Grand Canyon in December

Grand Canyon National Park in December is a great place to visit. With excellent views and plenty of nearby locations to stay at, you’ll want to add the Grand Canyon to your national parks travel list. Our travel tips and advice are essential for providing the best trip possible in December.

To give you the most helpful tips, we have visited Grand Canyon National Park frequently in the last few years.

Make sure to read everything about the Skywalk (West Rim) in December at the end of this article.

Even with the colder temperatures, we recommend traveling to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in December. The fewer number of visitors combined with the snowy landscapes far outweigh the lower temps and snow. With our tips in this article, you’ll be able to explore Grand Canyon National Park with confidence during this month.

Please grab the brand new Lonely Planet Grand Canyon Guide (via Amazon) before you visit in December:

Weather in December

Snow is common in December

Even though the Grand Canyon is considered a warm destination, you’ll find colder weather here in December.

The average high temperature in Grand Canyon National Park is 45°F during December in the daytime. At night, the temperatures stay in the mid-teens. Snowfall ranges from 2.4”-4.3” throughout the month.

Expect the Grand Canyon in December weather to be quite cloudy at this time of the year. This is beneficial because it shields you from the sun usually encountered during the rest of the year.

Early December Weather

  • Average High: 46°F (early December)

Examples from December 1 (average temps):

  • Morning  (8 AM): 26°F
  • Noon (12 PM): 43°F
  • Afternoon (2:30 PM): 46°F
  • Evening (6 PM): 35°F

Early December brings average high temperatures around 46°F in the Grand Canyon (South Rim). However, please keep in mind that the mornings and the evenings are a lot colder.

Snow and views: In the South Rim, snowfall is lighter during the first half of December. If you head to the Grand Canyon during this time, there’s a chance you may find the trails without snow or ice.

We experienced the best views in early December when there was a light dusting of snow on the canyon.

Mid-to-Late December Weather

  • Average High: 42-43°F (December 11-31)

Examples from December 22 (average temps):

  • Morning  (8 AM): 22°F
  • Noon (12 PM): 39°F
  • Afternoon (2:30 PM): 41°F
  • Evening (6 PM): 33°F

It will become noticeably colder from mid-December onwards (usually around December 11).  Besides cooler temps and more snow, you’ll find the days are shorter near the end of this month, with the shortest day being December 20. The humidity is relatively low at this point, even with the snowfall.

Recommended Tours from Las Vegas in December

If you are planning to visit the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas, we recommend at least one of the tours from above. We did all of them and loved every minute. They take care of everything. You might want to check out our Las Vegas in December guide as well.

Does It Snow in December in the Grand Canyon?

Yes, it does snow in the Grand Canyon. Late December offers the largest amount of snow. Keep this in mind when planning your trip here, as it will include driving in the snow.

When we visited between mid- and late-December, we had snow every time in the Grand Canyon. We loved going in early December as sometimes trails were free of snow. However, late December is equally intriguing if you don’t mind the sometimes heavier snowfall.

Grand Canyon Map | South Rim & North Rim

We bought the NatGeo Map (via Amazon), as it is essential, even for short and easy hikes. It’s reliable, weatherproof, and an accurate map for most of the park’s regions. Even if you’re only visiting for 1-2 days in December, we highly recommend bringing this map.

How Busy Is Grand Canyon in December?

Mather Point – South Rim in December

December at the South Rim is one of the least busy months of the year due to its chilly temperatures and potential for snow. Few visitors are willing to brave the weather at this time, making it easy to avoid large crowds of people.

That’s one reason we always preferred visiting in December: The extremely low crowds.

 

Accommodation Booking



Booking.com

Where to stay? The most comfortable option is to book a hotel or lodge in the park in Grand Canyon Village. However, it’s often difficult as rooms sell out quickly. The second best option is Tusayan Village. You can get to Grand Canyon South Rim from Tusayan:

  1. Summer Option: Via shuttle (Tusayan Route). It runs from late May (Memorial Day) to early September (Labor Day).
  2. Winter Option (December): Via car (a short 15 minutes drive): Google Maps Route Tusayan – Grand Canyon South Rim Parking Lot.

Tip: Use the deals finder above from booking.com or this link: Tusayan – Grand Canyon Hotel Deals (via booking.com – price match! Sort by star rating and price)

Winter Holidays at Grand Canyon National Park

There is an increase in visitors during the holiday season, spanning from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve. During this time, you’ll find more tourists heading here during their holiday break.

