The Grand Canyon is a natural rock formation in Arizona (as if it needed any introduction) and as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, it attracts around five million visitors annually. Visiting this natural phenomenon in winter has a host of benefits from smaller crowds, clearer skies for stargazing, and potentially, unique snow-covered scenery to admire and photograph.
If you want to take a road trip to The Grand Canyon, we’ve done the hard work for you and put together the ultimate winter road trip, expected to take 5-7 days.
Grand Canyon Winter Road Trip
Phoenix to Sedona
From Phoenix take the 2-2.5 hour drive to Sedona via Interstate 17 (I-17) North. Sedona is home to the iconic red sandstone formations and the Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive is the perfect way to take in the beautiful scenery with your rental car. The famous red rocks can appear to glow red or orange in the setting sun, truly a sight to behold.
Explore Slide Rock State Park, the Chapel of the Holy Cross, and numerous art galleries in Sedona. Those looking to indulge in some relaxation can make the most of Sedona’s spa and wellness facilities or if you decide to stay the night visit the Verde Valley region and enjoy some wine tasting.
Sedona to Flagstaff
The next stop on your road trip to the Grand Canyon is the city of Flagstaff. Just a 45 minute-1 hour drive from Sedona taking the State Route 89A (AZ-89A) North. Be aware that Flagstaff has a significantly higher altitude than Sedona, leading to lower temperatures – so make sure you’ve packed plenty of warm clothing! Flagstaff is home to Lowell Observatory and is known for some of the best stargazing in the U.S.
Discover Coconino National Forest for hiking and cycling or experienced hikers can tackle San Francisco Peaks – the highest mountain range in Arizona. Flagstaff has something for everyone, the whole family can enjoy a live performance at The Orpheum Theater or immerse themselves in history and culture at the Museum of Northern Arizona.
Flagstaff to Grand Canyon National Park
After exploring Flagstaff, it’s time to head to the main event: The Grand Canyon, driving on the US-180 West, this journey will take you 1.5 to 2 hours. Be aware that you will need to pay an entrance fee to enter The Grand Canyon National Park – you can see up-to-date fees and information on the National Parks Service website.
From guided walks and tours to an array of hotels and lodges to reside in, there’s plenty to learn and do at Grand Canyon National Park so you can take your time and make the most of your road trip.
A day at the Grand Canyon
You can easily spend a full day exploring the Grand Canyon and all the national park has to offer. The Grand Canyon is split into two rims: North and South. The South Rim is the most popular as it is more accessible and at a lower elevation. There are a number of viewpoints such as Mather Point, Yavapai Point, and Hopi Point, where you can admire the expansive view and even see the Colorado River.
Over on the west you can discover the Grand Canyon Skywalk, although hours are reduced in the winter this is still a must-see attraction as you can see breathtaking views on the glass edge.
The North Rim is higher and more likely to receive snow, so depending on how far into winter we are this route may not be open, however, if it is – you’re in for a treat. The North Rim attracts smaller crowds and offers a different perspective of the Grand Canyon. Either rim offers spectacular views and with hiking trails, visitor services, and a range of activities, you’re sure to have a fun-filled experience.
Things to Know Before Your Grand Canyon Winter Road Trip
Visiting the Grand Canyon in the winter can be a unique experience as you get to see different views from the summer months and have a much more tranquil visit as crowds are much smaller. However, there are some things you must take into consideration before packing up and heading off on your road trip.
- Be prepared for colder temperatures – from packing plenty of sweaters and coats to ensuring your rental car is fully equipped with winter tires and snow chains (depending on weather conditions), you want to be as comfortable and safe as possible so you can explore carefree.
- Reduced services and limited accessibility – as winter is not a peak time to visit, some facilities may offer reduced services and hours. If the weather gets particularly bad some areas (such as The North Rim) may be closed. However, there is still plenty to see and do in the colder months and The South Rim is open year-round and offers breathtaking views.
- Sunscreen and UV protection – it may be cold in winter but don’t underestimate the sun, the high altitudes can be intense on the skin so be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen and take your sunglasses so you can take in the sights.
Going on a Grand Canyon winter road trip has many pros too, from the extra wildlife you can spot as they travel down the higher elevations in search of food to the clearer skies providing the perfect backdrop for stargazing.
With a premium rental car from SIXT, you can head off on your Grand Canyon road trip with peace of mind, from our range of rental car centers in Arizona to optional add-ons so that your vehicle is fully equipped with everything you need.