Arizona's Grand Canyon in Winter

Planning Your Trip

Grand Canyon Holiday
••• Holiday Touches at the Grand Canyon. ©Elizabeth R. Rose (Mitchell)
Holiday Time at the Grand Canyon

It was holiday time in Arizona and the weather had turned unseasonably warm in the high country. We had four days off, no guests arriving until New Year’s, and we were determined to use the time to explore Arizona. We thought about a stay at a golf resort in Prescott or traveling to Sedona for a Pink Jeep Tour, but once we found out that there were rooms available at the Grand Canyon South Rim, our minds were made up.


Making Your Reservation

The Grand Canyon's North Rim is open from mid-May to mid-October, so for your winter holiday you will be staying at the South Rim. I recommend using the Xanterra online reservation service as you can immediately find out which lodges have openings and, with a credit card, make your reservation before someone else takes that room. Please note that you will be billed for the first night's stay. You can also reach the reservation service by calling 888-297-2757. There are a variety of facilities ranging from "classic lodge" to "historic cabin." Prices range from $55 to $291 per night (subject to change). There is no youth hostel in Grand Canyon National Park. Be sure to make reservations as far ahead as possible.

Lodging choices are:

- Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins: The Bright Angel complex consists of tightly clustered buildings along the rim. In the 1930's, the Fred Harvey Co.
needed to develop affordable lodging for the many visitors who had begun driving to the canyon. Mary E. Jane Colter, designed both the lodge and the cabins. The cabins were built around several historic buildings. There are clean, simple rooms in two long buildings adjacent to Bright Angel Lodge. These are the least expensive in the park.
Moving on up, others are appointed like standard motel rooms, with showers instead of tubs. Our choice is always a historic cabin. Rooms in the historic cabins cost only about $10 more than the most expensive lodge rooms and you can get a feel of what it was like to stay at the Grand Canyon in the 30's. Another plus is the dining room where you can order a meal from a menu before you hike down Bright Angel Trail.

- El Tovar Hotel: It's not easy to get reservations at El Tovar. They recently went through a renovation yet kept the old-world hunting lodge atmosphere. The style is a little Swiss, somewhat Scandinavian, and definitely rustic European. El Tovar opened in 1905 and so celebrated a centennial birthday in 2005. The popularity of El Tovar had some bearing on the area's recognition as a National Monument in 1908, and as a National Park in 1919. El Tovar is the most expensive of the lodges. If you are pinching pennies, we suggest you stay at one of the other lodges and walk through the lobby at El Tovar and perhaps stop for a meal in their dining room.

- Kachina Lodge: Kachina is a two-story Lodge with modern comforts, phone and bath, and is ideal for families. If you look at a facility map, you will notice which facilities are on the rim and which are within a short drive of the Canyon's rim.


- Maswik Lodge: Maswik Lodge is a two-story lodge & rustic cabins located 1/4 mile from South Rim. There is a restaurant on site.

- Thunderbird Lodge: Thunderbird is a family-oriented lodge situated just at the south rim.

- Yavapai Lodge: Yavapai is a modern motor lodge in wooded setting between Yavapai Point and the Grand Canyon Village, 3/4 mile from the Canyon's edge. It has an adjacent cafeteria-style restaurant. The rooms are comfortable and the setting tranquil. You may see deer wandering past your window.

Pack for All Weather

From about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. when the is sun shining at the Grand Canyon, you may even feel warm while hiking the rim. Keep in mind that the weather is unpredictable.Winter conditions at the South Rim can be extreme. Expect snow, icy roads and trails, and possible road closures. At the South Rim you will be at 6,950 feet. Canyon views may be temporarily obscured during winter storms. In such cases entrance fees are not refundable.

You will be most comfortable if you pack for layering. Make sure you have a warm, water-proof jacket, warm pants and long underwear. Gloves and hats are in order. But remember, the weather may turn very pleasant and you will need to shed a layer or two. Bring sturdy walking shoes with tread or hiking boots. Trails in the winter will have ice or snow, especially in the shady spots. If the trails are very icy and it doesn't melt during the day you will need crampons.

During the holidays, you may want to enjoy a special meal at El Tovar. While a dress or coat and tie is not necessary, you will feel most comfortable in the evening if you dress up a bit. This might be the time to wear your wool slacks and red sweater!

Top Sights to See

When you arrive at the Park, you will be given a map and guide. Take a look at this as it will help you orient and decide what you want to see. The Visitors Centers are always worth a stop. Our suggestions for winter touring are:

- El Tovar Lodge: No matter what the weather you can enjoy the cozy lobby. It will be decorated for the holidays. At night El Tovar is magical and warm. With fireplaces roaring and artwork to peruse, a visit to El Tovar adds to the holiday spirit.

- Hopi House: Right across from El Tovar, you will find Hopi House. Designed by Mary Colter and built in 1905, Hopi House is a large, multi-story building of stone masonry, shaped and constructed like a Hopi pueblo. At night look for the lumenaria lining the roof line. Hopi House is a great way to learn more about Arizona native cultures and, if the spirit moves you, do a little shopping.

- Hermit's Rest: If the weather is good, you will be able to drive out to Hermit's Rest. The site is located at the far western end of the West Rim Drive approximately 9 miles from Grand Canyon Village. There is a gift shop and snack bar there. But what we enjoy most is the architecture and immense stone fireplace. This is yet another of architect Mary Jane Colter's handy work. Sit for a minute on the log in front of the fireplace, enjoy the Christmas tree and be transported back in time.

- Rim Trail: The weather is so unpredictable and the trails sporadically icy, that for winter hiking, we recommend sticking to the Rim Trail. It is safe and scenic. The Park cautions against hikes into the canyon and reminds us that, for other than a short hike along the rim, preparation is necessary. To play it extra safe, hike in either direction from El Tovar. Carry water, a trail snack, dress in layers and, of course, take your camera. Watch your time and know that you can turn around, backtrack, and return to "civilization" without much effort.

When You Go

- Reservations: Although you may find it easy to reserve a table at El Tovar on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, go early for the best choice of seating times. You may find it easier to reserve a room than in the summer season, but planning ahead and reserving early always is best.

- Consider the Train: The Grand Canyon Railroad has day trips and overnight packages. It might be an enjoyable way to approach the Canyon. For children, the Railway offers Polar Express theme trips during winter. Trips originate in Williams.

- Candlelight Services: You don't have to give up attending church if you spend your Christmas at the Grand Canyon. Check the announcements in the lobby at El Tovar. They usually have information on church services.