Winter in Grand Canyon National Park- What You Need to Know


Visiting the Grand Canyon in Winter

Grand Canyon Winter: Are you worried that visiting the Grand Canyon in winter might not be as good as visiting at other times of the year? Don’t worry, the Grand Canyon in the Winter is an incredibly beautiful time of year to visit.

The Grand Canyon is transformed by the covering of snow that blankets the canyons, the cold temperatures, and the low tourist numbers, providing a one-of-a-kind experience and another breathtaking view of the spectacular canyons below. Continue reading to learn more about the Grand Canyon in the winter and what to do in the Grand Canyon in the winter. This is all you need to know about visiting the Grand Canyon in the winter.

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National Park Entrance Fees 

To enter the National Parks, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee or have a National Parks Pass also known as American the Beautiful Pass.

It costs $80 for a yearly America the Beautiful Pass. This gives you access to all national parks and federal areas that charge fees. The America the Beautiful Pass is well worth it!

I purchased my first one in 2016 and it’s such a money-saver! Plus 10% of sale proceeds go to the National Park Foundation.

Tips for Visiting in Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.  There is something for everyone on this list and for different fitness levels.  Also, note that it is dry and hot (in the summer), and make sure you know what you are getting into before you start.  Here are a few tips for visiting the Grand Canyon:

  • Bring a reusable water bottle and lots of water! Remember you are in the sun and you will need to drink lots of water. I love my LifeStraw Filtered Water Bottle.  I can refill this bottle anywhere and it comes with a carabiner to connect it to my daypack.
  • Hiking boots or sandals that will protect your feet! I love good shoes.  I need all the support and help I can get.  I actually love these sandals for hiking and also love these hiking boots.
  • Bring hiking poles for balance and to protect your knees.  I know many experienced hikers (and even amateur ones) think that hiking poles are for old people who lose their balance.  Actually, hiking poles can help when going down steep inclines or when scrambling over rocks.  They are great to hike with even for the most experienced hiker. 
  • Wear a sunhat. I feel like this whole post is about how high you are in the mountains and how much closer you are to the sun but it is so true. At elevation, you are closer to the sun and more likely to burn. Wear sun protection such as a sun hat and sunscreen.
  • Be aware of the wildlife. This is the Southwest and you will need to watch out for snakes and other wildlife such as moose or a bear.  Please stay away from wildlife and do not feed them. 
  • Start Early – If you want to avoid the traffic and the heat you will need to start your hike early.  That way it will be nice and cool and the smog will not affect you either.
  • Leave no trace. If you are new to the concept of Leave No Trace it is all about preserving the environment to ensure it is in the same or better condition when you leave it.  This means that you should stick to the trails and carry out everything that you carried in.  This is a great explanation of the Leave No Trace principles!

Where to stay near the Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon makes for a great weekend escape. Fresh air, beautiful scenery and being in nature does a world of good for the soul. I recommend staying as close to the lake as possible and even treating yourself with a cabin with a spa pool to relax at night.

If you are taking a road trip remember to reserve a car in advance using Discover Cars .

Is the Grand Canyon open in Winter?

The Grand Canyon National Park remains open for year-round visitors.   Although, during winter months the north rim is closed, due to safety concerns.  The South Rim is open year round and there are many beautiful Grand Canyon Lookout Points.  

Lipon Point Grand Canyon in February
A snow covered ledge overlooking the Grand Canyon at Lipon Point.

Is it a good idea to visit the Grand Canyon in winter?

The Grand Canyon can be visited at any time of year. With fewer visitors, bright skies, and colder temperatures, winter is a fantastic season to explore the Grand Canyon. I believe that having decent shoes is essential when visiting in the winter. Because the snow will melt and go into your shoes, you can’t merely wear trainers. A pair of waterproof shoes is an essential!

Does it snow in the Grand Canyon in Winter?

Yes, the Grand Canyon sees snow during the winter months and the days appear shorter, the weather remains beautiful. The blankets of snow are contrasted with clear sunny skies and crisp air providing great conditions to get out and experience the beautiful views of the sweeping canyons and Grand Canyon with snow.

Things to do when Visiting the Grand Canyon in Winter

Visitor Center

During the winter, Grand Canyon National Park’s visitor centers are open, except for select holidays. A visit to the visitor center should always be the first stop on any trip to a national park.

Wiki Commons Grand Canyon National Park

Start your adventure at the main Visitor Center, which is the nearest to all of the parking lots and Mather Point. You may get maps, talk to park rangers, see certain canyon displays, and view a 20-minute video called “Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder” here.