Don’t fret; even with the additional travelers, the crowds are not that bad during December. However, park rangers recommend arriving before 10 AM in the winter holidays to avoid potential holiday crowds.

Christmas Eve/Day and New Year’s Eve tend to be slower than the rest of the holiday week. It is more likely that most people will be enjoying these holidays inside at an event or party than at the GCSR (Grand Canyon South Rim).

What to Wear in December?

Wear multiple layers for hiking or warm clothing sightseeing when visiting Grand Canyon National Park in December. Pack thermal underwear, thicker pants, a vest as mid-layer, a warm coat, and waterproof boots.

Depending on the activities you plan on participating in, your outfit suggestions will change.

What to Wear | Sightseeing

You can pack much lighter for sightseeing as chances are you’ll be out during the day with higher temperatures. Bring thicker pants like jeans along with closed-toed shoes or boots to avoid cold feet or to expose feet to snow. A long sleeve shirt and a jacket to keep you warm.

Winter Coat: Even if you don’t plan any hiking tours, you will probably start your sightseeing trips in the morning when it is very cold. Early morning temperatures are around or below freezing in December. This means a winter coat is necessary to keep you warm enough, especially until noon. It doesn’t have to be the thickest one, though.

If it gets warmer on a sunny day, you can, of course, take off your jacket in the afternoon.

While the weather is typically cloudy in December, we often experienced sunny days as well. Bring a cap to wear on days like this to avoid too much sun exposure.

What to Wear | Hiking

In December, winter hiking in Grand Canyon requires a long list of items to wear, as you’ll need to be prepared for large temperature variations. Early morning and after the sun has set, you’ll need a thick jacket, hat, gloves, and potentially even a scarf. Of course, you will need thick pants/multiple layers of pants and waterproof hiking boots as well.

BASE LAYER

Staying warm and dry in December is essential at the South Rim when hiking. Wear a base layer that can breathe and dry quickly. We recommend lightweight synthetics or wool-based underwear.

MID LAYER 

Bring either a mid-weight base layer or a fleece layer. You can also use down-vests.

During the day, with the exertion of the hike, you may find yourself needing to shed a few layers to stay at a comfortable temperature. Consider wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt and bring or wear a sweater under your jacket to wear during the warmer parts of the day.

Recommended Hiking Gear

We recommend bringing hiking boots with a good grip on the bottom to avoid slipping if the trail is icy. We opt for crampons!

You’ll also want to include trekking poles to help you get through the terrain. Other items you should consider bringing are:

  • Extra food and water
  • Thick blankets
  • Radios and additional batteries
  • Matches
  • Flashlight

Driving in December

Driving to the South Rim

💡 Road closures are unlikely at the South Rim in December.

However,  in case heavier snowfall occurs in the second half of the month can cause delays while the snow is being removed from the road. Regardless, drive carefully at any time.

Within the Park
Hermit Road is only accessible by Shuttle Bus from March to November. However, in December, it’s open to the public. You can drive it in your own car during winter.

The advantage of a December visit is the accessible Hermit Road for private vehicles (from December to February). From spring to fall, only the park shuttles are allowed to use it.

In general, the South Rim viewpoints are located along two roads: Desert View Road and Hermit Road.

During or after a snowfall, the main roads in and out of South Rim will be cleared with priority. This means it could take some time until other roads and walkways may take are free of snow. This means driving can be more challenging and may take longer during or after difficult weather conditions, especially in late December. Plan ahead of time!

Things to Do in December

Early December Sunrise

Believe it or not, there are many exciting activities to participate in while visiting Grand Canyon in December. Below are a few options of activities that you can partake in.

You might want to check out our guide about the Grand Canyon in February as well. Just in case you are looking to visit during another winter month.

Hiking

Hiking, of course, is at the top of the list of activities to participate in while visiting the South Rim. It’s an activity that is performed year-round and offers gorgeous views of nature. This is an activity for those well-versed with hiking as the trails can be slippery and snowy during December.

Those who decide to hike during this month will be rewarded with fewer people on the trails. It’s important to remember to dress appropriately for your hike and ensure you give yourself extra time on the trails due to potential ice.

Leave earlier than you think you should in the morning to avoid hiking in the darkness. Below are some hikes you can take in December. Again, these are recommended for experienced hikers.

  • Rim Trail
  • Bright Angel Trail
  • South Kaibab Trail
Cross-Country Skiing

You’ll need to head to the Kaibab National Forest to enjoy cross-country skiing in the South Rim. Other areas of the South Rim are not fit for this activity.

