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Now Is the Best Time for That Epic Trip to the Grand Canyon

Sal Santiago writes about travel, minimalism, philosophy, and living an alternative lifestyle.

View of the Colorado River from the Grand Canyon South Rim

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If you would like to visit the Grand Canyon, but want to avoid the huge summer crowds, there is no better time to go. Visitors to the park are way down compared to previous years. I worked at a tour company from February to mid-August. There was a spring break rush in April, but then it scaled off after that. In a normal year, spring break marks the kick-off point of the busy summer season. This year it was hit or miss, and impossible to make any predictions week by week.

View of the Grand Canyon from the Hermit's Route Trail

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One thing to note, and something that scares away visitors, is the sign posted by the park service, warning of long wait times at the entrance gate. The sign always has the same message, to be prepared for long wait times of 1-2 hours. There were a few days where wait times around midday were about 30 minutes. On most days, it was literally 5-10 minutes, and often there was no line at all, and you could get right through the gate.

As part of the job, we kept an eye on the entrance gate webcams throughout the day, and could advise the public on estimated wait times. Also, the company jeeps had to wait in the line as well. If there was a short line on a given day, it usually started around 10am or so, and died out in the early afternoon around 2pm. If you were visiting in the morning or evening, you could almost always get right through the gates.

Yucca Flower along the Grand Canyon South Rim

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In Yellowstone in summer of 2020, there were record numbers of visitors to the park. People had been cooped up in their homes for months, and they were ready to get outside. Plus, everything else was still closed, and it made sense to be outdoors. It was a perfect time to visit a national park.

Going into this summer season, it was thought that this year would be quite the same. After two years of the pandemic, people were itching to get out. And why not make that epic trip to the Grand Canyon? A place where for many, it is a once in a lifetime experience. Is there a person alive who doesn't have the Grand Canyon on their bucket list?

Winter is a Great Time of Year to Visit Grand Canyon National Park

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But this year, the huge crowds that were expected, never panned out. Unforeseen events happened. Inflation, and the rise in gas prices. And international travel has not completely returned to what it was several years ago. Numbers of visitors from surrounding states, who in a usual year might drive to the park, were not coming. Flights from throughout Asia - China, Japan, Korea, who normally visit the park in big numbers, have also been down this year.

Winter View from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

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In July and August, towards the end of the season, we did see a slight uptick in tourists from Asia. We also noticed more groups coming in from all over Europe. But especially from France, and Italy. After chatting with a few Italians, and mentioning I really want to visit Italy, they gave me a great advice: don't go in August. Why? Everyone is on vacation, and the country is mostly closed down. August is the month for them to travel, and take advantage of their weeks of vacation time. Interestingly, for a European, $5-6 dollars a gallon for gas is still a great deal. Many Europeans are used to paying twice that.

View of the Grand Canyon on a Summer Day

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With the uncertainty in the world right now related to the economy, and rising inflation, the trend of fewer travelers to the national parks this year will likely continue. If you are ready to travel, and the timing is right for you, then this is a great time to visit the Grand Canyon. Lines all throughout the park are not very long, and the viewpoints are not crowded. At times, in certain locations, you might feel like you have the park to yourself.

View of the Grand Canyon, along the Hermit's Rest Route

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Another recommendation, is to visit the park in the fall and winter. The summer crowds are gone, and it is the quiet time of year to see the canyon. The weather, if there happens to be a little rain or snow, can make for dramatic views. For many long-timers at the canyon, the off-season is their favorite time of year to see the canyon. And it's an experience not too many people have. Snow or rain at a viewpoint can decrease visibility of course, but more often than not, it can be snowing and a whiteout at one viewpoint in the canyon, while at another viewpoint a few miles away, it can be sunny and clear.

Often as well in winter, it can be sunny with mild temps in the range of 50s-60s. Very comfortable throughout midday (but you'll definitely want to bring coats and layers for mornings and evenings).

Watching the Sunset at Moran Point on the South Rim

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For longer hikes into the canyon on the Bright Angel Trail or the South Kaibab Trail, fall/winter is the best time of year. In the summer it is simply too hot in the canyon for long hikes. Temps in the canyon are typically 20 degrees hotter than at the rim. It is often well over 100F, and conditions are more akin to Death Valley. Also, in the fall and winter, prices will be much lower. You will find great deals on everything from flights to hotels and campsites (Mather Campground inside the park), to reduced rate deals on tours along the South Rim.

So if you're on the fence about that epic adventure trip to the Grand Canyon, my advice would be to go at any time for the rest of this year. It's a great time to visit the park, and this is likely to continue for the rest of the year, and into next spring.

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