The Grand Canyon is a truly stunning natural wonder. Carved into the Colorado Plateau by the powerful Colorado river the UNESCO World heritage site draws in around 6 million visitors every year. Weather is a hugely important consideration when planning your trip to the Canyon, but most people are not really aware of the immense impact The Canyon’s varied and extreme weather can have on your visit.
For the most part, the canyon weather is pretty stable and predictable, however, this is not necessarily a good thing and the canyon does have pretty extreme weather. The Summers are phenomenally hot while the winters produce icy cold blasts and heavy snowfalls. Huge Monsson storms ravage the summer months and flash flooding is a real danger. There are however sweet spots in the year where the weather is more benign and manageable than the seasonal extremes. So what is the best time of year to visit the grand canyon?
Our Grand canyon Seasonal Weather guide helps you understand the differing conditions found at the canyon through the year to help you plan the perfect trip to the natural wonder of the world. We also take a look at Visitor numbers during the seasons as this can greatly affect your enjoyment.
Weather Effects on Visitors
Really the importance of the weather is hugely dependent on why you are visiting the canyon. Some people are just coming for a quick stop to see the canyon and tick it off their list. Others may be here for a multi-day hike or a two-week River Adventure.
Naturally different types of visits are more affected by different weather. Hiking is a real chore in the summer, and the Winter snows close down parts of the Park. The Summer rain storms can really put off casual visitors but may inspire and delight Photograpersd looking for a stunning and dramatic shot.
We have tried to cater to all visitors in this article, we want everyone to experience the canyon at its best so have detailed the different weather types you are likely to experience in different seasons to help you decide when to visit the Canyon.
Grand Canyon Climate
The Grand Canyon is a 277mile long, 18mile wide, 1-mile deep gash carved into the Colorado Plateau. As you can imagine this makes describing the weather there fairly complicated. There is a great deal of variance, obviously, the weather 250miles apart can be very different, but even within a few miles the change can be dramatic, 5,000 ft of elevation can have a dramatic effect on the weather! So Hikers need to be particularly mindful of the possible variance as they hike.
As a Pilot (Private) I was always taught that every 1000ft equaled around 3.5°F (2°C) change in temp, however, this is increased when you are changing elevation at Ground level. So in the Canyon the Change is even more pronounced around 5.5°F (3°C) per 1000ft, this means the temperature on the canyon floor can be 27.5°F (15°C) warmer than on the rim! This means a pleasant 77°C (25°C) day at the rim, could become a boiling inferno of 104°F(40°C) by the Canyon floor! Not ideal for someone who has just hiked down and now has to hike back up in this scorching heat!
We will focus this article on the National Park regions, namely the South Rim and the North Rim regions of the Park. These are situated in an uplift in the plateau that has allowed large coniferous forests to flourish unlike most of the canyon which is exposed to large tracts of inhospitable desert. This makes the National park regions of the Canyon slightly more hospitable to life.
The Seasons change the climate of the Canyon drastically and there is a huge shift in extremes from one end of the scale to the others. At the Rim, the Summers are devastatingly hot. Averages regularly exceeding 90°F (32°C), inside the rim, things get even worse as the canyon acts as a giant pressure cooker. The lower elevations would naturally be warmer but the heatsink effect of the canyon sends the needle soaring. Temps right up to 110°F (43°C) are possible.
Winter brings a complete change, and temperatures plummet. Again the difference between the Rim and the Canyon can be quite stark as you would expect for a 5000ft change in elevation. At the Rim, the high elevation makes winter brutal and harsh. Temps drop below 0°F (-18°C) and harsh winters and heavy snows make the canyon rim a hostile place to be. Dropping into the canyon, the cold persists quite a way down, the canyon walls sheltering the snow and ice from even a few hours of sun, meaning the freezing condition can persist for months on end.
