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Visiting the Grand Canyon in Winter

Updated on August 18, 2017
Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe visited the Grand Canyon in the winter with her family 11 years ago. It was an experience she would never forget.

Explore the Grand Canyon

So Much to Do

When you visit the Grand Canyon, there is a wide variety of things to do. From ample hiking, mule rides, and souvenir shopping to exploring the canyon by various tours, enjoying dining and lodging nearby, or visiting a history room, there is something for everyone. Make sure to bring your camera as you can expect to see plenty of animals and plants, and there will be amazing canyon shots that will be definite keepers for the photo album.

If you're looking for spectacular photo shots, helicopter tours offer a unique vantage of the splendor of the canyon. Additionally, in one of the aircrafts, you can travel to the bottom of the canyon in less than a half-hour.

A more old-fashioned journey down can be taken on the back of a donkey or mule. It takes 3-4 hours to meet up with the park rangers at the bottom. The well-worn trail down the rim to the bottom remains open in winter.

Land, river, or train, the guided tours in and around the Grand Canyon require a fee. Travelers can hike trails for free, but only experienced and properly equipped hikers should spend time on the trails on their own.

View the Grand Canyon With the Skywalk

A Wondrous Beauty

"Breathtaking," was my first thought as daylight dawned over the Grand Canyon, and the colors of this natural landmark awakened.

It was the first day of our visit with my family as we watched the fog of early morning lift above the canyon revealing a naturally landscaped portrait. Along with the hues of browns, reds, grays, and purples in the stone layered in the walls, there were pinks and greens revealed in the lower layers of the strata, and at the base there were greens and browns in the vegetation. The colors climbed toward the very edge of the cliffs, and the high walls shielded the Colorado River, a ribbon of blue below. I was left breathless. In January, the South Rim glistened with winter sunlight.

The Grand Canyon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. When we got down into the natural crevasse, I was amazed at the beauty, which began at the rim and shimmered deep into its depths. The Colorado River ran through it. As I examined the layers of the walls covered in plants and patchy moss, I felt alive and appreciative of life.

Arizona's Winter Wonderland to View

Picture Perfect View

We observed a group that decided to hike down the path into the canyon. They looked like they came from a cross-country or track-and-field college team. Hiking down was an exciting option as it allows an exploration of the canyon from a unique perspective. In winter particularly though, be aware that walking can be treacherous due to snow and ice building up on the steps and trail. Lower temperatures and the movement of daylight across the canyon leaves some areas without direct sunlight to melt the slick spots.

If you're not feeling like risking the slippery trip down into the canyon, lookout points on the North and South Rim offer spectacular views of the canyon walls, including the wide variety of trees, bushes, moss, and other greenery below. Do take note though that the North Rim is closed in winter.

Capture Memories That Last Forever

Precious Kodak Moments: Plants and Animals

Whether journeying via a guided bus tour or traveling by car, the South Rim's scenic points all along the road offer views from various angles. The natural stone formations offered dramatic and unexpected surprises, including caves and ledges that appear to reach out of the walls. I was surprised to even see a cave in the middle of the canyon’s formations—it was definitely worth a picture.

As far as vegetation goes, plants needing the most abundant water are found on the floor of the canyon, which bakes at 120 degrees Fahrenheit during summer. In winter, the temperatures are much milder and rain is more common. Drought-resistant vegetation is found further from the river. Visitors will see tamarack, yucca, agave, and numerous species of cacti along the walls and slopes of the canyon. In the winter, with the frost on the plants and snow on the ground, the scene looked quite amazing.

While our visit happened on a slow day for the park animals, visitors can find numerous opportunities to witness the wildlife that flourishes in the canyon environment.

Visitors can see a wide variety of animals, including birds of prey such as peregrine falcons, hawks, and eagles. It's advisable to keep some distance and simply leave them alone for the safety of both the birds and the public.

Watching in amusement, I encountered an elk while traveling to the South Rim. It came out of the woods and greeted visitors as we waited for it to step off the road. Standing comfortably in full view of other tourists and us, the elk appeared to be in good shape and in fine color. Despite seeing one tourist who flaunted the park rules and exited his car to snap a picture, we stayed in our vehicle and obtained good photos.

The Grand Canyon National Park Is Located in Northern Arizona in Grand Canyon, Arizona

A markerGrand Canyon National Park, AZ -
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA
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The Grand Canyon can be a great place to see in any season.

Winter Desert Hiking Tips

When exploring the Grand Canyon, especially in winter, there are safety tips and advice to keep in mind. It's important to have a checklist for items you want to carry and to know locations where you might take a break to eat and get warm.

Before you leave the hotel, make sure that you and each member of your party has a list of emergency numbers and information in case you get separated or have any problems. If you're traveling with a buddy, you can be assured that one of you can get help if there is any need.

