5 Things to Know about Visiting the Grand Canyon in the Winter

The Grand Canyon is a breathtaking natural wonder any time of year, but visiting in the winter months can be very different from the peak summer season. When we visited last winter here are the five things we wish we would have known before visiting the Grand Canyon in December:

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  1. The North Rim is closed

The Grand Canyon’s North Rim has view and trails to trek similar to the South Rim however it is more difficult to visit as it is far from the freeway and doesn’t have close airport options. Generally the North Rim is less crowded but it is not open to visitors in the winter months. If you are planning to visit, the North Rim is open from May 15th to October 15th each year.

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  1. Its gets cold!

The Grand Canyon is at an elevation of 7,000 ft above sea level so although it is a desert it is still pretty cold in the winter time during the day. For us it got up to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit during the height of the day but if you are hoping to see the sunrise bundle up! When we watched the sunrise it was around 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit. We also saw some ice on the trails so be careful when hiking and be sure to wear plenty of light layers!

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  1. Daylight hours are short

While it makes it easier to view the sunrise (~7:30am) and the sunset (~5:15pm), there are a lot less hours in the day to enjoy the canyon. The main way this affected us was when we hiked part of the Bright Angel Trail down into the Grand Canyon. We were wary about leaving plenty of time to make it back up the canyon so we wouldn’t be on the trail in the dark.

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  1. Not all the buses are running

We never ended up using the shuttles since it was more convenient to have a car in the winter. Only two of the shuttle bus routes are running and this did not include the one that could bring us to the park from our hotel or the route along Hermit Road stopping at many beautiful overlooks including Hermit’s Rest. If you are there in the winter it will be helpful to have a car to drive to the different areas you want rather than relying on the shuttle bus services.

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  1. During holiday weeks it is extremely crowded but other times it is not crowded at all

If you are traveling to the Grand Canyon in the winter be sure to avoid Thanksgiving week and the week between Christmas and New Years if at all possible. During the holiday weeks the Grand Canyon National park is jam packed. However, when we were there in mid December there were many times we had places to ourselves.

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Visiting during the winter months definitely has it’s advantages, the main one being very few fellow tourists, but we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Hopefully these tips will help you plan you winter vacation!

Spending Half a Day in Sedona, AZ

On our week long Arizona road trip, we spent our last day in Sedona. That morning we drove three hours from Page, Arizona, leaving us with only half the day left to explore. While this is in no way enough time to experience all that Sedona has to offer, here is what we were able to fit into our short time:

Our first activity in Sedona was hiking the Cathedral Rock Trail. Overall the trail is only 1.4 miles round trip, but in that short time the elevation rises 608 ft. It was definitely more challenging than expected with parts of it being more similar to rock climbing than hiking.  Overall the climb was moderately difficult as a novice hiker who is also afraid of heights but the views from the top made it all worth it!

Next we made a quick stop at the Chapel of the Holy Cross. High on the red rock hill, the simple design of the small Chapel of the Holy Cross looks out over the town of Sedona. The chapel is run by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix and was built in 1956. The interior of the chapel is unadorned and filled with ruby red candles for devotion. The unique chapel was voted by the citizens of Arizona as one of the Seven Man-Made Wonders of Arizona in 2007.

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To round out our day we decided to unwind in the nearby town of Cottonwood at a winery located on the Verde Valley Wine Trail. While there were a few different ones to chose from on Main Street, we decided to do a tasting at Arizona Stronghold Vineyards. The menu was broken down into 4 flight options: white wine, two red wine flights and a mixture of colors. At $9 each we chose the mixture of red and white plus an all red flight. Jay served us our flights and gave us lots of information about each wine and where the grapes inside came from. All of the wine we tried was delicious and we got to keep our tasting glasses!

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Overall, we wish we had planned more time in our trip to explore Sedona and the surrounding areas but we were very happy with everything we did get to see in the area. Hopefully some time soon we’ll make it back to Sedona to see more of what the city has to offer!

5 Things to Do in Page, Arizona

This past winter during our Arizona road trip we were fortunate to be able to visit Page, Arizona for two days. During our time there we experienced some amazing natural and man made wonders. Here are our favorite activities from our time there:

1: Visit the Lower Antelope Canyon

The Lower Antelope Canyon lies on Navajo Tribal lands and you can only visit them with a tour guide. We explored them with Dixie Ellis Tours. Since we visited in the winter we had the place practically to ourselves! Our guide, Kendrick, helped us with our cameras to make sure we got the best pictures we could. Read all about our visit here.

