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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
If you are planning to see the sunrise here are a few things to note:
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.
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
I hope these tips help you see the sunrise, it is a Grand Canyon experience I’m glad I didn’t miss!
With a day and half at the Grand Canyon we decided we had enough time to hike part of the way down into the canyon. We decided to take the most heavily traveled trail, the Bright Angel Trail. The entire trail descends 4,500 ft in 7.8 miles and leads hikers to the Colorado river. It is not advised to attempt to reach the river and hike back on the same day, so we walked for a few hours (2.5 miles) then turned around.
Optimistically we began our descent. The trail zig zags down with beautiful views of the vast canyon the entire way. After a mile and a half, you’ll run into the first of four stops along the trail with restrooms (and water in the summer months). The bathrooms were nicer than I expected. While it was essentially a hole in the ground covered by a toilet, I didn’t need to fervently hold my breathe because of the smell. One downside is there wasn’t anywhere to wash hands in the winter so you might want to bring some hand sanitizer.
We decided to walk another 30 minutes before turning back, wanting to get back before dark. Unlike most hikes, the second half was the hard part. As inexperienced hikers, traveling back up the canyon was definitely difficult for us but there was never a steep climb and the trail is well maintained. Surprisingly the ascent looked completely different than the way down. Though our legs were angry and our breath was short we had no regrets in the 2.5 miles we trekked down.
If you are planning to hike down into the Grand Canyon here are some things to note: Bring lots of water and salty foods. We thought we had plenty of water but found ourselves rationing it on the way back up. Also take plenty of breaks, something we probably should have done more of. The elevation at the Grand Canyon is 7,000 ft above sea level so it was very easy to be short of breath. Lastly, DO NOT attempt to hike to the river and back in one day. There are many warning signs posted but park officials have to assist over 600 hikers a year plus an additional 150 helicopter rescues.
Hiking into the Grand Canyon was definitely a highlight of our visit. We hope to come back someday to do the entire trail and camp at the bottom!