Here are some additional suggestions:

  • To beat the crowds, it helps to arrive by 7 a.m., even during the winter season. The canyon can be chilly in the morning hours; it may warm up to subtropical temperatures with a high humidity by noon. Avoid hiking in the heat from 10 to 4 p.m.
  • Eat before, during, and after a hike. Also, eat before you're hungry to prevent fatigue and altitude sickness. Eat breakfast, and eat twice as much, when snacking and eating dinner. High-energy snacks throughout your excursion can give you the boost you'll need. Salty snacks will make you thirsty sooner but can also provide nourishment. Along with hard candy, some healthy ideas would be trail mix, or other on-the-go snacks, especially dried fruit and nuts and seeds. Bring extra snacks along on the trip.
  • Stay hydrated. Bottled water, sports and power drinks with electrolytes, and other refreshments can be purchased at souvenir shops and lookout points on your way to the canyon, or you can pack them up before you go. Bring more than you think you'll need. You should also drink before you're thirsty.
  • Pack light; remember that you'll have to carry gear with you. Be sure to pack enough additional supplies.
  • Bring suntan oil to protect you from the Arizona sun. Although it may be winter, the sun is still out there. Bring lipgloss or medicated lip balm for protection as well as sunglasses and a hat.
  • Be kind to yourself. People who have back or knee problems, asthma, heart problems, diabetes, and other health/medical problems should limit the exertion and exposure to heat. Those who have such concerns should attempt the trail only after consulting their physician.
  • Bring a map, compass, moleskin, and water purification tablets for backup. While most will make the trip without incident, it's wise to realize that accidents happen. Plan ahead. Bring a backpack with a first aid kit and extra supplies, and you'll be prepared for anything. You might also bring along an extra day's supply of food, a cellphone if you have one, or a portable CB radio, a whistle, a flare, and a light thermal blanket. Band-Aids and a topical ointment for any cuts or scrapes are also a good idea. Hikers who are prepared are those more likely to cope with accidents.
  • If you should get lost, use your signal mirror and send a message with another hiker. Make sure you give the following information to them: the nature of the problem, the location, the number of people involved, and a physical description.
  • Wear comfortable hiking clothes. Dress in layers, so you can remove pieces as the day warms. Support from appropriate hiking shoes and boots that are well-fitted and properly broken-in will prevent sore and aching feet. Avoid wearing open-toed shoes or sandals. Wear comfortable hiking clothes.
  • Rangers are stationed at the park entrance, exit, and at the bottom of the canyon if you have any questions, need directions, or run into any problems.
  • Bathroom facilities aren't provided. In the canyon, you're in nature and roughing it. If you have to go to the bathroom, it should be buried under six to eight inches of mineral soil. If you have to bury it, you'll need a shovel. Remember to bring toilet paper, which should be carried in plastic or biodegradable bags, for non-liquid human waste.
  • As well as having no bathrooms, be aware that there is no food or other refreshments at the bottom of the canyon. You should bring your own.
  • Use a walking or hiking stick. Stretching before hiking is helpful to prepare your muscles for the trip. For the sake of safety and courtesy, stay on the trail, never shortcut switchbacks (zigzag trails), and give uphill hikers the right of way.
  • Taking frequent 30-minute breaks every hour to rest and refuel is a wise idea. You can also take in the beauty and wonders of the cavern, chat, and enjoy your snacks. Rest for five to seven minutes during that time. Sit down in the shade and let the gravity help drain the metabolic waste products from your legs by propping them above the heart level.
  • Pace yourself. Avoid huffing and puffing. An aerobic-paced jog (baby steps) will make you last longer on the hike and feel well at the end. The best safety tip of them all is to keep focused. If it should happen and you get lost, STOP hiking. Sit down and wait for help to arrive. Call for help.
  • Be aware of the time on the descent. Know that however long it takes you to reach the bottom, it will take twice as long to reach the top again. It takes one-third of your time to descend, and two-thirds of your time to ascend.
  • Limited daylight could limit your view of the landscape; therefore you should keep your flashlight close by and watch where you're going.
  • Don't expect to go down to the river and back in one day. It's a long hike from going down to the canyon and back up, so plan for a two-day trip. There are handrails and stairs to make the journey, but use caution and watch your footing. You can camp back-country at the nearest campgrounds in the area.

Some other items to consider bringing: small flashlights with an extra set of batteries and bulb, just in case; a camera to capture the memories of the trips; an extra bag, old blanket or shower liner to sit on when the ground is wet or for trash for deposit in the nearest trashcan. Also carry a signal mirror, any prescription medicines (including allergy medicines and extra doses, in case you're there longer than you may have planned), aspirin for body aches, matches or a lighter, and a knife or utility tool.