 

2: Visit the Upper Antelope Canyon

Similar to the Lower Antelope Canyon, the Upper Antelope Canyon is also on Navajo lands and requires a tour guide, we visited with Antelope Canyon Tours. With our guide, Cindy, we piled into a covered truck bed for our 6 mile ride to the canyon entrance. The Upper Antelope canyon was wider and deeper than the lower canyon, but also more crowded. Read more here!

 

3: Visit Horseshoe Bend

Just minutes down the road from Page on Route 89, you’ll find a small parking lot for Horseshoe Bend. After a short half mile hike, you’ll find yourself on the edge of a cliff looking 1000 ft down with a beautiful view of the Colorado River as it winds through the canyon below. For more information check out our post here.

 

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4: See the Glen Canyon Dam

Just off of Scenic View Drive, there is a car park for a view of the giant Glen Canyon Dam. Walk down a rocky path to see the second tallest concrete dam in the United States standing at 710 feet tall.

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5: Hike the Hanging Garden Trail

Right next to the Glen Canyon Dam is a small dirt road that leads to a parking lot for the Hanging Garden Trail. The trail is a mile round trip through red rock scenery. At the end of the trail is a small hanging garden with hundreds of vines extending down the rock ledge.

 

 

While this is in no way a complete list of things to do in Page, Arizona, these were some of our favorites. What was your favorite thing to do in Page?

Viewing the Sunrise at the Grand Canyon National Park

When we visited the Grand Canyon this past December we were very happy that the Grand Canyon National Park is open 24 hours a day so we could watch the sunrise. For two mornings in a row we dragged ourselves out of our comfy warm bed, to spend time in the freezing morning air to watch the sunrise at the Grand Canyon. It was so worth it. The canyon itself is jaw dropping but watching it light up with the sun was stunning.

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View from Lipon Point

The first morning we woke up late (surprise, surprise) and hustled out the door leaving our map of the National Park behind. Our plan flew out the window! We drove fairly aimlessly through the park trying to find the sunrise viewpoint recommended by our hotel, Yavapai Point. Fun fact Yavapai Point is not right next to Yavapai Lodge. Eventually we found a public parking area with a trail sign leading to the Rim Trail. We scurried along the path reaching the canyon’s rim just in time to see the sun rise on the horizon! Though we didn’t make it exactly where we meant to, the view from the Rim Trail was perfect for us.

 

The second morning we aimed higher, we wanted to reach one of the further out viewpoints to watch the sunrise, Lipon Point. Waking up late (again), we raced to get to the National Park before the sun rose. We had much better luck this morning. We ended up stopping before our destination at Grand Trail View Point worried we wouldn’t make it all the way to Lipon point. We walked around and watched the first hints of the sunrise before heading the rest of the way to Lipon Point.

Arriving at Lipon Point, it quickly became my favorite spot to view the Grand Canyon. There is a fantastic panoramic view with the Colorado River winding through the Canyon. We could also spot the Desert View Watchtower in the distance! With the entire place to ourselves we watched until the sun rose high into the sky.

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If you are planning to see the sunrise here are a few things to note:

  1. Get there early! You can find the sunrise time easily online but that’s the time the sun actually peeks over the horizon. To see the full transition arrive to your viewing spot about 30 minutes early.
  2. It is cold! With the Grand Canyon’s high altitude, it is very cold before the sun rises. For us visiting in December the temperatures were below freezing, around 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit

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I hope these tips help you see the sunrise, it is a Grand Canyon experience I’m glad I didn’t miss!

 

Visiting Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona

When planning our Arizona road trip, there was one photo that kept popping up during our research that we couldn’t resist, the beautiful Horseshoe Bend! Horseshoe Bend is a piece of the Grand Canyon near Page, Arizona where the Colorado river “bends” in a U shape. Since we had already planned to visit Page to hike the Lower and Upper Antelope Canyons, we were excited to learn that Horseshoe Bend was only 5 minutes away!

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Horseshoe Bend is actually relatively easy to find. It lies just off of route 89 between mile marker 544 and 545. Take the exit lane onto a small dirt path and you’ll find a dirt parking area complete with public restrooms. We went in mid December around sunset and the lot was fairly full, so parking may be difficult in the peak summer months. The best part about visiting Horseshoe Bend is there was no entrance fee!

