The Grand Canyon is one of those much-hyped places that is still somehow underrated. You didn’t read that wrong. I said one of the most visited national parks in the country doesn’t get its due.
First off, out of the roughly 6 million who typically visit each year, about 90% only view the canyon from packed overlooks on the South Rim. It’s like going to a concert and turning your back to the stage for the whole show.
The canyon is right there.
That leads me to my second point. Only about 1% go into the canyon to hike, camp or take on the rapids of the mighty Colorado River. (If access is your issue, the lesser-visited North Rim is an excellent choice or maybe you could take a mule to Phantom Ranch.)
I’ve done extensive hiking in the canyon, mainly from the South Rim. On one trip, I bolted down the notorious Grandview Trail and spent a few days camping around Horseshoe Mesa and near Grapevine Creek, where I didn’t see another human being for some 50 hours.
On another trip, I camped near Boucher Rapids with another night at Yuma Point before the daunting ascent back to Hermits Rest. Those were solo trips, but I got together with a crazy buddy of mine (obviously a kindred spirit) in March 2018 to hike the South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails in one day. The 16.5-mile effort was truly exhausting but exhilarating as well.
All that’s to say I have hiked well-traveled corridor trails and much more difficult ones, too. In doing that, I can honestly say that no trip to the Grand Canyon has ever even slightly disappointed me.
One of the most recent trips was in December 2020 with fresh snow on the ground. I’d seen Grand Canyon in every season but winter to that point and it sure was magical. March/April and October/November are often regarded as the “best times to visit” – and for good reason. The weather is temperate and ideal for outdoor activities both at the rim and in the canyon.
However, visitation is lowest from December to February, which perhaps offers the most unique experiences.
My hiking partner and I started down the snow-caked Bright Angel Trail in the morning alongside relatively few people – something that’s a lot more difficult to do in the spring, summer and fall – at least for the first three miles when many (often unprepared) folks start to turn back.
The snow began to disappear with the drop in elevation and was gone as we went through Indian Garden and took the easy stroll out to Plateau Point. We saw a pair of mule deer at a point along the way, taking a drink at the Bright Angel Creek.
These quiet moments can be found at viewpoints along the rim, too, especially during winter. They can be found within the canyon any time of year. What’s important to remember, they can’t be found at Mather Point with hordes of summer tourists.