Visiting the south rim of the Grand Canyon in the winter is a perfect way to beat the crowds and still have great weather for hiking. It is located in Arizona and the closest major cities are Las Vegas and Phoenix. We’ll give you what to expect when visiting the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in the winter as well as things to do. The Grand Canyon’s landscape is massive and colorful with breathtaking views that prove why it’s one of the seven natural wonders of the world as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park averages 6 million visitors a year but it’s difficult to imagine how a place so vast can feel so crowded most of the time. Visiting in the winter brings fewer crowds at all the popular sights, less competition for Phantom Ranch reservations and backpacking permits, as well as stunning views of the Canyon with the upper cliffs dusted with snow.

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There are so many ways to experience the Grand Canyon. We’ll give you ideas whether you only have one day, are traveling with kids, or are an avid hiker looking to complete a bucket list Grand Canyon hike, there’s something for everyone.

Desert View Drive

This scenic route 64 travels between Grand Canyon Village and the East Entrance running alongside the Rim for about 25 miles. It connects some of the most breathtaking viewpoints and stops in the park and is open year-round. Great stops along the way are Desert View, Navajo Point, Lipan Point, Moran Point, Grandview Point, and Duck on a Rock. These can be easy quick stops if you have limited time. One of the best stops is the Desert View Watchtower designed by the architect and pioneer of her time, Mary Colter. The watchtower was modeled after the architecture of the Ancestral Puebloan people of the Colorado Plateau.

Grand Canyon in the winter Desert view watchtower
Desert View Watchtower

Pro tip

One route option is to come in the South Entrance and see Mather Point and the rim trail and then take Desert View Drive and exit through the East Entrance. This allows you to see a lot of the Grand Canyon in one day.

See a Sunrise or Sunset

To get to see the grand canyon come to life and fill with color at sunrise is an experience not to miss. At sunset, the vivid colors, shadows, and light can change within minutes. There also are fewer people trying to view the canyon during these times so you can often catch it in a quieter moment. The best spots to view the sunrise or sunset in the South Rim are Mather Point, Yavapai Point, Yaki Point, or Hopi Point. Check here for more tips on locations and timing.

Sunrise Grand Canyon rim in the winter
Photo Credit: Daniel Sessler Unsplash

Grand Canyon South Rim Mule Trips

If you can plan in advance, Mule trips into the Grand Canyon are a great option if visiting in the winter. This is great for kids who may not be able to hike that far into the canyon, but consider that they must be at least 9 years old. This is very popular and tickets are available by reservation 15 months in advance. There is a day-before cancelation list and you can call (928) 638-2631 for more information.

Fun fact: mules actually train for three years before visitors can ride on them.

Planning Tip

If you can’t score a park service mule ride check out Apache Stables right outside the South Entrance to the park in Tusayan. They offer National Forest Trail Rides that are one and two-hour rides on horses or mules through the pines of the Kaibab National Forest as well as a twilight campfire and wagon rides.

Helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon

A helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon is a great way to see both the north and south rims during the winter when the north rim is closed. You can see aerial views of the Painted Desert and Desert View Watchtower as well as see the Kaibab National Forest, which is home to the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest as you approach the edge of the canyon. 

Ride the Grand Canyon Railway

For those eager to skip the lines at the South Entrance gate, the Grand Canyon Railway is a fantastic option. The train leaves from the historic Williams Depot, just steps from Route 66, and is a restored streamliner-era train that goes to Grand Canyon Village where you’ll disembark in front of the historic El Tovar Hotel. The journey by train takes just over two hours and along the way they recreate the Old West with music, sing-a-longs, history, and stories as you travel back in time. You get four hours for sightseeing in the park before you return back on the train. There are shuttle buses inside the park that allow you to get between the sights.

Find tickets to the Grand Canyon Railway here.

Grand Canyon Railway in the Winter
Photo credit: Deborah Houston

Hiking Tip

When hiking in the Grand Canyon, mules have right of way along the trails, so if you come across one, step off the trail and follow the directions of the mule wrangler. Best title ever!

