Colder temperatures, shorter days, and snow bring a slower pace to one of the nation's most visited national parks.
After the December holidays, during January and February, winter visitors find paths less traveled throughout the park. Those prepared for ice and snow will find the Bright Angel Trail a bit quieter and scenic drives less congested.
Dramatic winter storms, bringing several inches of snow, are contrasted with sunny days, perfect for walking along the rim of the canyon. Crisp air and a dusting of snow bring a new perspective to the temples and buttes emerging from the canyon floor and provide a perfect backdrop to view the canyon's flora and fauna.
The South Rim of the park is open year round, and roads are drivable except in inclement weather. Weather changes quickly at Grand Canyon, and so does visibility.
Planning a visit for multiple days allows visitors to experience some of these changes, and provides a good chance for a great view of the canyon.
Mule deer traipsing through fresh snow and bald eagles soaring above the canyon rims are just some of the wildlife spotted during winter.
Many animals slow down for the winter and are seen less frequently, but there is still a chance to see elk, California condors, ravens, and Abert's squirrels along the rim and in nearby ponderosa pine forests.
Most animals in the park have developed some sort of adaptation to the cold weather. Rock squirrels, frequently seen along the rim during summer months, spend the fall caching food and preparing for the cold winter. Although they spend much of the winter in their burrows, they can be spotted along the rim during warmer days.
Mule deer and elk grow thick winter coats to deal with the low temperatures and the Abert's and Kaibab tree squirrels grow fur tassels on their ears to keep out the cold.
During the winter months, in Grand Canyon Village, reservations for Mather Campground, can be made through recreation.gov. Reservations are recommended during the December holiday period.
Locations inside the canyon, like Phantom Ranch and adjacent Bright Angel Campground, offer milder temperatures in winter, and backcountry camping permits may be more easily obtained during the winter months than during peak hiking seasons.
Winter hikers and backpackers should be prepared for cold temperatures, icy trails, and short daylight hours. NPS backcountry rangers recommend bringing over-the-shoe-traction devices, trekking poles, extra snacks, flashlights/headlamps, and layered clothing that can easily be added or removed to adapt to a variety of weather conditions.
A Winter Getaway
A trip to Grand Canyon can be a great winter getaway, especially with careful planning.
The National Park Service Mobile App is a great place to start. You can download the maps and content from Grand Canyon National Park for offline use. It’s especially handy if you’re exploring remote areas or concerned about data limits.
Don’t let winter hazards take you by surprise. Colder temperatures, severe weather and conditions, and changes in wildlife behavior present challenges to be aware of when visiting national parks. Be prepared for your trip and stay alert to have a fun, safe winter adventure.