There isn’t anything quite like the Grand Canyon in all of the United States. Anyone who has visited knows the deep views and immense feeling of smallness is what makes a Grand Canyon vacation part of the American experience. However, those who have visited the Grand Canyon will often comment on two other things: crowds and desert temperatures. So if you want to see the Grand Canyon without worrying about scores of people and the heat, consider a truly epic trip to the Grand Canyon in the winter.
Best Parts of the Grand Canyon to Visit in the Winter
There are three official areas of the Grand Canyon to visit: the South Rim, West Rim, and North Rim. There is an eastern area, too, known as “Grand Canyon East” to the locals. The eastern part is not an official area, however, it includes iconic places like Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, and Lake Powell.
The South and West Rims are the best places in the Grand Canyon to visit in the winter due to their easier access. Read on to learn where to stay, what to do, and how to arrive at each area of the Grand Canyon during winter.
Best Neighborhoods to Stay In When Visiting the Grand Canyon in Winter
The South Rim
- Grand Canyon Village: The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the most popular to visit no matter what the time of year. Should you choose to visit this area, you can stay within the park at Grand Canyon Village. You may see some snow in Grand Canyon, so these cozy lodges are the perfect places to curl up after a winter hike with hot cocoa.
- Tusayan, Arizona: If you wish to stay outside of the park, Tusayan, Arizona is just south of this Rim’s entrance. The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon is a luxurious 5-star resort. Spend your time recovering from an epic day of adventure here.
- Williams, Arizona: You may also stay in Williams, Arizona, just a bit more south. Book this sweet vacation home within walking distance of Route 66, or escape to Sheridan House, an adults-only accommodation.
The West Rim
- Las Vegas: If you visit the West Rim of the Grand Canyon, you may want to consider staying in the most epic of neighborhoods: Las Vegas! The Grand Canyon is one of the best day trips from Las Vegas in the winter. The Strip is only two hours away, and many tour companies offer shuttles here.
- Peach Springs: Otherwise, stay near Peach Springs, Arizona at this breathtaking Camper Cabins. Or, head out a bit further to Meadview and book a stay at Grand Canyon Western Ranch.
The North Rim
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon shuts down for winter. However, avid adventurers can still come if they are up for the challenge. The campground is closed, but backcountry camping is allowable through a permit. Experienced hikers may walk from the South Rim, and stay in rustic cabins at the bottom of the Canyon, where temperatures reach the 60s. Or, they may walk from Jacob Lake, Arizona, about 45 miles from the North Rim.
Grand Canyon East
The eastern edges are not an official area, so for the sake of clarity, we will refer to it as Grand Canyon East. If you decide to explore these more remote eastern edges of the Grand Canyon, consider staying at Shash Dine EcoRetreat, only seventeen miles from Antelope Canyon. This particular resort is not really in a neighborhood, but more so in the middle of the desert.
Page, Arizona: You could pair the Shash Dine EcoRetreat with the neighborhood of Page, Arizona just 12 miles north. This seems to be the biggest neighborhood in the Grand Canyon East area.
Costs & Hours of Visiting the Grand Canyon During Winter
So, what do you absolutely need to know before entering the Grand Canyon in the winter? Entrance fees and hours may come to mind.
South Rim: To enter the South Rim, a vehicle permit costs $35. If you enter via bus or by hiking in, the fee is $20 per person. Note that no refunds are issued if the weather is bad, or if you are confronted with a white-out blizzard. The South Rim operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Some facilities do shut down in the winter. The North Rim is officially closed from October 15 to May 15.
Grand Canyon West’s admission feeWest Rim: Grand Canyon West’s admission fee starts at $59 a person and extends to $360 a person, depending on what experiences you’d like to choose. The West Rim is also open 365 days a year, but only from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm.
North Rim: Closed during the winter.
East Rim: As we mentioned above, Grand Canyon East isn’t an official designated destination, like Grand Canyon West, South Rim, and North Rim. Rather, it is more like a bunch of smaller accessible areas, managed by a mix of tribal lands, state lands, federal lands etc. Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend, Little Colorado River Gorge, are all highlights. So there is no one fixed fee, but different fees for different individually-run activities/entrances.
