We’ve visited the Grand Canyon a number of times, both before kids as well as with kids. But this was our first time visiting the Grand Canyon in winter!
The Grand Canyon is vast and you can certainly find plenty to do for a longer stay. However, it’s one of those national parks where you can actually get a pretty good overview with one day in Grand Canyon National Park. Especially in the wintertime, when certain areas are closed, icy, or just plain cold, one day is great to do a few of the highlights of the Grand Canyon with kids or without.
Here’s how we’d spend our ideal one day in Grand Canyon in winter. We hope it helps you plan your visit, as well!
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ONE DAY IN GRAND CANYON IN WINTER
Why Visit the Grand Canyon in Winter
Fewer Crowds in Grand Canyon National Park in Winter
The Grand Canyon is notorious for having hordes of people when visiting. This is compounded by the fact that many visitors go to the same few viewpoints. That means a lot of people are jostling for space to take photos of the views near precarious dropoffs and low railings.
Winter in Grand Canyon National Park means you’ll experience WAY fewer crowds. You’ll have some areas all to yourself even at peak sunset/sunrise times! Fewer than 10% of the park’s total visitors come during the months of December, January, and February, so you’re sure to have more options to spread out and to get the views you want.
This is especially helpful if you’re visiting the Grand Canyon with kids. It’s a bit nerve-wracking having little ones near a mile-deep drop. I felt way more comfortable with less concern for them bumping into someone else (or someone else bumping into them) and toppling over the edge.
Driving Through Grand Canyon National Park
Another advantage to a Grand Canyon winter visit is that you can drive through more areas of the park in your own vehicle! Private vehicles can’t drive on a number of roads and parking areas during the high season. Shuttles are available to take you to the various points, which can be great if you’re not interested in driving yourself.
But the shuttles also mean that you’ll be waiting each time, and sometimes for multiple to come by if there are big crowds. It also means you’ll need to take everything you need with you at the start of the day. With kids, we really appreciated being able to drive our own vehicle through Grand Canyon. That meant we didn’t have to carry all our layers and all our food, and could more easily do naps when needed.
Beautiful Views in Grand Canyon in Winter
There’s just something really stunning about snow blanketing the sides of the vast canyon!
Reasonable Times for Sunrise/Sunset
Sunrise and sunset are unquestionably the most stunning times at the Grand Canyon. And I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather wake up at 7am to see the sunrise than at 4am.
Availability of Accommodations
The campgrounds at Grand Canyon National Park typically fill up months in advance during peak times. But when we arrived to the Mather Campground in January, the place was a ghost town! We had our pick of campsites even when just showing up to the park.
The same is true for nearby hotels, for the lodges, and more. It’s just a lot easier to stay where you want to stay (without paying an arm and a leg) in the winter!
Disadvantages of Visiting Grand Canyon in Winter
While there are a number of advantages, there are some definite disadvantages, as well. The primary disadvantage is that multiple areas of the park will likely be closed. The North Rim is closed to vehicles for much of the winter and spring, and certain other areas of the park may not be accessible. The shuttles don’t run as frequently or to as many areas. A number of hikes may be slick/snowy/icy, and the weather may make it trickier to do parts of trails (especially when with little ones near edges). Plus, it just gets dang cold there!
For us, it was definitely worth visiting in winter still, even though it’s definitely a different visit than in warmer weather.
Should I Make a Winter Trip to Grand Canyon National Park?
If you’re interested in doing some serious hiking, you can still do so in winter with the right gear. If you’re sure-footed and are properly outfitted, wintertime is wonderful due to low crowds and incredible beauty.
I would not recommend doing hikes down into the canyon in winter with kids, however. The slick paths near steep dropoffs aren’t generally the best with kids.Still, it requires a significant amount of effort so it’s definitely not for the casual hiker.
There are a couple of smaller trails that are a possibility during the winter, but most of it is quite strenuous, made more so by the weather conditions.
Rafting is also much better in summer (although some do it in winter). Adventure sports in general are better suited to summer in Grand Canyon.
Still, if you’re visiting the Grand Canyon with kids and won’t be doing a lot of intense hiking/rafting, anyway, and if you don’t mind the cold weather, winter can be really wonderful. It’s perfect if you really want stunning scenery with low crowds!
What Should I Pack When Visiting the Grand Canyon in Winter?
The right gear is the single most important part of visiting the Grand Canyon in winter. It can get bitterly cold; the low was -5 degrees Fahrenheit on our most recent visit, with a high of 37 degrees. So it’s really important to be prepared!
Here are our favorite cold weather packing essentials!
Wool Base Layers
If I had one cold weather packing essential, it would be wool base layers. Our first day, we didn’t have them on at first and almost froze. We put ours on before sunset, and though it was even colder, we felt fine!
Wool is wonderful because you can wear it several times without washing. They’re perfect for pajamas or layering and every person in our family has a set.
Are you seeing a theme? Wool socks are an absolute must. These wool socks are my absolute FAVORITES – so soft, so durable, so warm. They come with a lifetime warranty and are a family-owned company that donates to local schools. What more could you ask for with socks? (I also like these baby wool socks that actually stay on!)
For slightly lighter weight socks, we bought these socks recently. We all loved them so much that I bought a second pair for another kiddo.
If it is snowy and wet, I really like everyone to have snow pants or bibs. We have a variety of sizes, and they last a long time since they don’t get used a ton and it doesn’t matter if they’re a bit big or small. They’re also great at providing extra warmth. This basic kids snow bib works great, and we like these snow pants for women and men.
