More than 6 million people visited Grand Canyon National Park last year, but the bulk of that traffic occurs during summer vacation and early fall. Timing a hiking trip for the winter months offers a much better bet at solitude on the trails, and maybe even a chance to see how magical the canyon looks with a dusting of snow. (It’s also easier to get backcountry permits, if you’re planning on a multiday backpacking adventure.)
While the South Rim’s Desert View Drive provides numerous overlooks accessible by car, nothing surpasses exploring the dozens of trails twisting through hundreds of miles of terrain.
Easy: Rim Trail
At its full length, the Rim Trail is 13.1 miles, the same as a half marathon. With the park’s handy shuttle system, however, it’s family-friendly and you can make it as short or as long as you want—so you can focus on the paved, accessible stretches or the steeper, unpaved section from Bright Angel Trailhead to Monument Creek Vista. As the name indicates, this trail follows the canyon’s rim, offering spectacular views the entire stretch and access to famous vistas such as Trailview Overlook, Maricopa Point, and Powell Point.
Intermediate: Plateau Point
As a 12.3-mile day hike starting from Bright Angel Trailhead, the trip from the South Rim to Plateau Point rewards hikers for their efforts with terrific views of the Colorado River as well as fossils and petroglyphs along the canyon walls. The trail is well maintained, but steep switchbacks require attention to your footing on the descent—and will test your fitness on the way back up.
Intermediate/Difficult: South Kaibab Trail
South Kaibab Trail offers some of the best views-for-effort in the entire Grand Canyon. At just under 2 miles round trip, the shortest hike along this trail is to Ooh-Aah Point—named for the common reaction to the surprise view where the eastern canyon opens up. Descending a half-mile farther through the colorful layers of limestone and sandstone brings hikers to Cedar Ridge and its panoramic views. If you want to make a 6-mile round trip, continue on to Skeleton Point, which offers up the South Kaibab Trail’s first peek at the Colorado River.
Bring plenty of water, wear good hiking shoes, and be prepared to add and subtract layers. At this time of year, you might start out the day wearing a hat and gloves and end up in shorts and a t-shirt. Also, be aware that some trails are shared with mountain bikers and mules. Keep your eyes open and heed directions from mule drivers.