Gazing into the vastness of the Grand Canyon is a dream for many, no matter the time of year.
Its towering cliffs rise 6,000 feet, showcasing a tapestry of red hues and unmatched desert vistas.
When you peer into this immense chasm, the multilayered rocks carved out by the relentless Colorado River offer a journey back through eons.
While the national park experiences often scorching summers, the Grand Canyon winter is less intense.
|⌛ Planning your Grand Canyon trip in a hurry? Here are my quick picks.|
❄️ Best Grand Canyon Tours & Experiences
1. Roundtrip Grand Canyon Railway Experience
2. Grand Canyon Winter Helicopter Tour
3. Sunset Grand Canyon Hummer Tour
🛏️ Best Grand Canyon Area Hotels
1. The Grand Hotel (lodge-like luxury)
2. Holiday Inn Express Grand Canyon (familiar comfort)
3. Squire Resort at the Grand Canyon (game rooms & more)
Planning to rent a car? I always use Discover Cars to search for the best prices. Most people opt to rent a car in Phoenix and drive from there. Compare prices on your rental here!
The usual summer bustle gives way to a quieter atmosphere, as fewer visitors visit in the Grand Canyon during the winter, making it a more peaceful experience.
Visually, it’s striking: a snowy layer blankets the North Rim off in the distance, contrasting beautifully with the reddish overhangs.
Even as the winter landscape transforms the canyon, there’s still plenty of exciting things to do in Grand Canyon National Park in the winter, awaiting those wrapped up warmly in the park!
Things to Do in the Grand Canyon in Winter
Take a helicopter tour over the stunning vistas.
Soaring through the winter skies on a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon is nothing short of enchanting!
As the helicopter takes off, you’re whisked away over a spellbinding canvas of blank-white snow against the majestic colorful nooks and crannies of the canyon walls.
Mesas, cliffs, and deep-set valleys are all spectacular when coated in the delicate snow, a contrast to the fiery hues of the ancient rock.
The Colorado River, weaving through the heart of the canyon, occasionally glimmers with icy patches, adding a touch of magic to this winter dreamscape.
Soaring over this monumental marvel during winter, you can’t help but be captivated by the timeless beauty and ever-evolving nature of the Grand Canyon.
Take the Grand Canyon Railway.
The Grand Canyon Railway runs year-round, so you don’t have to worry about missing out on this opportunity if you visit the Grand Canyon in winter!
This is a unique and nostalgic way to experience the grandeur of the canyon, and it’s especially cozy during the winter months — you can book your tickets in advance here.
Boarding the historic train in Williams, Arizona, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time as you journey towards the snow-laden South Rim.
The winter landscape transforms the canyon into a swirl of white snow and red rock, a lovely sight to admire from the warmth of the train cabin.
As the train chugs along, travelers can indulge in the changing scenery, with tall pine forests gradually giving way to the vast open expanses of the Grand Canyon.
With fewer tourists around, winter visitors often find the railway experience more intimate and enjoyable, allowing for a peaceful reflection on the natural wonders around, rather than the clown show it can be in the peak of summer.
Take a mule trip in the Grand Canyon.
There are mule trips offered year-round on Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim.
Going on one of these excursions in the wintertime offers a welcome relief from the hot summer sun!
Winter mule trips vary in length and type of terrain.
If you are short on time and not a fan of traveling steep terrain on a mule, you may enjoy the Canyon Vistas Ride.
This excursion is a short 3-hour scenic trip along the canyon rim.
Explore the wintry landscapes with your camera.
Grand Canyon National Park’s breathtaking landscape becomes something even more picturesque once the snow begins to fall.
The tall canyon walls become dusted with snow and the cliff’s red colors pop against the contrast of shocking snow-white.
Visitors hoping to capture Grand Canyon’s winter landscape can travel the Desert View Drive along State Route 64.
There are plenty of marked turnouts and designated parking areas where you can set up shop to find the perfect angles.
Since many of the trails stay open year-round, photographers can also hike to scenic vistas, such as Grandview Point and Mather Point.
Enjoy the chance for some winter camping!
During the summer months, there are three different campgrounds to choose from: North Rim Campground, Desert View Campground, and Mather Campground.
However, North Rim and Desert View Campgrounds both close in October, leaving Mather Campground as the only option for front-country camping in winter in Grand Canyon.
