During the winter months between November and March, visiting the Grand Canyon may not top your travel to-do list. (Where's the beach?) But, it definitely should. Not only is it less crowded, more affordable, and easier to get around in the quieter season, the weather is cool but still comfortable. Oh, and there’s loads to do and see.
I found the Grand Canyon particularly inviting in winter. Maybe it’s the quality of light during those still months, or the way the sun wraps and bends around the peaks and valleys. It’s a magical place and how you experience it is up to you.
When you go:
Pick your viewpoint:
I chose the South Rim and I certainly wasn’t alone; 90% of visitors go here, it’s that popular. At 7,000 feet above sea level, expect the possibility of snow. If you are driving, bring chains or ensure your vehicle is outfitted with winter tires.
The South Rim is only 60 miles from Williams, Arizona, and 80 miles northwest of Flagstaff. Sedona, with its glorious red rock, is 20 miles south of Flagstaff on SR 89A and now that I’ve seen it, I’ll be back.
North Rim: Although accessible in summer, the North Rim is closed during winter since the elevation is some 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim.
Other famous viewpoints you might want to check out: Lipan Point, Bright Angel Trailhead, Desert View Watchtower, Mather Point, and Pima Point.
Getting to the Grand Canyon by car
It takes 3 and a half hours non-stop, but I figure stops along the way make for a great roadtrip, right? In Prescott, I checked out historic downtown Whisky Row with all its old-timey saloons, and stopped in for nice lemonade. In Jerome, the art galleries were interesting and filled with local works. And the kid in me just had to check out Bearizona, a drive-through animal park where bison, wolves, mountain goats, and you guessed it, bears, can all be seen from your car.
From Las Vegas
From Las Vegas – detour at Kingman on Route 66 towards Seligman – there you will find Disney’s inspiration for the movie Cars. Tell the Filmore and the Sheriff I sent you.
Where to stay
Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn
Where does one stay in the Grand Canyon anyway?
Skip camping this time of year, but know that options for hotels and inns exist within Grand Canyon National Park, and vary depending on your budget and travel style. For an economic stay, try the Yavapai Lodge. At mid-price, consider the Bright Angel Lodge + Cabins. For iconic luxury stay at El Tovar.
Another option is staying in Tusayan, which is just 1.5 miles from the Grand Canyon entrance. This area has newer, amenity-laden properties that include the Red Feather Lodge, The Grand Hotel (a 3-diamond property), a reliable Grand Canyon Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites that comes with breakfast, and a Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn. The bonus here? A bowling alley and arcade.
Things to do in the area
Hop on a Jeep tour where you'll hit multiple famous viewpoints while a guide indulges you in Canyon history, geology and folklore. A 3-hour mule ride is not something you do every day (guaranteed to be memorable), and for the ultimate in jaw-dropping experiences that can’t beat, take flight over the Canyon on a helicopter or airplane tour. Some people - okay, me most definitely - have been moved to tears.
Got a thing for sunrises and sunsets? Me too. The Canyon is a game changer, and once you have witnessed either or both here, you may well be ruined for any other.
Take a hike
Don’t be daunted by the 13 miles of paved Rim Trail, no one is suggesting you do it all, unless you want to, of course. Since there is a free shuttle service running the edge of the rim, you can hop on and off as you like.
An easy hike is the lower tunnel of Bright Angel Trail but consider wearing ice cleats in the winter because it can be icy.
Prefer your hikes guided? Here are a few local backpacking outfitters.
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