Complete Guide to Visiting The Grand Canyon in Winter
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Are you thinking of visiting the Grand Canyon in winter? Well, you are in for a real treat! While many people wouldn’t consider going in the winter, those who do are blessed with a site so magical you wouldn’t believe it.
This gorge-ous canyon is awe-inspiring all year round, including when it’s sprinkled in white powdery snow in the winter.
This is something we discovered for ourselves on our RV road trip across the USA, and the snowy landscape really made for a unique and extraordinary experience.
However, winter at the Grand Canyon National Park is not as simple to visit as simply rocking up. There are a lot of things you need to consider, such as dangerous roads and slippery hiking trails. There are also some special sites and hidden gems that really come into their own in winter.
To make sure you get the most out of your Grand Canyon winter trip, this guide will tell you everything you need to know.
Is the Grand Canyon Worth Visiting in Winter?
There are some pros and cons to visiting the Grand Canyon in the winter, especially with kids, which we’ll outline below.
Overall, I think it’s fantastic to visit at any time of the year, including winter. It’s one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and possibly the most famous National Park in the world.
It’s 277 miles long, one mile deep, and 18 miles wide and shaped by the master chisel, the Colorado River. I could just stare at it all day long and never be bored or blasé about it.
It really is a sight to behold and Grand Canyon snow can add a little more drama to your eyes and adventures.
And the beauty of it is the majority of the park is inaccessible by humans and so it maintains its pristine state. Victory for Mother Earth!
Pros and Cons of Visiting the Grand Canyon in Winter
If you’re not sure whether you want to visit the Grand Canyon in winter, then here are some pros and cons to help you decide if it’s right for you. First, let’s start with the pros…
Pro: Less People
There were quite a few times when we were the only people gazing at the wonders of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It felt like we had the entire Desert View Drive to ourselves.
We only saw a handful of people and most of them were at the end at the popular Desert View Watchtower.
I can’t imagine how busy the popular viewpoints like Mathers Point and Hopi Point at sunset would get during peak season as it felt too busy when we were there with hundreds fewer people visiting the Grand Canyon.
Remember this is a National Park that gets 5+ million visitors a year.
When do you think most of them are visiting?
This also means restaurants within the park won’t be busy and you can pretty much walk straight into a table.
And traffic won’t be an issue, nor will you need to worry about lining up for the free shuttle buses etc.
Note: The Grand Canyon South Rim is open year round and receives 90% of the park’s visitation. But the North Rim is closed during the winter, and is only open from mid-May through mid-October. The Grand Canyon West Rim is open year round also. You can read more about that here.
Pro: Easier to Find Accommodation (and Cheaper)
The accommodation within Grand Canyon National Park can be booked out for the warmer seasons 12 months in advance.
Craig’s sister booked her stay at Kachina Lodge almost a year before visiting the Grand Canyon in September with Craig and the girls.
He was a late booker and had to stay in the nearby town of Tusayan at the Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel, 15 minutes outside the park.
In January, we were hosted at the Yavapai Lodge for three nights and there was plenty of availability. I enjoyed staying right near the rim of the Grand Canyon. More on that below.
Low season means you may be in a better position to snag some accommodation deals.
Pros: Hermits Rest Scenic Drive is Open
During the months of November to March, the Hermits Rest Scenic Drive is open to the public.
This is fantastic as the only other way you can visit all the scenic Grand Canyon viewpoints and walks along the west side of the South Rim is to catch the shuttle, walk, or ride your bike.
Hermit’s Rest Drive is 7 miles one way.
I loved being able to take my time in my own vehicle on my own schedule at each of the stop-offs to appreciate the Grand Canyon.
Hot Tip: If you do visit when this road is closed to the public, either walk sections of it or ride your bike.
If you don’t want to do the return walk – understandably as 14 miles return is a lot, especially with kids – then hike or bike one way and catch the shuttle back – you can take bikes on the shuttle.
In my opinion, it would be hugely annoying waiting for the shuttle to come at each stop and then lining up to get on. It could add hours and extra stress to your day.
