Enjoy Winter in the Grand Canyon

The South Rim is open year round, but the North Rim has limited access from mid-October until mid-May. Learn about winter activities here.
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The South Rim is open year round, but the North Rim has limited access from mid-October until mid-May. Learn about winter activities here.
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Winter hiking in the Grand Canyon. Photo by Aaron Wilcox

It's almost a cliche say it, but winter is a special time in Grand Canyon National Park. Why? Because you have the place to yourself. No crowds, no stress, same spectacular scenery.

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is Open Year Round

You'll find plenty of activities to keep you entertained on the South Rim during winter. Ranger-led walks and evening programs are held daily and vary from an insider's look at the historic Kolb Brothers Studio (reservations needed) to a 45-minute stroll along the rim discussing the canyon's dramatic geologic past. Artists in residence spend three weeks in the park at different times during the year and offer public programs as part of the conditions of their stay. 

South Rim Outdoor Activities in Winter

Of course, for most people, the allure of our national parks is spending time outside. Winter on the South Rim, while capricious at times, can be a perfect for exploring the natural world. Watch the weather. Storms roll through making conditions icy and dangerous, but they tend to pass quickly leaving you with clear, crisp days full of sunshine. Gone is the Los Angeles smog that often mars the summer panoramas. Your views will stretch away for miles and miles, each cliff, rock and tree etched with precision and clarity against the vivid blue sky. You may be lucky enough to be in the park after a snowstorm when the landscape is transformed by an icing of white to contrast against the pinks, reds and greens of the canyon's normal palette.

Winter Temperatures in the South Rim

Temperatures in the winter can be ideal for hiking! No blazing heat to sap your energy! Plus you are unlikely to encounter more than a handful of people on the trails. Even the Bright Angel Trail, which in peak season sees a steady stream of traffic, is almost empty come November. Some trails, especially those that face north, harbor snow and ice long after it has melted everywhere else, so care must be taken to navigate these sections. You can pick up in-step crampons (simple metal spiked plates to strap onto your hiking shoes) at the shops along the rim to make travel over ice secure and safe.

Before you head off for your hike, stop into the Backcountry Information Center near the Maswik Lodge in the South Rim Village to get up-to-the-minute reports on trail conditions and weather. All overnight campers need permits! even in the winter. During peak season, you must apply for these in advance. In winter, you can usually walk-in and secure a permit on demand, but if you know you plan to camp out on your trip, it's still best to call ahead.

If walking isn't your thing, you can take a mule ride along the canyon rim or down to the Colorado River for an overnight stay at Phantom Ranch even in the winter (weather permitting). The Tusayan mountain bike trails adjacent to the park boundary in the Kaibab National Forest are in great condition in the winter, the sandy bits are firm and fast and the dust is at a minimum, so bring your bike and go for a ride. You can opt for a three-mile loop or complete a 32-mile circuit of linked trails.

Temperatures can be extreme, of course. It is winter at 7,000 feet, but the average high is usually in the 40s and lows are in the 20s. That's cold enough to require bundling up, but not cold enough to keep hearty souls inside for long. Plus, many of the South Rim hotels have fires crackling away in the lobby throughout the day to warm visitors coming in from the cold. You can't go too wrong with a brisk walk along the rim of the spectacular Grand Canyon followed by a steaming cup of hot chocolate next to a roaring fire. So do something extraordinary this winter: visit the Grand Canyon.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon Has Limited Winter Access

Day use of the North Rim is permitted during winter as long as Highway 67 remains open. However, there are extremely limited visitor facilities (gas, restaurants, water) available. The Arizona Highway Department closes the highway once snow accumulates precluding all vehicular access. The public can still visit the North Rim by foot, skis or snowshoes. Snowmobiles are not allowed. Camping permits are required at all times and can be obtained through the Backcountry Information Office.

(For a glimpse at what winter weather can be like in the park, visit our Grand Canyon weather page)

Related

Hiker at Bright Angel Point on the Grand Canyon's North Rim

Grand Canyon North Rim

Those visiting the remote North Rim (5-hour drive from South Rim) will be rewarded with a chance to see the canyon without the crowds.

Sunset at Hopi Point on the South Rim. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

Grand Canyon South Rim

Open 365 days a year, the South Rim offers plenty of activities, restaurants and, of course, gorgeous views. It is the most-visited part of the canyon.