The question of when you should travel to the Grand Canyon is an important one because the timing of your visit will greatly impact your vacation in a variety of ways. When visiting in the summer, you have a few more lodging options and both canyon rims are open, but you’ll face crowds, increased prices, and sweltering heat. Here’s a look at why winter is a suprisingly great time to visit the Grand Canyon, as well as what you need to know to stay safe and enjoy your vacation.
Why Experience Winter at the Grand Canyon?
You’ll Beat the Crowds
In the summer and early fall, thousands of visitors pack into the Grand Canyon—creating dense crowds essentially every day from Memorial Day in May until Labor Day in September. You won’t face this problem in the winter, and it will completely transform how you experience this national treasure. During our winter visit to the Grand Canyon, we were often at one of the popular stops along the rim road with no other visitor in sight. It was an amazing experience.
You’ll Find Lower Lodging Prices
My informal survey showed winter prices at 30 to 40% less than summer pricing. If you are a budget traveler, this can be a great saving, and if you’re a mid-range to higher-end traveler, it means you might even be able to splurge for one of the gorgeous hotel properties inside the Grand Canyon, or find a nicer hotel in the town nearby.
Properties inside the Grand Canyon National Park perimeter include:
- Phantom Ranch: You’ll need to win a lottery to stay here, but if you do, it’s a true experience and the only accommodation available below the rim of the canyon.
- El Tovar Hotel: One of the great National Park lodges. Summer rates run between $200-500 per night, so you can really do it right if this is within your budget.
- Grand Canyon Lodge: Your best bet for lodging along the North Rim is this collection of cabins sleeping three to four people.
- Bright Angel Lodge: Located in Grand Canyon Village near the El Tovar Hotel, it has a more rustic feel and a great view of the rim.
Hualapai Lodge is also gorgeous and lies in an area just outside of the national park, an area owned by the Hualapai Indian Tribe—it’s this part of Grand Canyon West that you can also visit the popular Grand Canyon Skywalk.
Search for other hotel properties outside of the park, including budget options in Tusayan, which is the closest place to stay along the South Rim (the only rim open during the winter season). Three budget lodging options we love include:
- Little America Hotel Flagstaff
- Affordable Retreat Sleeps 2 near Grand Canyon near Tusayan
- Grand Canyon RV Glamping near Williams
You Can Drive the Roads Yourself
From December to March, the South Rim Grand Canyon shuttle goes offline and passenger cars are allowed on roads usually off limits. That means you can move at your own pace! My family really enjoyed being able to explore the winter scenes at the Grand Canyon this way. The roads were snow packed when we visited, so you might need to take care, but park rangers close the roads if they get too dangerous.
You’ll See Snow Covering the Grand Canyon
After watching a snowstorm roll in, a dusting of snow covered the majestic Grand Canyon. The white against the red canyon was a beautiful contrasting sight. The vast majority of the visitors to the Grand Canyon will never see it looking just like this, so you’ll have experienced a moment you just can’t imagine if you’re visiting during the sweltering summer months.
There are More Animal Sighting Opportunities
We saw a lot of elk during our winter drive! They were everywhere in the Grand Canyon Village, and were a pretty cool part of our winter adventure. They hung out around town eating low-hanging leaves, and just generally milling about. We also saw quite a few deer as well, and when the crowds pulse through the area during the summer, it’s understandable that the animals steer clear of the humans for that period of time, so you’ll find it much easier to spot animals in the winter versus summer.
Why Summer Might be Better Than Winter
Winter at the Grand Canyon is COLD
My hands froze while taking photos of the sunset, and my kids were less willing to hike than they would have been if it were less extreme temperatures. There’s a reason so many families road trip this region in the summer, and it’s because it makes for that much more iconic “family road trip” experience you see in the movies. It’s going to be cold during your explorations, so you’ll need to bring the right cold-weather gear to keep everyone cozy during any time outside of the car. If you and your kids have thick jackets and you stop for plenty of hot chocolate, it’s absolutely possible to make winter at the Grand Canyon its own kind of amazing experience.
The Grand Canyon North Rim vs South Rim
The North Rim receives more snow than the South Rim, and as such it’s closed for the coldest months of the winter. The East and South Rim, however, are open 365 days a year so you’ll still have plenty of places to explore. The West Rim is also open, but is run by the Hualapai Nation and is run separately from the National Park, so you’ll need to check those websites directly to understand what services (if any) that they’ll have running during the winter months.
Trip Planning Tips & Resources: Grand Canyon National Park
Book Your Accommodation: Even in the winter, you’ll want to book your accommodation before arriving to ensure you have a comfortable place to stay. Booking.com is the easiest website to use, as it features a large selection of hotels, and it often offers the best rest available online.
Book Your Transportation: If you’re flying into the area, use Expedia to find great flight deals, then you’ll absolutely want to rent a car. The U.S. National Parks are well set up for driving, and most are best explored that way. In this case, with the shuttles shut down for part of the season, Rental Cars Connect is your best bet for securing an affordable rental you can use throughout your trip.
Top Planning Tip: You’ll have to pay to enter the National Park, so if you’re visiting several in the area in one trip you’ll save a lot of money by purchasing the federal government’s America The Beautiful Pass before you leave.
Find Local Tours & Activities: If you’re hoping for an inclusive tour that covers a few national parks in the area, including the Grand Canyon, then G Adventures offers excellent tours in the area (here’s why I love the company). If you’re solo adventuring for the bulk of your trip but looking for day tours, Viator is an excellent option. Viator is your best option for single-day experiences, including a popular (and memorable) helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon. Three tours we love include:
- Grand Canyon South Rim Jeep Tour with Transport from Tusayan
- Grand Canyon – Rim to Rim Hike
- 45-minute Helicopter Flight Over the Grand Canyon
Secure Travel Insurance: Travel insurance is the single best way to ensure you protect the money you’ve invested in your trip, as well as yourself and your gear while you’re on the road. World Nomads is an excellent option for travelers under 70 years old.
Additional Travel Planning Resources: TripAdvisor should be your go-to when evaluating where to eat in the area, as well as any additional things to do.
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