Hiking in the Grand Canyon

Hiking in this park can be classified as either easy if you stay along the rim or strenuous if you hike into the canyon and there’s very little in between. Many of the strenuous hikes into the canyon allow you to turn whenever you’d like so don’t let the high mileage scare you. Although every year, many unprepared hikers, are deceived by the easy initial downhill descent, they don’t account for the uphill climb and the extra time that is required to return. Weather and trail conditions can also change greatly based on the elevation and time of day. 

Rim Trail

(Easy walk, 14 miles, paved and no elevation change)
This trail provides great views of the canyon and you can walk as far as you want and then take the shuttle back or turn around.

Rim Trail Grand Canyon in the Winter

Trail of Time

(Easy walk, 2.83 miles, paved, and no elevation change)
It is very difficult to capture the enormity of the canyon and how it was formed. This trail is designed to be an interactive geologic timeline. Each meter walked on the trail signifies one million years of the Grand Canyon’s geologic history. There are a series of rock formations along the way showing the various stages in the timeline. The start of the Trail of Time is at Yavapai Geology Museum, a half-hour walk from Mather Point and the Canyon View Visitor Center. The trail continues to Grand Canyon Village and beyond. You can stop in the Village or keep walking out towards Hermits Rest.

Grand Canyon in the Winter Trail of Time

The hikes below are all rated ‘hard’ due to significant elevation gain on the way back, but for all of them, you can do any portion and then turn around if you still want to get some views of the canyon. These hikes do require planning ahead and bringing the necessary water and gear. They definitely are strenuous, but bucket-list hikes that get you into the grand canyon.

Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim

(Hard, 15.3 miles, elevation gain 4,478 ft)
Bright Angel is the most popular trail in the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for a good reason as it provides iconic views of the canyon and the Colorado River. The route starts right in Grand Canyon Village, it is an out-and-back, so you can turn around whenever you want. It is a fault line trail that is primarily north-facing so expect packed snow and ice for the initial three miles in the winter. Also, water is typically shut-off at the 1.5 miles, and 3-mile rest houses in the winter (bathrooms still open). Water is available all other times of the year.

Tip: This trail can also be made into a thru-hike by going down Bright Angel and back up the South Kaibab trail. Another option is combining it with the North Kaibab Trail which will take you to the North Rim. This is not advised in the winter.

Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon

The Hermit Trail

(Hard, 17.5 miles, elevation gain 5,059 ft, out and back)
This trail can have less snow and ice than other trails on the South Rim, but allow extra time as this trail is more difficult than the Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails. It can be very steep and rocky but trail conditions have to be right in the winter.

Most of the Hermit Trail was originally created with large hand-fitted rock slabs that made a smooth surface. Ongoing erosion has claimed much of this paving, but a few isolated fragments survive, especially in the Coconino Sandstone. There are springs as well as Hermit Creek that provide a water source along the way. All water must be purified before drinking. From December 1st through the end of February, the Hermit Road is open to vehicles. The park shuttle buses do not operate along Hermit Road during this time.

South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch

(Hard, 14.3 miles, elevation gain 4,872 ft)
This is a ridgeline trail that receives considerable daytime warming. The initial 1/4 mile, known as the Chimney, is north-facing and holds ice all winter long. Below the Chimney, ice is intermittent. There is no water on this trail so come prepared. Consider starting this hike early and making it to Ooh Ahh Point to watch the sunrise. There are breathtaking views and it’s a well-maintained trail overall, but necessary to be in shape to make the return trip all uphill.

Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim Hike

The rim-to-rim hike is very popular and has become a bucket list adventure for many hikers around the world who come to experience this challenging hike. The Rim-to-Rim can be done in many different ways: as a one-day hike, as a multi-day backpacking trip, or as an overnight trip with lodging at Phantom Ranch. But during the winter the North Rim closes around Oct 15 (or after the first significant snowfall) until May 15 so the only option becomes doing a rim-to-rim-to-rim hike, meaning hikers must turn around upon reaching the North Rim. This is a very strenuous hike that takes extensive planning and winter survival knowledge. 
If you want to hike into the canyon The Phantom Ranch is the only accommodation option on the canyon floor. It is available only by lottery submission and with only 90 beds in cabins, competition can be very difficult. The Phantom Ranch is only accessible by rafting, hiking, or mule and not by vehicle.

