I am planning to visit Grand Canyon during the last week of January, but have only a day to spend there. Any advice on how I can maximize my visit. Also, how is the weather during the time?
Having recently hiked rim to river and back, I can tell you that hiking in the Canyon has been one of the most transformative events of my life. It's beauty is beyond words.
The most important thing to remember is don't be this guy. Take your time, and enjoy the beauty.
Staying there, getting there.
Ideally, you would spend the night as near to the rim as possible. This is actually pretty hard, however, because the nearest real town (Williams) is nearly an hour away. You have three real options:
There are several hotels on the rim (El Tovar) in Grand Canyon Village, but they are pretty expensive. Additionally, they are usually booked. Candidly, I found the hotels in Tusayan to be almost as expensive, but there is usually at least some availability there. Just don't try walk up.
If you don't mind a tent, there is a great campground ($35/night) or, even better, you can camp for free in the National Forest, just 7 miles from the rim.
The least good option is to stay in Williams or Flagstaff, which is still an hour away. Anything further than this, and the most you will be able to do at the Grand Canyon is look out over the rim. Not that there is anything wrong with that (Hey, 90% of all visitors never go below the Rim), but you are missing out on so much.
The Rim Looking out over the Grand Canyon is beautiful.
No matter what I say below, its still worth it. If you have neither the time nor the fitness to go below the rim, then look for:
- The Main Visitor Center, first. There's a reason they put it there. It's the best view.
- Grand View Overlook - take the road that sends you towards Page, and check out that overlook. It's beautiful.
- Desert View Overlook. Back in the 30's this woman built a tower in the style of what various Indian tribes might have done. The Tower is neat - decorated all Indian and such - and you get a unique perspective, looking down into the canyon from a right angle. It's really about the only place you can see the river.
Hiking into the Canyon.
Personally, I think that if you are go to the Grand Canyon but don't actually get into the canyon, you are missing the best part. They say that walking from rim to river, you actually end up walking through 5 of the world's 7 biomes. I just think it is the most beautiful thing ever.
Ideally, you would take two days. You would go down the South Kaibab Trail (which took fat-old me just the better part of a morning), rest at the Colorado River / Phantom Ranch, and then walk back up the Bright Angel Trail the next day. Then, if you had time, you would drive 5 hours to the North Rim and look back the other direction.
But, you only have a day - so, here are some ideas:
a. If it is winter, you are very fit, and you have a good 10 hours, you could probably do it. It would be unforgettable.
b. Walk halfway down the South Kaibab (past Oooh-Aah Point and down to the Tonto Trail). Then, walk back up. Plan on 2 hours up for every hour down.
c. Somewhere in between a & b is this - take the South Kaibab to the Tonto Trail, about halfway down. From there, the Tonto Trail will take you back to Bright Angel, for a 15 mile circuit. It isn't well publicized (or even that well marked) which is a shame, because its a great hike.
d. Bright Angel, make sure you at least go to 3 mile Rest House. The stops are 1 1/2 mile Rest House, 3 mile Rest House, Indian Gardens, and then Phantom Ranch, which is the river. These are progressively lower, and I found budgeting 1 hour down and 2 hours up for each worked out about right. Each stop also makes you descend about 1000', and hence back up the same.
Finally, if you are in Las Vegas, save yourself the drive, spend the $300/per person, and take a helicopter ride into the Canyon. You won't see the Bright Angle Trail or the Visitor Center, but Havasupai Falls looks beautiful too :)
Note: I'm assuming you are at the South Rim, since the North Rim is closed. The North Rim is nice, but there is a reason that 90% of the visitors are on the South Rim. The North Rim will be covered in snow, so you can't go there anyway. In the winter its going to be very, very cold at the rim (near freezing), but the temperature will rise about 40 degrees as you make your way down to the river. This has the advantage, however, of allowing you to hike the entire day. From May 1 to September, I was advised not to hike between 10am - 3pm. They were right!
All in all, the Grand Canyon is amazing. If it were me, I could stay a week. At a minimum, you really need 2 days. But if its a choice between skipping it altogether and doing one day, have fun looking over the rim!
Given I've heard of snow on the ground there in April, it could be very cold.
However, I'll describe what we did, and you can adapt it based on the conditions when you arrive.
First thing was to enter the park (driving) before sunrise. This gave us a chance to park, get our gear together, and race down to Mather Point for a spectacular view of sunrise. Even if it's raining (As it partially was for us) it is still worth it. Mather point is about a 5 minute run from the car park. Give yourself time to get there to be at the front - you don't want a bus load of tourists obscuring your view. Also it's not just about the moment the sun appears, but about the next 20 minutes or so as shadows move around the canyon.
Next, there's the rim route. This is a connection of a few bus routes, included in your pass. Either is good, but we headed west first. The buses are every 15 minutes and stop to drop people off at several points. This was perfect - gave you time to get out, read the info about that point, take some photos, enjoy the view, and catch the next bus.
At the end, we took the bus back to the top of the Bright Angel trail - the most famous in the park. It's steep but manageable - don't try to reach the river though. It was very hot when we went, so we walked down to the first hut - taking just under two hours (lots of photo stops) and power-walked back up in an hour with only one or two stops.
Then we went east along those lookouts - to the end, and then walked back to the camp, in time to catch the west bus once more to one of the two lookouts for sunset.
Now that was in August, and the days were longer. You may find you need to compress your schedule in winter.
Also be aware of crowds - they'll affect the bus queues.
As for weather, their website has updates you can keep an eye on. For example, their latest one:
As of this update, all park roads are open, but are snow-packed and icy in places. Please drive with caution.
Additional snowstorms or freezing conditions may result in future road closures that can happen
with little or no advance notice.
Average climate, temperature and conditions can be seen on this site.
I would say it's probably pretty cold, expect snow (it's high there). Taking a look at the weather channel, I can see the temperature these days is in the 40s (0-10°C) during the day. Maybe the mist can be more of a problem, you can check the day before if you are flexible on your dates. Also check the road conditions (there are currently alerts on the National Park website).
And what else than hiking do you expect to do there? You should plan a half-day or full-day trip, no more. From what I remember the multiple sightseeing points offer different angles on the Canyon, so if you spend little time you will still be able to see the Canyon. At this time of year, many paths will be closed (they are announced on the website). So anyway, it's not sure there will be lots to do.
Also figure how far your hotel will be, since the Grand Canyon is in a quite remote area. It can take several hours from your hotel to the rim.
Weather etc I don't know - my experience go back to a 13th July in the eighties. I remember that the north rim is ~200 meters higher that south. Got a room in a Flagstaff motel. First day> Near sunset I went for an helicopter trip, used 3 rolls of slide film. Great! Second day> Went from Flagstaff to south rim at he beginning of the Bright Angel trail. Hat, light shirt covering arms, water. At 12:00 noon started go down. My own rule: not getting tired. Fantastic views, also helped to put a scale of what I had seen the day before. Further down I went, the hotter. At the end I did not think about pictures.Then was the ranch, with a water faucet. Time ~~16:30. Went back ~18:30, soon Night. No moon, only stars. Was ok 'cos trail shape \_/. Later: Wind carrying sand. Came out at car park at 00:00 midnight. Warning: no more petrol at that time! Back to Flagstaff. Next day> to Vegas airport. Made a small diversion to ghost town of Jérome. That's all folks! Jean-Paul V. Jéral.