Safety First When Hiking

Be safety-conscious and have fun.

Visiting Arizona

Would you visit Grand Canyon in winter?

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Places to Visit and Final Thoughts

The Blue Angel Lodge offers lodging and warm relaxing meals beside a crackling fire. You can even rent a cabin if you're so inclined. Be sure to check out their history room to brush up on the region. It was a happy surprise to learn the classic film, The Harvey Girls with Judy Garland was shot there. Memorabilia of the movie, such as the actual script and photos of the actors, are on exhibit, which also includes the history of the real Harvey Girls with the photos that inspired the movie. We made a point of stopping and even signing our names in the guest book. It was worth a visit to learn more about the history of the Grand Canyon while we warmed up before lunch and shopped for souvenirs.

Be sure to visit the Grand Restaurant in Tusayan, which features American Indian performers in full dress who entertain travelers with tribal songs and dancing. Here you can sample Western dishes and other native cuisines that offer a splendid array of tastes.

My family had an awesome, delightful evening at this restaurant. It was an experience all on its own for my palate as I chose a spicy dish that I didn't recognize. I thought my mouth had been set on fire, but water and soda helped to soothe and cool my throat. Not even the spice attack on my mouth could have cast a cloud on my time there though—it was a memory I knew I'd never forget.

Farewell Arizona

I was sad to head home to a cold, wintry day in Ohio with two thin inches of thick snow and the temperature in the 30s. After the loss of my grandfather in December 2005, I needed this particular trip to help me heal. During a rough patch, this trip helped to lift my spirits. I found myself smiling, laughing, and enjoying time spent with my family. It brought us even closer than before. It's a wonderful place to commune with nature and to reflect and witness the glory of nature all around.

Fee and Contact Information

Fee Info:

  • Entry fees: $10 for individuals for up to seven days
  • Vehicles: $20
  • Children under five: free
  • Backcountry camping: $15/night

Contact Info:

Grand Canyon National Park,

P.O. Box 129,

Grand Canyon, AZ 86023

Website: https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm

Phone number: (918) 638-7888

Viewing Arizona's Winter Wonderland Over the Grand Canyon

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    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 9 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Ami. Should I send it over to HP's niche for consideration?

    • Happymommy2520 profile image

      Amy 9 months ago from East Coast

      Great Hub! Beautifully written.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
      Author

      Kristen Howe 22 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Mike, thanks for stopping by. We both visited the same place during the winter. I agree. I would never forget it either. I still have photos from the trip, too in a picture frame.

    • Readmikenow profile image

      Readmikenow 22 months ago

      Was in the Grand Canyon one January. It is a memorable experience any time of the year. Lucky for me it was one of the warmest Januarys on record. An amazing place. I recommend everyone visit there.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Linda, thanks so much. I wish I had the real ones to use for the hub and download to them. How awesome is that! I would love to go back to GC someday and think of my mom.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 2 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Great photos! I wouldn't visit in the winter, living in FL my winter is 75* :) I missed visiting the Grand Canyon the last time I went to Las Vegas, but my daughter and SIL went to visit this summer and they enjoyed the view!

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      HI CrisSp. I think you'll enjoy Arizona in any season. Thanks for the pin and share, my friend. I wish I could've posted the other half of this article, but I lost it last summer somehow.

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 2 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      This has been in my bucket list. I hope to fly there soon and will absolutely keep your tips along with me.

      Great, picturesque hub! Hitting all the buttons across plus pinning and sharing.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thank you so much Peg for your comments. You'll love the Grand Canyon in any season.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Diana for coming by and visiting my hub. Thank you for the compliments. I lost the other half of my Arizona travelogue, last summer, which was on day trips and Arizona in general. You'll love Grand Canyon.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 2 years ago

      Your description of the Grand Canyon is the best I've read in quite awhile. Your tips are not only great advice but life-saving. I would not have thought of a few of your suggestions. Some day I may take a vacation there but I'm

      Sure it will be in the cool fall season if I do visit.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      This is useful and practical information for visiting any nature trail and site. You've provided a comprehensive and well thought out list. I've always wanted to see this amazing wonder of the world. Maybe some day I will!

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Stephanie for coming by. It's actually a two-piece old article for this one hub. I lost the other half last summer on Arizona in general. It would be a great counter piece for it. I bet it was hot in the summer and would love to visit Az someday.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 2 years ago from USA

      Great article with so much important and useful information for anyone planning to go. I've been to the Grand Canyon twice, once in the summer and once in winter. Each time I was awed by the grandeur of the canyon. There is just no way to describe it or photograph it that does it justice! I especially loved our winter visit as it snowed a bit while we were there and every ledge and rock was frosted with white--just amazing!

      Your list of preparations to take before hiking there is excellent!

