Grand Canyon National Park | Winter Travel Guide

Planning a roadtrip to the American Mid-West? Then Grand Canyon National Park is probably part of your route. Grand Canyon, formed by Colorado River millions of years ago isn`t one of the most popular US national parks without reason. The lenght of 277 miles (446 km), width of 10 miles (16 km) and depth of 1 mile (1,6 km) is sheer impressive. Imagine the moment, when the Grand Canyon unfolds beneath your feet, while the orange-brown rock formations glow in contrast to the blue sky? There is a certain expectation when it comes to viewing the world’s longest canyon with your own eyes. An expectation that can only be met when visiting Grand Canyon in winter.

5 reasons to visit Grand Canyon National Park off-season

If you want to experience the national park as you imagine it from pictures, you need to visit Grand Canyon in winter! The winter months between November and February are known as the secret season in Grand Canyon. What many people don’t know: Most US national parks are open throughout the year even though not all areas might be accessible. But quite a few really popular national parks unfold their true magic during winter season. Grand Canyon definitely is one of them.

Grand Canyon at sunset
View into Grand Canyon and Colorado River

Clear skies, mild temperatures, less people, more flexibility in and outside the park when it comes to exploring, hiking and finding accommodation. There are great reasons why to visit Grand Canyon National Park in winter. This blogpost provides general travel tips and guides you through the benefits of including Grand Canyon National Park into your winter roadtrip through Arizona – the Grand Canyon State.

Hiking at Grand Canyon Nationalpark in winter

#1 Grand Canyon winter weather

There is a misconception that Arizona is all orange-brown desert landscape with cacti growing throughout the state and it’s nice and warm all year long. This is far from the truth. Actually Arizona gets a lot of snow and ice on higher elevations and this is exactly where Grand Canyon is located: on 7.000 feet elevation.

Fun fact: Even though the huge Saguaro cacti are Arizona’s official State Flower they only grow in the Sonoran Desert in Southern Arizona, close to the border of Mexico. Grand Canyon National Park, located in Northern Arizona – in contrast – is surrounded by dense forest and pine trees.

cati at Grand Canyon National Park
cacti don’t dominate the vegetation in Grand Canyon National Park

So you might wonder about things to do and if winter really is a good time to visit Grand Canyon?
It absolutely is! Here is why:

Temperatures in Grand Canyon range between 40°F and 50°F (4°C-10°C) during the day and can drop down to 30°F and 20°F (-1°C and -16°C) during winter. That sounds low and indeed it is. But here is the great thing: At the rim it might be cold and windy even snowy, the canyon itself holds pleasant temperatures. The further down you get the milder temperatures become. So if you are up for hiking in Grand Canyon, winter might even be the better option.

clear skies at Grand Canyon National Park in winter
clear skies at Grand Canyon National Park in winter

Keep in mind: During summer Grand Canyon heats up and often exceeds 100°F (38°C). The combination of high temperatures and steep hiking trails can lead to uncomfortable and even dangerous situations. Especially if you aren’t used to extreme conditions while hiking and planning to go down all the way into the canyon to the Colorado River. Thanks to the crisp air winter is the season with the clearest skies, which means better chances of great views of the entire canyon.

#2 Enjoy every sunrise, sunset and golden hour

As winter days are short you can easily head for sunrise AND sunset without lacking sleep. This gives you the opportunity to make the most out of golden and blue hour while exploring Gand Canyon in winter.

sunset at Mather Point, Grand Canyon South Rim
sunset at Mather Point, South Rim Grand Canyon

Due to the altitude of 7.000 feet it’s not uncommon to see orange rock formations layered in snow. If you get there at the right time your visit to Grand Canyon in winter might turn out as a truly magical and unique experience.

sunset at Grand Canyon National Park
snow at Grand Canyon South Rim

Great viewpoints for sunrise and sunset at Grand Canyon South Rim:

  • Mather Point, post popular and closest to visitor center and huge parking lots – has a great view
  • Yavapai Point, West of Grand Canyon Visitor Center
  • Yaki Point, close to South Kaibab Trail, East of Grand Canyon Visitor Center on Desert View Drive
  • Hopi Point, Hermit’s Rest Drive
  • Lipan, Navajo and Desert View, Desert View Drive
views into Grand Canyon from Ooh Aah Point
view from Ooh Aah Point

#3 Winter is Grand Canyon’s the least visited season

Grand Canyon is the second most visited national park in North America after the Great Smoky Mountains. According to the National Park Service almost 6 million people visited Grand Canyon in 2019. And guess what: Most tourists flock to the national park in summer. If you want to avoid crowds on hiking trails and enjoy solitude within the park, you’ll have to visit Grand Canyon off season.

lonesome South Kaibab Trail
lonesome South Kaibab Trail

#4 Drive the Grand Canyon rim with your own vehicle in winter

Can you imagine how much time you can save by not having to wait for the next tour bus, because you’ve just missed the one before? Or not having to make the sacrifice of taking a clean shot at Hopi viewpoint, because this would mean you had to wait 2 more minutes before people are out of the way?

