In the winter season, shorter days, lower temperatures, and snowfall bring a slower pace to one of North America’s most popular national parks. At first thought, visiting the Grand Canyon in December may not seem ideal. However, many people actually find it a perfect month to avoid the heavy flow of tourists who flock to the canyon to experience the beauty of this natural wonder at other times.
That said, although there are some upsides, you have to prepare yourself for intense winter storms that may bring several inches of snow. Happily though, these rough weather days are usually balanced with sunny days that are ideal for walking along the rim or inside the canyon itself.
Cold air and a sprinkling of snow change the face of the columns and rocky formations sprouting from the floor of the canyon, transforming the landscape and giving you the opportunity to admire the site's unspoiled natural beauty in a different light.
With this in mind, tourists who want to go to the Grand Canyon in December will surely enjoy their visit. Even though winter weather conditions may lead to the closure of several of the North Rim facilities, the South Rim remains open to the public, and unique winter activities become available in all locations.
Of course, while it's enjoyable, you should take extra care when visiting the canyon in winter. December carries snowstorms and covers a lot of areas of the park with icy patches, so special caution is needed.
Why Should You Visit the Grand Canyon in December?
The Grand Canyon National Park is open every day of the year, although some sections are closed in winter. The South Rim stays open year-round, as long as the weather allows it.
There are a lot of reasons why you should consider going to the Grand Canyon at this time of the year. Here are a few of them:
It Is Less Crowded
You will barely find anybody at the Grand Canyon in December! The months of December, January, and February have by far the lowest numbers of visitors. Actually, according to the National Park Service, under 10% of the total annual visits take place within that 3-month period.
Of course, there might be a shorter line at the restaurants as well. But most importantly, the popular viewpoints aren’t crowded most of the day. And if you want to go on a hike on any of the national park's lesser-trekked trails, you might be able to avoid groups altogether.
Just make sure to prepare yourself for ice and snow. The roads could be very icy, particularly on the hills. The trails that face north retain ice and snow, so crampons are necessary for those who want to hike there.
The Air Is Clearer
While the Grand Canyon tends to be hazy during the summer season, early winter is the time of the year when visibility is at its best. On clear winter days, mountain summits over 200 miles away can easily be spotted from some of the viewpoints.
Nevertheless, although the visibility is generally better, you should be aware that total white-outs frequently happen during winter storms. Make sure to monitor blizzards, and cancel and reschedule your trip if you know it could get risky. As much as possible, have a flexible schedule for your Grand Canyon trip so you can adapt your plans to the conditions.
The Days Are Shorter
This means that sunset comes earlier and sunrise later. This might not seem like a great perk for most, but it's actually a terrific advantage for those who are into photography!
You will have more chances to see the beauty of the place in different light conditions, and more opportunities to capture the canyon at sunrise and sundown.
The Grand Canyon in December experiences longer light within a shorter time period, and the snow can also add an intense effect in your images. However, you need to be cautious not to outstay the daylight hours, as temperatures fall below zero most winter nights.
Just like at any time of the year, the Grand Canyon remains stunning in December. However, there are some amazing things that only the winter season can offer.
Other Things Worth Noting
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon and all of its tourist hotspots remain open in December. From that side of the canyon, anyone can engage in most of the activities available in the park year-round, including hiking, sightseeing, camping, and cycling. The accommodations and restaurants in the South Rim also remain open at this time of the year. Moreover, two of the four shuttle bus routes continue to operate as usual throughout December.
Good news: Aerial tours of the Grand Canyon, which are an incredibly popular way to take in this wonder (and for good reason!), also continue to operate in winter. So you won't have to miss out on this exhilarating, once-in-a-lifetime experience!
We recommend this top-reviewed, certified 45-minute scenic helicopter tour from the South Rim. Departing from Grand Canyon Airport at Tusayan, it will take you on a thrilling ride through many of the Canyon's highlights, including the Kaibab National Forest, the Painted Desert and Desert View Watchtower, Marble Canyon, and the Dragon Corridor. With reliable aircrafts and knowledgeable, friendly pilots, it's our favorite.
If you'd like to take in the Grand Canyon from above but have a slightly lower budget, a great alternative is the Discovery Air Tour. This is another bestselling tour of similar duration to the helicopter flight. The difference here is that you will ride on a small airplane instead, taking in scenic views of the Zuni Corridor, Imperial Point, the Confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers, the Kaibab National Forest, and more. At just $159, it's an amazing deal!
* Bookings will be refunded or can be rescheduled if flights have to be grounded due to the weather in December.
Book one of our recommended Grand Canyon aerial tours:
If you’re visiting the Grand Canyon in December, there is a risk that you will not get to see the North Rim, as its tourist facilities close in mid-October every year. However, you can still access the North Rim if you are planning to hike or ski through the park.
As you may expect, the weather can be pretty cool in December, even though the air normally starts to warm up as the afternoon approaches. Average temperatures range from almost 40°F down to 20°F on both rims of the canyon. Within the canyon, temperatures stay a little bit higher, usually averaging 57°F to 37°F in the month of December.
As the temperatures start dropping, snow normally falls on both rims throughout the month. However, snowfall inside the canyon is considerably less common.
Winter Safety Tips
If you are planning to visit the Grand Canyon in December, you should take heed of the icy paths and roads, and be aware that you may encounter road closures.
Although driving is allowed any time of the year in the South Rim, those venturing here under icy and snowy conditions in December must drive with caution, especially when making turns, accelerating, and decelerating. Leave a lot of space between you and other cars, and keep the low beams of your car on when it’s snowing heavily.
If you're planning to go on a hike, don't forget to pay attention to the weather forecast and the accessibility of the trail you choose. Make sure to wear enough layers of clothing and to pack extra food so you're prepared in the event of a delay or an emergency. It's also be a great idea to bring a sleep sack and useful hiking gear.
Going to the Grand Canyon in December is just as fun as in the summer season - if not more! Just make sure to gather all the information you can get in order to make your trip successful.
If you have any tips that we failed to mention in this article, make sure to share them in a comment below!