After you park there is still a 0.5 mile hike on slick sand to reach the cliffs edge of Horseshoe Bend. The trek does have a good amount of uphill portions and is slow going due to the sand. If you get tired, there is a pavilion to stop and rest in about halfway to the cliffs. After the short hike, you’ll finally be able to see the bend in the Colorado river from the cliffs 1,000 feet above it.

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Wandering the cliffs above you’ll see that Horseshoe Bend is breathtaking. There are no guard rails obstructing the views so be very careful around the edges. Many other tourists were taking great risks climbing out on rocks to take the perfect photo and they almost gave me a heart attack!

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Visiting Horseshoe Bend was simple and free. If you are in the area Horseshoe Bend is a must see natural phenomenon!

 

 

Visiting the Upper Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona

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During our stop in Page, Arizona on our Arizona road trip we knew we had to visit Antelope Canyon. There are two separate canyons, the Upper Antelope Canyon and the Lower Antelope Canyon. On the afternoon of our arrival we visited the Lower Antelope Canyon (read about it here) after a night’s rest it was time to see the Upper Antelope Canyon.

Today, the Canyons are both located on Navajo property so they can only be visited with a tour guide. There are five different tour groups with which you can visit the Upper Canyon, we visited through Antelope Canyon Tours for $45 each. Our group of about 12 piled into a covered truck bed, packed in tight, and rode the six miles from our meeting point to the canyon. Three of those miles are not on paved roads and were very bumpy and dusty, or as our tour guide Cindy called it, a Navajo massage.

When we reached the entrance, our group stood outside as Cindy explained some of the history of the canyon. This unique canyon was created by 180 million years of wind and water coming through the canyon. Even today during the summer months there are chances of flash flooding due to heavy rainfall. Throughout the canyon you’ll see logs suspended in the canyon above your head which were carried in by high waters.

 

We visited in mid December, during low tourist season, and the Upper Antelope Canyon was still fairly crowded. We were told its much worse in the summer months. Cindy showed us the places throughout the canyon to get the best photos and the names of different rock formations. My personal favorites were a point where the light coming through the ceiling was shaped like a heart and a spot where you could stand to have angel wings!

We walked leisurely through the 0.25 mile long canyon stopping along the way to take photos before coming out on the other side. Before I mentioned that you can only visit this canyon through a tour, this is mainly to prevent vandalism. On the sides of the canyon walls at this exit you can see bullet holes! With most all of our photos take we walked the entire way back to the truck just enjoying the views. Another dusty, bumpy ride in the back of the truck and we concluded the tour right where we started.

Visiting the Upper Antelope Canyon in December was breathtaking but in April through September at mid day beams of sunlight stream through the canyon making incredible photos. Check them out on google here! This phenomenon only happens once a day so tours at this time a more expensive and fill up fast. If you want to see it make sure to book early! Even without the stunning sunbeams, our visit to the Upper Antelope Canyon was definitely worthwhile.

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Visiting the Lower Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona

During our week long Arizona road trip, we spent two nights in Page, Arizona. When we arrived we immediately went to do a tour of the Lower Antelope Canyon. Located on Navajo tribal lands, access to the canyon is permitted only through two tour groups. We visited with Dixie Ellis Lower Antelope Canyon Tours and booked the tour for $25 plus an $8 Navajo entrance fee when we arrived. If you are coming in the summer months you should definitely book ahead, but as we were there in mid-December we didn’t have any issues.

 

 

We were very fortunate that there were only four of us in our group plus our tour guide, Kendrick. We descended five flights of stairs into the canyon about 80 ft underground. The sandstone caverns were incredible, we explored the canyon mostly at our leisure with Kendrick helping with camera settings for the best quality pictures. Luckily for us Kendrick also leads a photography tour so he understood how each person’s camera should be set and the opportunities for the best pictures. One of the photos might look familiar as the Microsoft screensaver called Sandstone Waves, which was taken here in the Lower Antelope Canyon!

 

We spent about an hour in the canyon, practically having it to ourselves. However, in the summer months our guide described a much different scenario. Apparently the canyons can get filled up from elbow to elbow with tourists and the wait to get into the canyon can take hours! Next year it sounds like both tour groups will be raising their prices to visit the Canyon in the hopes of offering quality tours rather than a large quantity of tours.

 

Overall we really enjoyed our experience in the Lower Antelope Canyon, but the situation would have been very different had we visited in the summer months. If you can, try to visit during the low season to enjoy this natural wonder!