Grand Canyon Winter Weather by Month
Of course, traveling during this time of year will have you wondering what the Grand Canyon winter temperatures are like. Before we break it down by month, remember that the weather in the desert can drastically change throughout the day with warm weather in the day and below freezing cold temperatures at night. Especially in the winter.
And also remember that different parts of the Grand Canyon may have different temperatures! For instance, if you choose to enter the canyon, you may notice that the temperature rises as you reach a lower elevation. You may gain ten to twenty more degrees, and the sun will add some heat.
December Weather for the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon weather in December at the South Rim has highs around 45 degrees, and lows in the teens. Around eight inches of snow may fall during this month, blanketing the desert vegetation with fresh powder.
January Weather for the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon weather in January is similar, if not a bit colder. And, don’t forget to consider the snowfall. At the North Rim, over 140 inches of snow may accumulate throughout the season. The South Rim receives just under half of that each year. When snow does fall, it will change to rain by the time it reaches the bottom of the Canyon floor. So, places like Phantom Ranch only see less than one inch of snow.
February Weather for the Grand Canyon
Make sure to keep your eye on Grand Canyon weather forecasts for February, too. The coldest and quietest months may have at least ten inches of snow on the ground. Traveling to Horseshoe Bend will be enjoyable in milder temperatures, with highs in the 50s and lows not falling below freezing.
March Weather for the Grand Canyon
March at the Grand Canyon brings the onset of spring after the depths of a cold winter. Average highs at the South Rim sit around 50 degrees, with lows around 25. The inner canyons’ high soars above 70 degrees, with lows a comfortable 48 degrees. Precipitation occurs about six days of this month, bringing along with it around another eight inches of snow. March is also the start of rafting season in the Grand Canyon.
Things to Do in Grand Canyon National Park in the Winter (by Region)
It’s hard to put a time limit on how long to visit the Grand Canyon during winter. At any one Grand Canyon Rim, you could easily spend anywhere from a single afternoon to an entire week exploring the area. If you extended your trip to two or more Grand Canyon Rims, you could plan a month-long road-trip vacation.
This is not a bad way to spend the coldest months of the year. After all, Arizona is one of the best winter destinations in the United States. Here are our favorite things to do at each one of the Grand Canyon’s vast Rims.
South Rim: Top Things to Do in Winter
1) America the Beautiful Yearly National Park Pass
At Grand Canyon’s South Rim, you’ll find the most things to do. By purchasing a day pass or opting for an America the Beautiful yearly National Park pass, you can take advantage of many excellent attractions within the park and other nearby federal lands. If you visit a national park just a few times, this $80 pass quickly pays for itself.
2) South Rim Visitor Center’s Exhibits
Enjoy the many exhibits at South Rim’s Visitor Center. Here, you can the different exhibits, each aiming to educate visitors on the land and animals surrounding them. Displays of historic artifacts also educate on the Native American people that once called this area home (and many still do).
3) Verkamp’s Visitor Center
There is also a second visitor center, Verkamp’s Visitor Center, with a curio shop and history of Grand Canyon Village on display. This building was once a residential home for over a century.
4) Kolb Studio
Kolb Studio is another interesting visitor center, once a family home and a studio for photographers. Now, visitors to the Grand Canyon can learn about the brothers who once lived here, who documented the Grand Canyon in the early 1900s.
5) Ranger Show
You can also catch a ranger show. These shows range from short talks about geology to hour-long history walks. The history walks lead you through the Grand Canyon Village, and cover the history of these buildings. Interesting evening ranger programs are also held no matter what the season.
6) Desert View Watchtower
You may also visit the Desert View Watchtower (pictured above), and look out over the deep canyons from an entirely new perspective. This tower is built as a reflection of the architecture of the Puebloan cultures. On a clear, desert day, you can see as far as 100 miles away. Reach this area by following scenic Desert View Drive, which is open to tourist vehicles all year.