It’s also important to have a warm coat like a puffer. We almost always travel with these lightweight down coats. They’re not they very warmest in the world, but they get the job done, especially with layers. They’re so easy to travel with, pack up small, and I love the bright colors! (Kids, Women, Men)
- Wool sweater
- Snow boots (I’ve had a pair similar to these for about a decade and they’re still in great shape!) Basic kids’ snow boots like these are important for keeping toes warm and dry.
- Gloves (these gloves for kids work great!). I also like having a mitten strap so they don’t get lost.
- Hat (I love this darling and warm baby hat, and this one and this one for kids)
Where to Stay in Grand Canyon National Park in Winter
If you’re traveling by RV (or winter tent camping), there are options inside and outside the park. As I mentioned, we loved staying at the Mather Campground, which is open year round and had all kinds of availability when we showed up in January. It was beautiful, clean, and incredibly convenient! There are also a number of spots to boondock just outside the park.
If you prefer to stay in a hotel or lodge, there are hotels and apartments in the nearby town of Tusayan, or further afield in Flagstaff.
What to Do In Grand Canyon in Winter: One Day in Grand Canyon Itinerary for Winter
Ideal One Day in Grand Canyon Itinerary for Winter
There are so many options for what to do, many of which I’ve included before. But if we only had one day in Grand Canyon, here’s how we would spend it!
Wake up for sunrise at Hopi Point. Take pictures. Eat packed breakfast nearby or in the car. Drive to The Abyss, then over to the Yavapai Geology Museum. Spend the rest of the morning there. Walk along the Trail of Time and visit Yavapai Point. Stop at Mather Point.
Consider hike to Shoshone Point, or on part of the Bright Angel Trail or South Kaibab Trail, depending on weather and trail conditions. If not, consider a bike ride. Drive out to Grandview Point, then continue on to Desert View Watchtower for sunset.
Best Viewpoints in Grand Canyon with Kids
One of the advantages of visiting Grand Canyon in winter is that you don’t have to get up at 4am to see the sunrise! When we were there in early January, the sun came up around 7:40. Since we were staying at the campground in the park, we woke up around 7 and drove straight over to Hopi Point.
We’d spent the previous evening’s sunset there, as well. We also considered going to Yavapai Point or Shoshone Point for sunrise, but Hopi Point has the advantage of parking right next to the viewpoint (that had plenty of space in the winter). Yavapai doesn’t have a long walk (only a couple minutes from the parking lot), but being right next to the viewing area was convenient for an early morning with kids. I also prefer the view at Hopi Point to the one at Yavapai Point. And I actually enjoyed having the same vantage point at multiple times of day. It was really fun and special to see the changes in light.
Shoshone Point also has a spectacular view, but requires about a mile hike in. The hike is flat and very doable. We just weren’t interested in hiking in the semi-dark through the snow, especially when it was -5 degrees Fahrenheit outside. But truly, wherever you go, you’ll have amazing views!
Desert View Watchtower
My favorite spot in the park for sunset is at the Desert View watchtower. It’s at the east end of the park, and the perspective there is totally different. I love that you can see more of the river and the whole thing is just stunning. It’s a bit of a drive out there, but I highly recommend it!
Mather Point is the viewpoint closest to the main visitors’ center, and also one of the quintessential views of the canyon. It’s beautiful, and also likely to have a number of people, even in winter.
Yavapai Geology Museum + Yavapai Point
The Yavapai Geology Museum is a great place to start to learn a little about the park and its incredible, millennia-long history. It’s perfect to see the different rock colors and explanations up close.
After you’ve visited the museum itself, you can head out to one of the best views in the park, Yavapai Point. Be sure to keep a close hold on little ones while you enjoy the spectacular views.
Grandview Point is a viewpoint further east, and really beautiful. It was fun to see more of the desert landscape!
Hiking in Grand Canyon with Kids
Trail of Time
Also starting from near the Geology Museum is the Trail of Time, which takes you through 2 billion years with markers on the path (skip counting in some places). It’s pretty incredible to get a small sense for both the scale and magnitude of time for the creation of the canyon.
The entire path is about 1.7 miles along a beautiful paved part of the Rim Trail. It starts near the Yavapai Geology Museum and ends at the Verkamp Visitors’ Center. You can take the shuttle back so you don’t have to walk round trip unless you’d like to.
Shoshone Point Hike
If you’re properly outfitted with snow gear, the Shoshone Point hike is wonderful! It’s only about 2 miles out and back, and relatively flat, so great for kids. It’s often snow-covered in the winter, though, so be sure you have proper shoes and clothing.
Bright Angel Trail or South Kaibab Trail in Winter
We strongly considered doing part of the Bright Angel Trail (to the first or second switchback) or the South Kaibab Trail (to Ooh Aah Point). Our kids are experienced hikers and are comfortable with elevation gain. We felt confident they could handle those short hikes, and that they would be careful on the trail.
Still, significant portions of the trails were covered in snow and ice from what we read. That combined with the steep dropoffs and with kids ages 10, 8, 6, 3, and 11 months just felt too risky to us. We’re looking forward to trying these trails when the paths are clear and safe!
Biking on the South Rim Greenway Trails
While we had our bikes with us, a ranger told us that it was not safe to bike during that time due to snow and ice on the paths. I’m sure that would be a really fun activity in warmer weather!
What do you think? Would you visit the Grand Canyon in winter? Or would you prefer to wait until it warms up a bit?
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