The South Rim is open year-round, and winter hikes into the canyon might start in ice and snow, making trails treacherous, before leading into pleasant low-desert temperatures along the Colorado River. Trails may be snow-covered down to the Redwall Formation (roughly one third to halfway from rim to river)—but with crampons or snow cleats to negotiate icy sections, winter hiking offers solitude and quiet; clear air; beautiful sunrises and sunsets, due to the lower angle of the sun; and plenty of wildlife-watching.
The park website (www.nps.gov/grca) has current weather information as well as valuable trail-specific information about typical winter conditions. Backcountry updates are posted online, and notices about current trail conditions and closures are available as an RSS feed. For the latest information, contact the Backcountry Information Center (928/638-7875, 1-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri.).
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities are relatively limited on the South Rim. Snowfall varies from year to year, and due to Arizona’s longstanding drought, the last few winters have been on the dry side. The best location for finding adequate snow cover is the Grandview Point area on the East Rim, and the best time is mid-December–early March. The ponderosa forest shelters a winter population of juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, and Steller’s jays. Below the pines, deer and elk tracks trail through the snow.
Two miles east of Grandview Point, the Arizona Trail parking area offers access to the Kaibab National Forest (928/638-2443, www.fs.usda.gov/kaibab). If snow cover is adequate, and if you don’t mind breaking trail, you can head off into the forest in any direction, including historic Hull Cabin or the scenic Coconino Rim.
© Kathleen Bryant from Moon Grand Canyon, 5th Edition