Down in the lower parts of the canyon, the lower elevation means things are milder but still chilly, Temps drop down to nearly freezing overnight but can be fairly pleasant during the day in the warm desert sun.
The canyon area is mainly dry however Huge storms form due to the North American Monsoon bringing huge deluges and presenting flash flood dangers in the canyon. Winter brings Snowstorms from the Pacific, falling as rain in lower elevations. These are less torrential than the summer thunderstorms but more prolonged providing more consistent rainfall over a number of days. However outside of this, the Canyon is largely dry, and even in the two wet seasons, there will be large periods of clear dry weather.
Average Temps at the South Rim
As you can see there is a huge variation between the extremes of summer and winter. It is also important to remember these are averages the maximums can be several degrees more on the coldest or hottest days of the year. The Coldest recorded Temp being -22°F (-30°C)
Average Temps at the Inner Rim
The most noticeable figure here is those scorching summer temps! Hiking in these temps can cause serious heat exhaustion and even lead to heatstroke which can be fatal! The Winter temps are actually quite mild compared to the Frigid temps of the Rim
Accurate Weather Forecasts
Accurate forecasts for your upcoming trip are Vital. Seasonal guides such as this are only looking at averages, historic and typical events. If we know one thing about the weather it can and does do whatever the heck it pleases! You can use a guide like this to plan, but you need to be ready to alter, adapt, or just cancel your plans based on real-time accurate forecasts. The Below resources are what the Park Service uses to plan their activities in the park, which are critical to the safe running of the park. So if it’s good enough for them…
Do not rely on Google or your Iphones Weather app. These are at best broad overviews, Obtain a detailed report on the weather and understand what it means.
What Is The Best Time Of Year To Visit The Grand Canyon
While raw data can tell you a lot about the weather it is actually pretty useless without a little interpretation, Take the Precipitation Graph, for example, you would assume August is a washout! But nothing could be further from the truth! It might rain, but that rain may miss you completely, or just bring a short but heavy deluge before clearing back to blue skies again. So let’s take a more detailed look at the seasons to see which might suit your trip best.
Summer Weather in the Grand Canyon National Park (June – August)
Summer at the Grand Canyon is HOT. Temperatures really soar and hit their peaks through the Peak summer months. While things are very toasty on the canyon rim, inside the canyon things get dangerously hot. As Temps climb up above 100°F (37°c) things get very uncomfortable. Combine this with the Monsoon Rains and the Park seems pretty uninviting.
- June – 643,000
- July – 756,000
- August – 700,000
However, as you can see, this does not stop people from flocking to the canyon. Summer is easily the Canyon’s busiest season. So what makes people flock here for the Summer? Is there something we are missing in the data that makes a scorching hot, Rain-Soaked, and packed canyon more appealing than it at first seems?
Well not really, The increase in visitor numbers really is just down to the peak Vacation season, School Holidays, and the traditional times people take Vacation.
The South rim is hot, but it is not unbearably so. Visiting the rim is fairly manageable. The low humidity and forest cover along the rim make the Park hot but never too hot. Hiking the rim during the heat of the day is hard work, but the peak heat is short-lived and it’s only really in the direct sun where you have issues.
Rain is also not as bad a problem as the Data makes out. The Monsoon forms large Thunderstorms that break during the afternoons resulting in a deluge. But the mornings are usually clear, with cloud building throughout the day. When the storms break they are usually short-lived and random in their location. You may get a heavy shower or you may miss them completely. June normally misses most of these rain events and is one of the drier months for the canyon.
These Storms are incredibly spectacular at times. Lightning storms rock the canyons, however, this leads to a whole new risk. As people are regularly struck by lightning as the storms unload on the canyon. When a Storm is near take shelter, not just from the rain but from the wrath of Thor!
With visitor numbers averaging over 700,000 (23,000+ a day) over the three months expect the Canyon to be BUSY! Traffic Queues will form at the park entrances, Shuttle busses will be packed, often meaning you will have to wait for 2-3 buses before a seat is available. Hotels will be full, and expensive. It really is a frenzy over the summer!
