Why you should consider making a trip to the Grand Canyon in the wintertime
Ever wonder what the Grand Canyon looks like with a light dusting of snow? Well, I saw it for my own eyes just after Christmas last year. It's truly magical. The striations of red and orange rock with pops of stark white snow are a photographer's dream. If you're lucky enough to see the rim on the first sunny day after a storm, you'll be able to see sparkling white all around, and can take advantage of the way the sun reflects off the snow. A trip to the Grand Canyon in the winter is a great idea if you're looking to beat the crowds, love winter wonderlands, or dislike the sweltering heat that summer brings.
Here are a few things you should know before taking a trip to the Grand Canyon in the winter:
1. It's cold
This should go without saying, but it's really cold at the Grand Canyon rim in the winter. We knew the temperatures would be below freezing--and thankfully planned accordingly--but were actually quite stunned at just how cold it got.
When we checked the weather about a week prior to the trip, it said we’d have highs in the 40s and lows in the low 30s. We thought, "Okay, that’s totally doable." We anticipated perhaps a light dusting of snow and some chilly nights.
The REALITY: we had mostly highs in the low 30s (some days didn’t get above 25 degrees) and lows that hovered around 8-10 degrees. That’s 28 degrees below freezing. That meant that even keeping our water running in the RV all night, it was so cold that our pipes STILL FROZE, the RV (which has a diesel engine) wouldn’t start for hours the next morning, and it was so cold that our heater just plain quit working halfway through the night.
My point: we expected cold weather but never could have anticipated it would be that cold. So bundle up kids.
2. Check the weather
This is particularly important for photographers or people aiming to see the Grand Canyon for the first time with limited time to see it. Rain, snow, or—most importantly—fog will impact visibility dramatically. It is a fairly often occurrence for it to be so foggy at the rim in the winter that you can’t actually see the canyon at all.
Imagine driving hundreds or even thousands of miles, planning to pop in and see the Grand Canyon on a road trip, where you’ve only set aside an hour or so to stop, see it, and move on. Then imagine you drove all those miles only to arrive at the rim and see nothing but fog. That would be pretty devastating, right? Well, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met that have experienced that very scenario.
If you have limited time, check the weather and plan your trip around the weather so you don’t miss it completely. And if seeing the Grand Canyon is imperative, build in a few extra hours or even a few extra days so that you’ll have ample opportunities to see it and can wait til the fog or weather subsides. Often times, it may be foggy in the morning and will lift by the afternoon. Sometimes though, it can be invisible all day.
3. Drones are prohibited
Yup, this one’s a bummer. If you’re obsessed with overhead shots like I am, you might be sad to hear that drones are strictly prohibited inside the park. Since the Grand Canyon is a National Park, federal rules and the National Park System (NPS) control unmanned aircrafts and strictly prohibit the use drones This is typical of national parks in general, but there are signs all over the Grand Canyon stating as such.
4. Cell phone coverage is minimal
I am not exaggerating, but we literally had ZERO cell coverage the entire time we were in the park. It was so bad that I could barely get my Skyroam to work, which is a rare occasion. My husband and I both have AT&T Wireless as our carrier, and although I was told Verizon worked a bit better, most people I encountered had the same coverage issues as I did. If you must get connected, you can pilf the free WiFi at the Market Store in the Village or at the adjacent Yavapai Lodge (the other lodges have WiFi as well, but may only be accessible to hotel guests).
5. There are limited lodging options
Staying inside the park is the best way to experience it in the early mornings and at night (the park is a “dark park”, meaning there are minimal street lights so that visitors can enjoy an unobstructed view of the night sky), so if you’re looking to really experience the Grand Canyon I would suggest staying within park grounds. Plus, the traffic going into the park on the weekends is reminiscent of Los Angeles freeways (if you know, you know).
Options inside the park—however—are limited. Inside the park on the South Rim, you’ll find the Yavapai Lodge, El Tovar Hotel, Bright Angel Lodge, Kachina Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge and Maswik Lodge. Not surprisingly, these lodges book up well in advance and have a higher price tag than the motels located just outside of the park.
There’s also the Trailer Village RV park, which has full hookups and allows RV and tent camping. Spots can be reserved online at nps.gov. We stayed here, and even though it was so cold at night that our pipes froze (even with the water running), we enjoyed the close proximity to the rim and the ability to walk to and from the canyon rim, the visitor center and the market.
If you’re looking for luxury, you won’t find it at or near the Grand Canyon. The lodging options listed above are 3 star at best and limited at that. If you must stay in a luxury property, Sedona is just a shade under two hours away and has the Enchantment Resort or L’Auberge de Sedona, where you can get pampered at their world class spas after trekking around the park.
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