A Grand Canyon Christmas: Visiting Arizona in December

Grand Canyon

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While the Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP), filled with history and stunning viewpoints, is beautiful year-round, there's no better time to avoid lines and traffic than around the Christmas holiday. Families and friends looking for a hassle-free, gorgeous, and festive winter vacation should consider a visit to Arizona's number one attraction, just 70 miles north of Flagstaff.

During the winter months, the Grand Canyon and its surrounding area, including restaurants, are decked out for Christmas. Travelers can expect a spirited atmosphere in the small desert towns, along with a laid-back vibe where guests are unhurried and relaxed. Visitors can also look forward to taking in the changing scenery at the Grand Canyon and enjoying its quiet moments, like the shadows and colors of the sun against the canyon walls as it rises and sets, and the contrast of light snow against the red rocks.

Grand Canyon December Weather

Though fully open each year from May 15 through October 15, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is closed in the winter. The South Rim is 7,000 feet above sea level, which means snow in winter and cool nights even in summer.

Temperatures are likely to fluctuate in the winter high-desert environment. High temperatures are in the 30s and 40s degree Fahrenheit (-1 to 5 degrees Celsius) during the winter.

It's important to be cautious about ice on the roads and trails and to check weather conditions daily. This is especially key if you are planning on camping; always bring the proper gear, including sleeping bags and tents meant to sustain sub-freezing temperatures. 

Benefits of a Holiday Visit

All shops, hotels, and restaurants are open during regular hours, making it a perfect place to pick up that last-minute gift or to grab a bite to eat while out with your family. There is also a wonderful selection of Native American jewelry, western clothing, souvenir t-shirts, and videos of the Grand Canyon to show or gift to your friends back home.

If you have ever waited in line to enter the Grand Canyon National Park or squeezed past a crowd of tourists trying to get a glimpse of the park's beauty, consider an off-peak time visit. During the Christmas season, there are no crowds at vista points and on hiking trails. You will have time to reflect on the beauty of the Grand Canyon, take as long as you wish to compose photographs, and even drive through the park, unlike in peak tourist season when you may have to take the tram.

Grand Canyon - The Lookout Studio
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Accommodations and Special Holiday Meals

Rooms are usually available at all lodges during the Christmas season. For the best selection, make winter lodging reservations early—ideally during the summer. Accommodations such as the historic El Tovar Hotel, the Grand Canyon's famous historic lodge, are beautifully decorated for the holidays with garlands and lights. Guests will also find holiday magic in front of the two-story-high stone fireplace at the snack bar Hermit's Rest, among other gems.

Additional places to stay including Bright Angel Lodge, Kachina Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge, and the Maswik Lodge, are all located within the confines of Grand Canyon National Park. Contact the lodges in advance to find out about special menus for the Christmas holiday. Even if you don't stay at the El Tovar Hotel itself, it is recommended to make a reservation for their popular Christmas Eve and Day meals.

While staying at a campsite provides ample adventure, spending your nights at the GCNP lodges or hotels comes with a variety of benefits:

  • Being right on the rim of the Grand Canyon (some accommodations)
  • Special deals on mule rides—which vary from two hours to overnight stays—and tours
  • A number of exclusive activities only offered to hotel and lodge guests
The Grand Canyon Railway
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Train Ride From Williams

The Grand Canyon Railway transports visitors back and forth between Williams, Arizona, and the South Rim train depot in a journey lasting two hours and 15 minutes each way. The trips are popular with tourists who enjoy western songs, robbery re-enactments, and the fun bar car. During the holidays, bring the children to enjoy a ride on the Polar Express, which travels to the "North Pole" where Santa and his reindeer await.

If you just want to travel to the Grand Canyon and are not taking one of the Polar Express excursions, take advantage of an up to 50 percent savings on package deals for the trip and an overnight or two at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel in Williams.

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