Thinking of visiting Grand Canyon National Park in winter and wondering what to expect? What is the weather like and what you can see and do at the Grand Canyon in the winter months?
This guide should answer all your questions and give you a better idea of what it’s really like to visit the Grand Canyon in December, January, or February. But also the end of November and the beginning of March can still be quite cold and wintery here, so most of this information applies to those months as well.
Good to know: Grand Canyon has three main areas that you can normally visit: South Rim, North Rim, and Grand Canyon West.
- Grand Canyon North Rim is CLOSED in winter and cannot be visited. The road towards North Rim normally closes at around mid-November and doesn’t reopen until mid-May.
- Grand Canyon West (where Grand Canyon Skywalk is located) is not part of Grand Canyon National Park. It’s owned and operated by the Hualapai Tribe. If coming from Las Vegas, this is the closest part of the Grand Canyon (a bit over 2 hours drive). It’s normally OPEN in winter and you don’t need much special knowledge or preparation to visit here. Just show up, pay, and you’ll be explained what and how you can see it. If the weather is really bad, however, there is no point in driving here either – you won’t see much.
- Grand Canyon South Rim is the nicest part of the Grand Canyon National Park. When people talk about visiting the Grand Canyon, this is the place they usually mean. South Rim is OPEN in winter, but there are quite a few things you may want to know when planning to visit. All the information in this article is focused on visiting the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in winter.
Complete guide to visiting Grand Canyon in winter – OVERVIEW:
Grand Canyon Winter Weather
The Grand Canyon South Rim sits at an elevation of 7,000 feet (2,100 m). So it will not come as a surprise that the weather here can get really wintery in the coldest months of the year.
You never know exactly what you will get until you can see the forecast a few days before your visit. But you can expect everything from clear blue skies to rain, wind, and also snowstorms.
Good to know: There is a big difference in elevation and thus in temperatures inside the canyon and at the top. Unless you go hiking, your visit will not include the canyon floor, and you will spend all your time touring the South Rim and its many viewpoints. So when checking the weather, look for the forecast for Grand Canyon Village; that way, you get a better idea of what to expect.
The average winter temperatures at the Grand Canyon Village (Grand Canyon South Rim) are around freezing point. The average lows between December and February are 18 F (-8°C) and average highs are 45 F (8°C). In November or March, average lows are around 24 F (-4°C), and average highs are around 53 F (12°C).
As already mentioned, you might get some rain, but between December and February, it’s more likely that you will get snow.
Our experience: We visited the Grand Canyon at Christmas. We had two days with amazing sunny weather and daytime temperatures of up to 50 F (10°C). During the day and in the sun, you could easily walk around in a sweater. But at night, it was around 24 F (-4°C) and our car windows were frozen.
The day we were leaving the park, it was extremely windy and it felt freezing cold. Even though the temperatures were about the same as the previous days, without the sun and with a very strong windchill effect, it felt really cold. We needed winter jackets, gloves, and warm scarves to even just walk around at a couple of viewpoints on Desert View Road.
The day after we left, it started snowing, and the roads got closed for two days. It also stayed really wintery for weeks after that. Luckily, it doesn’t snow every day at the Grand Canyon in winter, and the roads do get cleared when possible, but it remains so cold that you will see snow at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for the biggest part of the winter.
Are Grand Canyon roads open in winter?
The roads at the Grand Canyon South Rim are normally open the whole year round. However, when it snows, some roads get temporarily closed.
Which roads get closed and for how long, really depends on the weather.
Normally, the main road SR64 from Williams, AZ, to Grand Canyon Village is always open. This is where most travelers enter the Grand Canyon National Park. It’s here that the visitor center is located and it’s here that you will find all the hotels, various facilities, and some of the best viewpoints of the Grand Canyon.
Desert View Road in the direction of Cameron often gets closed during snowstorms. It’s usually cleared as soon as the conditions allow it. But it’s not uncommon for Desert View Road to remain closed for several days in a row in the winter months.
Hermit Road is a scenic road in the heart of the South Rim. In the summer, this road is only accessible with the park shuttle. In the winter, you can drive here in your own car. However, this is a local road that only leads to several viewpoints so it’s not really a big priority to keep it open. If it snows, Hermit Road will often be the first to close and the last to reopen.
TIP: It’s essential to check the official website for up-to-date information and road conditions when visiting Grand Canyon in the winter! We also highly recommend checking their Facebook page, where they usually post any important information about the weather and road conditions.
How about the Canyon views – can you see much if it snows?
