Best Time to Visit the Grand Canyon, AZ

Written by Brad Lane
Feb 3, 2020
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Few other landscapes compare to the panoramic beauty of Grand Canyon National Park. Comprised of colorful canyon walls and inspiring a deep sense of awe, the enormous attraction of this national park in northern Arizona attracts approximately six million visitors every year. The activities you want to do and the crowds you want to avoid will help determine the best time of year to visit the Grand Canyon.

Visitor resources are on both the South Rim and North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Nearly 90 percent of visitors go to the South Rim for their Grand Canyon adventure, and a vast amount of these visits occur between June and August. Despite the bigger crowds, hotter temperatures, and sporadic thunderstorms, summer is a good time to go to the Grand Canyon if not just for the extended daytime hours.

While summer is the peak season to visit Grand Canyon National Park, much in thanks to summer vacation schedules and breaks in school, the spring (March – May) and fall (September - November) are often regarded as the best seasons to go. With far fewer crowds and cooler temperatures in the spring and fall, it's easier to enjoy lodging, hiking trails, and the surreal natural portrait at the canyon's edge.

Best Time to Visit the Grand Canyon

South Rim of the Grand Canyon
South Rim of the Grand Canyon | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Grand Canyon National Park is open year-round, and the views are outstanding no matter the season. But the best time of year to visit the Grand Canyon is spring (March - May) and fall (September - October). With June through August associated with summer vacations and breaks from school, the spring and fall months are less crowded and have pleasant weather to enjoy the big landscapes.

April typically ushers in a break from winter weather on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, though snow can still be in the forecast through May. Average temperatures begin to reach into the 70s throughout the spring, with below-freezing overnight temperatures occurring throughout the season. The spring is one of the best times to hike the Grand Canyon, before interior temperatures reach their 100-plus-degree summer heat.

Mid-September is when summer crowds subside at the national park, making the fall one of the best times to travel to the Grand Canyon. The national park also enters its drier season in the fall, and localized rain and thunderstorms become less frequent. Fall temperatures drop from 70 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit on the South Rim throughout the season, and interior temperatures drop from the upper 90s to the upper 60s.

Best Month to Visit Grand Canyon National Park

Havasu Falls in Grand Canyon National Park
Havasu Falls in Grand Canyon National Park

While the views will take your breath away no matter the time of year, the best month to go to the Grand Canyon is either May or September. With fewer crowds and beautiful weather, these two months afford everything the Grand Canyon has to offer without the need to compete for a parking space.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon opens for vehicles in mid-May and offers some relief for the growing crowds throughout the month. The weather is nearly perfect in May, with average daytime highs hovering around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. While it's still advised to book lodging ahead of time, the month of May is much easier to stay at places like the Bright Angel Lodge compared to summer months.

Similarly, crowds begin to thin throughout the month of September, particularly after Labor Day. The North Rim is still open throughout the month of September and into October, and numerous resources like guided adventures, dining, and campgrounds are also still available but with less demand. The interior of the Grand Canyon beings to cool down in September, too, making the entire month great for hiking in the Grand Canyon.

If you are visiting during the peak summer season, the Grand Canyon in early June is perhaps the best time to go. A noticeable uptick in crowds occurs at the Grand Canyon in June, though earlier in the month is less busy than the weeks leading to July.

Best Season to Visit the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon in the spring
Grand Canyon in the spring | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Spring/Fall: Moderate temperatures and smaller crowds make the spring and fall the best seasons to go to the Grand Canyon. Hiking is especially popular during the spring and fall, as temperatures in the interior of the Grand Canyon are hot, but are more manageable for an afternoon hike. Spring and early summer introduce some color to the park with blooming wildflowers, and the fall ushers in a drier season with an end to summer rain and thunderstorms.

Summer: Associated with school breaks and summer vacation schedules, the peak visiting season of the Grand Canyon is split between June, July, and August. Summer in the Grand Canyon features long days, more congestion, and fast-moving weather systems. The interior of the Grand Canyon blazes past 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer, making it advisable to be finished hiking by 10am.

Make no mistake, however, summer in the Grand Canyon is a great time to visit. Advance planning before a trip can help you negotiate the summer congestion, and the park's free shuttle system helps alleviate parking concerns. With smoldering sunsets, extended daylight hours, and comfortable evening temperatures to enjoy the incredibly dark night sky, the depths of the Grand Canyon are primed for summer road-trip vacations.

Winter: The cold temperatures and short days of winter keep the South Rim of the Grand Canyon uncrowded. Fewer resources are available this time of year, and the entire North Rim is inaccessible by car. Visitors prepared with warm clothing and reliable transportation are rewarded with breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon, however, and a new perspective of the canyon dressed in layers of snow.

Best Time of Day to Visit the Grand Canyon

Sunset at Mather Point
Sunset at Mather Point

No matter the time of year, sunset is the best time of day to visit the Grand Canyon. The colorful canyon walls shimmer with the change in light, and the entire sky is known to bubble with shades of purple, orange, and the dying light of day. Anywhere along the rim offers great sunset views, and specific areas like Mather Point and Hopi Point are some of the most popular places to end the day.