The North Rim is cooler and naturally much quieter. But it still peaks over the months. The cooler air on this side of the canyon is much more manageable and long hikes are no problem at all. While the tourist Frenzy is occurring over on the South Rim, the North remains a place of quiet solitude.
Inside the Canyon
Inside the canyon, the Temperatures really start heating up. The Canyon reaches dangerously hot levels most days during the summer, averaging well over 100°F (37°C) and peaking at 110°F (43°C) + at the peak of the day. Now Sat by a pool, sipping a margarita these sort of highs would be dangerously uncomfortable but side the canyon, where many people are trying to Hike Rim to River, these temps become seriously dangerous. The Park service treats people for Heat Exhaustion on a daily basis as people try to hike to the River.
An easy downhill hike during the cooler morning leaves people at the bottom of the canyon facing a 4-hour uphill slog in the heat of the day. Without adequate rest, shelter, cooling, and re-hydration this is a recipe for disaster.
The inner canyon really is a scorching wasteland during the Summer months and not a place we recommend traveling to at all. On top of this, all the Rainfall can spell bad news for Canyon visitors, while on the rim, Rain is only a problem if you get caught in a Storm, down in the Canyon it’s much more dangerous. Rain anywhere up on the plateau can result in dangerous flash flooding down the canyon. On top of this, the Colorado River is normally a seething torrent of brown filthy water. Other times of the year the river takes on an emerald sheen and is quite wonderful contrasted with the Canyon walls, as the summer rains fall it colors up and is visually unappealing, although quite spectacular (and dangerous) in full flood.
Visiting the Grand Canyon in the Summer
Summer really is our least favorite time to visit. An interesting point is far fewer visitors during the Summer months are Backcountry Hikers. The Majority of visitors are day tourists or people stopping off for a night or two.
This is because the more serious visitors know the Summer months are not the best, and Hiking into the canyon is not only dangerous but highly unpleasant. Even if the Heat does not pummel you into heat exhaustion, it’s still pretty unbearable!
So if you are looking for a flying visit, to hike a few miles of the Rim trail, Take in some utterly stunning vistas from the lookout points, and just enjoy a taste of the canyon, Then summer is fine. Normally these types of visitors are coming as part of a wider tour, a USA Road Trip, or an Excursion from Las Vegas. If that is you then there are normally many other considerations into the timing of your trip. You will find the canyon Hot, but still perfectly enjoyable.
However, if the Grand Canyon is the PRIMARY reason for your trip, we really can’t think of a single reason to plan it during the summer. You can still have a great time, and simply hide away during the hottest part of the day (10-4) but you will find your trip FAR more enjoyable outside of the Summer Sizzle and Squeeze!
Winter Weather in the Grand Canyon National Park (December – February)
- December – 324,000
- January – 225,000
- February – 213,000
The South Rim is a cold and desolate place during the winter deep Freeze. The high Elevation leads to plunging temps and heavy snowfalls. Many people are caught out by this expecting to find a warm desert climate like most of Arizona, instead, the uplift of the surrounding terrain leads to some seriously icy temps.
With temps regularly falling below zero degrees Fahrenheit (-18°C) and even down as low as -22°F (-30°C) as the lowest recorded temp, you can be assured winter on the rim feels blisteringly cold. The surrounding forest is a godsend and helps protect the rim from some of the worst of the winds that blow on the expansive plateau, but still, on windy days this cold is amplified even more.
Snowstorms can roll in close roads and strand drivers in their cars very quickly. What seems a pleasant day can quickly turn into a disaster. Unlike the north the Park Service does everything they can to keep the roads open and moving but when the snows fall it can cause major disruption. Always check the forecasts and stay away if heavy snow is forecast.