Normally, you can enjoy amazing views of the Grand Canyon in any season. But indeed, in winter it can happen that the entire canyon is covered by clouds/mist. I’ve seen pictures shared by the official Facebook profile of the park where the ‘view’ was totally white. This is usually the case during snowstorms.
So if there is a snowstorm in the forecast, you should really consider if it’s worth visiting the Grand Canyon. Not only you won’t see much, but the roads can also get dangerously slippery or even close completely.
TIP: When making plans to visit the Grand Canyon in winter, try to keep your itinerary somewhat flexible. If you are booking accommodation, be sure that it offers free cancellation. If you are planning to drive for just a day, make an alternative plan for places to visit nearby in case you decide not to drive to the Grand Canyon. And if the weather is great and you are not too far away, just go!
For that, ideally, you foresee a few days in the area so that you can adjust your plans based on the weather forecast if needed. This is precisely what we did on our recent trip when we saw that there was a snowstorm forecasted for the days when we were planning to be there. We changed half of our road trip itinerary in order to get to the Grand Canyon a few days earlier than foreseen.
For us, it worked out great. We had wonderful sunny weather and could enjoy the best that Grand Canyon has to offer in the winter, and we were out of the area just before it started to snow. But this does require quite some flexibility.
We have a couple of suggestions for this at the end of this guide.
Good to know: Many hotels in Tusayan, just a few miles from the park entrance, can be booked online via websites like Booking.com, Expedia, or Hotels.com. We always use Booking.com. You can immediately see which hotels offer free cancelation, and it takes just a few clicks to cancel or change your reservations.
It probably goes without saying, but just in case – the days are much shorter at the Grand Canyon in winter than in the summer. How short depends on when exactly you are visiting.
The shortest days are around the end of the year. So if you visit the Grand Canyon around Christmas – New Year, you should know that it doesn’t get light before 7 am and it gets dark at around 5 pm.
Here are approximate sunrise and sunset times at the Grand Canyon in the darkest winter months:
- December. Sunrise 7.20 – 7.40 am. Sunset 5.15 – 5.25 pm.
- January. Sunrise at around 7.40 am. Sunset 5.25 – 5.40 pm.
- February. Sunrise 7 – 7.30 am. Sunset 5.55 – 6.30 pm.
This is still plenty of daylight in order to see and do everything that you want. But it’s something to keep in mind when planning your visit.
Important! If you are traveling to the Grand Canyon in winter from e.g. Las Vegas, you should know that there is a 1-hour time difference between Nevada and Arizona. So, for example, when it’s 7 am in Las Vegas, it’s already 8 am at the Grand Canyon. This is only the case between November and March because Nevada participates in Daylight Savings Time and Arizona doesn’t.
TIP: No matter when you visit the Grand Canyon, try to start your days early. Beautiful sunrises or short daylight hours are not the only reason for that – see below!
How busy is it at the Grand Canyon in winter?
Normally, winter months are really quiet at the Grand Canyon, so the crowds shouldn’t be an issue. But you should expect it to be very busy during the Christmas holiday season, around Thanksgiving, and other public holidays, such as Martin Luther King Day in January. Also sunny winter weekends can get very busy at the South Rim.
That being said, the crowds spread out inside the park so it’s usually not such a big issue in the winter. Even finding parking at the most popular viewpoints during the day should be ok. We visited Grand Canyon in the peak season at Christmas and – while it was busy – we never had issues with parking or so.
But there is one bottleneck and that’s the south entrance gate at Grand Canyon South Rim. During busy days, the lines at this entrance can stretch for several miles, and it can ruin your entire day.
Below, we have some tips on how to avoid long queues – take a look!
How to avoid the queues at the South Entrance Station?
Grand Canyon’s south entrance is known for the notoriously long queues. This is something you have to take into account even if visiting the Grand Canyon in winter, especially during the holiday season, but also on the weekends.
During busy weekends in winter, wait times to get into the park between 10 am and 5 pm can be as long as 2 hours!!!
To give you an idea, on one of the days when we were driving out of the park at 3 pm, the queue to get in was stretching all the way to the Tusayan General Store (about 1.7 miles). If it takes you two hours to get inside and the sunset is at around 5.30 pm, it will be dark by the time you get there! Everyone in town was wondering why people were even queuing at that time…
A good thing is that there are several simple ways to avoid the long wait times at the Grand Canyon’s south entrance. We have a more detailed guide explaining all the best options – take a look via the link below.
What can you see and do at the Grand Canyon in winter?
