How To Visit The Grand Canyon In Winter

 

Winter is a magical time for Arizona.  The contrast of a white dusting of snow amongst the red rock is a stunning site.  That’s why visiting the Grand Canyon in winter is my favorite time to visit this iconic National Park 

The Grand Canyon in winter is a magical place and a great time to visit this magnificent National Park.  As one of the busiest National Parks in the world, this place gets nuts in the summer months.

Skip the crowds and hike, bike and cruise the Park the way it was meant to be.

park info

  • Park Headquarters – 928-638-7888
  • Mather Campground – 877-444-6777
  • Village Market 928-638-2262
  • Maswik Lodge 928-638-2631
  • Thunderbird Lodge 928-638-2631
  • Current Winter Weather Advisory
grand canyon in winter

Winter Weather

Don’t think for a minute that the Grand Canyon in winter is a warm place.  While the sun may keep you warm during the day, an overcast or evening sky gets cold quick.  In addition, the area can see some big winter storms with feet of snowfall. 

Being prepared is the name of the game when visiting Arizona’s high country in the winter.

 

Winter Temperatures

grand canyon in winter

Arizona blanketed in snow

As we hit the road for our winter National Park trip the area was flat out slammed with snow.  Las Vegas, Sedona, and even part way down to Phoenix were blanketed in snow.  We were stoked because this would be the perfect test for the Grand Canyon in Winter.

 

If you’re visiting the Grand Canyon don’t miss this lively Ghost town just South of Sedona.

WHAT TO DO IN THE WICKEDEST GHOST TOWN, JEROME ARIZONA

The Four Entrances To The Grand Canyon

North Rim

Proudly standing between 8,000 and 9,000 feet, the Grand Canyon’s North Rim is located 45 miles south of Jacob Lake via AZ 67.

Because it sits about 1,500 feet higher than the South Rim, it gets blanketed by snow and closes during the winter.  Open mid-May through mid-October, it’s a less developed and less visited side of the Grand Canyon.

South Rim

Open year round, the South Rim is the most popular area of the Grand Canyon National Park.  The South Rim has two entrances. 

One to the East with the closest town being Cameron.  And one to the South, closest town Tusayan.  The more developed South Rim his home to a variety of lodging, camping, restaurants, and historic buildings.

 

Grand Canyon West

Located 250 miles west of the South Rim, Grand Canyon West falls outside the National Park boundaries and is managed by the Hualapai tribe.

It’s home to the Skywalk, a glass bottomed horseshoe shaped bridge that jets you out over the abyss of the Grand Canyon. Your National Park pass will not work here.  Entrance fees start at $65.

Havasu Falls

These stunning falls while not technically in the park are only accessible by a 10-mile hike.  Managed by the Havasupai Indian Reservation, user fees and permits are required.

More information at the Havasupai Tribe.

South Rim Grand Canyon

For this article I will be focusing on the South Rim and how to best visit the Grand Canyon in winter.

But first there’s one piece of gear you really should get before visiting Arizona and the Grand Canyon in winter.

Do yourself a favor and grab yourself some YakTrax.  We tried hiking without them but got sick of having to walk slow and dance around all the slick spots.  One of our favorite winter hikes, Bright Angel, would have been miserable during the winter without these.

We found these useful all throughout Arizona, especially in the Arches National Park where the trail to delicate arch was almost impossible without them.

Flagstaff Arizona

The logical jumping off point for the Grand Canyon is the terrific town of Flagstaff, one of our all time favorite towns. Located on the iconic Route 66, Flagstaff is full of history and charm that you would expect from one of America’s most scenic routes.  Flagstaff has a lively vibe with historic architecture and terrific food and nightlife.

During the off-season of winter, you can get some great deals in and around Flagstaff.  We were able to get hotels for around $50 mid-week no problem.

grand canyon in winter

Be sure to quench your thirst at one of Flagstaff’s tasty breweries. The best Breweries in Flagstaff.

If time allows there are a ton of great things to do in and around Flagstaff.  Here’s our favorite things to do near Flagstaff.

Sedona In The Winter

Another must see town on a Grand Canyon visit is Sedona Arizona.  This artsy town boasts luxurious accommodations and great authentic food of the Southwest.

Sedona sits south of Flagstaff and is connected via one of the most beautiful drives of Arizona, HWY 89A.  

The drive alone is worth a visit making Sedona another good option as a staging point for the Grand Canyon.

 

Being that Sedona sits quite a bit lower than Flagstaff you’ll have no problem getting in some of Sedona’s hikes when Flagstaff is buried in snow.  There are many great hikes in Sedona but be sure to check out Devil’s Bridge, it’s especially great in the winter as the crowds are less.

 

Where would we stay?   We prefer Flagstaff as it has a more fun night life.  If cocktails and beer aren’t your thing Sedona provides for a much better shopping experience and will have better hiking due to less snow.

Getting to the Grand Canyon

There are two entrances to the Grand Canyon, Desert View and South Entrance.  I recommend entering at the Desert View entrance and finishing at the South Entrance.

The entrance fee is $35 per vehicle or you can purchase an annual pass for $70.  

what to see and do at the grand canyon

grand canyon in winter

Desert View Watchtower

If you enter through the Desert View entrance your first stop will be the massive stone Desert View Watchtower.  The watchtower while it may look old, was actually built in 1932 by the architect Mary Colter, a famous Southwest architect.

The tower is filled with artifacts and paintings representing the indigenous people of the area.  The tower features a circular staircase that you can climb all the way to the top for some epic views of the canyon.

Inside the tower you’ll even find a small gift shop.  For a walkthrough of the Desert View Watchtower check out the video below.

