Visiting Grand Canyon in Winter: Everything You Need to Know
If you’re thinking about visiting the Grand Canyon in winter and wondering what it’s really like, this post is for you. Find out everything you need to know about the Grand Canyon during winter and plan the perfect trip.
The Grand Canyon is one of the United States’ most popular national parks. It’s natural beauty and grandeur is hard to describe and it’s simply one of those bucket list places you must see before you die. It simply takes your breath away.
But when is the best time to visit the Grand Canyon National Park? What if you only have the winter months to visit?
While summer is the most popular time of year to visit Grand Canyon South Rim, there are also benefits to visiting Grand Canyon in the winter.
In this guide, we’ll answer all your questions about what it’s really like visiting the Grand Canyon during winter and if it’s worth the trip.
Whether you’re thinking about a Grand Canyon visit in December, January or February or even the end of November or the beginning of March, this guide is for you.
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Why Visit the Grand Canyon in Winter?
Winter might not be the most popular season to visit the Grand Canyon but it does have quite a few benefits that you may have overlooked.
You might be an international visitor exploring a few states in one trip, this might be the only time you can visit or if you call one of the northern states home, heading to the Grand Canyon in winter may be a respite from the cold winter weather for you.
Either way, there are both advantages and disadvantages to visiting the Grand Canyon during winter.
The first major advantage is the crowds. Considerably fewer people visit in the winter months which means there are virtually no crowds at popular viewpoints. We encountered no traffic on the main roads either.
Another advantage is that it’s cheaper. While the Grand Canyon National Park entrance fee stays the same all year round, you can get some great deals on hotels and car rentals in the area in winter.
Hermit Road is also open for private cars. In the summer you’ll need to board the park shuttle to access the viewpoints and trails along Hermit Road but during the winter months, you can drive yourself (as long as it’s open).
This saves a huge amount of time because there’s no need to wait for and board a shuttle.
There were so few people along that road when we were visiting the Grand Canyon in January that we could pretty much stop anywhere along the road and admire the views from inside the car.
I can’t tell you what a HUGE difference this makes to your overall visit.
The only major downside to visiting in winter is the weather. Temperatures are absolutely freezing early in the morning and in the evening.
It could be so cloudy you might not even see down into the canyon bottom and you could have snow at Grand Canyon and blizzard-like conditions. It’s the risk you take when visiting in winter.
Having said that temperatures during the day are very much doable when the sun comes out and if you are flexible with your dates and can time your visit with a window of good weather, it makes for a perfect trip.
How Much Time Do I Need to Visit the Grand Canyon?
Due to far fewer people in the park, you actually end up seeing everything much faster than you might in the summer as let’s be honest, crowds do cause traffic and delays.
I personally think 2 days is a good amount of time to visit Grand Canyon South Rim. You can spend one day driving around and visiting the viewpoints and the next day doing some walks and hikes.
However, you could see most of the spots and viewpoints by car in one day. One day is long enough to watch the sunrise and check out all the viewpoints on Hermit Road and Desert View Drive or do one longer hike.
What is the Weather Like at the Grand Canyon in Winter?
The weather at the Grand Canyon during winter can be unpredictable and changeable. This is just one of the risks you’ll need to factor in when visiting the Grand Canyon at this time of year.
You might have beautiful, sunny weather with miles of visibility or you could have cloudy, blizzard-like conditions where you might see nothing at all. It’s a real gamble which is why I suggest a fairly flexible itinerary and a few extra days to make up for bad weather.
Grand Canyon snow is also a real possibility which would mean you get to experience this wonderful natural sight in a blanket of snow which is truly magical.
Grand Canyon Winter Weather and Temperatures
As mentioned previously the weather at the Grand Canyon in winter is very unpredictable. For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the Grand Canyon weather forecasts in the days leading up to your trip.
Average Grand Canyon South Rim temperatures, however, stay quite constant through the winter months. There is little variation in the average high and average low temperatures in December compared with February.
One thing to note, this being a desert environment, is that the temperature difference between the daily high and the daily low is quite significant. This means you’ll be dealing with extremely low temperatures early in the morning, in the evening and at night and higher average temperatures during the day.