For those planning to stay at Mather Campground during their winter visit, advanced reservations are highly recommended.
As the only open campground in the park, spaces in Mather fill up quickly, even in the winter — you can reserve up to 6 months in advance on the website here.
Take in an epic sunrise.
Seeing the sunrise in the Grand Canyon is a must, no matter the season!
The nice thing about seeing the sunrise in the Grand Canyon in winter is that you can sleep in a bit — on the shortest day of the year, the sun rises around 7:30 AM!
Plus, the South Rim’s main park road is open in the winter, so you can drive yourself rather than needing to pack yourself onto a shuttle.
There are many great sunrise spots to choose from in the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, but I’d recommend Mather Point (the most popular) or Yaki, Navajo, or Lipan Points (which you can drive to in your own car in the winter).
Take in a magnificently quiet sunset.
There’s nothing quite like witnessing a winter sunset over the Grand Canyon!
The play of light on the snowy rim and canyon walls creates hues of purple, pink, orange, and gold that are reflected in the snow’s white canvas.
The interplay of the sun’s descent, decreasing light, and the canyon’s multi-layered topography offer endless photo opportunities for photographers with a keen eye.
With fewer visitors in the colder months, popular sunset viewpoints such as Hopi, Yavapai, or Mather Point are less crowded (note: sunrise and sunset points are typically the same, since they all face north towards the north rim).
Wrap up in warm clothing and bring something warm to drink in a Thermos while the last light of the day fades over the Grand Canyon.
Another fun way to experience it with a Hummer tour that brings you to an epic sunset spot via Hummer!
Note that this is not an off-road tour because off-roading is not allowed in the park, but they will bring you to several great viewpoints before picking their favorite sunset spot to share with you!
Stargaze into the clear night skies.
Winter nights at the Grand Canyon are a dream for stargazers!
With colder temperatures come clearer skies, largely free from the atmospheric disturbances that can impact visibility during warmer months.
Plus, the park’s remote location away from light pollution makes it a prime spot for stargazing.
The dense tapestry of stars, with the Milky Way often clearly visible, provides a breathtaking display perfect for those wanting to perfect their astrophotography skills.
As a designated International Dark Sky Park, the Grand Canyon is home to stargazing events and ranger-led programs throughout the year, including the winter.
Watch for winter wildlife.
Despite its rugged terrain and harsh climates, the Grand Canyon is home to a diverse range of wildlife.
One perk of visiting the Grand Canyon in winter is that the snowy fields often a more visible backdrop for the Grand Canyon’s more elusive wildlife.
What can you see? Common species are elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep, and they’re typically bundled up as well as you are, with thicker coats in response to the cold winter air.
Plus, the scarcity of vegetation during winter often pushes these creatures to more open areas in search of food, making them easier to spot!
Birdwatchers will jump at the chance to spot bald eagles, who migrate to the canyon area in the winter.
Backpack into the Grand Canyon.
Backcountry permits are hard to come by during the busy season.
Once the winter months come around, a permit to camp in the backcountry is a little easier to come by.
Backpacking is one of the best ways to experience the vastness of the Grand Canyon while exploring more remote terrain.
One of the most recommended overnight backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon is to Bright Angel Campground.
This trail has a lot of sun exposure making it difficult to do in the heat of summer, but it’s a lot more comfortable during the wintertime!
This backcountry camp offers potable water and toilets year-round, and it is at the very bottom of the canyon about half a mile mile from the Colorado River.
Bright Angel Campground is about 10 hiking miles from the South Rim.
Keep in mind the first day would be primarily hiking down into the canyon, while your second day would be mostly uphill!
Luckily, the trail’s high sun exposure keeps it free of snow and ice most of the time, though you should definitely keep an eye out for icy patches on the shaded areas.
Where to Stay Near the Grand Canyon
Fun Amenities: Squire Resort at the Grand Canyon
This hotel is one of the closest options to the entrance of the Grand Canyon, just a 10-minute drive away.
The rooms are large and spacious, inspired by the Southwestern landscapes around you. For convenience, there’s an on-site restaurant, the Coronado Room, as well as a the Squire Pub.
For fun and games (literally!) you can also enjoy the on-site amenities including a bowling alley and a game room.
