grand Hotel: one of the few hotels with an indoor heated pool to relax in after exploring the grand canyon. Grand Canyon Village is a short drive so you’re quite close to the park – check prices now!
National Parks Pass America The Beautiful
If you’re planning to visit a couple of the US National Parks we highly recommend purchasing an America The Beautiful pass. The pass grants you access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites across the US, including all the National Parks. We purchased a pass before we began our trip across the US and it’s one of the best value tickets out there!
Grand Canyon Winter Weather
During the winter months the weather at the south rim is generally very cold with icy roads and trails and a high chance of snow. Temperatures will vary from lows of 20 ºF to highs of 43 ºF and the chance of snow is pretty high. This is one of the main reasons why visitor numbers to the South Rim are lowest in Winter.
- Temperatures: Temperatures are low along the rim and reach an average low of 15 ºF to 20 ºF. The winter sunshine results in highs of up to 45ºF in the afternoons.
- Snow: the South Rim averages 58 inches of snow in winter and this often results in temporary road closures while the snow is cleared.
- Rain: the winter months are relatively dry. It typically rains 4 or 5 days each month with around 1 to 2 inches of rain.
Grand Canyon in Winter tip: Our most recent visit was in early December 2019 and we were lucky to arrive after a blizzard like snowstorm hit the South Rim. Nearly two feet of snow fell, some of the park roads closed and power was cut temporarily. Access and power were restored by the time we arrived and the experience of seeing the Grand Canyon with snow was breathtaking!
Getting to the South Rim in Winter
There are two entrances to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon: the Tuyasan South Entrance and the Desert View East Entrance. The East Entrance gate as the drive in passes by many of the incredible viewpoints along the South Rim.
Grand Canyon in Winter tip: Due to the current restrictions the Desert View and East Entrance remain closed and entry to the South Rim is only possible via the Tusayan South Entrance.
The most common entry points to the Grand Canyon South Rim are:
From Page, Arizona (140 miles): we visited Grand Canyon after we finished our Utah National Parks road trip so we arrived at the South Rim from Page. The drive is relatively straightforward and the best part is that you’ll drive the length of route 64 and enter via the east entrance of the Grand Canyon. This is a great way to see all the magnificent South Rim viewpoints as you drive to Grand Canyon Village (this route is currently closed). During the winter Route 64 can close occasionally as the roads are cleared from snowfalls. Make sure to check the forecast and driving conditions before leaving Page as if it’s closed you will have to drive via Flagstaff which is an additional 90 minutes drive.
From Las Vegas, Nevada (270 miles): The Grand Canyon is one of the best National Parks near Las Vegas to visit in winter. The drive time is around 4 hours. There isn’t a lot to see on this route and you’ll enter Grand Canyon Village from the Tuyasan south entrance.
From Phoenix, Arizona (220 miles) The drive from Phoenix is around 3 hours and visitors will enter the park from the Tuyasan south entrance.
Winter driving and road closures at the South Rim
Driving to the South Rim: road closures are not frequent at the South Rim (the current East Entrance closure is due to restrictions on driving through the neighboring Navajo lands) although heavy snowfall can cause delays as the roads are cleared. Roads can be icy so drive with caution.
Grand Canyon in Winter tip: try to avoid driving in or out of the park during any bad weather, especially during heavy snow or extreme cold spells. Instead, try to get there just before or a little after these weather events.
Driving in the park: the South Rim viewpoints are located along two roads, Desert View Road and Hermit Road. Hermit View Road is only accessible to the park shuttle buses during peak season. One of the bonuses of a winter visit is that you can drive your own vehicle along Hermit Road between December and February.
During adverse weather priority is given to the main access roads in and out of the park, meaning secondary roads, walkways and parking areas may take time to clear and grit This can make walking or driving around Grand Canyon village a little tricky during these times so allow extra time to do anything and take care of getting in and out of your car.
What to Pack for the Grand Canyon in Winter
- Thermal Clothing: good quality warm clothing is essential if you’re planning to spend some time outdoors at the Grand Canyon in winter. We recommend wearing lots of layers as, this way, you can easily add/remove layers as the temperatures change. Lightweight thermal layers, thermal gloves, a hat and a warm jacket are key.
- Hiking boots: If you’re planning to hike at the Grand Canyon, even the rim hike, then we highly recommend a good quality pair of hiking boots and with some Yaktrax for extra traction. Our hiking boots and waterproof trail runners worked great in the ice and snow. We purchased them in REI – check prices now!
- Yaktrax : We also used our Yaktrax, lightweight ice grips worn over regular shoes and boots, everywhere during our visit to the Grand Canyon. They are awesome for avoiding slipping and sliding on the icy paths at the viewpoints – check prices now!
- Water: If you’re planning a longer hike make sure to take enough water (even in cold weather) as it is very easy to get dehydrated. At the South Kaibab trail, for example, water is only available at the trail head. We use our Camelbak for all our longer hikes and it works great – check prices now!