On a sunny day, the sunshine will also make it feel warmer.
Grand Canyon December Weather
Grand Canyon weather in December is cold.
The average high is 45°F/7°C and the average low is 18°F/-8°C.
If you’re planning to visit the Grand Canyon National Park in December for Christmas and New Year, make sure to bring plenty of warm clothes, layers and good, warm footwear.
Grand Canyon January Weather
Not much changes in January. In fact, the average temperatures for the Grand Canyon South Rim in January are the same as in December.
In January, the average high is 45°F/7°C and the average low is 18°F/-8°C.
However, January sees an average of 5 days of rainfall, compared to 4 in December so there is a slightly higher chance of rain or snow in the Grand Canyon in January.
Having said that, I visited in January and I had 2 cold but very sunny days so you could be lucky like I was. From experience, I can say that when you’re standing or hiking in the sun, it does feel much warmer than 45°F or 7°C.
Grand Canyon February Weather
At the Grand Canyon in February, temperatures are a little warmer but only just.
The average high is 46°F/8°C and the average low is 19°F/-7°C.
There is also an average of 5 days of rainfall so you would also see a bit of snowfall in February. In February the days begin to get a little longer too so you’ll have more daylight for exploring the park.
Snow in Grand Canyon in Winter
Most people ask ‘does it snow in the Grand Canyon?’ and the answer is generally some, yes, but it’s not guaranteed to have snow on the ground all the time.
Both the Grand Canyon North Rim and the Grand Canyon South Rim receive a decent amount of snowfall each year. However, the North Rim generally receives about 3 times the amount as the South Rim. It’s due to this that the Grand Canyon North Rim is closed during the winter season.
You might see some snowfall when you visit the Grand Canyon South Rim in the winter. Sometimes there might be a little, other times a lot.
During our visit, there was a little snow but it was mostly ice in shaded areas that had clearly been there for a couple of weeks. Most of the trails were free of snow and ice for the most part.
If it is quite icy remember to be very careful when you hike and walk around, especially near extreme drops.
Can You See Much if It Snows?
The Grand Canyon in snow is beautiful but the visibility does depend on the amount of mist and cloud cover that comes in and how low it is.
If you happen to visit during a blizzard you won’t see much at all. I would personally refrain from visiting during an actual snowstorm as you won’t see anything and you risk getting stuck.
If it snowed the day before then there is a high chance it could be clear enough to view the canyon. Just remember to check the road conditions as they may be closed for clearing.
There might be days with snow on the ground and good visibility. The ground could be clear of snow and it could be quite cloudy- there may be several conditions that may arise which limit your view of the canyon.
Mist tends to move off quite quickly so if you arrive at a viewpoint and it’s misty it might be worth waiting it out.
Note: Before visiting make sure to check the weather alerts here and the NPS live webcams to check out the weather and road conditions before you travel.
Is the Grand Canyon Crowded in Winter?
The Grand Canyon receives a huge amount of visitors per year. In fact, almost 5 million people visit the Grand Canyon annually.
However, out of that number, just 15% visit during the winter months. It’s a small number of visitors compared with the summer months.
This means that the Grand Canyon South Rim is not crowded during the winter months. There is plenty of space at viewpoints to take photos without other people in them.
For photographers, you’ll also have plenty of room to set up a tripod even at the most popular viewpoints at sunrise and at sunset.
There are no traffic jams on Desert View Road and there are plenty of parking spaces.
We watched the sunrise from Mather Point which was the busiest viewpoint we had all day. At other viewpoints along Hermit Road and Hopi Point for sunset, we were the only ones there, it was, quite honestly magical.
The Benefits of Fewer Visitors
Visiting Grand Canyon National Park in winter, specifically South Rim without the crowds has its benefits. Firstly Hermit Road is open for private vehicles which means that you can drive yourself and stop at the viewpoints for however long you want before driving off again.
You don’t need to wait for the shuttle bus which increases the overall time you need in the park.
Popular viewpoints are also more enjoyable without the crowds. You’ll be able to relax with as much space as you need and enjoy the majestic scenery without people around you.
There’s less noise and it’s generally a much calmer experience.