Luckily, Kaibab Forest primes specific trails to allow for cross-country skiing. This provides for easy-to-follow trails for everyone.

Make sure to check ahead as there may not always be sufficient snow for skiing. You can check on the Kaibab National Forest’s website or call for this information.

Riding A Helicopter

Helicopter tours are available all year long at the Grand Canyon. You’ll want to experience the views during December to see the snow dusting the canyon.

While there are multiple tours available, this Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour is one of the best. You’ll be flown over the South Rim and Kaibab National Forest during a 45-minute ride.

Watching the Sunrise

Yes, you can watch the sunrise each month at the Grand Canyon. However, the combination of fewer visitors and the white snow will provide an unforgettable experience in December. If you’re heading out for a hike, leave a few minutes early so you can stop and properly enjoy the sunrise.

The sunsets during this month are also breathtaking. If you’re not hiking, you can catch a shuttle later in the day or drive to a scenic area to enjoy the sun rising or setting.

Openings and Closures in December

Mather Point in early December
South Rim

The South Rim, the most visited area, is open year-round. There are no closures during the holidays or weekends here, making it the best spot to visit. National Park passes will need to be purchased to enter the GC – you can buy these ahead of time online.

There are a few facilities that are closed during this month at the South Rim. For example, Hermit Road is closed during this time and only allows private automobiles until the end of February.

North Rim

The North Rim is closed during the winter. Each year, this area is shut down from December 1 to May 14. The roads are closed as well, so there is no access during this time.

Shuttle Services in December

Most shuttle services at the South Rim are available in December, except for the Hermit Road bus and the Tusayan Route.

Hermit Road is closed for shuttles from December to February.

Other shuttle services include:

Village Route

This route runs throughout the year. The schedule changes during the different seasons, so you’ll need to check the park website for an official schedule. However, the below timelines are an excellent place to start.

Rides run from an hour before the sun rises to 9 pm each day. From 8 am to 6 pm, buses run every half hour. Before and after, buses run every 15 minutes.

This route will take you between the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and the local lodges. It’s also an excellent way to reach the Shrine Of Ages, Mather Campground, and Bright Angel Trail. Each stop offers beautiful views of the canyon as well.

Kaibab Rim Route

The Kaibab Rim Route is also available to use in all seasons. As with all shuttles in the area, the hours will vary depending on the season. You can use the below times as a guide for December visits.

Starting at one hour before sunrise and running until 6:30 am, the orange route picks up passengers every half an hour. After 6:30 pm and until an hour after the sun sets, the pick-ups become more frequent at 15-minute intervals.

Take Kaibab Rim (Orange) Route to the east to get to South Kaibab Trailhead. The shuttle can be caught at Yaki Point or Yavapai Geology Museum. You’ll find this to be the shortest bus route, with a bus traveling eastbound and westbound.

Hikers’ Express Shuttle

The Hikers’ Express Shuttle runs for the whole year. This bus service is also known as the early morning shuttle. These are the least frequent bus rides, with two available each morning in December.

During December, the Hiker’s Express picks up passengers at 8 am, or 9 am only. There are also only four stops on this route, so you’ll want to double-check that your intended destination is listed.

This shuttle leaves from Bright Angel Lodge and stops at Backcountry Information Center, Visitor Center Shuttle Bus Terminal, and finishes at South Kaibab Trailhead. Keep in mind, this is a one-way trek, and you’ll need to find a different route to get back later in the day after hiking.

Hermit Road Route

This route is also known as the red route. As noted above, this service does not run from December 1 to February 28 each year.

Is Grand Canyon Skywalk Open in December?

Yes, the Grand Canyon Skywalk is open in December. As with most attractions, the Grand Canyon Skywalk has differing hours in the winter. You can visit this glass-bottom attraction from 9 am to 6 pm each day in December.

Location: The Skywalk is not located at or near the South Rim. It’s in the Grand Canyon West area and would take about 4 hours (over 200 miles) to drive from the South Rim. It’s much faster driving from Las Vegas for example (2 hours). However, if you’d rather visit the Skywalk than the South Rim from Las Vegas, we recommend a hassle-free tour:

 

December is one of the best months to visit the Skywalk as crowds are minimal due to the cold temps. You’ll be able to enter the attraction pretty quickly. You can purchase tickets at the entrance or online for a cost of $20 per person.

Heads up, personal belongings (including cameras and phones) are not allowed on the Skywalk. If you want a photo, you’ll need to purchase an additional service from a photographer onsite. Lockers are available to place your items in while you are walking on the Skywalk.