Visiting Grand Canyon National Park is absolutely one of the must-do items for anyone traveling in the Southwestern US. Witnessing the scale and beauty of the world’s premier canyon system should be a bucket list item for everyone. The Grand Canyon is a 277-mile-long, 6000-foot slice through the landscape of Northern Arizona. Sheer canyon walls drop precipitously down to the rolling waters of the mighty Colorado River. If you ever wanted to feel dwarfed and insignificant by a landscape, the vastness and scale of the Grand Canyon will certainly offer you that perspective.
As a 20-year veteran of guided hiking tours in the Grand Canyon, we are always asked about “the best time of year to visit Grand Canyon”. The honest answer is that there isn’t a time of the year that doesn’t provide its own advantages and beauty. Due to the sheer size and elevation gradient of the canyon, it is always going to be a great time for visiting our Four Season playground.
Best Grand Canyon Hikes in Winter:
Let’s begin with the least visited time of year, winter, when temperatures on the high elevation rims are experiencing true winter conditions, but the interior of the canyon is often perfectly beautiful. The average daytime high temperatures at Phantom Ranch, at the canyon floor, range from the mid-50’s Fahrenheit (12-14C) to mid-60’s (16-19C) during the heart of winter (December-February). For someone intent on exploring the splendor of the inner canyon, the winter months can be the ideal time for escaping to the bottom. However, it’s important to understand that winter hiking in Grand Canyon can bring highly variable conditions and it’s critical that backcountry visitors are prepared with clothing and equipment that will keep you safe and warm.
The other benefit to winter hiking in Grand Canyon is the lack of other visitors. Grand Canyon National Park averages over 6 million visitors throughout the year but very few of them visit during those winter months. If you would like to experience the park without the crowds, then this is your season. For the local population (and the guides), this is the secret season when we tend to head out for our personal backpacking trips. Even for those not looking to hike into the canyon, the winter is still a beautiful season to experience the contrast between snowfall on the rims against the range of colors descending to the bottom. It’s truly stunning and provides outstanding opportunities for photographers looking to capture this unique landscape.
Suggested Hikes: Bright Angel Loop, Winter Rim to Rim, Canyon Classic, Phantom Ranch
Best Grand Canyon Hikes in Spring:
Springtime in the park is that magical season when the desert awakens from its winter slumber and comes alive with wildflowers and cactus blooms. Average temperatures in March and April range from highs in the 60s and 70s (16-24C) at the bottom of the canyon and mid 50’s (13C) to low 70’s (22C) on the South Rim. This is one of the best times of the year for heading into the canyon for a backpacking trip. Even if the rims are still a little chilly, the inner canyon is mild and gorgeous. Spring Break in Grand Canyon is when tourism starts to pick up and you will see increased crowds. The North Rim remains inaccessible until mid-May but upon opening, the popular Rim to Rim hiking season begins. May is also when the inner canyon starts to heat up, bringing high temperatures into the 90s (32C).
Suggested Hikes: Hermit Loop, Grandview Loop, Deer Creek/Thunder River Loop, Rim to Rim (starting May 15th)
Best Grand Canyon Hikes in Summer:
Summer in Grand Canyon is peak season for visitors, especially along the North and South Rims where the weather is warm and beautiful. The South Rim, which sits around 7000 feet above sea level, averages highs from the 80’s (27-29C) to lows in the 50’s (10-12C) at night. The North Rim is slightly cooler and is the perfect Arizona summer escape, with daytime highs in the 70’s (21-25C) and the overnight lows near 50 (10C).
The elevation on the North Rim averages about 8000 feet and features one of the most beautiful mixed conifer and alpine forests in the state. Grand Canyon’s North Rim is simply the ideal destination if you’re visiting in the summer. While the interior of the canyon will remain consistently above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (over 38C), and potentially as high as 120, the North Rim forests and viewpoints can’t be beat in the summer.
July and August are Monsoon Season in the Southwest and the afternoons frequently bring spectacular thunderstorms, complete with short but torrential downpours, incredible rainbows, and stunning sunsets. Backpacking trips are still possible, but require a higher level of physical preparation and ability to adapt to the heat.
An overnight Grand Canyon hiking trip in the summer requires waking before sunrise and hiking during the cooler times of the day. During the heat of the day we like to find a creek or a bit of shade and enjoy some rest and relaxation. However, the Monsoons introduce an increased risk of flash floods in narrow canyons, so we encourage not planning a trip that requires extensive water hiking.
Suggested Hikes: Grand Canyon Explorer, North Rim Basecamp, Bryce Zion and Grand Canyon Tour, Rim to Rim
Best Grand Canyon Hikes in Fall:
Fall is the season that offers perhaps the most favorable weather for every part of Grand Canyon. It’s certainly the ideal time for backcountry exploration. High temperatures on the rims range from the 60’s to 70s (16-24C) while the bottom of the canyon is still warm, still reaching the 90’s (33-35C) in early to mid-September, but progressively dropping throughout the fall season. By November, the inner canyon sees highs dropping to the 60’s (16-21C) and lows in the mid to upper 40’s (8-10C).
September, October, and November are all wonderful times to plan overnight backcountry camping trips. The most popular month of the year is October, and the park’s backcountry office receives literally thousands of permit requests. You’ll see far less demand for November, when the inner canyon is still beautiful, with generally mild temperatures and dwindling crowds.
The fall is stunning on the North Rim as well, as the fall colors splash the Kaibab Plateau landscape with crimson and gold. The extensive groves of Aspen trees come alive and are a highlight for photography buffs. Some of the most magnificent photos of the Grand Canyon are in late September as the leaves change. But you need to time it just right, as the peak fall foliage can come and go within a matter of a week.
Suggested Hikes: Kanab Creek Adventure, Hermit Loop, Grand Canyon Complete, Deer Creek/Thunder River, Rim to Rim (through October)
In short, when determining when is the best time of year to visit Grand Canyon, there really isn’t a wrong season to visit this Natural Wonder of the World. With proper planning, Grand Canyon provides year-round opportunities to visit and explore its majestic landscape. For more information on planning or booking a Grand Canyon tour at any time of year, visit www.fourseasonguides.com.