The National Park Service advised they will be doing planned infrastructure updates and pausing lottery entries/bookings for Phantom Ranch overnight mule rides. Portions of the Bright Angel Trail are anticipated to be closed at different times. Monitor updates here.

Some trails are more difficult than others to navigate in the Grand Canyon in the winter so below are ones to take extra precautions, know current trail conditions, and pack the necessary gear. The rangers at the visitor’s centers can help answer any questions.

Grandview Trail is north-facing and at a higher elevation and thus receives considerable snow at the trailhead. There are many narrow sections of trail, exposure, and ice.

The New Hance Trail and the South Bass Trail are the least used South Rim trails in the winter and often have routing issues.
Tanner Trail has a long north-facing section and the upper two miles tend to remain snow-covered throughout the winter.

Kaibab Plateau (North Rim)
This is one of the most isolated locations in the lower 48 states in the US. It’s possible to cover the entire 45 miles between Jacob Lake and the North Rim and not see anyone else. The equipment and gear necessary for a North Rim winter trip are heavy and this hike is not advised unless very experienced with outdoor winter survival.

Grand Canyon White Water Rafting in the Winter

White water rafting on the Colorado River offers a different way to experience the Grand Canyon and doing so in the winter offers such a unique adventure experience. The official rafting season is typically April through October, and it can be very competitive to get a permit or find a guided trip. One way to increase the likelihood of rafting the Grand Canyon is to apply for dates that are less popular — specifically, in the winter. This option is only best for the adventure-seeking, experienced rafter. Learn more about this bucket list adventure experience.

Non-commercial self-guided river trips: there are only about 250 permits issued annually to experienced rafters who would like a self-guided rafting experience. The lottery opens yearly on February 1 and all the details to apply can be found here. Doing this trip in the winter takes more planning and gear, but can be such a unique experience. During this time commercial trips and motorized vessels are not permitted ensuring a quieter experience with far fewer people on the river. Overnight temperatures often drop below freezing and snow is not uncommon.

Others looking to stick to commercially guided rafting trips are typically offered April-October and book up quickly, but are not offered in the winter. You can find options for guided rafting trips here.

Grand Canyon IMAX Movie

If you have bad weather a day or are looking for a way to learn more about the Grand Canyon this IMAX movie is in the Grand Canyon Visitor Center in Tusayan 7 miles from the South Entrance. Find tickets here.

Tips for Planning your trip to the Grand Canyon during the Winter 

For the most recent information on entrance fees, park passes and park alerts check the main park page here.

GuideAlong Audio Guide is a great audio tour that teaches you about the park as you drive and shares what stops not to miss. The best part is the tour begins from Williams, Flagstaff, or Cameron so if you’re staying in these areas you’ll get to hear about the park on your drive-in. Download the app before you begin and it will tell you about what you’re seeing and so much more as you enter the park. Kids love it!

Check out our best tips for road-tripping with kids or the Ultimate National Parks Trip with Kids.

When to visit the Grand Canyon

Visiting the Grand Canyon in December can be quiet, with surprisingly great hiking conditions and fewer crowds. The last week of December between Christmas and New Year’s Day can bring greater crowds, but then January and February are some of the lowest visitor levels of any time throughout the year. 

Grand Canyon Weather in the Winter

Overall, the climate in the Grand Canyon National Park is relatively mild. However, low humidity generally allows large temperature differences between day and night as well as at different elevations within the canyon. Weather can change quickly at the Grand Canyon, and so does visibility, so check conditions before you go. Having a flexible schedule with multiple days can help ensure you’ll see great views. Below are the average temperatures at the rim of the Grand Canyon in the winter months. Locations inside the canyon, like Phantom Ranch and adjacent Bright Angel Campground, offer milder temperatures in the winter.

