It Snows at the Grand Canyon - Pros and Cons for a Winter Visit to this Natural Wonder

It Snows at the Grand Canyon? – Tips for Seeing this Natural Wonder in the Winter

Welcome to this month’s Blogorail Peach Loop. Today we are exploring fun you and your family can have this winter. Lots of fun can be found locally!


The Grand Canyon is stunningly beautiful in the winter. The snow highlights the rock formations  and frames the trees. It seems the air is crystal clear. Unfortunately, living near this natural wonder, I often see and hear of visitors who are totally unprepared for a winter visit, so I thought I’d share a few tips so that others can get the most out of a visit this time of year.

Bring winter clothes – My husband who works at a hotel in Phoenix had a guest ask him where to catch the tour bus for the Grand Canyon. She was wearing pants and a light shirt, no jacket. He told her where to catch the bus and asked if she had a jacket. She said no that “it’s just like here, right?” Uh, no. Phoenix is in a desert valley at an elevation of about 1,100 feet. Driving to the Grand Canyon, one will go up and up and up until they reach the South Rim at about 6,800 feet. That’s over 1,000 feet higher than Denver, Colorado. With that type of rise in elevation, one should expect that temperature will drop a good 20 degrees. For example, the temperatures in Phoenix expected today (the day this post was published) are a high of 66 degrees Fahrenheit with a low of 49. The temperatures expected at the Grand Canyon are a high of 42 (so not even Phoenix’s low) and a low of 31 (below freezing). It is warmer at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, but since most visitors stay at or near the rim, expect cold weather and usually ice and snow, which brings me to my next tip…

It Snows at the Grand Canyon? Tips for Winter Travel to This Natural WonderTo stay safe on the hiking trails, wear some sort of spiked shoes or crampons and use trekking poles – I went to the Grand Canyon last January with a friend. I was wearing hiking boots, which I thought would be enough. We started to hike down Bright Angel Trail, not intending to go far, but we barely made it 50 feet before turning around. There are no railings on the trails and the packed snow had turned to ice. We both had visions of slipping and falling down the canyon. It does happen. After watching hikers make their return up the trail, we quickly saw that most of them had winter hiking gear like crampons and trekking poles. In looking at the other trails, it was clear that the only way to safely hike in the canyon at that time of year was with appropriate gear. Of course, it should also go without saying that in spite of the snow, humidity is still low so bring water and other typical hiking gear as well.

Understand that some areas will be closed – While nearly everything is open at the South Rim, some stores and restaurants have shorter hours. Some of the drives through the park may be closed if ice and snow makes them unsafe. In addition, the North Rim is completely closed. Just a few weeks ago, a visiting family found that out the hard way. They didn’t realize that the North Rim was closed and that the roads to it are completely impassable in the winter. They attempted to drive there and their vehicle became stuck. There was no cell service. The mom walked off in search of help and the dad and 10-year-old son stayed in the vehicle. After spending the night in their vehicle, the dad walked to higher ground until he got a cell signal and called for help and they were soon rescued. The mother was rescued later that second night after hiking 26 miles and taking refuge in a building. Fortunately, that family will be OK, but, unfortunately, not all visitors get rescued in time.

Plan to pick up or bring some winter gear for the car – Cars rented in Phoenix (or Las Vegas if visiting from there) do not come with winter accessories like ice scrapers or snow brushes. There may be other items that you want as well such as a flashlight, an emergency/thermal blanket, and bottled water in case of emergency. Stopping by a local store and picking up a few inexpensive items on the first day of the trip may keep a minor problem during the trip from becoming a major one.

Blizzard In Grand CanyonHave a plan for winter storms – While the roads to the South Rim are plowed and salted all winter, if a storm hits, even those roads are likely to be closed. The National Park Service does its best to notify visitors via its website, Twitter, and a special phone line. For example, yesterday’s notice stated:

“South Rim Roads are open, but watch for icy places.

Both Desert View Drive and Hermit Road may be closed at any time – if hazardous driving conditions develop.

Please drive with caution and at speeds appropriate to the road conditions.

Watch for deer and elk in the roadway.

If you are traveling, call 928-638-7496 and listen to our updated road conditions and closures recording, or follow us on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/grandcanyonnps

 

Watch the weather forecasts and make adjustments to your plan accordingly whether that means getting provisions to wait out the storm or heading to a hotel near your airport a little early so you don’t miss your flight home.

After all these negatives, though, I feel like I should mention that there are definite positives to visiting the Grand Canyon in the winter.

Snow Storm In Grand Canyon, AZFirst, my favorite, the view. The Grand Canyon is beautiful any time of year, but with a blanket of snow, it can be simply breathtaking. The white seems to highlight the browns and oranges and purples and greens.

Second, it’s easier to get reservations and rates can be cheaper. There’s no need to book months in advance for a stay at El Tovar, the large, beautiful, main lodge at the South Rim. Right now, there are still rooms available for early February, but the entire month of June is sold out. In addition, the rates I found were nearly $100 per night less in winter than summer. Just be sure to check the cancellation policy for weather-related cancellations.

It Snows at the Grand Canyon - Tips for Safe Winter TravelThird, fewer people!!! The sidewalks at the rim are relatively clear of snow and unlike summer when they can be really crowded, they are also relatively clear of people in the winter. It’s like having the Grand Canyon all to yourself. This makes it so peaceful and relaxing.

In addition, fewer people means I can actually find a place to park my car. If you’ve visited in summer, you’ll have seen cars parked everywhere with no open spaces in sight. In the winter? I park right by the lodge and trailheads easily.

An elk sits in the snow to rest in between feeding cycles.  Imag

Fewer people can also mean more wildlife sightings. I’ve seen elk there in both the summer and winter as well as bald eagles, California condors, deer, and more.

Finally, the ambience. Picture yourself looking out at the snow sitting by a fireplace in a gorgeous National Parks lodge with a cup of hot cocoa. Winter storm coming? Who cares when you’re in such a beautiful location?

The Grand Canyon truly is beautiful in the winter… as long as you’re prepared.

For more winter travel ideas,
check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!


Here is the map of our Blogorail Peach | Family Adventure | Winter Travel

8 thoughts on “It Snows at the Grand Canyon? – Tips for Seeing this Natural Wonder in the Winter

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  4. Mike Ellis

    Wow, what a great post! So much to experience, I’ve got to make it to the Grand Canyon one year. I think I would have been like the innocent tourist at the hotel, I’d have probably frozen and wondered why it wasn’t 80 degrees or some silliness like that. Great pictures, too, thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. kim051172 Post author

      I guess now would be a good time to admit that my first visit to the Grand Canyon was before I lived here. I took a day trip from Las Vegas in the middle of winter. It was snowing and cold and I had no jacket because I had no idea it was that much colder. I spent most of the time miserable inside one of the lodges, cold and wet, and couldn’t even see the canyon through the snow. It was memorable, but not in the way I wanted it to be!

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
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