When to see the Grand Canyon in all its glory
The mile-deep, 10-mile-wide Grand Canyon never closes, but some of its services come to a dead stop during the winter. Inclement weather can ruin the striking views from the rim, and you might find yourself surrounded by close to a million visitors in July. Only you know which factors determine a "best visit time" for you. Here are some considerations.
When should I go?
The Grand Canyon is spectacular year-round, but your tolerance for crowds and weather conditions should determine when you visit. Late spring, summer and early fall are peak times at the national park’s South Rim. Far fewer visitors make the trek to the North Rim, but heavy snow in the off season closes the roads. The North Rim is only 10 miles, as the crow flies, from the South Rim, but getting there requires a three-day hike, a long drive or a ride on a shuttle. If big crowds are a turnoff, plan your visit for the winter, early spring or late fall.
What’s the weather like?
Keep in mind that the weather at the rim of the canyon can be very different from the weather a mile below at the Colorado River level. Summer temperatures are relatively mild at the South Rim, but once you’ve hiked to the river, you will likely experience daytime highs above 100 degrees. The North Rim is slightly cooler because of its higher elevation. In the winter, the South Rim is snowy and cold, with wind chills as low as 0 degrees. Storms sometimes block the views. While the temperatures are lower in spring and fall, the weather is unpredictable. Expect sudden storms and temperature fluctuations.
Will it be hard to get around?
The Grand Canyon is least crowded from November through February, but winter weather can interfere with your enjoyment of the park, and the North Rim is closed because of snow. Expect huge crowds if you visit the South Rim during the peak season. Once you take a free shuttle bus away from the shops, lodging, restaurants, museums and campgrounds at the South Rim, you’ll still be surrounded by fellow tourists gazing into the canyon or hiking the trails to the Colorado River. Finding lodging in the canyon, at the South Rim and at Tusayan, 7 miles south of the rim, is difficult during peak times. An inn and a lodge at the North Rim are open seasonally.
I’ve got only a few hours
The Grand Canyon is immense. It stretches for 277 miles through the northwest corner of Arizona. Just the hike from the rim to the river and back typically takes two days, and rafters take two weeks to traverse the length of the canyon. If you’ve got only a few hours, use the free shuttle bus service to hit the high points. Bus stops are about a mile apart, so consider hiking from one stop to another, then hopping back on the bus. There’s another option if your travel plans take you closer to the west end of the canyon: If the soles of your feet don’t tingle at the thought of walking on a clear glass horseshoe-shaped path suspended over the Grand Canyon, the Skywalk is the place for you.