Pro: Pretty and Unique Perspective
Pink, red, and orange rugged cliffs covered in a dusting of snow – could a natural wonder get more beautiful?
I loved seeing the unique perspective of the Grand Canyon covered in snow.
On the day we left a three-day snow storm had started. Sadly we didn’t get to see more of the canyon covered in snow during the snowstorm as visibility was poor, but there was enough during our previous three days there to appreciate and make the trip worthwhile.
What kid doesn’t love playing in the snow?
The girls had a blast throwing snowballs at each other along the Rim Trail and Savannah was thrilled to throw snowballs into the canyon.
And in the Grand Canyon during winter you can still see wildlife. You may see mule deer, elk, ravens, rock squirrels, and other creatures foraging among the ponderosa pine forests and soaring overhead on the rim.
We also loved seeing herds of mule deer grazing and chilling in the snow. They seemed to love the snowstorm as they were out everywhere when the storm came down.
We didn’t see them nearly as much when it wasn’t snowing.
Visiting in the winter was a memorable experience, and I don’t regret it.
Pros: Late Sunrises and Early Sunsets
The late risers will especially love this aspect of visiting the Grand Canyon in winter. I’m an early riser so not bothered by the earlier summer sunrises, but I know my girls were last year!
As I am an early morning person, I loved that the Grand Canyon sunset time was earlier during the winter.
I hate waiting around for a late sunset. I’m just too tired and I’m ready to relax and wind down by 7pm dinner. For these reasons, I’m one of those people that hates daylight savings!
Give me the extra light in the morning any time.
Con: It’s Cold
Okay, let’s state the obvious. It’s freezing during winter in the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon South Rim has an elevation of around 6,800 feet (2,072 meters) so be prepared for the winter chill. If you head down into the canyon it is actually going to get warmer!
If you’re dressed warmly enough, the cold won’t be too much of a bother.
Besides, it’s a great excuse for a hot chocolate or hot toddy by the fire. Because of the frequent snowstorms, it may interrupt your views or take away the opportunity for glorious sunsets and sunrise.
Given that most people visit during the extreme heat of the summer and many get into trouble hiking in the heat, perhaps, if you’re well prepared, hiking into the Grand Canyon is a great idea in the winter months.
But be sure to see my next point though!
Cons: All hikes into the canyon will be covered in snow and ice
The only real challenge for me visiting the Grand Canyon in January was that all of the hikes going into the canyon were covered in snow and ice.
The beginning of these trails doesn’t receive much sunlight due to the lower sun. So the snow won’t melt and it just refreezes overnight.
No one is going to be out plowing the trails either.
The problem is the beginning part of these treks (and what will be the end when you’re coming back out) is the steepest part with sheer drop-offs so it can be a potentially dangerous challenge.
If doing several winter hikes deep into the canyon is high on your bucket list, winter may not be the best time for you to visit. The snow is expected to stay in the park from November until April, so May until October is the best hiking season.
UNLESS you get yourself a good pair of hiking poles and shoe chains to go over your shoes to give you the traction you need on the ice and snow.
We saw LOADS of people on the Bright Angel Trail, still hiking to Plateau Point and some even going all the way to the river to stay at Phantom Ranch.
We even saw one local guide walking back out in flip-flops and board shorts!! That was quite the eye-opener.
If you intend to do this I highly recommend purchasing your shoe chains and hiking poles before arriving at the Grand Canyon.
We were not prepared and attempted to buy some, but they were all out of our sizes and didn’t have children’s sizes.
See below for the small part of the Bright Angel Trail we did do in the snow.
Con: North Rim is Closed
Craig and I visited the North Rim in 2006. I may have loved it more than the South Rim. There’s way less people and it felt more rugged and raw.
Sadly, most people don’t even visit the North Rim! Sadly, most people only spend on average 17 minutes looking at the Grand Canyon. NOOOOO!
There’s so much more to do.
The North Rim is much higher in elevation so the snowfall is heavier and the roads harder to maintain. So as mentioned, the North Rim is only open from mid-May through mid-October.