Winter temperatures in the Grand Canyon

Weather in December: high 45°F low 18°F. Averages 6.8” snow.
Weather in January: high 44°F low 18°F. Averages 11.4” snow.
Weather in February: high 46°F low 20°F. Averages 9.3” snow.
Weather in March: high 53°F low 24°F. Averages 9.3” snow.

What to know before visiting the Grand Canyon in the winter

Currently, Grand Canyon National Park does not require reservations to enter the park, nor does it have timed entry.

The South Entrance Station, near the town of Tusayan, experiences long lines and up to two-hour wait time between 10 am – 5 pm so get in early to save time. You can view the park entrance webcams to get an idea of what the wait time might be.

The South Rim of the park is open year-round. There is the possibility of a winter storm that could close roads and/or make the trails icy but this is rare. Make sure to call the weather line below before arriving.

Weather changes quickly at Grand Canyon, and so does visibility. You can call the park weather line to check park road conditions and closures at 928-638-7496, or check the park page on Twitter. They give helpful updates on visibility and crowd levels.

Is the North Rim of the Grand Canyon Open in the Winter?

The North Rim typically closes to all vehicle traffic for the winter around October 15 (or after the first significant snowfall) and doesn’t open until around May 15th, but this can vary depending on weather and road conditions. State Route 67 and all services on the North Rim close during this time. The only way to see the North Rim in the winter is by hiking from the South Rim or a helicopter tour. When it’s open, it is about a four-hour drive from the South Rim to North Rim.

Shuttles and Bikes in Grand Canyon

The free bus shuttle service runs every 15-30 minutes year-round and routes can be found here.

Bus stops are clearly marked throughout the park and no tickets are required.

Hermit Road is closed to private vehicles during the peak summer season from March to September and during this time you can take the free shuttle service.

If you’ll be visiting between March – October check out Bright Angel Bicycles to rent regular or eBikes. They are located at the Visitor Center near Mather Point and offer tours as well.

Where to Stay for Seeing the Grand Canyon in the Winter

It is most convenient if you can stay in the park. There are many historic lodges in the park that make it easy.
Hotel and lodging options in the park and nearby.

When looking for options outside the park the closest town to the South Rim Entrance is Tusayan (only 2 miles from the South Entrance) but is quite a small town with very basic accommodations. 

Williams, AZ (1 hour, starting point for the Grand Canyon Railroad) has quite a few more accommodation options.

Grand Canyon Railway Hotel
If you’re taking the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, AZ consider staying at this hotel nearby before and after your trip to the park.

Flagstaff, AZ (1.5hr to South Rim Entrance)
This a great central location if you hope to do other parks and attractions in the area. We stayed here and also did Petrified Forest National Park, Sedona and so much more. 

Find Flagstaff Hotels or Vacation Rentals in Flagstaff
We stayed in this home and really enjoyed it.

If you’re coming from Page, AZ the drive is 2 hours 20min, and near Lake Powell and Antelope Canyon for other attractions nearby. Check out our guide for Hiking Antelope Canyon and Things to do in Page.

The Phantom Ranch is the only accommodation option on the canyon floor. It is available only by lottery submission and with only 90 beds in cabins, competition can be very difficult. The Phantom Ranch is only accessible by rafting, hiking, or mule and not by vehicle.

Check out Turo to save on a car rental, but make sure to read our Things To Know Before Booking with Turo.

Camping in the Grand Canyon

Mather Campground in Grand Canyon Village

During the winter months, December 1-February 28, camping is available on a first-come, first-served basis. From March 1- November 30 reservations are required and you can book up to six months in advance on

If you want to hike into the Canyon and can’t get a reservation at Phantom Ranch there are other camping options.

The Indian Garden Campground is halfway down the Bright Angel Trail (3,000 feet below the South Rim) and is open year-round. 

The Bright Angel Campground is at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, located about half a mile from the Colorado River, it provides a camping experience unlike any other in the park. Camping here requires a 5,000-foot descent into the canyon via the Bright Angel or South Kaibab trails. Camping below the rim in the Grand Canyon requires a backcountry permit, which you can get up to four months in advance of your trip, but it is extremely competitive. If you’d like to lighten your load, you can pay to have mules carry your gear in and out of the canyon. Contact the Bright Angel Lodge on the South Rim to make arrangements.