Indoor Pool: Holiday Inn Express Grand Canyon
Located a 15-minute drive from the Grand Canyon’s entrance, this Holiday Inn Express is a great choice for those looking for a comfortable, predictable stay.
There’s an on-site heated indoor pool that you can enjoy all throughout the year, as well as free Wi-Fi and a daily breakfast.
Lodge Luxury: The Grand Hotel
Not far from Grand Canyon Village and all its amenities, this is a great choice for those looking for a luxurious, lodge-like stay.
The hotel has an indoor pool and hot tub, as well as a shared lounge area where there is often evening entertainment.
There’s an on-site bar and restaurant, as well as a fitness room and a cozy lobby area that is an inviting place to stay during the festive months.
Winter Safety in Grand Canyon National Park
With limited daylight, cold nighttime temperatures, and limited sunlight in the deep canyon during the winter, icy trails are definitely the largest hazard in winter in the Grand Canyon.
Many of the most popular trails remain open year-round. It’s not uncommon to have clear, dry trails because of the sun exposure.
However, not all of the trails are exposed to the sun, and therefore, ice may be lingering in the shaded areas.
To prevent slipping on trails, carry along Yaktrax or boot spikes to help you not slip on icy surfaces.
When your body temperature falls to dangerously cool levels, you begin to experience hypothermia.
Especially if you get your clothes wet from snow, rain, or even sweat, that can create a high-risk environment.
To avoid hypothermia, wear non-cotton clothing, eat high-energy foods before chill takes effect, and stay dry.
Rockfall is a year-round hazard in Grand Canyon National Park, but it becomes an increased risk during the winter, when the water freezes behind the cliff falls.
What happens is quite simply: the water expands once frozen, causing cracks behind rocks to also expand, which can occasionally send rocks out of place and dislodge them.
If a rockfall occurs, first attempt to safely move out of the way.
If it is not possible to move out of the way of falling rock, such as if you are on a narrow trail, seek shelter behind a large and stable rock feature if possible, and shelter your head (with hands, a backpack, etc.)
Winter Driving Conditions
The elevation on the South Rim is 7,000 feet — no joke when it comes to altitude!
That means that inclement, dangerous winter weather conditions are not uncommon, even though this road generally remains open.
Throughout the winter months, visitors using the park roads should be cautious, as snow and ice may be lingering on the roads, even though they are generally maintained.
Grand Canyon Winter Road Closures
North Rim Scenic Drive and All North Rim Roads
If you were hoping to visit the North Rim in Grand Canyon National Park, you will have to wait until mid to late spring.
The North Rim Scenic Drive and all amenities in the North Rim area close down during the winter months.
In fact, this road is only open for a short window of time: between May 15th and October 15th.
This scenic road is a common access point for visitors arriving at the park from northern states, but you can’t use it in the winter.
And mixing that up is a time-costly expense, as the south entrance is over 4 hours driving from the north entrance, if you make a mistake!
Desert View Drive (South Rim)
The scenic stretch of road known as the Desert View Drive or East Rim Drive is open year-round to private vehicles.
The drive travels along State Route 64, connecting the South Entrance of Grand Canyon National Park near the town of Tusayan to the East Entrance in the neighboring Navajo Nation.
Although the road is technically open 365 days per year, the park service may elect to close the road due to inclement winter driving conditions.
The weather can change quickly in Grand Canyon National Park in winter, so it is important for visitors to frequently check for weather updates as they prepare to drive to the park.
Hermit Road (South Rim)
During peak visitation, the Hermit Road, which spans from the South Rim area to Hermit Trailhead where the road dead-ends, is closed to private vehicle traffic.
From March through November, the road can only be traveled by biking, walking, or hopping aboard the free Hermit Road (Red Route) Shuttle.
Once the season of high-visitation is over, the road opens up to private vehicle traffic.
For the months of December, January, and February, visitors can drive along the Hermit Road and park in designated parking areas to access hiking trails and viewpoints.
Emily is a freelance travel and outdoor recreation writer from Big Sky, Montana. Her adventurous spirit has led her to the high peaks of the Sierras and the largest wilderness areas in the lower 48. When she’s not writing, Emily can be found backpacking, road tripping to outdoor destinations, climbing, or rowing whitewater.