7) Shuttles to Epic Viewpoints
You can also take shuttles to various viewpoints throughout the park. This is a great option if you are wary of winter driving. Otherwise, many of the shuttle-only roads that are usually closed to private vehicles open during the winter due to the smaller crowd size. Hermit Road is one of these options. Enjoy taking your personal vehicle along this road, and take whichever of the nine stops you wish. Each stop is a breathtaking overlook.
8) Winter Photography
Also, be sure to take a lot of pictures. Not as many people visit this time of year, so your photos will be unique. Furthermore, the sun sits at a different angle, so you’ll get completely different hues at sunset and sunrise than during the summertime. Be sure to watch for wildlife too, as you may see mule deer or elk roaming the snowy grounds.
9) American Dining
There are many places to grab a bite at South Rim, too. Check out El Tovar Dining Room, a gourmet lounge in the midst of rugged terrain. Or, eat at Bright Angel Lounge, which features a Fred Harvey Burger and an Arizona Steakhouse. Another great option is Maswik Food Court, a casual eatery that will satisfy your post-hike appetite.
10) Ride the Polar Express
One of the best things to do while visiting the Grand Canyon in December is the Polar Express. That’s right, the train that takes families from Williams to the South Rim transforms during the holiday season into a fictional ride. Children can wear their PJs, meet Santa, and enjoy cookies at their “North Pole” destination. This is a family tradition for many locals and tourists alike, so make sure to book tickets early in the year.
The West Rim’s Best Winter Activities & Things to Do
11) The Grand Canyon’s Skywalk
At Grand Canyon West, weather-permitting, you can walk the popular Skywalk. This adventure is not for the faint of heart, though, as the skywalk is entirely made of clear glass and is 4,000 feet above the canyon floor. This is truly a thrilling and majestic experience that will make you feel close to nature- and the thick desert air around it. Don’t worry too much, however, as this glass Skywalk could hold seventy fully loaded 747 passenger airplanes.
12) Eagle Point (Native American Village)
You can also embark on a self-guided tour of Eagle Point, a Native American Village. You’ll be able to see traditional buildings like housing and sweat lodges. Members of the Hualapai Tribe will often play their native music or demonstrate dances passed down from generations. Visitors can witness all of this, and reflect on a time when this land was their home.
13) Sky View Restaurant
Looking to fuel your West Rim adventure? Enjoy a spectacular meal at the Sky View Restaurant, perched above the Canyon in the Skywalk building. The food is quite similar to fast food, but the views will leave you astounded.
14) Grand Canyon Caverns
While you’re near the Grand Canyon West, make sure to stop at the Grand Canyon Caverns in Peach Springs, off Route 66. This is the nation’s largest dry cavern and reaches 210 feet below the desert surface. There are a few tours you can take here, both on and off the trail. The first is the Cavern Tour, appropriate for any age and almost every ability level.
15) Explorer’s Tour Climbing, Dining & Cave Adventures
The next is the Explorers Tour, which is only for those eight years of age and older, who are in good shape. There is also the Wild Tour, which requires attendees to be physically fit and also take the direction of a guide as you literally climb the cave walls. Lastly, you can take a ghost tour- the ultimate haunting experience.
You can even eat dinner 200 feet into the cave. This is a truly unique experience that you won’t believe. And, since cave temperature is always the average yearly air temperature of the area above ground, it will be temperate in this cave.
Grand Canyon East: Best Winter Things to Do
16) Marble Canyon
There are many different places to check out along the eastern side of Grand Canyon National Park. Begin at Marble Canyon, which is the starting point of the Grand Canyon on this side. This point is about two and a half hours from the South Rim. You can take a white-water rafting trip from here, or simply enjoy the rustic desert landscape.
17) Navajo Bridge
The best place to view the purple-hued walls is from the Navajo Bridge, high above the Colorado River. Once the highest steel arch in the world, the original bridge opened in 1929 is now a pedestrian bridge. You can drive across on the modern replica, built in the 90s to account for bigger, heavier vehicles.
