After a handful of visits to Grand Canyon National Park, I still find myself standing on the rim and gazing off into the distance. Mesmerized by its size and a color palette that I can only find in a sunset; it’s more than a national park.
The Grand Canyon exemplifies the freedom of the West. An intermingling of epic vistas and seemingly unsurmountable hardships that had to be conquered to create a destination worthy of the title American Icon.
A Winter Visit to Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon remains open year-round allowing visitors to discover a familiar landscape through the seasons. One of my favorite times to explore the Grand Canyon is winter.
With its easy access from Interstate 40, the south rim of the Grand Canyon offers an ideal stop during a winter road trip. The summer crowds disappear and the canyon offers quiet hikes during the winter.
Where to stay at the Grand Canyon
For our adventure at the Grand Canyon, I choose the Bright Angel Lodge (1935) located steps from the El Tovar on the south rim. The historic property offers the perfect backdrop for my kids to conjure up a western adventure.
From the brightly painted, hand-carved doors of the lodge to the log and stone cabins sprinkled along the rim, the kids love rambling through this property. In the Bright Angel History Room, I found the Geologic Fireplace to show the kids the rock layers of the Grand Canyon.
The cabins feature modern bathrooms and furnishings though a tight fit for most families. Most of the Bright Angel cabins offer one queen bed with room for a pack-n-pack or rollaway. At the Bright Angel Lodge, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast with southwestern egg dishes along with traditional options and kids’ menu.
El Tovar Hotel is the premier historic property on the South Rim. Each room or suite is individually decorated, a great choice for adults.
One day I hope to take the famous mule train to the Phantom Ranch (1922) on the Grand Canyon floor. For this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, the trip takes about five hours each way. Lodging and meals are provided and reservations are required.
I found four modern lodges built in the 1960s. The Kachina Lodge and the Thunderbird Lodge are on the rim; the Maswik Lodge and the Yavapai Lodge are not. A good option for families who need more space.
Family Fun at the Grand Canyon
The Junior Ranger Program allows families to learn more about this UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the patches that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.
The Grand Canyon Junior Ranger Program has a booklet specially designed for each age group. To earn the Junior Ranger badge, families need to attend a Ranger Program and I found a program list at the visitors center.
For night owls, the Grand Canyon offers the Night Explorer Junior Ranger Patch for kids who attend a special Night Skies Ranger Program and complete the booklet that’s available at any visitor center.
If a trip to the bottom of the canyon is in your itinerary, a special Junior Ranger Program, Phantom Rattler Junior Ranger patch, is awarded at Phantom Ranch, a 10-mile journey, one-way.
Getting to the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park is located 59 miles north of Williams, on Highway 64. I entered through the South Entrance, the most popular gateway through Tusayan, a tourist town full of food and lodging.
The East Entrance offers an alternative to the South Entrance by driving north out of Flagstaff on U.S. Route 89 to Highway 64. The East Entrance provides a scenic drive along the rim from Desert View Watchtower to the Grand Canyon Village.
Williams (WMA) is an Amtrak destination and a stop for a regional bus service. The closest airport with commercial flights is Flagstaff, Arizona (FLG), 80 miles away.
Getting Around the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park remains open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Admission is $30 per vehicle for a 7-day pass or you can use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80.)
I found the most parking at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. Depending on the season, I found several free shuttle buses that run along the south rim. Please check with Grand Canyon National Park for current routes and times.
Know Before You Go:
- Be prepared for winter weather including several inches of snow.
- Make reservations for lodging and tours as soon as possible. Make lodging reservations up 13 months in advance.
- The cabins are cozy in the winter though they don’t have air conditioning for summer guests.
- The roads at Grand Canyon aren’t plowed as frequently as the highway leading into the park.
- The Market Plaza features a general store, ATM, post office, amphitheater, laundry and pay showers.
- I found year-round campgrounds for those prepared for winter camping and a full-service RV park.
- El Tovar Hotel and Bright Angel Lodge feature restaurants. Snack bars at Maswik Lodge, Desert View and Hermits Rest.
- For the Phantom Ranch Mule ride, riders must be 4’7” and weigh less than 200 lbs.