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Photo: mrmatt

“To experience the canyon, you have to leave the rim.” And winter might be the best time to do it.

THE GRAND CANYON is one of those ultimate family summer roadtrip destinations. I can picture the South Rim parking lot filled with cars with colorful license plates, heat ripples bending up from hot metal, RVs wedged into oversized spaces, and crowds camera-snapping at the overlooks.

Okay, maybe that scene plays out in winter too. Actually, back in February of 2007, I was one of those cars, one of that crowd. So I can report that, when it comes to the through-visitor, the overlook-tourist, the Grand Canyon has no low season.

Which is one big reason why, “to experience the canyon, you have to leave the rim.”

And according to Henry Shukman, author of “Walking Into the Earth’s Heart: The Grand Canyon” in a late November’s New York Times, the best time to get down into the interior is winter. Here’s his reasoning:

  • Most importantly, almost no one hikes into the canyon in winter. During Shukman’s 3-day trip with his 8-year-old son, they only saw 20 or so other visitors.
  • It’s cold — as opposed to sweltering. It’s nice to walk out of the shade and enjoy the warmth of the sunlight instead of cursing its heat.
  • There may be snow and ice on the upper reaches of the trails, but once you get down a ways, it’s warm and sheltered enough that slipperiness isn’t an issue.

Photo: Corey Ann

Shukman’s piece has a rundown of lodging options, including the Phantom Ranch, which has dorm beds and is actually located at the bottom of the canyon. For route info, it’d be best to check out the National Park Service‘s maps.

If the idea of the Grand Canyon in winter inspires you to make the hike (I know I’m thinking about it), or if you have in the past, share your experience in the comments.

Community Connection

Find out why Trips thinks the Grand Canyon is one of The World’s Richest National Parks. You can also read one Matador member’s take on the new Grand Canyon Skywalk.

About The Author

Hal Amen

Hal Amen is a managing editor at Matador. His personal travel blog is WayWorded.

  • JoAnna

    It actually just got a lot easier to get off the rim. It has been very difficult to get backcountry permits for overnight hiking into the canyon, but this year the NPS has decided people can only get permits by mail or fax, which means tour guides can line up outside the door and claim most of the tickets for their companies and clients. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally get one too.

    • Hal Amen

      Sweet, thanks for the added info, JoAnna.

  • Megan Hill

    Yes! This is actually on my more immediate to-do list. That NYT article was great.

  • joshua johnson

    I hiked down to Phantom Ranch 2 summers ago and it was an eye opening experience. You simply cannot do the Grand Canyon justice by staying on the rim! The ancient landscape at dawn is one I will never forget!

  • Abbie

    I just found out that the Grand Canyon is only 6 hours away from me, I’m planning on going before the summer, so thanks for the tips!

  • Renee

    We went last winter, and it was spectacular. The nicest dusting of snow on the rocks in the canyon, and hiking in a fleece…the campground and outlooks were practically empty. We’ve gone several times in summer, but will probably never do so again–winter was so lovely!

    The snowy/icy portions of the trail at the top can be VERY slick and warrant yaktrax or some other way of getting better traction, but you can take them off almost immediately. You don’t want to fall….

  • Matt Scott

    Great piece Hal, I was there last March and even though it was cold (we were camping), there was practically no one compared to the summer months.

  • Corey Ann

    Thanks for using my picture and giving credit! :)

    I absolutely adored visiting the Grand Canyon in the winter. It was warm in the sunshine and not a bit uncomfortable either cold or hot. While I didn’t hike into the canyon even visiting the rim was perfect. I’ve heard the crowds are insane during the summer so I am glad that I saw it when I did (March 2008).

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