- Hiking poles: anyone planning hiking down into the canyon itself should consider hiking poles – check prices now!
- Sunscreen and sunglasses: the sun is still strong in winter so sunscreen and sunglasses are recommended.
Hiking in the Grand Canyon in Winter
Hiking is one of the best ways to experience the magnificence of the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is home to some grueling hikes but there are a few trails that are relatively easy and are also extremely beautiful in winter.
- Rim Trail: The first trail we’d recommend is the Rim Trail Hike from Bright Angel Lodge. The trail follows the rim along Hermit Road/West Rim Drive. We hiked this stretch of the Rim Trail for sunrise during our stay at Bright Angel Lodge. The viewpoints are also accessible by car in winter and by the park shuttle year round.
- South Kaibab: The South Kaibab Trail follows a ridge line down into the Canyon and the views are spectacular. There are lots of viewpoints along the South Kaibab Trail – our favorite short hikes on South Kaibab are Ooh Aah Point or on to Ceear Ridge
- Bright Angel: the Bright Angel trail follows a fault into the canyon via a series of steep switchback. Similar to South Kaibab, there are lots of shorter hiking options – the easiest is 1.5 Mile Resthouse.
- Rim to Rim: It is possible to hike Rim to Rim from the South Rim to the North Rim during winter. Start descending into the Canyon from Bright Angel or the South Kaibab trail on the South rim and ascending to the North Rim via the North Kaibab trail This is an extremely challenging hike and one which only a small number of visitors undertake. Visitors typically spend a night at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon. A Backcountry Permit is required for overnight camping at the North Rim during the winter months.
Anyone planning a hike, no matter how short, at the Grand Canyon in Winter should dress appropriately and weather good quality hiking boots and traction devices for them. We recommend Yaktrax which go over the bottom of your boots/shoes and provide extremely good grip on ice and packed snowy surfaces. We used ours extensively at the Grand Canyon, especially at the viewpoints which can get extremely slippery with packed ice – check prices now!
Grand Canyon in Winter tip: the viewpoints on Desert View Road are a South Rim essential. All the viewpoints are easily accessed by car.
Visiting the Grand Canyon in Winter
Some things to consider about visiting Grand Canyon National Park in Winter:
1 | The views are often better
During the winter months the cooler weather brings with it clearer views and crisp sunrises and sunsets. Watching the sunrise over a snowy grand canyon is a magical experience and make it so worth braving the cold and snow to experience the Grand Canyon views at this time of year.
2 | The park is less crowded and the viewpoints are less busy
In general, the winter months are the quietest at the Grand Canyon as many visitors choose to visit during the warmer months. As a result, the trails are quieter and, on a winter hike down to Ooh Aah Point we were the only people on the trail at sunrise.
The other huge benefit of the lesser crowds during winter is that the viewpoints are less busy. When we visited many of the viewpoints on our recent winter visit they only had a handful of visitors at them and it was really magical to enjoy the views with so few people around. Private vehicles are permitted on Hermit Road during winter and it’s relatively easy to get a parking space at the viewpoints due to the low crowds – this means no waiting around for buses in the freezing temperatures!
3 | Accommodation tends to be cheaper with more availability
Another big pro of visiting the Grand Canyon in winter is that accommodation is cheaper and easier to secure during the winter months. During the busier months the in park accommodation options sell out at least 6 months in advance.
Grand Canyon in Winter tip: We were able to get a cabin at Bright Angel lodge around 6 weeks before we visited in winter. In comparison, we’ve booked up to 12 months in advance for summer visits!
4 | A snow covered Grand Canyon
There’s something truly magical about experiencing the Grand Canyon when it’s covered in fresh snow!
5 | Avoid the scorching summer heat
Although it can get extremely cold at the Grand Canyon in Winter the temperatures can be a lot more manageable that during the summer months. Temperatures often exceed 100ºF in summer months making even a short hike along the rim difficult. We much prefer piling on layers of clothing in winter rather than dealing with the high temperatures and crowds of the summer months!
6 | Wildlife
Despite the colder temperatures, there is still plenty of wildlife at the Grand Canyon in Winter. Elk are extremely common in and around Grand Canyon Village and along Hermit Road.
Grand Canyon in Winter tips: While they are beautiful animals and look friendly, elk are in fact quite dangerous so don’t try to approach them. It’s not just elks that you need to stay well away from – the Grand Canyon squirrels have been known to attack selfie seeking visitors and some may even carry the Bubonic Plague. Avoid the squirrels at all costs, no matter how cute they look!
Is it worth visiting Grand Canyon National park in Winter?
Yes! It is most definitely worth visiting the Grand Canyon in winter. We spent a few magical days on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in December and would highly recommend visiting at this time of year. Low crowds, awesome views, less expensive accommodation and the prospect of a snow-covered Grand Canyon are irresistible!
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