      I would add that it can't be stressed enough to obey signs and be careful! We've seen people do such crazy things in order to get that perfect picture! It's a wonder that more people don't fall!

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Emese for stopping by. It's two articles for the price of one. I had one in Arizona in general and lost it last summer. Oh well. Hope your knee's better.

    • Emese Fromm profile image

      EmeseRéka 2 years ago from The Desert

      This is a great article, Kristen! I'm glad you got to visit the Canyon. I live close enough to it to visit it quite often. In fact one of the reasons we moved to AZ was to be close to it. I've seen a lot of changes over the years in the infrastructure, but the Canyon itself is the same as always, one of the greatest places to visit! I have hiked down into it years ago (the first time I visited it) but never made it to the bottom. Maybe some day I'll take a mule.... (I have a bad knee - good excuse with the elevation). Anyway, I enjoyed your hub, you packed a lot of useful information in it.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Ron, when my family and I went to GC a decade ago, we didn't hike down either. But I agree with you to experience it with yourself and have to be there as well. Thanks for stopping by.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I got to visit the Grand Canyon years ago, but I was too chicken to even think about hiking down to the bottom. It was enough to experience the almost physical impact of seeing all that vastness from the top. I always tell people that you can't really "see" the Grand Canyon in a photo or video. You really do have to be there.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great ideas, Poetryman. It's not as hot as in the summer for tourist peak seasons. Free shuttles are always good. Thanks for stopping by.

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 2 years ago

      I love the idea of the Grand Canyon in winter but I would never actually visit there when it is really cold. When we went there we found it was best to find some place to park and then not to move the car again until it was time to leave the park. They had free shuttles which were for us a better way to get around.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      HI Bill. In winter, GC was beautiful with the snow-capped trees and mountains from both rims. I wish I had copies of the photos here to share. That must be a trip to go down with a mule. You're welcome.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Mary for stopping by and visiting. It's two articles in place of one. I lost the first half on Arizona in general, last summer. Thanks for the votes.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 2 years ago from New York

      Wow, you really packed this hub to the brim with useful and interesting information. I never dreamed of going there in the winter but it must have been a real treat.

      My son hiked down the canyon and camped at the bottom. It was summer and he was young. Thanks for sharing.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Kristen. I visited the GC on a couple of occasions but never in winter. It must be beautiful. Many years ago I did take the mule ride to the bottom, an amazing day. Thanks for sharing, great job.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
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      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Aww, thanks so much, Au Fait. No worries. She did see it in 2005, a month after my grandfather passed away, It was a respite. But it was on her bucket list since then. Thanks for the votes. I would love to go back there someday.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 2 years ago from North Texas

      Kristen, I apologize. I forgot to mention that I plan to share this with my followers. I'm sorry your mother didn't get to see the Grand Canyon. My mother always wanted to visit Arizona too. One of her brothers lived there, but she never got to do it.

      It seems like so often people who really want to travel seldom get to do it, and some of us who think it's nice but don't yearn for it quite the same way get to do all kinds of traveling. Go figure. Anyway, sharing this great article and voting it up and awesome!

    • Kristen Howe profile image
      Author

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Au Fait. Grand Canyon was one of my things my mother wanted to do on her bucket list before she died last spring. I had another half of that article last summer, when I forgot to copy/paste it from Yahoo Voices. It was on Arizona in general. Thanks for the comments.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 2 years ago from North Texas

      Arizona does have oodles of things to see and do and all worth it, too. The Grand Canyon is spectacular and looks different every time the light changes. You have lots of good information here for people who want to go hiking. Very informative article.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
      Author

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Dolores for stopping by. It was a great place to visit a decade ago as a respite after my grandfather had died. It was also on my mother's bucket list, too, before she passed away last year.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 2 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Kristen - the Grand Canyon must be a spectacular sight in winter, especially with snow. Though I am not a fan of cold weather I do love the idea of it, haha. Your pictures are beautiful.

    • Kristen Howe profile image
      Author

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Thanks Mel for stopping by. It's been a decade since I've been to Arizona. I would love to go back there someday. I had an other half of that article, but lost it somehow in my hard drive.

      Thanks Peg for stopping by. Small world you've been to the same places I have in 2005.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      This was a great travelogue. In the mid 80s I actually did hike down to the bottom and back in one day, but I was young and in pretty good shape. I didn't stop on the way back up, I gave myself insane challenges like that back then that I don't think I could measure up too today. It is a beautiful place to visit and you have done it justice. Great hub!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      This is a wonderfully written hub about one of the world's natural wonders. I have been fortunate enough to visit it in both summer and winter. I viewed it from the south rim both times and never did hike or take the mule ride down to the bottom. I did eat at that restaurant that you mentioned and also saw the Indian dances. So much to see and enjoy! It is a photographer's paradise!