Con: The weather may block sunrise and sunset
In contrast to our sunrise and sunset advantage to visiting the Grand Canyon in the winter, as you get more frequent rain and snow storms during the winter months, it may get in the way of your sunrise and sunset worshipping.
We did not experience a sunrise because of it.
The skies were overcast every morning. We did get to experience one sunset at Hopi Point which was spectacular.
Things to Do in the Grand Canyon During Winter
Now you may be wondering what there is to actually do in the winter in the Grand Canyon National Park. We mentioned earlier the dangers of the hiking trails in winter, but don’t worry, there are still plenty of things to do.
Here are some of the best winter attractions in Grand Canyon National Park.
1. Hike the Rim Trail: Visitor Center to the Village
The 2.5 mile section of the Grand Canyon Rim Trail between the Visitor Center and the Village is worth doing, especially if you visit the Grand Canyon with kids.
It’s mostly flat the entire way, follows the rim of the canyon, and gives you exquisite views. In the winter, it’s a chance to throw snowballs at each other as well.
Take your time to stroll, enjoy the views and learn along the way with the interpretative trails, museums, and ranger talks.
If you don’t want to go too far, Yavapai Point is an easy walk west of Mather Point and has some of the best Grand Canyon views.
2. Watch the Visitor Center’s 22-Minute Film
When you want to escape the cold, pop into the Grand Canyon Visitor Center at Mather Point to see the 22 minute park film, Grand Canyon – a Journey of Wonder.
It’s a great introduction to the canyon, especially for kids.
I loved the 8-minute Science on a Sphere production which projects the changing Earth through time on a large globe. It really helps you to see how the canyon was formed. My girls were fascinated.
We found the coffee at the Coffee Shop & Grab n’ Go Restaurant to be pretty good.
Get educated with the Junior Ranger Program and more.
My girls were excited to do the Junior Ranger program again! They now have two badges from the Grand Canyon.
While there, I also purchased another Grand Canyon activity book and two novels centered on the Canyon. I think it’s super important to make education relevant for kids.
How much more relevant can you get?
They LOVED these activity books and the Junior ranger one. They took them with us everywhere and sat quietly every time we ate out to work on them together.
They learned so much and it was the best decision I made.
I loved how connected they feel to Mother Nature and the role they are taking on to protect and care for her.
They were so well-behaved and joyful during our time at the Grand Canyon. I just know this is the natural effect of being around such extraordinary beauty.
It commands your attention, respect, and awe.
Be sure to spend time on the Rim Trail. The girls loved watching the years count up and move from one year old to a billion.
It’s a great way to get some sort of perspective on just how old the Grand Canyon is but still I don’t think our minds can ever comprehend something so old that has been created so slowly.
For the girls (even myself) to have the opportunity to sit and gaze at the canyon and visualize how the Colorado River has shaped the land is incredible.
It’s something I’ve never forgotten since my first trip 12 years ago, and I don’t think the girls ever will.
3. Walk the Bright Angel Trail
As mentioned above, this trail was covered in snow and ice. We strapped on our Merrell hiking boots though to experience a bit of it.
We started by going just 10 steps for a look and a photo, sticking close to the canyon wall. Then we walked 10 more steps, then 10 more feelings confident with each steady move forward with the canyon wall at our side.
But we knew if we slid and fell it would be just against the wall. We felt safe in our decision and remained upright for the entire walk.
We ended up getting down onto Heartbreak Hill at about the same place where the girls made in the Fall last year. We could have possibly gone further but we didn’t want to risk it too much.
The Bright Angel Trail is the most popular trail into the Grand Canyon. You can go down as far as you like, noting that it will take you longer to come back out as it can get fairly steep.
Many people make the mile trek to Plateau Point where you can look out over the Colorado River. You feel so close to it down there.
Craig and I hiked there in 2006 during our 4 day Grand Canyon vacation in the brutal heat of summer – it was tough, even with a 4am start.
Experiencing the snow and icy Bright Angel Trail with my girls was an adventure I’ll always remember of our visit to the Grand Canyon in the winter.