18) Little Colorado River Gorge
Then, visit the Little Colorado River Gorge, which sits on Navajo Tribal Parkland. This part of the Grand Canyon looks much different than the rest. You can see for yourself from two epic viewpoints here within an easy walk from the parking lot. If you wish to venture further, be sure to get a backcountry permit from tribal park areas.
19) Cameron Trading Post (for artisan crafts)
Also located in this area of the Grand Canyon is Cameron Trading Post, almost on the banks of the Gorge. Purchase original Native American artwork, like baskets, rugs, and pottery. Or, grab a delicious meal at their restaurant, featuring all the flavors of the Southwest.
20) East Rim Drive & Lipan Point
Lastly, weather permitting, go on the scenic East Rim Drive to check out the Lipan Point viewpoint. This is one of the best viewpoints to see the layers of the canyon. Lipan Point may also be seen as a quick side trip from the south rim drive.
The North Rim in the Winter
21) Advanced Backcountry Camping
Remember! As I’ve mentioned above, traveling to the North Rim is closed in the winter, so this region only allows for one activity: advanced backcountry camping (with permits).
Hiking The Grand Canyon in Winter
Grand Canyon winter hiking deserves its own section because it takes special consideration and preparation. If you are a novice hiker, plan on shorter hikes that keep civilization within view. Avoid paths with ice, take shorter steps, and pay special attention whenever walking near an edge. And you’re looking for warmer hikes in Nevada, consider our guide to the best hikes near Las Vegas.
While hiking during a Grand Canyon National Park winter, pack additional gear. This will not only keep the trip enjoyable but also safe. Bring the following items:
- Extra layers, including thermal base layers
- Warm socks
- Winter hiking boots
- Spikes to add to your boots
- Thin headband ear muffs, worn under a warm winter hat
- Gloves or mittens (mittens will keep your fingers warmer)
- Pants and jacket with a water-proof outer layer
- Trekking poles
- Flashlight with strobe feature
- First aid kit
- Emergency blanket
Of course, if your trip includes a stay inside the Canyon, be sure to pack camping equipment. If you are staying at Phantom Ranch, you may be able to take advantage of their Duffel Service.
IMPORTANT: Always check trail conditions before embarking on your trip. If a trail is too difficult for your skillset, or you find yourself uncomfortable, turn around. On average, twelve people die at the Grand Canyon each year, usually from exposure or falls.
South Rim Winter Trails
At South Rim, stroll the walkways of the Rim Trail. This is the main area where many tourists congregate. In fact, if you were to visit in the summer, this trail would be packed with people.
However, in the winter, you’ll find a much more secluded route. There are handrails along much of this area, so you will be able to enjoy the view while also feeling secure from slipping on any snow or ice.
One of the most popular trails at South Rim is Bright Angel Trail. While open in the winter, this trail is famous for its drop-offs. You will most likely encounter slick snow and ice for at least the first few miles.
Hermit Trail is your best bet when avoiding walking on ice, as it descends from a point lower than 7000 feet of elevation. There will be snow and ice initially, but this will end quickly as you get lower into the canyon.
Finally, you may decide to hike from South Rim to North Rim and back. This is an extreme multi-day journey that takes much planning and preparation, especially in winter.
Grand Canyon East Hikes
One of the most quintessential experiences on the eastern edge of the Grand Canyon is Horseshoe Bend’s viewpoint. The hike from the parking lot is just under a mile. It’s relatively easy but does include some inclines. There are no railings on the cliff, so take extra caution when visiting in the winter months. You can also take a day tour here, and spend an entire day exploring not only Horseshoe Bend, but also Antelope Canyon.
West Rim Trails
Hoping to hike at Grand Canyon West? Enjoy stunning views along the trail to Guano Point. This short hike also has no railings but is easy for all skill levels.
Multi-Day Tour Extensions
You may also choose to book a multi-destination tour to a few places near the Grand canyon. This tour in December will take you to the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, and Zion. Tours like this one take multiple days and have the added value of a knowledgeable, live tour guide. You’ll also be able to skip ticket lines and get right to all the fun. Keep in mind similar tours may not operate in the winter months, so be sure to check your dates before purchasing.
