At the Grand Canyon South Rim, visitor facilities are open year-round. Most paved roads and major trails are also open throughout the winter, although they may be snow packed for brief periods after major storms. Winter is a great time to visit because the area is not crowded. Sightseeing and hiking conditions are good most days.
North Rim roads and facilities are closed from mid-October to mid-May because of heavy snow. No visitor services are available during the winter.
Popular Winter Activities
Temperatures vary considerably within the Grand Canyon, with cooler temperatures at high elevations and warmer temperatures along the river at the bottom of the canyon.
Most people experience the Grand Canyon by driving from viewpoint to viewpoint and that is an enjoyable activity during winter. On some days storm clouds will shroud views, but visibility is good most winter days. If there are storm clouds on the horizon, they often add to the dramatic panorama.
Some visitors take short hikes on trails that follow the rim or that drop a short way below the rim into the canyon. Trails are monitored and are open most days. Hikers need to stay alert because icy spots may develop.
Winter backpacking trips can be very enjoyable. You will notice from the temperature charts that the bottom of the canyon is much warmer than the rim. Start early and you can be at the bottom before dark. Permits are needed for overnight trips into the canyon. They are difficult to get during the summer but much easier during winter.
If you backpack or do extended hikes, you need to be ready for anything. If a storm comes up it could close the trail for a time and so you need to have emergency food and gear.
Mule trips are offered year-round from the South Rim. Three-hour rides are available, along with overnight trips. If you want to experience the Grand Canyon in a truly historic manner, do an overnight mule trip to the bottom of the canyon.
While the North Rim complex is closed during winter, the Toroweap area is usually accessible. It is a remote vista on the north side of the canyon, located almost due south from St George, Utah. Access roads are dirt and may have snow at times, but they do not climb to high elevations and are drivable most days. (High clearance 4X4 vehicles are recommended.)
Toroweap offers a nice primitive camping area with outhouse toilets but no other facilities. There is no drinking water and no visitors' center. Park rangers visit the site occasionally, but winter visitors need to be self-sufficient and assume they will be on their own.
From Toroweap, trails extend along the canyon rim and some also drop down to the river. Winter hiking conditions are usually good.
Wildlife is abundant in Grand Canyon National Park, at both the South Rim area and around Toroweap. Mule deer are the most commonly seen large animal. Bighorn sheep are seen occasionally. Many bird species live in the park; hawks, eagles and other birds of prey are relatively easy to spot.
Numerous squirrels, rabbits and other small mammals live here. Foxes, coyotes, cougars and black bears are found in the area but are shy and usually avoid contact with humans. Rattlesnakes are sometimes seen along trails and near waterways. It is uncommon for animals to harm park visitors but visitors need to follow basic safety rules to avoid potential problems.