For me one of the most convincing arguments to visit Grand Canyon in winter is the fact that the scenic 7.5 miles (12 km) long West Rim Drive to Hermit’s Rest is open for private vehicles between December and February. In summer your only chance to access the viewpoints and trailheads of Grand Canyon’s South Rim is hoping on one of the tour buses, biking or walking.

views from Grand Canyon South Rim
view from Maricopa Point, Grand Canyon West Rim Drive

There are 4 bus routes that serve the South Rim, 2 of them (Village shuttle and Kaibab shuttle) plus the Hiker’s Bus also operate in winter. If you aren’t comfortable with driving the rim road in winter as it can be covered in snow and ice, you can stick to the buses. But if the roads are free in my opinion there is no better way of independently exploring Grand Canyon’s magnificant scenery. The freedom of driving Grand Canyon’s South Rim in your own car and being flexible where, when and for how long to stop is only possible during winter months.

view of Bright Angel Trail from Trailview Overlook, Grand Canyon Hermit's Drive
view of Bright Angel Trail from Trailview Overlook, Grand Canyon Hermit’s Drive

Viewpoints on Hermits Rest Scenic Drive worth stopping

  • Trailway Overlook
  • Maricopa Point
  • Powell Point
  • Hopi Point
  • Mohave Point
  • Pima Point
  • Hermit’s Rest
view from Hopi Point, Grand Canyon South Rim
view from Hopi Point, Grand Canyon South Rim

#5 Best place to stay at Grand Canyon in winter

When visiting Grand Canyon you want to make sure to stay as close to the national park entrance as you can. It will save you time and in case there is snow and ice, winter weather conditions won’t affect your plans as much. Accommodation within the national park can be booked out a year in advance for peak season. So you want to make sure to plan ahead. If you cannot land a place to stay at any of the lodges inside the national park or it’s too expensive, the town of Tusayan is a great alternative. Located 6.7 miles (10,8 km) outside of the park it’s only a 15 minutes drive to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. You cannot get closer to the park, if you are not into camping.

And guess what: Besides the fact that it’s much easier to find accommodation closeby Grand Canyon NP in winter thanks to the less visitors in general, hotels around and lodging in the park is much more affordable in winter.

Travel tips Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park winter hours

While Grand Ganyon is generally open in winter, only the South Rim and Grand Canyon West (including the Skywalk outside the national park and managed by the Hualapai Tribe) are accessible year round.

North Rim: closed for the winter season between mid October and mid May

South Rim including Grand Canyon Village and Desert View (East Entrance) is open 24 hrs, year-round (East Entrance is currently closed. For more info check the official National Parks Service website.

Grand Canyon South Rim
open year round: Grand Canyon South Rim

How to get to Grand Canyon in winter?

As only the South Rim is accessible in winter, the question of combining Grand Canyon with your Utah roadtrop is unnecessary. But you can easily visit Grand Canyon from Las Vegas or combine your a stop at the national park with your Southern Arizona roadtrip.

Distance and driving time between:

  • Las Vegas, NV – Grand Canyon: 280 miles (450km) – 4.5 hours
  • Phoenix, AZ – Grand Canyon: 230 miles (370 km) – 3.5 hrs
  • Sedona, AZ – Grand Canyon: 115 miles (185km) – 2hrs
  • Flagstaff, AZ – Grand Canyon: 80 miles (130km) – 1.5 hours
Grand Canyon South Rim glowing in sunset

Grand Canyon South Rim hiking trails – from easy to difficult

  • Trail of Time – 1.4 miles (2,3 km) / elevation gain: 128 ft (39 m)
  • Grand Canyon Rim Trail – up to 13 miles (21 km) one way / elevation gain: 200 ft (61 m) elevation gain
  • South Kaibab to Ooh Aah Point – 0,8 miles (1,3 km) one way / elevation gain: 682 ft (208 m)
  • South Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge – 1.5 miles (2,4 km) one way / elevation gain: 1,120 ft (340 m)
  • Hermit Trail – 2.5 miles (4 km) one way / elevation gain: 1,680 ft (512 m)
  • Grandview Trail – 3 miles (4.8 km) / elevation gain: 2,500 ft (762 m)
  • Bright Angel Trail – up to 4.5 miles (7,2 km) one way / elevation gain: 3,040 ft (925 m)
hiking South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park
hiking South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point
Ooh Aah Point, South Kaibab Trail Grand Canyon
view from Ooh Aah Point, South Kaibab Trail
view into Grand Canyon from South Kaibab Trail
Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge

Tips for hiking Grand Canyon in winter

Dress in layers – While it can be cold and windy at the rim, temperatures rise the further down into the canyon you get.

