Most national parks in the US remain open in the winter. The cooler months are, in fact, a great time to visit some of the more popular ones, like the Grand Canyon National Park. The crisp air and a light dusting of snow create the perfect backdrop to view this amazing natural wonder. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is open year-round, and winter is, in many ways, the ideal time to appreciate the dramatic scenery. With a little planning, the Grand Canyon can be a great winter getaway. Here’s why you should consider visiting Grand Canyon in January (or December or February!).
Escape the Crowds
When you visit the Grand Canyon in winter, one thing is missing – the crowds. The viewpoints on the South Rim, which are bustling with hundreds of tourists in the summer, are quieter in the winter, allowing you to experience the magnificence of the canyon in relative peace. Only a fraction of the canyon’s annual visitors come in the winter season. This means the scenic drives on the popular South Rim are less congested. Some roads that are only open to shuttle buses in the busier months allow private vehicles in the winter. The Hermit Road in the west offers spectacular views and is open to private cars from December to February (barring snow closures). An added advantage is that packages tours in Grand Canyon in the winter are typically priced lower. And the smaller number of visitors means it’s easier to obtain permits and accommodations.
Grand Canyon winter weather
One benefit of going to the Grand Canyon in December or January is the cooler weather. Grand Canyon winter temperatures average around 20-45 degrees Fahrenheit on the South Rim which is at an elevation of 7,000 feet. Winter temperatures average roughly 35-55 degrees Fahrenheit on the West Rim. Compare this to the sweltering heat of the summer when temperatures are typically 80 degrees Fahrenheit on the South Rim and 100 degrees Fahrenheit inside the canyon. Grand Canyon weather in January can sometimes be chilly on the rims, but down in the canyon, the temperatures are usually moderate and ideal for activities like hiking. All you have to do to experience this winter wonderland in comfort is layer up and pack your winter jacket and gloves. A word of caution here. Winter storms are a distinct possibility and the rims can get several feet of snow, leading to road closures. It’s also worth noting that the North Rim closes seasonally between early November and mid-May.
Spectacular Sunrises and Sunsets
The winter skies over the Grand Canyon are some of the clearest and visibility is highest in this season. On a clear winter day, it’s not unusual to see mountain peaks hundreds of miles away. The sun sets lower in the sky and cloaks the rocky crevasses of the canyon in vibrant hues of pink, purple, and orange. The sunrises are equally magnificent. Visiting Grand Canyon in January, in the so-called “secret season” is ideal if you want exceptional photographs of one of the most iconic locations in America.
Grand Canyon Wildlife
Grand Canyon winter temperatures mean the animal world also slows down, but wildlife is still plentiful. Elk, mule deer, ravens, bighorn sheep, and rock squirrels are sometimes easier to spot against a backdrop of snow. Birding enthusiasts can look out for bald eagles, California condors, and peregrine falcons.
Things to do in Grand Canyon during winter
At the top of the list is hiking, which is much more enjoyable in the cooler weather. The Grand Canyon temperature in January is perfect for physical exertion. There are several trails worth doing, including the Bright Angel Trail and the South Kaibab. The Hermit Trail has less ice and snow among all the trails on the South Rim. If you’re interested in doing some of the tougher hikes, such as the New Hance, Boucher, Grandview, or Tanner Trails, a guided hike is recommended for safety, especially if you’re not an experienced hiker. Be sure to take the appropriate gear, such as crampons and trekking poles for the icy trails, as well as warm clothing, enough food and water, and a well-marked map. Day hikes should be limited to 6-8 hours, keeping in mind the shorter days of the winter. Hiking in the Grand Canyon in January is an unrivaled experience and you’ll be treated to spectacular views of the backcountry and inner canyon.
Winter activities in Grand Canyon
Besides hiking, there are other ways to enjoy the beauty of the Grand Canyon in winter. Scenic helicopter and airplane flights are a great way to appreciate the sheer magnitude of the Grand Canyon and get a bird’s eye view of this magnificent natural wonder. For another perspective and unparalleled views, there’s the Grand Canyon Skywalk on the West Rim, a 10-foot wide U-shaped glass bridge that extends 70 feet from the rim. You can see right through the glass platform to the canyon floor 4,000 feet below. The fewer number of Grand Canyon January visitors to the West Rim means you won’t have to spend hours in a queue. Photographers are available to capture the moment (cell phones and cameras are not permitted). Grab a meal at the Sky View restaurant with panoramic views of the canyon and Skywalk.
If the Grand Canyon weather in January is inclement, the Yavapai Museum of Geology on the South Rim is the perfect place to escape the cold. Enjoy a hot beverage and gaze at the breathtaking views from large picture windows inside the warm building. There are exhibits explaining the geology of the Grand Canyon as well as beautifully crafted artwork, 3D models, topographic maps, and awe-inspiring photographs. Souvenirs are available for purchase at the bookstore and museum shop.
Combine your trip to the Grand Canyon with other iconic destinations on the West Coast, such as the Upper Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. The bright lights of Las Vegas and the engineering marvel of the Hoover Dam are not too far away. Don’t let Grand Canyon weather in January put you off. It is surprisingly lively even in the dead of winter, between December and February. If you’ve already seen it in the summer, a visit to the Grand Canyon in winter will give a whole new perspective to this spectacular natural wonder. We have a range of Grand Canyon winter tours up for grabs. Book yours today for a memorable getaway.