It will possibly be the highlight of our entire one year America Unplugged road trip. The girls blew me away with their confidence, responsibility, and fearlessness to keep taking a step forward and stretch their comfort zone a little.
We will also never forget the local Arizona guide who was walking back out of the canyon with a couple wearing board shorts and flip-flops!!
I guess he’s done this before.
They had come from Phantom Ranch which is an overnight point on the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon. One for the bucket list.
Made me feel a little silly for clutching the canyon wall with trepidation wearing my super grippy, warm and comfortable Merrill hiking shoes.
Top tip: The South Kaibab Trail is open for hiking during the winter and is sunnier so not as icy as the Bright Angel. People actually hike all the way to the river (2 day hike) and camp. If that’s not your winter style you can hike to Skeleton Point a back for a total of 6 miles return. You’ll still need crampons!
4. Hermits Rest Scenic Drive
The 14-mile round trip Hermit Road takes you to Hopi, Maricopa and Pima view points.
Once you get out to Hopi Point, the Colorado River comes into view, and on a quiet day at Pima Point, you can hear the roar of the Colorado River as it crashes through Granite Rapid.
Hermits Rest Scenic Drive Viewpoints
- Trail View Overlook – I LOVED getting a close-up look at the Bright Angel Trail here. It gives you a fabulous insight into just how steep and narrow this canyon vein switchbacks down the cliff face onto the plateau. You can also see the lush Indian Gardens from here – yet another side of the Grand Canyon to appreciate. You also get views of the Grand Canyon Village perched on the canyon rim.
- Powell Point had spectacular wide vistas and you feel really close to the canyon floor. The Powell Memorial at this viewpoint commemorates the 1869 and 1871-72 exploratory trips down the Colorado River by Major John Wesley Powell and expedition crews
- Mohave Point – More great views and you can see the Colorado River from here
- Pima Point – is one of the best places on the rim to see and sometimes hear the river.
- The Abyss – Those afraid of heights may want to slip into the Abyss where you get a great look at the almost vertical view into the canyon.
- Hermits Rest – the end of the trail. Mary Colter, one of Grand Canyon’s most famous architects, built Hermits Rest in 1914 to look like an old miner’s cabin, complete with a giant fireplace and front porch It was blowing a wintery gale when we arrived here so didn’t stay too long for the views. There is a gift shop and small snack bar here and near the start of the Hermit Trail.
5. Hopi Point Sunset
Don’t miss the sunset at Hopi Point. It does get busy (and will be cold) but if you grab a spot in the parking lot you can jump in and out of the car to warm up.
The girls sat in the car while we roamed around and admired the views. The girls had good views out the window and The Beast was happy!
Don’t forget to turn around so you can see the canyon light up in pretty pastel pinks once the sun goes down.
Sunrise is also meant to be popular here.
6. Desert View Drive
This 50-mile round trip scenic drive to Desert View and the East Entrance offers some of the best views in the Grand Canyon National Park.
Sadly, most visitors don’t do this drive and miss one of the greatest experiences of the Grand Canyon South Rim.
Desert View Drive Views not to miss:
- Yaki Point – We did not make it out here as you can’t drive down here. It can only be reached on the free shuttle or on bikes or walking.
- Duck on a Rock – See if you can work out what the unmarked rock formation is located just east of Yaki Point.
- Grandview Trail – offers panoramic views of the Grand Canyon from east to west, including several bends of the Colorado River to the east. It’s also where the steep Grandview Trail begins. Only for those who know what they are doing at any time of the year.
- Moran Point – for those who want a good look at the three main rock groups that make up the canyon. Brilliant colors here!
- Lipan Point – is the place for sunset on Desert View Drive. It also offers great views of the rapids on the Colorado River
- Navajo Point – will give you a good view of the desert View Watchtower which is your final viewpoint on Desert View Drive. Don’t miss it. Navajo Point is the highest overlook on the South Rim (unless you go to the top of the watchtower)
7. Desert View Watch Tower
I loved getting a great view of the Colorado River snaking through the valley, watched over by the jagged cliffs of the rim.
It was dramatic and bright and colorful, made all the better with a rainbow bursting out of the clouds and over the river.