But apart from the cold and the snow, the canyon is quite a magical place during the winter. The Snowcapped rim contrasting with the warmer colors of the inner canyon. On clear crisp days, the color and beauty of the canyon really pop. The huge distances visible from the canyon Rim allows you to watch storms roll in by in the distance. And finally, those visitor numbers fall right down. It really is possible to find some real seclusion and peace in the canyon over the winter. A sunset all to yourself, a trail with nobody on it, and park entrances with zero queues, just remember to wrap up WARM!
Winter is definitely the worst time to visit the North Rim, principally as it’s closed! So we will not get into too much detail here. The snowpack is deep and the rim is in the deep freeze. But the access roads are closed and the facilities shut down so unless you hike there from the canyon floor, it really is irrelevant!
Inside the Canyon
If you are Hiking into the Canyon extreme care is needed. The Sheltered Canyon walls allow snow and ice to form and with little or no sunlight getting into the deeper canyons this can persist for months. trails can become ice rinks and with huge unprotected drops, this is a deadly combination.
On top of this snowstorms can make hiking dangerous. Getting caught in a white-out or freezing blizzard is no fun at all. It is quite possible to hike into the canyon and not be able to hike back out again. Careful analysis of current forecasts and the sense and willingness to cancel or postpone your trip are the best guards against this!
Extreme care and preparedness is needed if hiking in winter.
On the flip side, if you are willing to brave the cold at the upper rim, the canyon floor is a much milder and more hospitable place. Snow rarely falls and instead melts to rain well before hitting the lower elevations. On warm days the winter sun is quite pleasant and the empty trails and solitude are really quite appealing.
Visiting the Canyon in Winter
Winter visits are not without their hardships. The canyon can be a brutal place in the winter. Short days, freezing temps, cutting winds, treacherous trails, and heavy snows make it only for the hardy. But those willing to push through the difficulties will find a quiet and peaceful canyon that is every bit as beautiful as in the summer months. And after all, if it’s cold you can just add more clothing, when the temps hit 110+ in the summer there is little you can do to cool off but hide!
Spring Weather in the Grand Canyon National Park (March – May)
As Spring rolls onwards the weather at the canyon slowly improves, The Rain/Snow dries up, the temperatures begin to rise and the roads and passes are open again as the snows recede. It really is one of the best times to visit the Canyon, with only one minor drawback…
- March – 451,000
- April – 562,000
- May – 618,000
As the weather warms up and the snows recede more and more people start heading for the park and by May, one of the BEST months to visit the park numbers are almost up to full summer peak levels. What’s more, a lot of these visitors are Back Country Visitors. This is the peak hiking season. Trails and backcountry campsites will be packed, as will most hotels, RV parks, and hostels. Those in the know this is the period of perfect canyon weather and they will be out to take advantage.
March is still quite cold and not really much improved from the Winter, As April comes round the thaw really starts but it is not until the end of the month that the ice and snow in the sheltered canyons starts to get a little sunlight and melts the last of the snow and ice on the trail. Right through April, it’s still bitterly cold on the rim at night so sunsets and sunrises require warm clothing but are spectacularly beautiful.
From the end of March onwards, the winter Storms start to wane and the Dry desert Climate takes over. Rain is now very infrequent and this dry spell lasts right until the end of June.
May is the Sweet spot of spring, although this can extend into late April and early June, this is the point where the heat of the day is not so severe to seriously inhibit hiking but it’s past the point of extreme cold.
The North rim is a different beast. The AZ-67 is closed until Mid-May so for most of the spring, it’s just not an option. The Weather on the Rim starts to improve but the highway remains closed until all of the amenities on the North Rim are opened for business. By the time it opens up in Mid May the weather is mild, dry, and very pleasant indeed.
Inside the Canyon
Even from March onwards, the temperatures in the canyon are mild, and while it gets a bit chilly at night it’s really great hiking weather. The long hikes up the canyon walls are perfectly manageable in these temps. As the Season moves along the temps get warmer and warmer, until near the end of May it is starting to get a bit unbearable during the daytime peaks.
