Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
There are many different vantage points and ways to experience Grand Canyon National Park, and you can easily visit a dozen times before you really begin to absorb its beauty and scope. However, not everyone has the luxury of multiple visits, so we’re here to help you choose the best time of year for your trip.
Note: Some areas of the Grand Canyon, such as the Desert View Watchtower, are currently closed. So, be sure to check the National Park Service’s website for the latest information if you’re planning to travel soon.
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A guide leads mule riders up a steep portion of the Bright Angel Trail known as Heartbreak Hill. MICHAEL QUINN/NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
The best time for good weather
At the South Rim (which sits at a 6,800-foot elevation and is located almost two hours north of Flagstaff, Arizona), spring runs from March to May; fall runs from September to November. Both seasons offer relatively moderate temperatures. Nighttime lows during these seasons are often in the 30s while daytime temperatures will rise into the 60s. The weather is pleasant for Grand Canyon hikes, although there might be a chance of rain. Inside the canyon, temperatures range from 55 to 82 degrees during the shoulder seasons.
The North Rim (which sits at an 8,000-foot elevation and is located four hours north of Flagstaff) is only open from mid-May through mid-October because of the potential for snowy conditions. When this part of the park opens for visitors, temperatures range from the low 30s to the 60s; it then warms up more through the summer.
At the West Rim — where you’ll find the famous Grand Canyon Skywalk — spring is warmer, with lows in the 50s and highs mostly in the 80s. Temperatures at the West Rim are quite hot in September (the high 60s to high 90s), while October (58 to 84 degrees) and November (46 to 68 degrees) are more moderate. The West Rim sits about four hours east of Las Vegas.
Not surprisingly, summer brings dry conditions and hot temperatures. The South Rim temperatures rise above the 80s — and can get up to 100 at the bottom of the canyon. At the North Rim, temperatures are less extreme, ranging from the mid-40s to the upper 70s in June through August. The West Rim can be uncomfortable in summer, with average temperatures ranging from the upper 70s to more than 100 degrees.
The South Rim area remains open during winter, with temperatures at the rim generally ranging from the 20s to the low 40s; on the floor of the canyon, they are usually between the high 30s and high 50s.
Many visitors consider winter a special time to visit, as fewer people travel to see the dramatic snow-dusted red rocks; when compared to the number of summer visitors, only about 10% come during the winter. If you want to beat the crowds, winter may be the best time to visit.
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BUDDY SMITH/THE POINTS GUY
The best time to explore the interior
Most visitors will not feel satisfied by a visit to the Grand Canyon unless they can descend, at least part of the way, into the canyon. The view from inside is quite different from the broad vistas at the rim. There are many ways to accomplish this special experience, including through guided treks on mules or by foot.
No matter what time of year you go, the only time to hike in or out of the Grand Canyon is daytime. At the South Rim, you’ll see numerous signs cautioning visitors not to hike to the bottom and back in one day. The trip down to the canyon floor is about 7 or 9 miles, depending on which trail you choose; hiking back up is strenuous, and it takes twice as long as the way down, even for experienced hikers. If you are still on the trail after dark, those pleasant, well-groomed paths become treacherous. Visit the National Park Service website and read its FAQ for hikers.
A variety of providers offer guided hikes to the canyon floor as well as mule rides into the canyon from the South Rim.
The best time to venture to the canyon floor by any method depends on your tolerance for heat or cold and what activities excite you. If you dream of splashing in the Colorado River, choose summer or early fall when the water is a little warmer. (Rafting trips begin in mid-June.) A wintertime trip is great for travelers who want smaller crowds and evenings by the fire.
Related: The best national parks to visit during winter
The Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. MICHAEL QUINN/NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
The best time to avoid crowds
You probably didn’t need me to tell you this, but the Grand Canyon gets busier when school is out of session. Summer, spring break or any other holiday is going to mean a spike in attendance.
With more than 6 million annual visitors, there can be long lines to get in, crowds at the most popular viewpoints and waits for virtually everything else. The National Park Service even has tips for surviving crowding at the South Rim.
If you can go when school is not on a traditional break, you’ll be rewarded with lighter crowds. If you must go during a school break because your life revolves around a school schedule, then check out the NPS crowd survival guide linked above, and be sure to enter the park as early as you can in the morning.
Related: Tips for visiting national parks with kids
Tourists at the South Rim viewpoint in Grand Canyon National Park. B&M NOSKOWSKI/GETTY IMAGES
The best time for special events
During a normal year, Grand Canyon National Park typically hosts annual events such as an Independence Day parade in July, stargazing nights in June and a two-day Native American Heritage Celebration in November to honor National Native American Heritage Month.