Other Towns to Explore Near the Grand Canyon in Winter
Did your planned hike get canceled due to impassable conditions? Has poor weather in the Canyon led to poor visibility? You may be looking for something to do nearby. A southwestern road trip can be as short or as long as you prefer. You may decide to extend your Grand Canyon vacation outside of a tour package by connecting with other tourist destinations. There are numerous other towns surrounding the Grand Canyon that you can visit, like:
Each of these offers a worthwhile extension of your marvelous Grand Canyon during the winter trip, and some may offer you warmer temperatures.
Best Ways of Getting to the Grand Canyon During Winter + Cool Pit Stops
Planning your drive to the Grand Canyon during winter is no small feat, as the park is 1,902 square miles large. That’s bigger than the entire state of Rhode Island. In fact, you could fit all of New York City into the Grand Canyon over 83 times! To simplify directions, here are the four best ways to reach the Grand Canyon rims.
From the Las Vegas Strip to Grand Canyon West (2 Hours)
BIGGEST TIP – Be sure to put “Grand Canyon West” into your GPS. This will avoid you being directed on a much longer trip to the West Rim Trail at South Rim (four hours away). Many people make this mistake and drive around lost for hours!
This way, you’ll pass the Hoover Dam, go through the remote town of Dolan Springs and drive through a Joshua tree forest until you reach the entrance of Grand Canyon West. We have also written a guide to Cool Facts About Joshua Tree National Park if you’re interested in learning more about this cool plant!
From Flagstaff, Arizona to the South Rim (1.5 Hours)
There are three routes from Flagstaff, but only one takes you through the towns of Williams and Tusayan. Head west on Highway 40 and turn north on highway 64. You’ll pass sprawling farmland on your drive to Grand Canyon Junction and onto Tusayan. As you get closer to the park entrance, you’ll feel so close to the bright blue sky that you will know that you’re close to something amazing.
GO ON MAGICAL TRAIN RIDE – It’s also definitely worth noting that you can take a magical train ride from Williams into the Grand Canyon. The train runs year long and is only closed one day of the year, December 25.
From St. George Utah to the North Rim (2.5 Hours)
St. George, Utah is the nearest city to many of Utah’s Mighty 5 National sights. In fact, you could connect a trip to Zion National Park and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument to your trip to the North Rim. Remember, only the most seasoned winter weather explorers should attempt a visit to the North Rim in winter.
Follow highway 9 to Hurricane, Utah. Instead of continuing east to Springdale, Utah (and Zion), head sharply south on highway 59. You will cross into Arizona at Colorado City, where the highway’s name will change to 389. Continue on through the Kaibab Indian Reservation, and finally, turn onto highway 89A. This route will skirt the edges of Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, and take you right up to Jacob Lake.
From Flagstaff to Grand Canyon East (~2 Hours)
From Flagstaff, Arizona, it’s almost a straight shot North on highway 89 to the many sights along Grand Canyon’s eastern side. If you wish to see Marble Canyon, take Highway 89A from the town of Bitter Springs.
Safety Precautions For Grand Canyon Winter Travel
The desert is an extreme environment, no matter what time of year you visit. A sunny day may quickly turn into a rainy day at one elevation, and a snowy day at another. The towns nestled into wintry locations do a good job of clearing the roads, but it is important to slow down and watch for poor weather conditions. These may look like lowered visibility, swirling snow on the road, or even black ice.
Keep an eye on alerts on the National Park website, and always follow directions given via road signs and emergency personnel. Finally, always make sure you are fueled up for your road trip, in case you break down in colder weather.
Be sure to watch weather forecasts and plan ahead. Pack up your vehicle with emergency items like blankets, battery-powered phone chargers, and a stash of granola bars.
Whether you choose to hike, tour, or cuddle up in a warm blanket while looking out your lodge window, visiting the Grand Canyon in the winter should be on your bucket list. Make sure you experience this once in a lifetime experience and plan your trip today.