When Is the Best Time
At last, you are finally planning a trip to one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon. Everyone should go there at least once in their life and see the massive rock formations, stunning views, and breathtaking wildlife. As much as we will talk about the scenery, descriptions and photos really do not even come close to capturing the magnitude of the Grand Canyon in all its natural glory.
The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and up to a mile deep with the Colorado River, creator of the canyon, at its bottom. So, you might be asking yourself, how should I even begin? Where should I go? There are essentially three different places to view the Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon West is owned by the Hualapai Native American Tribe and features the famed Skywalk but is less popular. Grand Canyon National Park encompasses almost all of the most well-known and photographed sections of the canyon. However, while the North Rim contains a visitor center, lodge, and campground, it is only accessible May 15th through October 15th due to winter weather.
The South Rim, featuring Grand Canyon Village has:
- Shorter hiking trails
- Plenty of restaurants
It is definitely the most tourist-friendly location at Grand Canyon National Park. Ninety percent of visitors only go to the South Rim, so it is what most people mean when they say that they “visited the Grand Canyon”. But, as we alluded to earlier, the Grand Canyon’s viewing areas are susceptible to a wide range of weather conditions. Which begs the question, when is the best time of year to visit the Grand Canyon? It really is a personal preference. Read on for a full season guide of the Grand Canyon, broken down to each month of the year, so you can decide when you want to book the trip of a lifetime!
When we think of Arizona, we typically imagine a tumbleweed bouncing across a dry, sun-scorched desert, weaving its way through cacti. That is not really the case at the Grand Canyon, at least at the rim. Sure at the bottom of the canyon, a mile down, it is always 10 to 20 degrees hotter than at the rim and thus, at that lower altitude, desert conditions prevail. But if you are not here for an intense all-day hike to the bottom and just want to take in the incredible sites and snap a couple photos for the Gram, you will quite enjoy the brisk but comfortable Spring weather at the South Rim. And while the crowds are starting to pick up, it is still not incredibly busy.
In March, winter slowly comes to an end and spring technically begins. Winter always tends to linger at upper altitudes, but you will start to see some descent temperature days towards the second half of the month; the monthly average comes out to 6℃ (43℉). As the temperatures get higher, so the crowds get larger: there are 503,284 visitors on average, most towards the latter half of the month. That still is only about two-thirds of the peak summer attendance, so you will not feel too crowded.
There is always the possibility of a winter storm or two posing a hazard during the first couple weeks of March, but it definitely starts to warm up as the sun sticks around more. It will be chilly, but if a light jacket is your scene, you have come to the right place. It also might be a bit windy. The temperature difference between the rim and the bottom factors in quite nicely here: if you want to head down to Phantom Ranch, for instance, it will be a nice 22℃ (72℉).
Rafting in the river starts up in March, but the water is still a little cold. If you bank on March but it is still too cold to your liking, check out all the different companies that offer helicopter tours from Grand Canyon National Park Airport in Tusayan.
In April, the Grand Canyon is transitioning from the end parts of winter into full on spring. It is an excellent time to go, as average temperatures at the South Rim are 11℃ (52℉). The number of average monthly visitors is technically one of the highest of the year at 549,416, but that number is heavily inflated by families on Spring Break during the beginning of the month. Unless you have kids, (or do not mind pulling them out of school), the second half of April is significantly quieter. It is one of the best times of the year to go just about anywhere if you do not like the crowds: after Spring Break but just before the summer rush.
In the first week or two of April, there is the likelihood of a few snowstorms, but these generally taper off as the month goes on and the temperatures gradually stay consistently warm. Not hot and just a little cool means this is a great time to explore one of the park’s many hiking trails without any significant risk of overheating. The sun is a big factor though: while it will be nice and toasty mid-day, it can still be very cold overnight. If your hiking excursion includes an overnight, bring a thick sleeping bag and plenty of gear to stay warm.
