Many travelers and explorers spend the Christmas holiday at a National Park. The Grand Canyon National Park is no exception. While the North Rim of the Park is closed for the winter season, the South Rim of the National Park is open 356 days a year. The South Rim park entrance is in Tusayan, AZ. The holidays offer a unique National Park Christmas experience to delight any guest! Here are some reasons why the winter break is a great time to visit and additional ideas of things to do on a National Park Christmas vacation at Grand Canyon.
With over five million visitors a year, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is busy and crowded. The winter, in general, offers fewer crowds. In particular, the Christmas holiday is rather quiet. Travelers who fear the colder weather will stay away. And many folks simply stay home or visit family during the holidays instead of exploring.
Good Hotel Deals
Find winter hotel deals at the South Rim and Tusayan for up to 40% off during the holidays. The El Tovar is a popular lodge because of its unique location, historical significance and rooms with a view. In addition, the El Tovar restaurant, known for offering dishes featuring regional ingredients, is also open during the holidays and offers Christmas Day dining options (reservations recommended). There are other nice accommodations at the South Rim and you do not have to stay at the El Tovar to make meal reservations.
Holiday Decorations and Festive Atmosphere
The hotels and restaurants are festive during the holidays. Fires crackle in the lodge fireplaces and the hearths are trimmed with red bows. See streams of garland drape the lobbies, trees adorned with ornaments, strands of beautiful lights and maybe snow!
The South Rim sits at about 6,800’ elevation, so it is not uncommon to have snow on the ground over the Grand Canyon National Park Christmas Holiday. Have you ever seen the Grand Canyon blanketed with a white veil of snow? It is breathtaking! In addition, the snow on the floor of the Ponderosa pine forest is a peaceful addition to the experience.
The Polar Express Train Ride
The Grand Canyon Railway runs back and forth between Williams, Arizona, and the South Rim train depot. During the holidays, take the Polar Express Train Ride. The Polar Express takes participants to the North Pole where Santa and his reindeer await your arrival! Be sure to make a reservation in advance as this experience books up – especially the closer it gets to Christmas.
Hiking (Proceed With Caution)
If you are physically fit and an experienced hiker, then it might be possible to take advantage of hiking opportunities. It is important to keep in mind that the South Rim has an average elevation of about 6,800 feet (2,072 meters). In addition, it is winter, so consequently the weather can be rather extreme at times. Visitors may experience snow, icy roads, icy trails and maybe even road closures. Be very cautious of steep drop offs and slippery conditions. If you are at the Canyon during a snowstorm, the view is likely obstructed by clouds and snow.
But December temperatures range with an average daytime high of 43 degrees and low in the 20’s (6 degrees C to -7 degrees C). If the weather is 40 degrees and sunny, and if the trails are NOT covered in snow and ice, the winter is a great time to hike the Bright Angel Trail. Maybe even hike all the way to the bottom of the Canyon and experience much milder temperatures. However, be forewarned, as the weather changes quickly and you could find yourself hiking unprepared in dangerous conditions if a snowstorm approaches. Please check the weather, prepare for all conditions and talk to a ranger before hiking in the Grand Canyon.
Lots Of Other Things To Do During Your Holiday Vacation
There is a plethora of book stores and gift shops for last minute shopping or to pick out a Grand Canyon National Park souvenir ornament! It’s also a great time to shop the clearance racks at the gift shops. You can often find end of the season retail deals.
Also, the scenic and historic Hermit Road is open to private vehicles. This means you take your own vehicle to the scenic overlooks such as Hermit’s Rest and Pima Point. There you find some of the best views of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. If you look closely, you might even spot a raft trip. Commercial raft outfitters, like Arizona Raft Adventures, do not run expeditions during the winter months due to extreme weather conditions and the National Park regulations. However, you might see a privately operated raft trip still making the brave journey down the frigid Colorado River.
Here are a few additional ideas of things to do in the winter:
- Attend free ranger programs
- Watch the park orientation film at the Visitor’s Center
- Take a mule trip into the Canyon
- Walk the Trail of Time and visit the Yavapai Museum of Geology
- Climb the Desert View Watchtower
- Visit the Kolb Studio
- Explore the Tusayan Ruin and Museum
- Stop at a photo hot spot
- Go to a show at the Grand Canyon Imax Theater in Tusayan
A Vacation In The Making
With all the amazing things still happening in the winter at the Grand Canyon, there are a few things that you cannot do during a winter vacation. The bicycle rental shop is closed for the season. The campground is also closed. Finally, there are no commercial whitewater or smoothwater raft trips available.
While the weather might not be 70 degrees and sunny, you can see there are many things that make this vacation idea a unique experience and there is plenty to keep you busy during a Grand Canyon National Park Christmas vacation.
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We will be coming there end of December if the weather permits mule rides how much does it cost per person
Hi Peggy, you’ll want to reach out to Xanterra Parks & Resorts for the mule ride details. They’re the ones who reserve that adventure. Have fun while you’re here!
We’ll be driving from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon while we’re there at Xmas time. We’d like to travel to the Hoover dam and then to the west rim. Will anything be open there at that time?
Hi Jodie, we don’t work specifically in that area, so we’re not completely sure either. I would imagine that everything around that area is open all year round though. They’re usually state parks, so you could likely contact the Nevada State Park Service to see if they have any insight. I’m sure there’s a website for Hoover Dam that you could look into as well. As for the West Rim, that is with the Hualapai Indian Reservation, and I also believe they run year-round. You can look up West Rim Hualapai Tours online, and contact them with any questions.