Winter storms lend new color and dimension to an already-amazing landscape.
Consider it the Grand Canyon’s secret season. The dead of winter — December through February — is surprisingly lively at the canyon’s South Rim, which is open year round. Even if you’ve visited in summer, it’s worth considering a trip in the off-season for a wholly different perspective on this world wonder.
Here are six things to love about winter at the canyon:
The crowds thin out — to less than 10% of the number of annual visitors — the pace slows down, and everything is quieter. Yes, the tour buses still pull up, but only a fraction of those that arrive in other seasons. With the exception of the Christmas holidays, securing lodging and restaurant reservations within the park is almost assured. Similarly, backcountry permits are easier to obtain. And overnight rates and packages tend to be lower, too.
Because the winter sun is lower in the sky, it doesn’t set directly over the canyon, but instead cloaks the rocky peaks and crevasses in lovely purple, pink, and orange hues. Sunrises can be equally spectacular. In-the-know photographers appreciate this time of year for the clarity of the light, especially just after a snowstorm. Because of clear skies, the visibility is highest in this season. Mountain peaks some 200 miles away can be seen from some viewpoints on a clear winter day.
Some roads that are open only to shuttle buses in other seasons permit private vehicle traffic in winter. Most notable is Hermit Road, which opens to cars December through February (barring closure for snow). The scenic drive at the west end of Grand Canyon Village follows the rim to Hermits Rest, a delightful 1914 stone waystation. The roads on the South Rim are noticeably less congested in winter, too.
Temperatures deep in the canyon are actually more temperate in winter. At Phantom Ranch, a lodging and campground on the Colorado River on the canyon’s floor, daytime temperatures can reach 60°F or so — a nice respite from the 100-plus-degree heat of summer. Up on the South Rim, which sits at an elevation of 7,000 feet, daytime temperatures from December through February typically are in the 30s and 40s. That makes hiking much more enjoyable than during sweltering summer days. And with only a handful of people on the trails, it can feel like you have them all to yourself.
Even on the coldest days, visitors can count on a crackling fire waiting in the lobby of many of the South Rim hotels to warm them after day in the bracing cold.
Winter storms lend new color and dimension to an already-amazing landscape. Gazing out on the canyon the day after a snowfall can be a surreal experience. Clear, crisp days full of sunshine highlight the trees, rocks, and cliffs against the brilliant blue sky.
Wildlife is still plentiful. You may see mule deer, elk, ravens, rock squirrels, and other creatures foraging among the ponderosa pine forests and soaring overhead on the rim. They can even be easier to spot against a new blanket of snow.
For more information, visit grandcanyonlodges.com or call 888-297-2757.
For more travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.