The Grand Canyon in winter is gorgeous and with an average 5 million visitors a year, we did not have to deal with the mass crowds of summer – it was the perfect time to visit!
Honestly, this nps.gov link has all the needed information for your visit to the Grand Canyon.
As always, this trip was planned last minute; we had flown into Phoenix, Arizona that morning. The driving time showed it was only a 3 1/2 hour drive north to the Grand Canyon. We were lucky to get a reservation at one of the Xanterra Hotels right inside the park. We thought we would be there in no time, but the drive was so amazing (details will be in a separate post) and the topography changed with every turn in the road, that we just had to stop along the way!
We could have used a week! We decided on a few places of interest and agreed we would be back another time to explore this great region. That being said – we were wayyyy behind schedule. As the sun was setting over the prairie we realized we were driving through the Navajo Indian Reservation. We found a radio station with Native American music – It was magical to look over the plains and listen to the tribal music.
Once the sunset, it was total darkness. Then we saw an old gas station up ahead, so we decided it would be a smart idea to fill up! There was an old hound dog laying guard on the front porch. Not only could you fuel without paying first, it had a little store with a bit of everything; from groceries, Native American handcrafts, saddles, salt licks for cows and pool tables, all in one small room. Love stumbling over places like this that are not in a tour book or on a map, just a great little stop along Route 89.
We missed the Desert View along Route 64, which was supposedly breathtaking, we just stared out into the darkness….. but we had just run out of time that day!
Well, we did final reach the park entrance, but the ranger had already left his station to go home for dinner! Without a park map – it was hard to navigate the dark roads. We drove in circles for quite a bit trying not to hit the wildlife that seemed everywhere while we looked for our lodge! We did eventually find the Maswik Lodge, nothing fancy, but affordable and walking distance to the rim. It had a pretty good food court and pizza pub in the main lodge building. It also had a water refilling station,they are located throughout the park to refill your water bottles.
We woke up the next morning to find deer and elk right outside our window. So cool.
The skies were blue, but once we opened the door, we got hit with a below freezing blast. We were quickly reminded it was winter and we were at 7,000 feet! Which might be one reason the park was not overcrowded! We bundled up and headed out.
First stop was the Visitors Center next to the Hopi House. We sat in on a Ranger talk. The Park Ranger gave a lively detailed recap of the history of the discovery of the canyon and some other interesting facts.
This is where we learned about the Jr Ranger Program that all the national parks have. The kids got activity guides and based on their age, certain things to look for and fill out. Then when it is completed you give it to a Park Ranger and the kids get a badge and certificate. So we went out with booklets in hand to explorer the Grand Canyon.
There were many places to stop along the well paved path to gather information
Photos can not do this natural wonder any justice. The vastness of the canyon is breathtaking and amazing.
Built in 1905, El Tovar sits right on the rim. It was super cozy, great food and service.
Keeping with our lucky streak – we booked a sunset tour out towards Hermits Rest.
Once again – these photos do no justice to the vivid colors of both the sky and canyon!
The next day we walked in the other direction, along the Bright Angel Trail. Even though we only walked a few miles in, it leads to the Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon after about a 7 1/2 mile hike.
Back up at the trailhead, there was the Kolb and Lookout Studios and the rustic Bright Angel Lodge, designed in 1935 with its historic lodge and surrounding cabins. It even still had the old fashion room keys, like a step back in time.
But it was time for us to go. Before we left the park, we revisited the Visitors Center with our completed booklets and the kids received their badges as Jr Rangers.
Just an little side note – Tusayan is your closest option to the Grand Canyon for lodging if you can not get into one of the Xanterra Hotels inside the park itself. It’s about 20-30 minute drive south, but Tusayan has zero charm.