Bring sun protection – It might sound weird to think of sun protection in winter. But as Grand Canyon’s sits on high elevation and winter is well-known for clear skies, bring your sun glasses, a hat and sunscreen.

resting while hiking at Grand Canyon National Park

Carry enough water – While many of the hiking trails provide drinking water, not all the pipes are open in winter. Don’t rely on it and come prepared.

Don’t underestimate the steepness – It’s easy to walk down into the canyon and you’ll probably move forward fast. Keep in mind that the way up will be much more exhausting and take at least double the time. There is a different dynamic when hiking down first and come up later. Don’t hike too far! Especially in winter the sun sets early and temperatures drop immediately. You don’t want to get lost in the canyon!

steep trails leading into Grand Canyon
Don’t underestimate: steep trails & summer heat

Mules have right of way – especially on the popular Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails burros might cross your way. Make sure to step to the side and follow instructions from the guide.

South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon Nationalpark
mules walking up Grand Canyon

Be prepared for snow and ice on trails – Hiking trails don’t get powed. Even the sun melts snow away there might be ice on the trails in shady spots. Watch out and walk carefully!

Leave no trace! Like everywhere you go: Pack in, pack out and be respectful with the environment. Litter left in the canyon takes years to decompose! BTW: The mules you see on the trails don’t only transport people, they have to bring supplies and haul trash back up the mountains.

winter hiking at Grand Canyon
hiking trails at im Grand Canyon National Park

Stop at Grand Canyon Visitors Center – get information on trail conditions, water availability etc. from the billboards outside

Plan ahead for your backcountry adventureBackcountry overnight campers require permits, also in winter. Even though they are easier to get in winter and sometimes are available on demand, don’t rely on it, especially if you need to stick to a certain time table. (During peak season you need to apply in advance.)


***

QUESTIONS & COMMENTS?

Have you ever traveled through the USA and explored Grand Canyon National Park? Do you like the article, have suggestions, feedback or recommendations? Leave me a comment and feel free to share this article with your friends!

***

LIKE IT? PIN IT & SAVE IT FOR LATER!

Grand Canyon National Park winter travel guide

5 reasons to visit Grand Canyon in winter

***

 – SMILE4TRAVEL NEWSLETTER –

Become part of the Smile4Travel Community – Follow my Facebook Page & Instagram and register for my Newsletter, so you don´t miss any Smile4Travel adventures!

16 comments
  1. Thanks for all the hiking trail tips! I’m so embarrassed that I’ve never been, but I’ll be sure to use your guide when I go!

    1. I’m glad you find my hiking tips helpful! Have fun visiting Grand Canyon National Park and feel free to let me know how you experienced it!

  2. Great tips! I love hiking off season. This is much different experience than peak season. I’ve visited Grand Canyon but, next time I have to spent more time there 🙂

    1. Oh yes, I am also a big fan of traveling countercyclical! Sometimes this can feel like traveling to an absolutely different area. I’d also love to explore Grand Canyon deeper next time and would be eager to hike all the way down into the canyon.

  3. What a great idea to visit the Grand Canyon in winter! It’s always been so crowded the dew times I visited. I’d love to enjoy the canyon with fewer people around.

    1. I’ve never been in summer, but the space of parking lots gave me a glimpse of how many people are visiting during peak season…
      Absolutely recommend to visit in winter. I can imagine it’s a different national park then… 😉

  4. I am hoping to go to the Grand Canyon later this year and was actually thinking of going during the winter so this has been a great read. Sounds like it would be a good time to go 🙂 Thanks for such a useful guide!

    1. That sounds great Sophie! I’m glad my article inspired and strengthened the idea to visit off season. I can only recommend it! Have fun when you go!

  5. I’ve wanted to get to the Grand Canyon since I moved to the US more than 5 years ago. I really have to stop getting distracted and get out there, your photos are gorgeous!

    1. Haha, that’s great to hear! Where in the US do you live?
      I had my doubts if Grand Canyon actually is one of the national parks that one has to visit at least once – or if it’s just kind of a hype. But after seeing the canyon with my own eyes I can only encourage you to plan a trip! 😉

  6. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve lived in Arizona my whole life and have been to The Grand Canyon only once! I’d love to return and visit during the winter because I’ve only been in the spring. These are some great tips, and your photos are beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Thanks so much Brittany!
    The thing about Arizona is: The state is full of national parks and places worth visiting. 😉 But I agree, I also would love to spend some more time exploring other parts of the Grand Canyon (like the North Rim) and maybe even hike down to Colorado River.

    1. Thanks, Rachel!
      Glad you find my tips helpful. Have fun when visiting Grand Canyon National Park next time – hopefully in winter. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Your link text