It’s a good idea to stay ahead of the curve and book your lodging early, especially if you decided on going during Spring Break:
- Grand Canyon Village hotels- convenient, but fill up really early
- Tusayan- If the park is already full for the time of the month you want to go, give this gateway community 7 miles south of the Rim a try.
- Williams- Town about an hour drive south if you do not mind the additional commute. Not to worry, though, the drive is quite scenic, and the town itself has a lot of popular name-brand hotels and fun nightlife along historic Route 66.
In May, spring is definitely here and summer is just around the corner. You probably will not need more than a light coat or hoodie, as the average temperature is 16℃ (61℉). There are 637,703 average monthly visitors in May. It is basically the opposite of April in terms of crowds though: most of that number is in the last two weeks of the month when colleges and southern schools are out on summer vacation. The beginning of the month essentially continues late April’s quiet trend.
It is still a great time for hiking but do not let the beautiful weather on the rim fool you: temperatures are already getting quite hot on the bottom. Make sure you bring plenty of water if you decide to head down there. If you are sticking to the rim, it will be perfect temperatures. Just keep in mind that it can be a bit windy, so be careful near the edge (very few ugly man-made fencing to be found here). It will still be a bit chilly overnight, with the possibility of frost in the morning.
As always, you will want to book your hotel room early, especially if you plan on going towards the end of the month. If you are interested, the North Rim opens on May 15th, so you can plan a rim to rim hike if you are the adventurous type. The park service recommends you not do this in one day and suggests lodging options in between. Driving around from the South Rim to the North Rim takes 4.5 hours each way, so keep that in mind before thinking of setting out on a day trip. Besides the thrill of tourist conquest, there also is not a lot to do up there compared to the South Rim.
Summer is by far the most popular time to visit the Grand Canyon. Most attractions are, of course, busiest in the summer since kids are out of school. However, the Grand Canyon specifically is most visited this time of year thanks to its pleasant weather: the high altitude means that the high temperature generally only reaches up to the 80s (27-32℃).
- All shuttles are up and running
- All trails are open
- Any other activity you can associate with the Grand Canyon is in full force (well, apart from snow-topped cliffs).
The North Rim, should you be interested, is fully functioning as well. (With its one lodge and few other places to stay nearby, you might want to book your room early if you are heading up there too.)
In June, summer has officially arrived at the Grand Canyon, with an average temperature of 21℃ (70℉). Kids are on summer vacation by now, or will be by the latter part of the month. As a result, 637,703 people visit the park on average.
June is also the driest time of year for the Grand Canyon, as the thunderstorms of mid to late summer have not really started yet. Also, keep in mind that temperature difference between the South Rim and the bottom. Unless you are really determined to make the trip down with plenty of water and an experienced guide, you may want to stick to the rim this time of year. Although a dry 21℃ may sound like a wonderful time to be outdoors, the desert bottom will be raging well over 38℃ (100℉). The dry heat is not as noticeable to the human body, making it particularly dangerous.
That heat, however, makes white water rafting in the Colorado River pretty refreshing. Sticking to the rim, everything is open if you are willing to brave the crowds. But the Grand Canyon is not exactly Disney World: you can move around and see the sights with relative ease, regardless of how many people are there. It is a very spread out park; the only time you might have to wait a few minutes is to catch the shuttle.
In July, summer is at its peak, with the average temperature reaching the highpoint of the year: 24℃ (75℉). Summer vacation is also in full swing for almost all kids in the United States and many around the world, meaning that the number of average monthly visitors swells up to 629,803.
Those temperatures probably mean you will be more than willing to avoid the sweltering bottom of the canyon and stay on the rim. The weather this time of year is absolutely perfect, save for the occasional mid-day thunderstorm. Like plenty of locations with this phenomenon, these storms can be intense and one must exercise caution when they spring up, because they usually do not last all day. When a storm occurs:
- Stay safe
- Check out the-
You will be back to the fresh air in no time.