This is the place where the Vermillion Cliffs, San Francisco Peaks, Painted Desert, and Colorado River come into view.
Be sure to climb the watchtower which is the highest point on the South Rim. I loved the design of this building which resembles an ancient Puebloan Ian watchtower.
It was designed by Mary Elizabeth Coulter who designed many of the buildings within the park.
8. Tusayan Museum and Ruin
Bring a little culture and history into your Grand Canyon vacation at the Tusayan Museum and Ruins
You can walk the trail around an ancestral Puebloan village to learn more about the canyons’ cultural history. There is a museum showcasing different relicts.
Don’t miss the 4,000-year-old twig animal figures.
9. Walk The Grand Canyon Skywalk
The Grand Canyon’s Skywalk which is located at Grand Canyon West is still open during the winter (weather permitting).
This clear glass walkway is set 4,000 feet above the canyon and is not for the faint-hearted. As you walk across the skywalk, you have a birds-eye view of the ground (or lack thereof) and the river below.
If you’re worried about walking on the glass Skywalk, don’t worry, apparently it’s able to hold the weight of seventy full 747 airplanes… though I don’t know how they came up with this figure.
10. Catch the Polar Express
If you’re visiting the Grand Canyon in winter with kids, you simply must take them on a ride of the Polar Express.
This unique and seasonal activity takes place in December and travels from Williams to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Just like in the movies, Children can wear their pajamas, drink hot chocolate and meet Santa! There’s also a bonus of cookies waiting at the end destination.
Video: Grand Canyon in the Winter
Tips for Visiting Grand Canyon in Winter
- You can be pretty flexible when planning a trip to the Grand Canyon in winter. If you can be spontaneous keep an eye on the Grand Canyon weather and visit when there won’t be any inclement weather or winter storms!
- The ranger told us most road accidents happen on scenic drives as a result of inexperienced drivers with the snow and in rental cars. If you don’t think you can handle a car in the snow, don’t drive. Wait until the snow passes.
- Do a crash course in road safety if you’re not confident – even a quick google search for a few tips. Get your rental car here.
- Be sure to have travel insurance. With all travel, a lot can go wrong. We hope it doesn’t, and we don’t think it will if you’re sensible. But some things can be out of your hands, like travel delays or cancellations, or lost luggage. So you do want to protect your investment in your dream vacation. Some travel insurance policies will cover rental car excess as well which can sometimes cover the daily cost of car rental. As ambassadors for Allianz Travel Insurance, we recommend them as an excellent choice for travel insurance.
- Your life is worth more than the photo. We also saw far too many people getting really close to the edge for those coveted Instagram-worthy photos. Risky on a normal day, even more so when snow and ice are around. Not sure if travel insurance will help if you actually tumble to your death.
- Be sure to check with the visitor center for the conditions of hiking trails and roads.
What to Pack for the Grand Canyon in Winter
You’ve learned by now that it’s really cold in the Grand Canyon from December to February. As it is 7000+ feet above sea level, it’s so much colder than lower-elevation spots in northern Arizona.
So be sure to pack:
- Warm layers
- base layer (thermals) worn directly on skin that is breathable and moisture-wicking
- a middle layer that insulates and heats
- outer layer (jacket/coat) that protects against the wind and rain
- Winter hat, gloves, scarf (thermal is better)
- If hiking, poles and snow chains (crampons), and good hiking boots (waterproof)
- Sunglasses and sunscreen – if the sun is out, you could burn with the higher elevations (even though it’s cold)
- Day pack
- Spare pare of socks (thank me later)
- Waterproof pants (trousers for the Brits)
- Water bottle – stay hydrated!
Where to Stay in the Grand Canyon in Winter
Because it’s not common to visit the Grand Canyon in winter, not all accommodation options are open. Here are some places you can stay at that are open in the winter.
We jumped out of our RV for three nights to experience Yavapai Lodge. We wanted to see if it was a good option for you when you visit the Grand Canyon! Guess what? It is.
Yavapai Lodge is a basic hotel room but the rooms were clean and comfortable – you won’t be in them much – and the service was excellent.