Weather permitting, you can see and do pretty much the same things at the Grand Canyon in winter as in the summer.
You can visit the nicest viewpoints, walk along the South Rim Trail, go hiking into the canyon, go stargazing, book a helicopter flight, take a journey on the Grand Canyon Railway, visit museums and visitor centers, etc.
Needless to say, you can visit museums, visitor centers, and gift shops in any weather. But the real reason to come here is to enjoy the majestic views of the canyon.
So of course, some activities can be influenced by the winter weather. It’s best to take that into account and keep some flexibility in your plans. Below, you can find an overview of what you can see and do at the Grand Canyon in winter.
Here are some of the best things to do at the Grand Canyon in winter:
Viewpoints at the Grand Canyon Village
By far the best thing to do at the Grand Canyon in winter is to enjoy the views from the various viewpoints on the South Rim. The easiest viewpoints to visit are the ones located at the Grand Canyon Village.
The most popular of them all is Mather Point where the main visitor center is located. Yavapai Point nearby is somewhat quieter and offers amazing wide views in all directions. Yavapai is also a good place to be if it’s very cold and windy because you can also enjoy the great views from the museum which is located here.
Normally, you can also easily get to the viewpoints at the Bright Angel Lodge and pretty much the entire stretch of the Rim Trail at Grand Canyon Village. These places are easily accessible from the main roads which are normally always cleared in winter.
Good to know: Even if it snows and some roads get closed, you should always be able to visit this part of the Grand Canyon (whether you will see much in a snowstorm – that’s another question).
In addition, you can also visit many viewpoints on Hermit Road. In winter (December 1 until March 1) the shuttle doesn’t cover this area of the park, so – weather permitting – this road is open to private vehicles.
Driving Hermit Road and stopping at every single viewpoint along the way is one of the best things you can do in the Grand Canyon in winter!
It’s incomparably quieter here than at the main viewpoints at the Grand Canyon Village, and the views are stunning. We noticed that this area does get quite a lot busier at sunset because some of the best west-facing viewpoints are located here. But during the day, and especially in the morning, it’s very peaceful here.
This was one of our personal favorite parts of the Grand Canyon to visit in winter! And if the road is open when you are visiting, don’t miss it!
If you don’t have the time for all the viewpoints, don’t miss Powell Point, Hopi Point, and Mohave Point. We also really liked the Abyss (pictured below).
Desert View Road
Desert View Road also offers easy access to several nice viewpoints of the South Rim. The further east you drive, the more open the views, and you also see more of the Colorado River.
Some of the best viewpoints not to miss here are Grandview Point, Moran Point, Lipan Point, Navajo Point, and – all the way at the end – Desert View.
As already mentioned, both – Hermit Road and Desert View Road – can sometimes be closed in winter.
Sunrises and sunsets
Another great thing to do in Grand Canyon in winter is to watch the sunrise and/or the sunset. There are a few reasons for this.
First, the days are short in winter, so the sun comes up late and goes down early. This means that you don’t have to sacrifice much sleep in order to see the Grand Canyon in the most spectacular light.
And second, the light is spectacular indeed, especially when there is a big temperature difference between night and day. This usually means that the sky can get some spectacular colors.
Of course, you never know what you get in advance. But if you are staying nearby, it’s really not a big effort to come and see the Grand Canyon at sunrise and sunset.
TIP: Check sunrise/sunset times before you go (you can simply just search ‘sunset time Grand Canyon’) and you’ll see the exact times for your travel dates. For the best light, ideally, you get to a nice viewpoint at least 15-20 minutes before sunrise and at least half an hour before sunset.
Museums, visitor centers, and gift shops
Most of the facilities at the Grand Canyon South Rim are open in the winter. This includes visitor centers, museums, shops, etc. Of course, if Hermit Road or Desert View Road gets closed because of the snow, the places along those roads will be closed too.
So if you are looking for some things to do inside, concentrate on the main area around the Grand Canyon Village.
One of the best places to see here is Yavapai Geology Museum. In addition to the exhibits where you can learn more about the Grand Canyon, they also have large panoramic windows overlooking the canyon. The view here is amazing and you can enjoy it without having to worry about the cold, the wind, or the rain.
But there are a few other places that you can check out if interested (see here). Sometimes, they also do some tribal craft demonstrations, ranger talks, or other workshops. You’ll be able to get all this info at the visitor center.
Hiking in winter
Winter is one of the best times to hike deep into the Grand Canyon. It’s scorching hot down there in the summer and usually warm enough for shorts and t-shirts in the winter.