The best time to see wildlife
Grand Canyon National Park is home to 447 species of birds, 91 species of mammals, 48 species of reptiles, 10 species of amphibians, and a world of bugs and insects.
The elk that inhabit the Grand Canyon are considered the most dangerous animals in the park. They weigh up to 730 pounds and, according to the NPS, they can become aggressive during the fall (their mating season); the park service recommends staying at least 100 feet or more from these animals.
Elk are frequently seen in and around Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
In general, the best time to catch glimpses of mammals — including the elk, bighorn sheep, bison, mule deer, javelinas and mountain lions — is to visit when the park is cool and quiet. Dawn and dusk are good times of the day to spot wildlife. You’ll see more animal activity during the cooler months in late fall, winter and early spring. This is not only because of the weather but also because more animals appear when there are fewer humans around.
Bird-watchers may be able to spot rare species, as several species of threatened and endangered birds make the park their home. These species include the California condor, southwestern willow flycatcher, western yellow-billed cuckoo and others. In addition to the California condor, several other birds of prey inhabit the park, including peregrine falcons, red-tailed and zone-tail hawks and Mexican spotted owls. The best time of year for bird-watching is autumn, but you’ll see some of these species at any time of year.
The best time for cheap deals
Searching for flights on Skyscanner, you’ll see that the least expensive time of year to fly from major cities to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX) or Las Vegas’ Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) varies by origin.
If you’re flying from New York City to Phoenix, for example, November is typically an affordable time to travel, though prices spike for the Thanksgiving holiday. During a normal year, flights from Los Angeles are lowest in June, while flights from Boston drop in August. Atlanta-based flights are cheapest in October.
Use Skyscanner to find an affordable time of year to travel from your preferred airport. If you’re planning to trek to the canyon floor, you’ll want to book that experience first (15 months ahead); that will give you plenty of time to find an affordable flight. Here are some tips for maximizing your airline miles for a domestic trip.
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When you visit Grand Canyon National Park, you have a choice of staying inside the park or in a neighboring community. The pros and cons of each option are pretty simple. Staying inside the park gives you a more immersive experience and more time to enjoy the natural surroundings of the canyon. Staying outside means you’ll have access to more varied services and the opportunity to book your lodging with rewards points.
Note that not all accommodations are open at this time due to the pandemic. Always contact the hotel directly to confirm availability.
Hotels inside the park: Delaware North and Xanterra Parks & Resorts handle reservations for lodging at the South Rim of the park; rooms become available a year in advance. To stay inside the canyon at Phantom Ranch, enter the National Park Service’s lottery 15 months before your travel dates. At the North Rim, Grand Canyon Lodge offers a few types of cabins and lodge rooms; only the Western Cabins provide two queen beds.
Hotels outside the park: Here’s a fun, low-stress way for travelers to visit the Grand Canyon: Stay outside the park, in the charming small town of Williams (54 miles south of the South Rim), and take the Grand Canyon Railway into the park (two hours and 15 minutes). Two trains leave the depot each morning and return to Williams in the late afternoon. You’ll get to enjoy the beautiful scenery without driving. A seat in the Pullman Class (the cheapest option) costs $67 round-trip for adults and $32 round-trip for kids. If you want to ride in the glass Observation Dome, a seat costs up to $189 for adults and $153 for kids. The Luxury Dome and Luxury Parlor cars are more expensive (and no children are allowed in either).
Grand Canyon Railway. BUDDY SMITH/THE POINTS GUY
For a more traditional hotel experience, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Williams, a half-mile from the train depot, has rooms with two queen beds, 42-inch televisions, a microwave and a fridge. Rooms start at 15,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night, with breakfast included.
Wyndham offers several properties in Williams for 15,000 points per night, including Travelodge by Wyndham Williams Grand Canyon. This property has rooms with two queen beds and free continental breakfast; adjoining rooms are also available.
There’s also the Best Western Plus Inn of Williams, which is available for 16,000 points per night and includes breakfast.
Tusayan is the closest town to the park entrance. It has the Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn, where rooms with two queen beds are available from 24,000 points per night.
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Unless you are targeting the North Rim, which is closed for the colder half of the year, there’s no bad time to visit the Grand Canyon. It’s magical 365 days a year. Still, depending what you’re looking for, some times may work better for you than others.
We’d avoid July and August due to the heat and excessive crowds. Instead, travel between March and May (before Memorial Day) or from September to October (but after Labor Day). If you must go during a peak time of the year (read: summer), consider the more secluded North Rim. Maybe even add a trip to Zion National Park, just a couple of hours away. That way, you can check off several of the country’s best national parks in one trip.
Featured photo by Shahriar Erfanian, 41 Stories Photography/Getty Images.