If you haven’t yet visited the Grand Canyon in Arizona, or if you’re planning on visiting again, don’t count out the winter months! There are many benefits, such as fewer people, reduced prices, and uniquely beautiful scenery that looks a bit different from the well-known images you’ve probably seen before. The downside is that you’ll have to put a bit more thought into your preparation, pack more layers to wear, and avoid certain areas that are closed for the season. Here are some tips for visiting the Grand Canyon in winter:
The South Rim and West Rim are open year-round, but the highway into the North Rim closes from just after Thanksgiving until mid-May—you can still go on foot if you’re looking for that type of adventure. If you have your heart set on one of the famous mule rides, you’re lucky; it’s much easier to land a spot when you’re not aiming for peak months. Most of the rafting tours stop operating. Expect it to be at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) or colder.
The Rim Trail is the safest option for hiking, and you’ll be relieved not to have to jockey for space at the viewpoints as you would in summer.
The North Rim Yurt has a wood-burning stove, and you can reserve the Yurt for up to four nights with just a $10 permit and $5/night charge. Always bring backup overnight camping gear in case you don’t make it all the way (it’s a 50-mile [80-km] trek!), whether you’re snow-shoeing or cross-country skiing.
Don’t forget to check trail conditions before you set out; the Backcountry Information Center will have all the necessary trail updates. From January until March, it’s probable that there will be snow on the North Kaibab Plateau—but the weather can be unpredictable, so you never know.
Be aware that dangers exist such as increased chance of rockslides, harsher weather, and fewer people around to help you out if you find yourself in trouble. Make sure you have enough of the essentials with you at all times, including plenty of water, food, flashlights, waterproof boots, a hat and gloves, a stocked first-aid kit, and the right kind of map—you might even consider bringing a whistle or signal mirror. If you stay smart before and during your hike, you shouldn’t need to worry!