However, hiking trails at the top of the canyon (where you start) can be covered in ice. So you need to pack traction cleats/crampons and ideally also hiking poles if you plan on hiking at the Grand Canyon in winter.
And yes, you really need them from the moment the first snow has fallen. The trails get very icy and because it’s so cold, they remain this way during the entire winter. Because the sun is low in winter and most viewpoints face northwards, there are many places at the South Rim that remain in the shadow during the biggest part of the day.
When we visited Grand Canyon at Christmas, there hadn’t been any snow for 10 days before our trip and daytime temperatures were around 50-57 F (10-14°C). Still, there was snow and ice everywhere around us – next to the roads, at most viewpoints, and also at most hike trailheads that we saw.
We didn’t see many people hiking on longer trails, but the ones who had crampons and hiking poles could clearly do it with much more ease. Whereas the ones with regular hiking boots were scrambling at places. And if you come here in sneakers, do yourself a favor and just stick to the main viewpoints (but even those can be really icy).
If you want to do some hiking at the Grand Canyon in winter, be sure to travel well-prepared. Also, do some research so that you know exactly what to expect. And if you plan a hike, keep in mind that it gets dark very early, and coming back up will take more time than going downhill. So take all this into account and don’t forget to add some extra hiking time for the icy parts at the top of the canyon too!
TIP: It’s always a good idea to ask park rangers for recommendations and up-to-date trail conditions before you set off.
Scenic flights over the Grand Canyon in winter
Just like in any season, seeing the Grand Canyon from the air is a great experience. We once did this in summer and it was a great way to see the canyon without worrying about the heat. It’s definitely the case in the winter too, especially on a sunny day. Even if some of the roads are closed after a recent storm, but the weather is good, this is a nice way to enjoy amazing views in the coldest months.
These flights depart from Tusayan Airport, which is located just outside the southern entrance gate. Weather permitting, they are available daily during the entire year.
The links above lead you to a booking platform where you can reserve these flights in advance without any worry. You have a 24-hour free cancelation, and if the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can either cancel or reschedule the tour. And even if it gets canceled last minute because of the weather, you shouldn’t have any problems getting a refund.
Good to know: If you are staying in Las Vegas and find a day trip to the Grand Canyon in winter too much of a hassle, you can also see some amazing scenery by taking a helicopter tour from Vegas. Since Grand Canyon South Rim is over 4 hours drive from Las Vegas, helicopter tours are by far the quickest way to visit if you only have a day.
What to wear at the Grand Canyon in winter?
While this will depend on the weather, in general, you will need a warm sweater and a winter jacket when visiting Grand Canyon in the winter. We also recommend long pants, gloves, a scarf, and a hat. Shoes with a good grip are also very helpful, even if you are only visiting the viewpoints since they are often very icy.
If you are planning to go hiking into the canyon, you will definitely need sturdy hiking boots. Traction cleats and hiking poles are also highly recommended. Keep in mind that it will be much warmer inside the canyon, so you are better off wearing layers and packing a light windbreaker instead of a warm winter coat.
I would still recommend long pants if you are going hiking (hiking pants would be perfect). We saw people trekking in shorts, but if you slip on the ice and snow, it won’t be fun…
Our experience: We had a bit of a mix in terms of the weather at the Grand Canyon. Most of the time, we wore jeans, a sweater, and an insulated windproof jacket. There were moments when the jacket wasn’t necessary, but there were also moments when it was too cold with the jacket closed and we needed gloves and scarves (and were still cold).
We wore light hiking shoes (like this) on this trip and it was perfect for exploring the viewpoints. One evening, kids went to see the sunset in their ‘city sneakers’ and they were slipping and falling all the time (partially for fun, but still).
Is Grand Canyon worth it in winter?
Visiting the Grand Canyon in winter can be a magical experience, especially if you are lucky with the weather.
You can enjoy the beautiful views of the South Rim without big crowds, drive Hermit Road at your own pace, and even do some hiking. White snow on the red canyon walls adds a beautiful touch to the scenery as well! Plus, you don’t have to get up early or stay late in order to see some amazing sunrises and sunsets at the Grand Canyon.
Winter is also a good time to see wildlife at the Grand Canyon.
In addition, accommodation costs are generally lower (unless you travel during the winter holidays).
But there are some drawbacks to visiting the Grand Canyon in the winter as well. The main one is the uncertainty in terms of the weather. If you are unlucky to plan your visit during a snowstorm, you won’t be able to enjoy the views, and driving conditions can be dangerous too, not even to mention that the scenic drives might get closed.