The evenings can still get on the cool side, so if you go camping, you will certainly want to prepare with perhaps just a light windbreaker. That being said, this is the best time of year to consider sleeping under the stars at campgrounds just walking distance from the rim (maybe sit this activity out if you are a sleepwalker). The very minimal light pollution on New Moon days makes stargazing absolutely divine.
In August, summer rages on at the bottom while the high altitude rim stays quite pleasant. The average temperature for this month is a nice 23℃ (73℉). Even as kids from southern states head back to school in the mid-August, the first half of the month and great weather all around are more than enough to make up the difference in attendance. The number of average monthly visitors reaches its yearly maximum here of 744,826.
The weather in August is mostly a continuation of July, as summer keeps going. Our recommendation for hikes down into the canyon is the same as July and can be summarized as: it’s hot! If you are not a seasoned pro at hiking, do as all a favor and stay on the rim. There are plenty of activities to keep you occupied anyway throughout the South Rim region of the park. Though the risk of flash floods and thunderstorms pick up a bit this month, the weather is pristine the vast majority of the time.
Although it is always a joy, Grand Canyon Village is typically just a shuttle ride away this time of year from anywhere in the park. The town’s historic core is a National Historic Landmark, with plenty of incredible buildings to see like the:
- Look-Out Studio
- Buck O’Neil Cabin
- Grand Canyon Railroad Depot (if you did not already arrive there by train from Williams!)
Fall is a very interesting time of year at the Grand Canyon. All the kids are heading back to school, meaning there is a gradual but significant drop off in attendance. Although it never really gets that hot at the South Rim, temperatures still begin to cool as the high altitude environment gears up for the longer winter season. Also, the weather is definitely the most haphazard this time of year, featuring both late summer thunderstorms and early winter snow storms. Be sure to check the National Park’s Grand Canyon website for seasonal shuttle shutdowns. No matter what you plan, keep in mind that the North Rim closes for the season on October 15th.
In September, it is arguably the best time of year to head to the Grand Canyon:
- The average monthly temperature is still a gorgeous 19℃ (66℉)
- All summer activities and services are in full swing
- And yet all the kids are heading back to school
That means the average number of monthly visitors stays a bit high, but not as high as it would be during summer break: 615,783.
Besides the warm temperatures, the weather in September is mostly a continuation of the summer’s, with a tapering off occurring later in the month. The risk of midday rainstorms and thunderstorms is still relatively high at first, but it is never really enough to ruin your whole day. By the middle of the month, the wetter time of year ends and the dry seasons settle in.
The below-peak crowd size is definitely something you should take advantage of. There will be plenty of spots available for camping, as well as sleeping under the stars without getting too cold. If sleeping in a tent is not really your scene, this is one of the easiest (and cheapest) times of year to book a room in Williams, Tusayan, and even in the park itself.
In October, it is now undeniably Fall as cooler temperatures are here to stay. The average monthly temperature is now back to a crisp 13℃ (55℉). Most facilities remain open except for the North Rim, which closes on October 15th. With most families still not taking vacation in the early part of the school year, the number of average monthly visitors settles down to a nice 555,094.
Even as the temperatures on the South Rim are undeniably a bit lower than the summer time, they can still vary a great deal down by the river. You might want to hold off on your hike to the bottom if you are going in October, as it still might be as high as 38℃ (100℉) down there. By the end of the month it typically drops to about 16℃ (60℉) though, so that will definitely be your better bet.
Most things to do besides the North Rim are still open. However, the overnight temperatures on the South Rim start to drop. So if you go camping, bring warm clothes; sleeping under the stars takes some fortitude this time of year. Another important note: the Tusayan Shuttle Route (purple) between Tusayan and the South Rim closes on September 27th. So if you are still at one of those hotels, you will need to drive yourself in.
In November, it is still very much Autumn at the Grand Canyon, although you might have a surprise snowfall or two in the second half of the month. Average temperature drops to 7℃ (45℉) so there is always that chance it will dip below freezing here and there. If you like the colder part of Fall, this is definitely for you. Not to mention the drop off monthly attendance continues down to 408,794 as the holidays have not really started up yet.