The main park store is located across the plaza from the visitor center and is always worth a look. This main plaza also contains Bright Angel Bike Rentals. If it’s too cold or snowy to hire a bike or go on a bike tour, stop by the shop’s cafe for a cup of coffee or hot chocolate – they have the greatest coffee at the Grand Canyon!

This is a great way to make sure you have the most up-to-date information and to have a professional park service member review your itinerary. They could even be able to provide you with some insider information!

Visit viewpoints via the Park Shuttle

Shuttles are also available to take you to various viewpoints across the park. If you’re afraid of driving in the winter, this is a great option. Mather Point is roughly a 5-minute walk from the main visitor center, so starting there is recommended. After that, take a park shuttle to visit the rest of the canyon.

things to see at grand canyon south rim
Blue Route Shuttle loop map showing all stops

Only two of the Grand Canyon’s four complimentary shuttle routes operate throughout the winter. The Village (Blue) Route and the Kaibab Rim (Orange) Route are the two options. You should take the Orange Route to get free transportation to several viewpoints.

Map showing the Kaibab/ Rim Route (Orange) bus stops

Due to the smaller crowds, many of the shuttle-only roads that are normally closed to private vehicles are open throughout the winter. One of these options is Hermit Road. Enjoy driving down this road in your vehicle and stopping at any of the 9 sites. Each stop offers a breath-taking panorama.

Grand Canyon Village – the place to be in winter

Grand Canyon Village is the park’s most popular access point, and as a result, it attracts a lot of visitors. However, there’s a reason for the area’s popularity: it’s home to Yavapai Point, one of the best vantage spots for viewing the canyon. This is the location to go if you don’t want to camp but yet want to be in the park. The Grand Canyon’s busiest area, as well as the one with the most lookouts, lies here.

Wiki Commons Grand Canyon National Park

After a morning of sightseeing, stop by Grand Canyon Village for lunch. The classic El Tovar Dining Room, the Bright Angel Restaurant, or the Maswik Food Court are also available. The dining area, which is near the Bright Angel Trail trailhead and provides a view of the Grand Canyon, is surprisingly affordable for its location.

With the probability of snow in the Grand Canyon, these cozy lodges are ideal for curling up with hot cocoa after a winter stroll.

Rim Trail – a nice paved walk in winter

If you’re visiting the Grand Canyon in the winter and want to go hiking, this is by far the most convenient option! From the South Kaibab Trailhead to Hermits Rest on the western side, the Rim Trail follows the length of the Grand Canyon’s rim.

Grand Canyon in Winter

The trail is 13 miles long in all, but you can hike a portion of it and then take the shuttle back. Just keep in mind that shuttle buses do not run west of Grand Canyon Village during the winter. If you want to travel further, you’ll need to make arrangements for someone to pick you up.

The Rim Trail is flat and paved for the most part, making it wheelchair accessible. The section between the visitor center and Yavapai Point, which is about 1.5 miles long and has explanatory signage, is the most popular. This section feels more like a stroll to a tourist destination than a hike, but it is also the most convenient and accessible.

The initial half of the trail, from South Kaibab Trailhead to the visitor center, and the latter part, beyond the Village to Hermits Rest, are significantly less crowded and a wonderful choice if you want to feel surrounded by nature and the Grand Canyon’s vastness. The section between Hopi Point and the Abyss was especially breathtaking!

It’s mostly flat the entire way, follows the canyon’s rim, and provides breathtaking vistas. It’s also an opportunity to throw snowballs at each other in the winter. Take your time strolling through the park, taking in the sights, and learning about the interpretative trails, museums, and ranger talks along the way.

Hermits Rest Scenic Drive

Hermit Road, located within Grand Canyon National Park, is a spectacular scenic drive with multiple stops, including Hopi Point, the Abyss, and Hermits Rest, where you may take in breathtaking vistas.

Hermit’s Rest Grand Canyon in March

Hermit’s Rest was built to serve as a rest stop for Fred Harvey Company coaches traveling to the now-defunct Hermit Camp. The structure, which can be found at the western end of Hermit Road, was created to look like an ancient miner’s cottage or a hermit’s hideout.

The Hermit Road, which runs from the South Rim region to the Hermit Trailhead, where the road dead-ends, is blocked to private vehicle traffic during the peak visitor season. When it comes to avoiding walking on ice, Hermit Trail is your best bet, as it falls from a location below 7000 feet in elevation. There will be snow and ice at first, but as you descend deeper into the canyon, this will disappear.