Finally, there’s much more availability when it comes to accommodation, and you won’t need to book 6 months or even a year in advance. This means that you can plan a relatively last-minute itinerary to the Grand Canyon during the winter months.
Are Grand Canyon Roads Open in Winter?
In general, Grand Canyon National Park Roads remain open during the winter months but are subjected to adverse weather conditions.
Roads can close due to snow or bad weather however the National Park Service are generally very good at clearing them and opening them again relatively quickly.
Before you visit make sure to check the Grand Canyon National Park website here for all the alerts and road closures.
There are two entrances to the Grand Canyon South Rim:
East Entrance – the entrance to use coming in from Page, Northern Arizona and Utah.
Main Entrance – the entrance to use coming in from the South- from Williams, Flagstaff, Sedona or Phoenix.
Desert View Drive
Desert View Drive, also known as route AZ-64 is the main thoroughfare through the Grand Canyon South Rim.
Desert View Drive is open year round and rarely closes unless it’s due to very heavy snowfall. Even then, the National Parks Service are very quick to clear it.
If you’re coming in from the East Entrance, you’ll soon get to Desert View Watchtower and there are several other stunning viewpoints before you get to Grand Canyon Village.
If you want to access the viewpoints further West of Grand Canyon Village you’ll need to take Hermit Road. Hermit Road has some of the best viewpoints for sunset so I recommend coming out here in the afternoon.
In the winter months, Hermit Road remains open to private vehicle traffic. In the summer months, this route is only accessible via a free-of-charge shuttle service.
During adverse weather like heavy snowfall, Hermit Road is always the first to close and the last to reopen.
As it’s not a major thoroughfare into the park, there’s a higher chance for this road to be closed than Desert View Drive.
If that’s the case you can still admire the many different viewpoints on Desert View Drive.
Like the (left) image above? It’s actually available for you to buy as a print. Shop the Grand Canyon Sunrise Print here.
Is Grand Canyon North Rim Open in Winter?
No, it’s not. The Grand Canyon North Rim is closed during the winter months.
You can only visit the South Rim, Grand Canyon West and the eastern parts of the Grand Canyon around Page, Arizona and Horseshoe Bend.
Grand Canyon West is the closest part of the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas and here you’ll find the Skywalk which is also open in winter. All you need to do is show up and buy a ticket. It’s also a good alternative to the South Rim.
Horseshoe Bend is also open in the winter months and is easily accessible from Page, Arizona
What to Do in Grand Canyon in Winter
Drive Around and Enjoy the Views
If it’s a little too cold to get out of the car and if hiking isn’t for you, one of the best things to do is to drive around and just enjoy the views. You can actually see a lot from the car window.
Desert View Drive has some beautiful, natural scenery to take in, not just of the canyon itself. Make sure to also keep an eye out for elk that live in the forested areas- they often step out onto the road.
On Hermit Road, you can drive along and admire the views from your car as many of the viewpoints are close to the road itself.
Watch the Sunrise and Sunset
The most beautiful time at Grand Canyon National Park is undeniably during sunrise and sunset as the sun casts its golden glow onto the canyon, lighting it on fire, so to speak.
If you’re lucky enough to catch the sunrise or sunset or even both (like we did), it’s a really magical time to experience the canyon and take some photos.
As you’re looking north, the views are fairly similar at sunrise and sunset so if you miss one don’t be too worried. The difference is that at sunrise the light comes from the east ( your right side) and at sunset it comes from the West (your left side).
Some of the best viewpoints for sunrise are Mather Point (also one of the busiest), Yavapai Point, Desert View, Yaki Point and Ooh Aah Point.
The best sunset views are Hopi Point, Pima Point and Desert View.
However, pretty much any viewpoint at sunrise and sunset is amazing. There isn’t a bad one.
Visit the Most Iconic Viewpoints
Most of your time at the Grand Canyon will most probably be spent driving from one iconic viewpoint to another. You don’t need to drive far to find another excuse to park up and enjoy the scenery from another vantage point.
There are so many different viewpoints each with a different vantage point of the canyon. One of the best things to do at the Grand Canyon South Rim is just to enjoy each of them.
