If you didn’t know this before, hiking the grand canyon in the middle of winter IS possible. Our Grand Canyon hike on New Year’s Day was something I think everyone needs to experience at least once in their lifetime.
Why do this during the winter instead of summer you may ask? Because how many people get to say they spent the first of the year in the depths of the grand canyon with no one in sight??! Generally, summer is too hot for desert hikes like this one. I also prefer to avoid the crowds that the summer season tends to bring.
Experiencing this at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 was definitely one of those times.
In preparing for our trip, we made sure to check NPS for openings and closures with the weather. Crampons were a necessity. The trail was mostly ice and snow, so we needed good shoes and crampons for grip. I recommend REI or your local sporting goods store when looking for a pair.
My backpack essentials are always lots of water, hydration tablets, extra snacks, and an extra portable phone charger. During the end of December, expect temperatures of the mid-50s and low 30s. I highly recommend packing many layers and even throwing in some hand and feet warmers for added warmth.
We arrived at the Grand Canyon on New Year’s Day, just in time to spend our first sunset of the year looking out into this natural wonder. That night, we stayed at the Red Feather Lodge located 1 mile outside of the South Rim entrance to the park. The following morning, we drove the 9 miles to our closest entrance at the Grand Canyon visitors center.
At the center, we gathered the additional information we needed and learned what we could do with the time we had for our hike. We discovered that we could take the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden Campground and get there before nightfall. This hike was all downhill, very steep, and approximately 5 miles.
I will be honest and say the hike back up was pretty difficult. Our legs, calves, and feet were so sore – I have never been so excited to sit down! Of course, the fun and spontaneity of the adventure made up for any of the physical struggles.
My most memorable, and definitely my most favorite moment from this experience happened after we set up camp. As the sun was setting, we hiked another ½ mile out to a lookout point someone at our campground had told us about only moments prior. We were the only ones at the bottom of the canyon, but still above it enough to see the grandeur of it all. We watched the sunset from that spot, took some photos, listened to music, and enjoyed a beer or two. To say that I was in pure bliss mode while trekking back to camp in the dark with our headlamps is an understatement.
If you’ve been considering hiking the Grand Canyon during the winter, I recommend you stop considering and just DO IT. This adventure will be one you will talk about for years to come.
If you enjoy seeing my travels, take a look at my fall Yosemite experience.