The road is only accessible by bicycle, walking, or taking the free Hermit Road (Red Route) Shuttle from March to November. The road reopens to private vehicle traffic once the high-visitation season is over. Visitors can access hiking trails and vistas by driving down Hermit Road and parking in designated parking sites during December, January, and February.

The main room is a gift shop, while smaller rooms contain the snack bar, office, and storage, as well as the rug room, which sells Native American crafts and Navajo carpets.

Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trail is one of the most popular trails at the South Rim. This trail is known for its drop-offs and is open in the winter. For at least the first few miles, you’ll most certainly encounter slick snow and ice.

Wiki Commons Grand Canyon National Park

Since the National Park Service does not recommend hiking from the Rim to the Colorado River and back in one day, the day trip version of the Bright Angel Trail ends at Plateau Point, where you can see the river.

The hike to Plateau Point and back is 12 miles long, but due to the elevation, it will take the entire day. If it seems like a long hike, you can turn around at the 1.5 Mile or 3 Mile Resthouses, depending on how long you want to go.

The Bright Angel Trail is well-kept and popular for a reason: it provides panoramic views of the canyon. The steep and north-facing beginning section, which is often ice and slippery until early spring, is the main challenge while hiking it in the winter. Hiking poles and traction aids are strongly advised

Visitors can rent bikes and take a rental/shuttle trip back to Hermit Road. There’s also a café and a store, as well as two guided bike tours: the Hermit Road Tour and the Yaki Point Tour.

South Kaibab Trail

Hiking a section of the South Kaibab Trail is another popular short hike. You’ll need at least two days to go all the way to the river and back, so make sure you apply for a Backcountry Permit. You can hike down to Ooh Ahh Point from the South Kaibab Trailhead (found on the Orange shuttle route), which is a 2-mile round-trip trail (but beware that this is an extremely steep and demanding hike!).

Wiki Commons Fredlyfish4

Otherwise, if camping in the winter isn’t your style, you can hike a section of the South Kaibab Trail during the day. In such instances, the National Park Service advises avoiding going past Skeleton Point, a 6-mile round trip from where you can see the Colorado River.

The South Kaibab Trail has the advantage of being much sunnier than the Bright Angel Trail, thus ice is less of a problem. The initial 1/4 mile, known as the Chimney, is the only area that stays icy all winter.

Hiking 1.8 miles back to Ooh Aah Point, a picturesque location along the South Kaibab Trail, is a shorter option.

Hopi Point Sunset

At Hopi Point, don’t miss the sunset. It will be busy and cold, but if you get a parking spot, you may jump in and out of the car to warm up.

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Sanford Rowe, a merchant who was the first to give guided trips up the canyon on Bright Angel Trail, gave Hopi Point the name Rowes Point. Since the point extends deeper into the canyon than other views on Hermit Road, additional fire towers were built here in the twentieth century.

Along the picturesque Hermit Road, this overlook provides sweeping and stunning views of the canyon. Hopi Point is a great place to watch the sunrise or sunset, and it also has five views of the Colorado River. Toilets are located in a vault.

Hopi Point is only accessible most of the year via the park’s free shuttle bus service or a 2.5-mile walk along the Rim Trail.

Desert View Drive

The Desert View Drive or East Rim Drive, a picturesque section of the road, is open to private vehicles all year. The Desert View Drive travels along the Grand Canyon’s South Rim and is a scenic path. The road travels through various scenic places and trails on its way from Grand Canyon Village to Route 64. The road’s name was inspired by the Desert View Watchtower. Tourists are welcome to stop at a few points along the road.

Wiki Commons Grand Canyon National Park

Even though there are fewer stations along this route, they are all worth stopping at to take in the scenery. Moran Point is a must-see, with a breathtaking view of the Colorado River and a rainbow of colors seen in the canyon’s granite cliffs from the far east side of the parking area. The Tusayan Ruin & Museum, which honors the ruins of an Ancestral Puebloan settlement, and Mary Colton’s Watchtower are also must-sees along the trip.

Although the route is technically open 365 days a year, the park service may choose to close it owing to inclement winter driving conditions. In the winter, the weather in Grand Canyon National Park can change quickly, so travelers should check for weather updates frequently as they prepare to drive to the park.

Desert View Watchtower

The Desert View Watchtower is situated close to the East Entrance Station, so it will be your first view of the canyon if you enter Grand Canyon National Park from that side.