Rain falls less frequently as the months pass by with very little rain to worry about after March. This really is a far better time of year to be in the canyon than the scorching hot summer months. However, the big downside is the number of hikers that will be on the trials by May. This is the busiest month of the year for backcountry hikers and the campsites really will be chock full!
Visiting the Canyon in Spring
Spring really is the ideal month for weather. As the weeks roll by the weather just gets better and better, but so does the number of people taking advantage. If you can bear the crowds then Sring is a truly wonderful time. And Besides, the Crowds are just as bad in the summer months only the weather is far worse in summer!
Autumn/Fall Weather in the Grand Canyon National Park (September – November)
Autumn/Fall is the best-kept secret in the Canyon. The Weather holds up for most of the season and crowds diminish to reasonable levels pretty quickly. The first snows of winter have yet to fall and the canyon is quite peaceful and adorned in color. The River regains its emerald coloring and the low sun creates wonderful sunsets and sunrises that last longer and are more vibrant than the summer’s show.
- September – 578,000
- October – 551,000
- November – 347,000
Up on the South Rim the temperature holds out well into late October, the evening can be chilly and by November ground frosts and really cold nights have drawn in, but it’s still milder than the winter that draws near. Rain Storms persist through September as the remnants of the Monsoon tail off. It’s less than summer but Big storms can and do bring torrential downpours and dramatic thunderstorms.
Crowds remain steady until November but it’s still quieter than the May-Aug peak and the park can easily handle the numbers of visitors during the season.
The North Rim Stays open throughout the Season. Unlike Spring where the NPS is waiting for the Snowpack to clear in the Autumn/Fall, they wait for the snows to fall. The Rim can Stay open right up until late November. However, the First heavy snow can fall before then and put an untimely end to the season. If you are planning the North Rim for late Fall be ready with backup Plans as things change quickly!
If your luck holds out you find a beautiful slice of nature that will be largely to yourselves. As the masses head to other Parks around the country for the autumnal color show, the Coniferous nature of the Kaibab forest means there is little reddening of the leaves here. But Autumn is still very beautiful.
Hikers need to be wary of the forecasts as early Snows or late Thunderstorms are always possible. As ever be vigilant and Flexible.
Inside the Canyon
The Internal Temperature in the canyon remains very warm throughout September and is still pleasantly mild in October and even November is benign with little change of extreme cold or heat. For long hikes, you need to be wary of the limited daylight as the days draw in. The nights come fast and early in the depths of the canyon! Hiking at night is a riskier proposition without adequate lighting.
Visiting the Canyon in Fall
The Fall is a really wonderful time to be at the Grand Canyon National Park. The Heat and rains of the summer have dissipated and the cold yet to ravage the rim, the crowds both on the Rim and along the Back Country Trails are far lower than Spring and Summer giving you a real chance to enjoy the peace, beauty, and Tranquility of the simply stunning National Park.
So What Is The Best Time Of Year To Visit The Grand Canyon?
Having looked at the differing Seasons Throughout the year hopefully, you have a better understanding of when to visit the park. For those really looking to make the most of the Canyon Spring and Fall are the best best. Winter is for the Die-Hards who want the Canyon to themselves and are willing to endure the hardships to get it.
Summer is the least appealing time but for those just popping by to get a glimpse of the Unesco Natural Wonder then Summer still has the ability to showcase and wow the crowds with jaw-dropping vistas, Spiritually beautiful Sunsets, and a slice of Nature that is without compare anywhere in the world.
Have Your Say
We are most definitely tourists ourselves and have not experienced every month, season, and weather permutations possible in the canyon. So naturally, we love hearing your opinions and experience of the canyon to further grow our understanding and knowledge base. So please fire away in the comments and let us know what the weather gods served up for your trip to the Grand Canyon.