You’ll find many different viewpoints along Desert View Drive and Hermit’s Road.
Viewpoints along Desert View Dr include:
- Desert Watchtower and Desert Viewpoint
- Navajo Point
- Lipan Point
- Moran Point
- Grandview Point
- Shoshone Point
- Yaki Point
- Ooh Aah Point
- Pipe Creek Vista
On the South entrance road, you also have Mather Point which is one of the most popular viewpoints at sunrise and Yavapai Point, another famous overlook.
The main viewpoints on Hermit’s Road are:
- Trail View Overlook
- Maricopa Point
- Powell Point
- Hopi Point (best for sunset)
- Mohave Point
- Monument Creek Vista
- Pima Point (best for sunset)
- Hermits Rest
Visit the Yavapai Geology Museum
Learn a little more about the geological history of the Grand Canyon at this small museum. You’ll find exhibits on the evolution of rock layers and how the canyon evolved to look the way it does today.
Take a Helicopter Ride over the Grand Canyon
To make the most of the views, you can also opt for a Helicopter Ride over the Grand Canyon. It’s one of the best ways to take in the views and the sheer size of the canyon, not to mention it’s super fun too.
Many tours depart from Tusayan which isn’t far to go to board your chopper.
As helicopter flights can only happen in good weather, you’ll need to be quite lucky on your visit.
To book a flight this 45-minute Grand Canyon Helicopter Ride offers a full refund, if your ride gets cancelled because of bad weather. You’ve got nothing to lose.
Go Hiking or Walking
Hiking and walking around is one of the best things to do in the Grand Canyon South Rim. Even in winter, if you wrap up well and have adequate clothing, it’s very pleasurable.
There are many different hikes available of various lengths and difficulties.
Keep reading below for more about hiking in the Grand Canyon.
Hiking at the Grand Canyon in Winter
Is winter really a good time for hiking the Grand Canyon? Well, it is better than the height of summer for many reasons.
In winter, temperatures are much more favourable for hiking. You might be a little cold at the beginning but it’s easy to warm up quickly as you take on a trail.
In summer, however, it’s just too hot for strenuous hikes and you’ll need to carry so much water too. Heat stroke and sunstroke can be a real issue in the summer- issues which you don’t really need to deal with in the winter.
There are also far fewer people on the trail in the winter meaning just an overall, more pleasant experience.
Here are some of the best hikes in Grand Canyon South Rim in the winter.
Bright Angel Trail – The most popular hiking route in the South Rim, this trail descends 4,340ft into the canyon below to Phantom Ranch. It’s almost 20 miles round trip. You can turn around after 1.5 miles or 3 miles to make it shorter.
South Kaibab Trail – Begins near Yaki Point- 14.6 miles round trip. This trail also descends down to the bottom of the canyon. It’s shorter than the trail above but steeper.
Grand Canyon South Rim Trail – This follows Hermit’s Road, starting at Hermit’s Rest and finishing at South Kaibab trailhead. It’s 13 miles long but you can hike it in sections. While it’s long it’s mostly flat and easy.
When hiking in the winter, do exercise caution on trails with snow and ice, especially when close to steep drops.
It’s also worth checking at the visitor’s centre with the park rangers which hikes are best for the weather conditions at that moment in time.
Where to Stay Near Grand Canyon South Rim
If you want a lot more value for your money, it’s best to stay outside the Grand Canyon National Park. There are many places to stay that are within easy driving distance of the park, especially if you’re heading out for sunrise.
It’s worth noting that accommodation costs at the Grand Canyon in winter really fall, so you can upgrade your stay or grab a really great deal.
In winter it’s quite easy to find a very good place to stay for under $150 a night.
Accommodation options are a little limited in Tusayan and Grand Canyon Junction, the nearest places to stay to Grand Canyon National Park, however in winter they rarely seem to be fully booked (except for the holidays).
Tusayan is a small village just outside Grand Canyon National Park, just south of Grand Canyon Village. It’s the closest place to stay to the Grand Canyon that’s outside the park.
There are a few places to stay here, including budget options as well as restaurants to get a bite in the evening.
