Bunny Visits Grand Canyon in Winter
Bunny was excited to finally visit the Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, while she was in Arizona this March.
Although the Grand Canyon can be visited on a whirlwind tour from Las Vegas or other nearby places, Bunny wanted to explore it in peace and so she reserved a two-night stay in a lodge right inside the park.
She was aware that the weather in March could be a bit chilly but she was not quite prepared for the Arctic conditions she encountered at the Grand Canyon. Read about Bunny’s experience below.
The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is one of those iconic sites you just have to see in the US. The scale of it is difficult to comprehend without being there in person, Bunny says.
The official figures stand as follows: the length of the canyon is 446km, the width is up to 29km and, most impressively, the depth averages 1,6km. You do feel quite small standing on the South Rim, taking in all the scenery around you…
Visiting in the Grand Canyon in Winter
The Grand Canyon welcomes more than 4,5 million people annually. Most of them visit during the warmer weather even though the Grand Canyon is open year-round.
The Grand Canyon National Park (established in 1919) can be visited either on the South or the North Rim of the canyon. Adventurous and fit travelers can also hike to the bottom of the canyon but this is not an activity for most visitors.
Services at the South Rim are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. More than 90% of visitors to the Grand Canyon visit the South Rim only. The North Rim is not open for visitors in winter. In fact, the roads leading to it are closed to vehicles between 1 December and 15 May.
There are two obvious perks when visiting the Grand Canyon in winter time: you can enjoy reduced rates at the lodges and suffer fewer crowds. Not a bad deal for braving a little winter chill, Bunny thought…
Bunny’s Two Night Stay at the Grand Canyon
Since Bunny visited in winter time, she went to the South Rim. There are two entrances to the Grand Canyon South Rim: South and East. Bunny arrived via the East Entrance. Although this made the journey from Sedona a bit longer, it was a more picturesque introduction to the canyon. It was also a quiet arrival as the Bunnies were the only ones at the East Entrance gate on arrival. No queues there!
The other option, South Entrance, is more popular and can get very busy, particularly in summer time. In fact, when leaving the park two days later, the Bunny’s observed a long line of cars queuing to get in at the South Entrance.
Arriving from the East, Bunny could gradually take in the scenery and stop at the scenic lookouts on the way to the Grand Canyon Village, the de facto hub of the park’s facilities and services. The first view point after the entrance is the lovely Desert View Watchtower. This is where Bunny got her first glimpse of the canyon and the winter chill covering the area.
Thanks to Bunny’s America the Beautiful annual pass which she had purchased earlier in her trip, she did not have to pay the Grand Canyon National Park’s entrance fee (30 USD per car). If you plan to visit three or more national parks or national monuments within the next 12 months, the America the Beautiful annual pass can save you a lot of money.
There are only a handful of lodges inside the Grand Canyon National Park. They often book up months in advance so be sure to reserve early if you want to stay inside the national park.
Staying inside the park is worth it, particularly if you are keen on getting photos at sunset or sunrise. Visiting in winter helps your chances of actually securing a room for your visit as the crowds are much smaller and thus demand for rooms much lower.
However, one problem is that accommodation inside the park resembles a 70s-style summer camp, Bunny says. And you pay dearly for the privilege.
As Bunny visited in March, which was the low season, the prices were tolerable but the choice was very limited. The only accommodation still available inside the Grand Canyon National Park was the Maswik Lodge. It would not have been Bunny’s first choice but it was (at least) warm and reasonably clean, although the room itself had certainly seen better days.
Free Shuttle Bus
If you manage to grab accommodation inside the Grand Canyon National Park, one great benefit is the ability to easily get to and from your lodge. There is a free shuttle bus system on the South Rim that connects the different lodges as well as the Village, the visitor centre, the parking and the series of scenic canyon overlooks along the Rim.
Bunny found the shuttle bus very convenient. During the most wintery months (Dec-Feb), you are also allowed to take your own car on the Hermits Rest Route, but during the rest of the year the park shuttle is your only way of visiting the scenic lookouts to the west of the Village.
Bunny enjoyed alternating between hiking and the shuttle bus on the Hermits Rest Route. The hikes (a series of rim walks between the scenic overlooks) were reasonably short and easy and the shuttle was very reliable and frequent, running about every 15 minutes.