We enjoyed the Yavapai Tavern in the main lobby area and ate there for two nights, and watched the Super Bowl. You can sit by the fire and use their lobby Wi-Fi.
Yavapai Lodge is centrally located between the Village and the Visitor Center. You can do the short drive (or even bike) to either but there is a shuttle stop here too.
It’s also right next to the biggest general store in the park.
Craig’s parents and sister have stayed at Kachina Lodge and were happy with it.
They choose Kachina Lodge due to its prime location on the Rim Trail, and relatively affordable price compared to others nearby.
They had a canyon view from their room. Whilst the building is nothing special from the outside, and their room wasn’t big or flashy, it was comfortable – it’s all about location here!
Bright Angel Lodge
The iconic Bright Angel Lodge has the natural rustic character you’d expect from a Registered National Historic Landmark, and is located in the heart of Grand Canyon Village.
It has gone through many transformations over the years – it was originally a hotel, then a camp, and finally a lodge!
Inside is the family-friendly Harvey House Café where we ate breakfast each morning.
Thunderbird Lodge + Maswik Lodge
Thunderbird Lodge is situated between Bright Angel and Kachina Lodge. It’s located directly on the canyon rim and many of the rooms offer partial views of the canyon
Maswik Lodge is a 280-room lodge surrounded by forest, a quarter-mile walk from the Rim
The Historic El Tovar Hotel
For premier Grand Canyon lodging, El Tovar is the ultimate National Park lodge located directly on the rim.
In 1987 this Hotel was designated a National Historic Landmark, and has hosted such luminaries as President Bill Clinton, Sir Paul McCartney, Theodore Roosevelt, and Oprah Winfrey.
Trailer Village RV Park
We were booked in to stay at the Trailer Village campground, but had to leave because of the winter weather and snowstorm. We just weren’t sure how our travel trailer would cope in the low teens – it was going to get to 12 degrees Fahrenheit.
We know she can handle the mid-twenties, but we think lower than that may be too much of a strain on the pipes. We parked our trailer in the Yavapai Lodge car park during our stay.
We certainly didn’t want to run the risk of pipes freezing and bursting and then be without our home on wheels!
Accommodation Near the Grand Canyon
For more affordable Grand Canyon accommodation outside the park (and more options), the following hotels are open in the winter and you don’t have to book as far in advance.
Places to consider staying are the town of Tusayan, where Craig stayed with our kids in September.
They stayed at the Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel.
This hotel had everything they needed, it was clean, the room was large, and it was an easy 15-minute drive into Grand Canyon Village.
Read reviews and book the Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel with our partner Booking.com.
Search more Grand Canyon Hotels:
Important Facts about Grand Canyon National Park in Winter
- The entrance fee is $30 per vehicle and $25 for motorcyclists. We use our America the Beautiful Annual National Parks Pass which gives us unlimited visits to federal lands with no entrance fees for 12 months for $80.
- Check with the visitor center for any backcountry permits you may need if going off the beaten path.
- Free shuttle buses run every 15- 20 minutes and take you to most areas in the park except Desert View.
- Don’t forget, the North Rim is closed from Nov – May!
Tours of the Grand Canyon
Looking to visit the Grand Canyon in winter but don’t have your own car? Doing a Grand Canyon day trip from Las Vegas is a great option for those with a limited amount of time to spend or who don’t have private vehicles.
Our partners, Get Your Guide, offer a Grand Canyon South Rim day tour.
Get picked up from your Vegas hotel then experience one of the best Grand Canyon tours with a professional guide.
Before You Go
So there you have it, that’s everything you need to know about visiting the Grand Canyon in winter. I hope you found this guide useful and helped you plan your trip.
Before you go, remember to take extra precautions with you. Pack snow chains for your tires, make sure you tell people you’re visiting (in case of emergencies), and don’t take unnecessary risks.
Visiting the Grand Canyon is not dangerous if you take care. Remember the tops we mentioned in this guide, and you’re in for an incredible time!
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Do you have any tips or questions about visiting the Grand Canyon during winter? Leave them in the comments below!