So, ideally, when planning your winter visit to the Grand Canyon, you keep some flexibility in your plans as already discussed above. Below, you can see some alternative suggestions of places to visit nearby if the weather really doesn’t cooperate.
What to do if there is a snowstorm in the forecast?
Normally, a snowstorm doesn’t come unannounced and it doesn’t last very long. So if you keep an eye on the weather forecast and the warnings on the official website of the park, you should have enough time to adjust your travel plans if needed.
Good to know: If you don’t go hiking, you only really need a day in order to see the best of the Grand Canyon. So you should be able to find a good-weather day for a visit if you are in the area for at least a couple of days.
LEARN MORE: Grand Canyon in One Day
Also, there are many amazing places in Arizona where the elevation is much lower than at the Grand Canyon South Rim, and the chances of winter weather ruining your travel plans there are very slim. So you can always switch your planning around and explore some of the best places in Arizona on snowy days.
For example, Sedona is one of the best alternatives just a few hours drive from the Grand Canyon. Also Monument Valley or Antelope Canyon can be good alternatives, depending on your overall itinerary. But for the latter, you should check if there are still any tours available before you decide to drive there.
Also, Las Vegas and its surroundings can be a good alternative in case of bad weather at the Grand Canyon. It’s always much warmer there and there’s plenty to see and do in Las Vegas in any weather.
Oh, and if you are stuck inside, at the Grand Canyon itself, you will be glad if you chose a really nice hotel with good facilities. For example, our hotel had a nice restaurant, a bar, an indoor pool, and a hot tub. All this really helps when the evenings are dark and cold, not even to mention if the weather is not great.
Grand Canyon Winter FAQ
Yes, you can visit the Grand Canyon in winter. While the North Rim is closed, Grand Canyon West and Grand Canyon South Rim can both be visited in winter.
The nicest part of the Grand Canyon is the South Rim and it’s open the whole year round. This is the area that we recommend visiting, also in winter.
Average temperatures at the Grand Canyon Village are around freezing point. The average lows in December, January, and February are 18 F (-8°C) and average highs are 45 F (8°C). At the same time, it can be around 60 F (15 °C) on the canyon floor. The weather can change quickly in winter, and so does visibility, so be sure to check the weather forecast when planning your visit.
Yes, snow is very common in Grand Canyon National Park in winter. It doesn’t snow every day, but when it snows, visibility can be limited and driving conditions can be challenging. Also, because of the high elevation and cold nights, the snow doesn’t melt quickly. So you will see snow at the Grand Canyon pretty much during the entire winter.
Most of the facilities at the Grand Canyon Village are open the whole year round, so also in winter. But there is also a possibility that some roads (Hermit Road and/or Desert View) can be closed during or just after the snowstorm.
Yes, the main Grand Canyon park shuttles – Village Route (Blue) and Kaibab Route (Orange) – run in the winter months as well. Hermit Road shuttle (Red Route) doesn’t operate in December, January, and February, so you can explore this scenic drive in your own car. Also, Tusayan Route (Purple) doesn’t operate in the winter.
Yes, absolutely, Grand Canyon is more than worth a visit in the winter months. It’s usually not too busy, the air is crisp and the views are amazing, plus the scenery with a touch of snow is even more spectacular than in the warmer months. You just have to keep an eye on the weather forecast and adjust your travel schedule if needed.
So, this is our guide to visiting the Grand Canyon in winter. I hope that it gives you a better idea of what you can expect and helps you plan an unforgettable visit.
Have a great trip!
More travel inspiration for the Southwestern USA:
- Bucket list trip: Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend 2-day Itinerary
- Arizona: Top Places to Visit in Arizona & Monument Valley Scenic Drive
- Las Vegas: Tips for Visiting Las Vegas & Best Things to Do in Las Vegas & Best Day Trips from Las Vegas
- Death Valley NP: Best Things to Do in Death Valley
- Gold Butte, NV: Travel Guide to Gold Butte National Monument
- Sedona, AZ: Best Things to Do in Sedona & Sedona Day Trip
- Zion, UT: Best Hikes in Zion National Park & Zion to Bryce Canyon & Where to Stay in Zion
- Moab, UT: Moab, Arches, and Canyonlands National Park
- Arches NP, UT: Best Things to Do in Arches National Park
- Canyonlands NP, UT: Best Things to Do in Canyonlands National Park
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