The scenery at the Grand Canyon is, of course, absolutely gorgeous. You have endless vistas of beautiful layers of rock, reaching the age of two billion years at the bottom of the canyon.
The dusting of snow Bunny experienced during her visit made the canyon even prettier, creating an interesting contrast between the ancient red rocks and the fresh pure white snow.
Be safe and stay behind the railings, Bunny says! The warnings are there for a reason. Three visitors died at the Grand Canyon within a month of Bunny’s visit.
Because of the weather during her visit, Bunny didn’t even consider any serious hiking of the Grand Canyon. She was happy with her short rim walks between the scenic outlooks on the South Rim.
Out of curiosity, she ventured a little ways down the Bright Angel Trail but the conditions were too icy, cold and thus dangerous, so she turned back pretty soon.
In fact, judging from the tone and amount of warning signs, hiking down to the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon and back in one day at any time of the year seemed potentially dangerous. Bunny is not sure she’d have the required stamina even in ideal conditions to complete the trek.
Places of Interest
The Grand Canyon National Park is huge and can seem overwhelming, especially if you don’t have a lot of time. Here are the places of most interest, in Bunny’s humble opinion.
Grand Canyon Visitor Center
The Grand Canyon Visitor Center is a good place to start your visit. Bunny enjoyed watching the 20-minute short film Grand Canyon - A Journey of Wonder that is played at regular intervals at the Visitors Center. She also received some useful information about the trails as well as recommendations for the best sunset and sunrise spots.
Yavapai Geology Museum
Yavapai Geology Museum offers excellent canyon views through large windows and some shaded, warm space during a winter visit. Informative displays explain and illustrate the geology of the Grand Canyon National Park. There is also a cool miniature canyon inside the museum.
Perched on an enviable position on the South Rim, Kolb Studio was the home and studio of the Kolb brothers, Emery and Ellsworth, who were early explorers and developers of the Grand Canyon. Today, the studio houses a small but interesting museum (free of charge) and a gift shop.
Tovar Lodge, opened in 1905, is a famous, historical lodge inside the national park. Its iconic dining room gets good reviews but requires advance reservations, so Bunny didn’t bother. Instead, she enjoyed a sunset Margarita at Tovar’s lounge where visitors are served on a first come, first served basis. Bunny must admit that she found the lounge a little underwhelming.
If you can get a room at Tovar Lodge, this is still the best place to stay inside the national park, Bunny says - and not just because the prickly pear Margaritas were so delicious.
Bunny wasn’t overly impressed with the Grand Canyon’s restaurant scene so she was pleased to find Market Plaza’s Market & Deli for their decently priced pizza and the “General Store”, which had a good selection of groceries and alcohol for an in-room picnic.
Things to Know in Advance
- Accommodation options inside the national park are modest. Think 70s-style motel rooms with carpeted floors and rusty shower heads.
- It gets very dark at night. Whether you are walking or driving, be extra careful not to run into anyone or get run into.
- It can be really, really cold in winter. Testament to this is that services at the Grand Canyon North Rim are not even open in the winter months.
- The food mostly sucks but there is a reasonably well-stocked grocery shop in the plaza. There, you can secure all the necessary ingredients for an in-room picnic if you want to avoid paying extra for sup-par food in the restaurants.
- The shuttle bus system works quite well. You can hit all the major viewpoints without using your own car or having to wait long.
- There is no single spot or viewpoint that you “need” to see. The canyon is immense and there are wonderful photo opportunities almost everywhere along the South Rim.
- The night sky is amazing. If it hadn’t been so bloody cold, Bunny would have been outside half the night, trying to capture the multitude of stars twinkling in the sky.
- There are mule deer all over the park. So cute! Bunny was surprised to see wildlife in such quantities given the popularity of the park.
- Free, spring-fed drinking water is available at a number of locations around the lodges and other facilities. Bring a refillable water bottle and drink away.
- Wi-Fi can be an issue. Don’t expect a fast and reliable service as it’s more of a hit and miss situation.
If you have a chance, you should absolutely visit the Grand Canyon in winter time, Bunny says. You will be fine as long as you bring long underwear, a hat, gloves and windproof clothing. Bunny herself, prepared as always, had none of these things and so suffered the consequences.
You should also adjust your expectations regarding the accommodation and meals, Bunny says. Nature is the highlight here. Head for Vegas afterwards to enjoy other pleasures of life.