 

 

Grand Canyon Visitor Center

22 miles from Desert View is the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.  Along the way are numerous view point pull-outs but there are a couple you should not miss.

grand canyon in winter

 

The first one is Yaki Point.  During the busy season you aren’t allowed to drive out to the point, instead, you must take one of the park shuttles.

In the winter however, you can drive out to the point, just one of the many perks of visiting the Grand Canyon in winter.

 

The next view point, and perhaps the most popular is Mather Point, located near the visitor center.

Here at the visitor center you’ll find bike rentals, a cafe, and even a general store.  In addition, there are educational opportunities including a theatre that runs videos of the Grand Canyon by air.

grand canyon in winter

From here I recommend heading out the Yavapai Point Geology Museum.  Not only is this a great viewpoint but you can also see artifacts and learn a bit more about the rich history of the Grand Canyon.

Next up is the Market Plaza Village located just 2 miles from Yavapai Point or the Visitor Center.  Here you will find everything you need.  With numerous lodges and restaurants this is a great place to grab a bite and take in the views from any number of terrific viewpoints.

grand canyon in winter

Be sure to stop by the Lookout Studio. This precariously perched stone dwelling is home to a gift shop and more amazing views of the Grand Canyon.

Take your time on the terrace and enjoy the view through one of the telescopes.

Just down the path from Lookout Studio you’ll find the enfamous Bright Angel Trailhead which I will talk more about below. 

Next up we have Hermits Rest which is about 7 miles from the Village.  Hermits Rest is unique in that this entire stretch during the busy season is only accessible by shuttle bus, hiking, or biking.  

Hermits Rest is open to drive during the winter, but like most things, it’s best to get out of the car and walk.  

This stretch of road/path to Hermits Rock is full of terrific views and is best seen by foot or bicycle.

Hiking Grand Canyon In Winter

Grand Canyon has numerous great hiking opportunities in the winter.  It’s important to check in with the visitors center to get trail conditions and to make sure there aren’t any closures.  Below I will go over the general winter trail conditions but keep in mind these can change.

Read more:  The Ultimate Packing List For Hiking The Grand Canyon In Winter 

Grand Canyon Rim Trail

The entire canyon rim throughout the park is mostly paved making for an easy and flat hike that can be as short or as long as you like.  Portions of the path are open to bicycles while other sections are not.

The trail starts at South Kaibab Trailhead near Yaki Point and ends at Hermits Rest.  The trail is easily broken down into smaller chunks as there are numerous access points along the path.

The trail if hiked in its entirety is 13 miles one way.  But like I mentioned it can be easily broken up into smaller hikes.

 

Bright Angel Trail In Winter

The legendary Bright Angel Trail is a masterpiece of engineering as it winds down the massive Grand Canyon, eventually terminating at the bottom along the Colorado River.

grand canyon in winter

Hiking the trail all the way to the bottom and then back up is a huge undertaking and is very strenuous.  The 16-mile round-trip with over 4,000 feet of elevation change is best done over 2-3 days.

What’s best about hiking the Bright Angel Trail is that you don’t have to do the whole thing in its entirety.

In fact, there are numerous different length out and back destinations on the trail that are perfect for a long or short day hike.

There are no shortage of views along the trail as you wind down the gut of the massive Grand Canyon. As you can see from the map there are numerous places to pick for an out and back trip.  Even just a short walk down to the 1.5 mile rest house makes for a terrific hike.

For the ultimate Bright Angel day hike do an out and back to Indian Garden.  The 9-mile round trip will take around 5-6 hours depending on conditions.  I find it can actually be quicker in the winter as it’s not boiling hot like summer.

grand canyon in winter

If you are tackling any of these Grand Canyon Winter hikes be sure to have some YakTrax as the shady spots hold snow and ice really well.  This is especially true on the Bright Angel Trail.

Below are some general winter condition reports for more Grand Canyon hiking trails worth looking into.  Be sure to check with Visitor Center to get current conditions.

Additional Grand Canyon South Rim Hikes

South Bass Trail 

Often a no-go during winter due to the lengthy 30 miles of non-maintained road you must drive.  

Can be too snow covered in the winter and then muddy come spring.  Access via U.S. Forest Service road 328.

 

Boucher Trail 

Boucher Trail can have some big icy sections.  After a big storm or spring melt the ice tends to be the worst.  This is due to the trail’s west-facing exposure which allows for significant daytime heating. If the daytime melt is followed by an evening freeze the ice gets plentiful.

Hermit Trail 

Hermit Trail is a great option and has less snow and ice than any other trail on the South Rim.

The trail starts at a slightly lower elevation and after just half-a-mile the trail turns to a south facing direction which keeps the trail in great shape.  

South Kaibab Trail 

This ridgeline receives considerable daytime heating. The initial 1/4 mile, known as the Chimney, is north-facing and holds ice all winter long. Below the Chimney, ice is intermittent.

 

The Grandview Trail 

This mostly north-facing high elevation trail receives and holds considerable snow.  In addition, the trail has many exposed and narrow sections that add to its challenge in icy conditions.

 

The New Hance Trail and the South Bass Trail are the least used South Rim trails in the winter.  They are mostly north-facing and tend to hold lots of snow.  The ranger station also mentioned that route finding can be troublesome as well.

Download The Ultimate Packing list for the grand canyon

Make your next hike or backpacking trip the best it can be

 

Grand Conyon Winter Hiking Gear

  • Absolutely no cotton.  Make sure you have wool or synthetics that will keep you warm while wet.
  • Always plan for rain or snow despite how the weather “looks”.
  • Have an extra insulating layer such as a down/synthetic puffy coat.