Desert View Point Grand Canyon

The architecture of the Puebloan cultures is reflected in the construction of this tower. On a clear day in the desert, you can see for up to 100 kilometers. This region can be reached by driving along the magnificent Desert View Drive, which is open to tourists all year.

Climbing to the top of Desert View Watchtower, a 70-foot-high stone tower built in the 1930s is advised in addition to seeing the canyon. At the Watchtower, you’ll find a visitor center, bookstore, gift shop, basic store, and seasonal campground. There are six well-maintained canyon overlooks, four picnic areas, and five unmarked pullouts.

You can climb to the top of the tower and take in the views of the Grand Canyon from various heights, but don’t forget to look inside. Murals by a Hopi artist can be found here, as well as cultural demonstrations.

Sunset at the Canyon

A winter sunset at the Grand Canyon is a must-see. Since the days are shorter during this time of year, you may easily catch the sunset before heading out to dinner.

Yavapai Point Grand Canyon
Yavapai Point

Mather Point is the most popular sunset destination not only because it’s adjacent to the visitor center and parking lots, but also because it has a beautiful view! Hopi Point and Yavapai Point are two other notable sunset spots.

Whatever you do, make sure to stay for a few minutes after the sun has officially set below the horizon. This is when the winter sky is frequently painted in lovely pink and purple hues.

Backpacking

Backpacking is one of the best ways to take in the Grand Canyon’s immensity while also exploring more distant terrain. During the peak season, backcountry permits are scarce. When the winter months arrive, getting a permit to camp in the backcountry becomes a little easier.

Bright Angel Campground is one of the most popular overnight backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon. This track has a lot of exposure to the sun, making it tough to do in the summer but enjoyable in the winter!

This year-round backcountry camp has potable water and facilities and is located about 1/2 mile from the Colorado River at the canyon’s bottom. The South Rim is roughly 10 hiking miles from Bright Angel Campground.

Keep in mind that the first day will mostly consist of hiking down into the canyon, while the second day will primarily consist of hiking uphill! The trail’s considerable sun exposure keeps it mostly clear of snow and ice.

Mule Trips

Mule trips are available all year on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Going on one of these trips in the winter provides a pleasant break from the scorching heat of the summer.

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Grand Canyon National Park

Mule treks in the winter vary in length and terrain. If you’re short on time and don’t want to ride a mule through mountainous terrain, the Canyon Vistas Ride might be for you. This 3-hour beautiful trip along the canyon rim is a great way to see the vistas.

For those with more time on their hands, a multi-day tour that includes an overnight stay at the Phantom Ranch is available. The historic and well-known ranch is located on the east side of Bright Angel Creek at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. A trip to Bright Angel Creek by mule is a fantastic alternative to backpacking.

Photography

When the snow starts to fall, the majestic beauty of Grand Canyon National Park becomes even more beautiful. The red colors of the cliffs pop when the lofty canyon walls become coated with snow.

Visitors who want to photograph the Grand Canyon’s winter landscape can take State Route 64’s Desert View Drive and use the marked turnouts and approved parking sites to get the best views. Photographers can hike to stunning viewpoints like Grandview Point and Mather Point because many of the trails are open all year.

Make sure to take lots of good photos. Since fewer people visit at this time of year, your photos will be one-of-a-kind. Furthermore, because the sun is at a different angle at sunset and sunrise than during the summer, the colors will be radically different. Keep an eye out for animals, as mule deer and elk may be seen roaming the snowy plains.

Ranger Program

Grand Canyon, like most other US national parks, offers a variety of free ranger-led programs.

Wiki Commons Grand Canyon National Park

Junior Rangers contribute to the preservation and protection of national parks. They learn about nature and history while having fun exploring the parks and sharing their experiences with their friends, families, and colleagues. At home and school, Junior Rangers continue to protect the environment.

If you are unable to visit Grand Canyon National Park, a range of Junior Ranger activity books on a variety of topics linked to national parks across the country are accessible online. Check out the cool Junior Ranger programs that you can do at home or in your neighborhood, no matter what your hobbies are.

Take the pledge with an adult or with the Park Rangers if you received a Grand Canyon Junior Ranger badge in advance. Return to one of the locations where you can acquire a Junior Ranger book to earn your badge if you did not receive one in advance.

There is also a daily geology discussion in the morning and an afternoon wildlife talk, as well as a schedule of special activities and exhibitions.

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