Trailer Village RV Campground is also open all winter and offers full hookups.

What to pack

It depends on what you plan to do in the park, but we’ll give you some of our top gear for hiking in the Grand Canyon in the winter. If you plan to only stay on the rim trail this requires less gear. If you plan to hike into the canyon you will want the right gear and clothing to stay safe. We find REI clothing and gear to be of great quality with a good return policy so we recommend their quality. We also provide some lower-cost Amazon options.

Hiking Gear

Crampons, microspikes, or traction cleats are needed for hiking into the Grand Canyon during the winter. REI Kahtoola MICROspikes | Outdoor 360 Non-slip Crampon from Amazon

Trekking poles REI trekking pole options | Amazon Winter Trekking Poles

Headlamps are great to have for early morning starts or sunsetting early. When considering REI headlamps we like the Petzl brand. Amazon GearLight comes in a two-pack and fits both kids and adults and is of good quality.

Layered clothing can easily be added or removed to adapt to a variety of weather conditions.
Women’s base layers from REI | Men’s base layers from REI | Kid’s base layers from REI

Down jackets are an important item when hiking in the winter.
Down men’s jackets | Down women’s jackets | Down kid’s jackets

Hand, foot and body warmers are great for changing temps in the canyon.
Warmers from Amazon

Our favorite winter mittens that are extra warm and stay dry are the Gordini brand. We recommend winter hats with fleece lining and fleece neck gators as well.
REI | Amazon

Binoculars can be nice to have along to spot animals within the canyon.

When hiking it’s a good idea to carry a lightweight, small first aid kit.

Native Land Acknowledgement 

Many Native American reservations are in and around Grand Canyon National Park and Northern Arizona. There are 11 traditionally associated tribes – Yavapai-Apache, Havasupai,  Hopi, Hualapai, Navajo, Zuni, San Juan Southern Paiute, Paiute Indian, Moapa Paiute, Las Vegas Paiute, and Kaibab Paiute. The native American culture and way of life have made an indelible impression on this region. Designers like Mary E.J. Colter, who is responsible for many of the structures built on the South Rim, drew upon the inspiration of the surrounding native cultures.

Lastly, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen the Grand Canyon in photos, this natural wonder is so impressive in person. Visiting the Grand Canyon in the winter is such a great way to beat the crowds and still see so much of the south rim of the park. Whether you experience the views from the rim or you plan a bucket list hiking adventure into the canyon it’s sure to be a trip you won’t forget.

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  1. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon twice but never in the winter. Your pictures show a whole different perspective during the winter. I’d love to go back!

  2. So much more to do and see than I ever imagined. I didn’t know there was a rail as an example. I went to the Grand Canyon about a decade ago, before I really had any appreciation for the outdoors. I feel like it was a waster trip! I need to go back!

  3. I remember the crowds when I visited the Grand Canyon. And the heat. I think visiting in the colder months would make the hiking and walking more enjoyable.

  4. Visiting the Grand Canyon is on my bucket list & you’ve shared some really useful information in this post. I love the idea of missing the crowds & visiting in winter. Some beautiful pics as well! Thanks so much for this!

  5. It’s been several years since I’ve visited the Grand Canyon. So beautiful and the view never gets old. Visiting in the winter is a great idea!

  6. Are you kidding me with these views!!!! Next trip to Arizona I have to get here – I bet these views are so impressive in person. Great list of how to view it during the winter!

  7. I really need to visit more of the Grand Canyon! I love the outdoors and hiking, and this just looks incredible. Thanks so much for all this useful information

  8. I haven’t been to the Grand Canyon, but would definitely be interested in visiting at Winter to avoid the crowds. Plus, as a Canadian this will be a great escape from our colder and snowy weather. Love the tips you shared for planning.

  9. I was so little when we visited GC that I don’t even remember! I would love to take a trip there with the kids now, and maybe even look into a mule ride! How cool!

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