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10 Tips for a successful Grand Canyon winter adventure

by Lauryn Neas  from United States

When I first started planning, I didn’t really know anything about the Grand Canyon. I had no idea there was a north and a south rim or how incredibly cold it can get in the winter. After thoroughly researching and going on the trip, there were many things I was happy I prepared for, but many things that I was unprepared for along the way. My husband and I traveled to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in December, however much of what I learned is helpful for travel at any time of year.

Grand Canyon, landscape on road by Lauryn Neas

Fly in to Las Vegas and drive to the Canyon
There are no major airports near the Canyon, so you’ll have to pick one that makes the most sense to you (Phoenix and Las Vegas are the most popular). We picked Las Vegas which meant we had to drive 4 hours to reach the Canyon. The drive is easy, albeit long. If you’re from a part of the world that doesn’t have a landscape quite like Arizona, you’re in for a treat. I couldn’t take my eyes off my surroundings. It was unlike any landscape I’d ever seen before!

Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam by Lauryn Neas

Make a pit stop at the Hoover Dam

If you do fly in to Vegas, try to pick an early enough flight to allow for a stop at The Hoover Dam. I was unsure if it would be worth a 2 hour stop after our long 4 hour flight from the East Coast. Well, I’m happy to report it definitely was! We did the regular guided tour which was pretty quick, but still fascinating. The sheer size of the Dam is incredible. On your way out, make sure to stop at the parking lot that will be on your left once you leave the Dam area. There’s a bridge that overlooks the Dam and the views are out of this world. Just make sure you’re ok with heights!

Grand Canyon, the layers in the rocks indicate different time periods dating back millions of years by Lauryn Neas

Grab some groceries at the Safeway in Williams, AZ 

Unless you’re staying in the lap of luxury during your visit, this piece of advice is so important. There’s a grocery store called Safeway about an hour before you reach the Canyon. We read ahead of time that there wouldn’t be many options for food, so we decided to stock up on snacks for hiking, yogurts and fruit for breakfast, a couple salads, and a case of water. There are a few restaurants around the park, but they are not great. There is one nice restaurant that many people recommend (El Tovar), but our quick trip had us so exhausted I couldn’t even think about getting ready for a nice dinner. In fact, we were so tired after our intense hiking day we couldn’t even bring ourselves to go to one of the more casual restaurants. We were so thankful to have food in our cabin. Also, we went through the entire case of water after that one day of hiking. Note: we stayed in a cabin along the rim. Our cabin had a mini fridge that we knew about before our stay so we knew we’d be ok with buying refrigerated items. Make sure you check on this before your trip!

Grand Canyon, view from Maricopa Point along the Rim Trail by Lauryn Neas

Stop at the Visitor Center for a history lesson

We arrived late, so we weren’t able to check this out until we left. This is a must-do in my opinion and if you can get there at the beginning of your trip, I think it would be even better. There’s a great film projected on a giant sphere that explains the history of how the Canyon was formed. The Canyon is spectacular to see, but knowing the history of what you’re looking at just makes it even more amazing and special.

Grand Canyon, view from Maricopa Point along the Rim Trail by Lauryn Neas

 Pack for the season

For us, the low temperature one night was 9°F! Our hiking day started in the 20’s, but reached the high 40’s on our way back from the first hike. I was freezing on the way down, but shedding layers like crazy on the way back up. Layers are the key! Don’t forget touch gloves to keep your fingers warm while taking those amazing pictures.

Grand Canyon,sliding down trail by Lauryn Neas

Mind the warnings

The north rim closes in the winter because of ice and snow. The south rim stays open, but it still snows there regularly and the roads can become treacherous. It had snowed a couple days before we arrived on December 1 and the roads were still icy with snow all over the ground. Check the weather before you start driving to the Canyon. Make sure you know what to do in the event you find yourself stuck on an icy road, in the dark, with no cell service. No joke! There are barely any street lights and cell service is spotty at best. This goes for trails too. If there are any warnings about icy trails, make sure you’re prepared. We did not opt for crampons (chains for your shoes) or hiking poles and we deeply regretted that decision. You can see my regret in the picture where I had to slide down a hill because I couldn’t get traction from my shoes!

Grand Canyon, start of the Bright Angel Trail by Lauryn Neas

Plan your hikes accordingly

Never having visited the Grand Canyon and only having one full day to hike, we wanted to plan our day in order to see and do as much as possible. As soon as we got ourselves ready to go, we stopped by the front desk of the hotel to get some advice from the staff. They gave us a map and pointed out which trails would be best for us based on the amount of time we had as well as our physical ability. The 2 trails we did were the Bright Angel Trail (only 1.5 miles of it since it was more strenuous (3 miles round trip)) and the Rim Trail to Maricopa Point (about 2 miles from the lodge (4 miles round trip)). We are not athletes, but we are fairly active and this was the perfect combination for a full day of hiking.

Grand Canyon, view from one lookout point on the Rim Trail by Lauryn Neas

Check the bus schedule (or lack thereof) 

No matter how thoroughly I plan, there’s always something I miss. That’s the excitement of traveling, right? This time, it was the bus schedule. We failed to check this for the bus that travels along the rim trail of the Canyon. If we had, we would have seen that this particular route closes on November 30. Our rim trail hike was only supposed to be 2 miles, but ended up being 4 since we had to hike back to the village.

Grand Canyon, landscape on road night by Lauryn Neas

Have a drink at the bar in the evening

The Bright Angel Lodge where we stayed had a great (small) bar in the main building. After the sunset on our last night, we decided to retreat to the bar for some warm, comforting, beverages. There’s really nothing else to do once night falls. Whether you like hot chocolate, espresso, cider, or something a bit stronger, they have you covered. It really hit the spot after a chilly sunset.

Grand Canyon, view from the West at sunrise at Powell Point by Lauryn Neas

Wake up early one morning for a sunrise (my favorite tip!)

Like I said before, our big hiking day wore us out. Thinking about waking up before the sun the next day was painful, but it was completely worth the exhaustion. The sunrise over the Canyon brought the most amazing colors to the landscape. It was almost unbelievable. We drove to Powell Point which gave us an amazing view at over 7,000 ft. above sea level.

If you’re considering a visit to the Grand Canyon in winter, research is the key to a successful trip. Be prepared, be cautious, be alert. But most importantly, don’t forget to stop every now and then to take in the immense beauty that is in front of you. It truly is incredible!

Grand Canyon, view from a spot along the rim of the Canyon by Lauryn Neas

If you want read more by Lauryn Neas click on Letravel12

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