Early mornings are a good time to visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon during the summer for a couple of reasons. Visitors will want to arrive early to beat the summer heat, particularly if they are planning to hike into the Grand Canyon, where interior temperatures reach above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Arriving early also helps beat the summer congestion on roads and parking areas.

Early mornings are a good time to go to the Grand Canyon during the spring and fall, too, if not only to get more time to explore the canyon. While hiking within the canyon during the summer past 10am is not advisable, the spring and fall offer some relief from the scorching summer temperatures. Hikers still need to plan accordingly for the challenging terrain and aim to get an early start.

Best Way to Visit the Grand Canyon during Summer

Sunrise at the Toroweap Outlook, North Rim, Grand Canyon
Sunrise at the Toroweap Outlook, North Rim, Grand Canyon

The logistics of traveling to the Grand Canyon often fits best in a summer schedule. The summer offers fantastic views of the Grand Canyon and extended daylight hours, but the crowded conditions at the rim and the hot temperatures of the canyon's interior can be stifling if you are not prepared.

Arriving before 9am can alleviate some of the congestion issues of a visit, like parking, and can also help beat the summer heat. With interior temperatures reaching 100-plus-degrees, it's strongly advised to avoid hiking in the Grand Canyon during the afternoon. The temperature at the South Rim usually hovers in the 80s during the day throughout the summer, though the semi-arid conditions can still zap the energy out of most visitors.

Perhaps the best way to visit the Grand Canyon during the summer is to go to the North Rim. A fraction of visitors to the Grand Canyon spend any time on the North Rim, due in part to the longer drive to access it. Make the extra mileage though, and visitors can find plenty of shoulder room at the canyon overlooks.

The North Rim is at a higher elevation than the South Rim (approximately 8,200 feet compared to 6,800 feet), which means temperatures are also cooler on the North Rim. Roads leading to the North Rim are only accessible between mid-May and mid-October.

Best Time of Year to Hike the Grand Canyon

Hiking the Grand Canyon interior
Hiking the Grand Canyon interior | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Many of the best hiking trails at the Grand Canyon stretch from the canyon rim to the Colorado River at the canyon floor. On trails like the Bright Angel Trail and South Kaibab Trail on the South Rim, the route descends over 4,000 feet to the canyon floor. Hikers will notice considerable temperature changes on the way down, as the canyon floor is often 20 degrees warmer than the rim.

Temperatures within the Grand Canyon are dangerously hot during the summer, which makes spring and fall the best times of year to hike the Grand Canyon. Interior temperatures can still reach into the 80s and 90s during the spring and fall, and few water sources exist on the way down into the canyon. An early start for hiking into the Grand Canyon is advisable during the shoulder seasons.

Those equipped with the right gear, including crampons and proper insulation, as well as the right experience and abilities, will find the icy trails of the Grand Canyon in the winter challenging and rewarding.

Best Time of Year to White Water Raft in the Grand Canyon

Rafting on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon
Rafting on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon

Much like other activities in the Grand Canyon, white water rafting on the Colorado River offers different experiences throughout the year. The official rafting season is April through October, and one thing every white water rafting month has in common is the popularity and competitiveness of getting a permit or booking a guide.

Early white water season brings cooler temperatures and calmer water to the Grand Canyon. These conditions lend to more scenic trips and side hike opportunities. Similarly, the fall portion of the white water season brings quieter conditions, especially after September 15th, when only non-motorized boats are allowed on the Colorado River.

Summer brings 100-plus-degree temperatures to the interior of the canyon surrounding the Colorado River. The Glen Canyon Dam also typically releases more water in response to increased electricity needs in the surrounding region, lending to bigger waves and features on the river. Demand for these adrenaline-packed white water trips also goes up in the summer, making guided rides harder to book.

Best Time of Year to Visit the Grand Canyon Skywalk

Grand Canyon Skywalk
Grand Canyon Skywalk

The West Rim of the Grand Canyon is a burgeoning visitor destination that is operated by the Hualapai Tribe. Alongside stunning views and visitor resources like lodging, restaurants, and awesome white water rafting experiences, the Skywalk at the West Rim is one of the most popular things to experience.

Extending 70 feet from the canyon's edge, the horseshoe-shaped Skywalk bridge has a glass floor and sidings that allow visitors to view 4,000 feet down beneath their feet. This view is worth the two-hour drive from Las Vegas any time of year, but the fall and spring offer shorter waiting times to walk onto the Skywalk. Spring is also a good time to visit, as it coincides with the best time to go white water rafting on the West Rim.

Grand Canyon in the Winter

Winter at the Grand Canyon
Winter at the Grand Canyon

Only a fraction of total visits at the Grand Canyon occur during the winter, making it a great time of year to go if you want to avoid the biggest crowds. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is inaccessible during the winter, leaving the South Rim as the only option. Visitors will want to wear warm clothes, as daytime temperatures hover in the 40s, and overnight lows reach well below freezing.

The view of the Grand Canyon capped with a winter silence is often inspiration enough for winter visits. Visitors should be prepared for variable conditions on roadways, especially during or immediately after a storm. Watching the weather forecast can help you plan a winter Grand Canyon visit, especially if you have a slightly adjustable schedule.

Trails can be traversed in the winter, though traction devices and some experience on icy trails will make all the difference.

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