The lower temperature means rafting is done for the season, but it is a great time to go hiking anywhere in the park:
The bottom of the canyon- It is pretty mild in November, should you want to make the trip.
Along the rim- The colder weather also keeps the huge crowds at bay, so you will have plenty of shoulder space when you are walking along the rim.
On the many trails throughout the park itself.
All of the shuttles except Tusayan are still up and running this time of year, but expect delays if wintry conditions arise.
Ah winter, the season you are probably most curious about. After all, how many pictures of the Grand Canyon have you seen that were not taken on a clear, dry day? It is a shame, because winter is quite a beautiful and unique time at the Grand Canyon. This is probably the best way to visualize the extreme altitude differences here, as snow dusts only the tops of the cliffs and the bottom (usually) stays clear.
In December, the transition is over and winter becomes entrenched at the Grand Canyon. The average temperature is only 2℃ (36℉). You might get a few good hiking days in early in the month. But by the end of the month, it is really only for the most committed. But there is always plenty to do at the rim. As a result, the Grand Canyon sees, on average, 369,041 visitors this time of year.
The walking paths adjacent to the edge receive plenty of sunlight when the sun is out, meaning the cold is less of a concern on those days. Snowfall definitely picks up though, so expect slick conditions and temporary road closures. Stick to the shuttles with their more experienced drivers if you can:
- Village Route (blue)- available all year
- Kaibab Route (orange)- available all year
- Hermit Road (red) Shuttle- stops on November 30th
December also means Christmas, which makes spending it with your family at the Grand Canyon extra special. The park is even open on Christmas Day, so you will be able to stay during the entire winter break and enjoy the hotels’ cackling fireplaces and the festive atmosphere. If you are coming in from Williams, the Polar Express Train Ride is a must.
In January, winter continues along at full freeze at the Grand Canyon, with the average temperature reaching the yearly low of just 1℃ (34℉). If you do not mind the cold, you will enjoy having the place practically to yourself, as the number of monthly visitors drops to a yearly low of 257,366 on average.
Snow at the Grand Canyon offers a unique photo opportunity that is not available the rest of the year. It is a hilly, mountain environment even on the South Rim though, so roads might get treacherous during a bad storm. Be safe. The temperature difference down at the bottom, however, makes a lukewarm hike pretty doable.
As long as a room is available, it might be a good idea to stay in the park itself rather than one of the other towns. If it does snow, there will be plenty of fascinating indoor activities within walking distance or just a shuttle ride away:
Hopi House- fun for shopping
Restaurants- feature views you literally don’t have anywhere else
Yavapai Museum of Geology- Ever wonder why the canyon has all those different shades of red, orange, and brown? You will certainly want to give this a visit. Offerings include:
The history of the Grand Canyon going back millions of years
One of the best vantage points on the South Rim
In February, the Grand Canyon is still in glorious Winter, with no sign of Spring quite yet. The average monthly temperature sits at 4℃ (39℉). If you like the winter, you can’t beat the Grand Canyon this time of year. The average amount of monthly visitors is still near January’s low, at 265,949.
The weather also mirrors that of January, with the occasional snow storm. The Grand Canyon receives, on average 50-100 inches (1.3-2.5 meters) of snow per year. The wind is surprisingly not too bad this time of year, but it is not uncommon for temperatures to plunge below freezing.
Perhaps the best advantage of coming to Grand Canyon when it resembles a winter wonderland is the ease in booking rooms. The lighter crowd means you do not have to book as far in advance (though we would at least advise taking a look sooner than later). Even Phantom Ranch cabins are relatively easy to book, not to mention they are heated. Though that will not be as critical as you think, as the temperatures at the bottom stay pretty mild even in February.
Please check the monthly weather with temperatures and precipation here: South Rim Monthly Averages. Remember to bring rain gear, regardless of the season.