The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon – Probably the best hotel in Tusayan, they have a large, hunting-style lobby, clean and airy rooms and an indoor pool and restaurant to take advantage of in the evenings. This is where we stayed and it was perfect for the night. Check and book here.
Holiday Inn Express Grand Canyon– A standard but comfortable choice which you can also book on points. Book your stay here.
Grand Canyon Junction
Grand Canyon Junction is another small town a little further south of Tusayan. Here you’ll find some more accommodation options, not too many hotels and a few rentals and Airbnbs.
The best spot to stay is The Grand Canyon Headquarters. These modern, design-focused cabins are a lovely way to experience the surrounding countryside.
Located 50 miles from the Grand Canyon south entrance is Williams. Williams is a little far from the National Park itself but as a larger town it does offer a lot more variety of accommodation options which include 4-star hotels and budget motels.
Grand Canyon Railway Hotel- Another lovely historic hotel with a very historic southwest cabin feel. Rooms are large, modern and bright and there are also plenty of decent dining options around. There’s also an indoor pool and fitness centre to enjoy too. Book your stay here.
Further still is Flagstaff which is a great option for lodging when travelling between the Grand Canyon South Rim and Sedona. There are some great places to stay in and around Flagstaff.
High Country Motor Lodge– A stunning, design-focused lodge with a chic southwestern feel, this is a great option in Flagstaff. We love the sauna and cool bar for a lovely way to end the day. Book it here.
What Do You Need to Pack for Visiting Grand Canyon in Winter?
As temperatures vary greatly you’ll need to pack a lot of adequate clothing for the outdoors.
While temperatures in the sunshine during the day are pleasant, early in the morning and in the evening temperatures plummet. When we visited Grand Canyon the temperature in the evening was about 23°F/-5°C.
If you’re not hiking you don’t need hiking boots but good, warm boots with grid help a lot. I wore these snow boots and they were perfect both for the cold and the snow and ice.
Sneakers with good grip would suffice too but your feet might be very cold early in the morning and in the evenings.
Make sure to pack lots of snacks, water and food for the whole day as services are limited in the park. You can store it all in the car.
Also, make sure to bring snow chains or snow socks for your vehicle with you just in case. They are generally very good at clearing the snow in the major Desert View Road but it’s always a good idea to have snow socks in the trunk just in case. These take up no room at all.
Something we really wish we had bought is a windshield ice scraper. Due to the low night temperatures, we found ice all over the windshield every morning and an ice scraper would have been very useful.
Top Tips for Visiting the Grand Canyon in Winter
↠ Make sure to check the weather before visiting. It helps to have a flexible itinerary so you can choose to visit on the best weather days.
↠ If you plan to hike the Grand Canyon in winter take plenty of layers, especially for those freezing mornings and evenings, have lots of water and snacks and adequate hiking boots for snow and ice
If you’re hiking make sure to plan your hike well. You can also visit the visitors centre first to enquire with a ranger about the state of the trail ( if there’s a lot of ice it could be dangerous).
↠ Daylight hours are seriously reduced so it helps to start early to make the most of your day. Plan accordingly for hikes too.
Is the Grand Canyon in the Winter Really Worth it?
Absolutely, it is worth visiting Grand Canyon in winter. However, I also think it depends on how lucky you are with the weather.
The weather is the single biggest factor that will make or break your trip in the winter. While the Grand Canyon weather in the summer is pretty stable, in the winter it’s not.
I feel that we were extremely lucky with the weather when we visited. There was a bit of snow on the ground and at some viewpoints but not much.
The two days we had in the Grand Canyon National Park were bright, sunny and beautiful. In fact, I didn’t see a single cloud in the 2 days in Grand Canyon that we were there.
If the weather is bad, you might not feel like it was worth the trip, especially in thick fog which means you can’t enjoy any of the views.
Overall when visiting the Grand Canyon in winter it helps to be flexible. If you can, spend a few days in the area visiting places like Flagstaff, Page and Sedona. This way you can head to the Grand Canyon on the day with the best weather forecast.
So, have I convinced you to visit the Grand Canyon in winter? Have any questions or comments about your trip? Let me know in the box below.
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