We left the main attraction for the last few days, simply because lodging at the Bright Angel Cabin was all booked out until after the new year. There aren’t many options for staying in the canyon, but Mark and I agreed that it’s a must if you’re staying overnight. Not only does it grant you instant access to the canyon at anytime of the day, but you don’t need to drive an extra 10 miles or so just to get in and out of the park. For those of you that question visiting the canyon in the winter, take a peek at the photos below. Yes, it’s freezing cold. Yes, the trails are covered in ice. Yes, the Northern Rim is closed. All of that is forgotten once you see how magical the canyon looks among the snow.
Note to those traveling to the Grand Canyon in the winter- We were coming from up north (Page) and planned on taking 64 West. Unfortunately, the road was closed due to a prior snowstorm, so we had to drive all the way back to Flagstaff and loop back up to the southern entrance. Do your due diligence!
Mather Point Lookout
Trail of Time (Hermit Trail)
Bright Angel Trail
Bright Angel Restaurant
El Tovar Dining Room
Most people catch their first real glimpse deep into the canyon at Mather Point. It’s one of the main overlooks that awaits you when driving through the southern entrance. In the summer, this place becomes heavily congested, but on January 1, it was at best crowdy. The view is quite extensive, and you can see 10 miles through to the North Rim. While pros suggest photographing this point at sunrise, I thought the pictures taken around 2:30pm were just as spectacular with the deep blue sky.
Trail of Time
This is one of the coolest trails given the walk is designed as a geologic time-line. The further you walk, the older the rocks get. It’s a short hike, just under 3 miles long. Like many other trails, this began as an Indian route and improved over time. In the spring/summer, you can only gain access via a shuttle that stops along each point on the trail, but during the winter months, it’s open to private vehicles.
This is a great trail to walk if you’re looking to take photos during sunset. The trail head is located right next to Bright Angel Lodge. By far, Bright Angel is the cheapest lodging option, and the $77 we paid/night was a steal when compared to the other rates for lodging in the canyon. The bathrooms are communal, but everything is kept super clean. The cherry on top is its prime location- next to the most popular trail down the canyon, the Bright Angel Trail.
Bright Angel Restaurant
- Breakfast: 6:30 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.
- Lunch: 11:15 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
- Dinner: 4:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Even if you’re willing to splurge for El Tovar for dinner, chances are you won’t get a reservation unless if you plan well in advance. We called at 3pm for a reservation, and the only two-top available was for 9pm. We’re talking about early January here. Bright Angel Restaurant is located right next to the check-in of Bright Angel Lodge. It’s honestly not the greatest food, but after a long hike, even mediocre comfort food makes the cut.
The service was curt but quick. My main complaint was the soggy bun. Ugh, nothing bothers me more than a soggy bun. At least the portion sizes were decently large. It’s as if they gave us all of the contents of a party-sized tortilla chip bag for the spinach dip. We had so much that we brought some back for our hike the next day. The local beers are also worth getting.
South Rim Spinach Dip, served with Tri-Color Tortilla Chips ($6.25)
Southerwestern Burger, a Half Pound Natural Beef Burger Topped with Fire Roasted Tomato Aioli, Pepperjack Cheese and Green Chile Guacamole, Lettuce, Tomato and Onion on a Toasted Kaiser Roll ($10.55)
Pepperjack Chicken Melt, Grilled Natural Chicken Breast with Sautéed Onions and Peppers, Topped with Melted Pepperjack Cheese and Ranch Mayonnaise on an Onion Roll ($8.95)
Bright Angel Trail
We had originally wanted to descend the South Kaibab trail, all the way to the Colorado River and ascend back up the Bright Angel Trail. However, because the road was closed to the South Kaibab trail (all the trails are still open by foot), we decided to play it safe and descend down the more widely footed Bright Angel Trail. The trail follows the head of a side canyon and views are framed by massive cliffs, which provide a good source of shade in the summer. Unfortunately, you need to walk further down to Plateau Point (an extra 1.5 miles each way) in order to catch a glimpse of the Colorado river.
The total mileage for this hike is just slightly over 12 miles, with most of the elevation drop occurring within the first four miles of the hike. It was a colossal pain hiking back up. Mark nearly dragged me back up the mountain. When they say don’t attempt to hike all the way down to the rim of the canyon and back, they mean it. Heed those warnings. Even in sub 30 degree F weather, we became super dehydrated and exhausted. The views don’t change much along the trail, but they are gorgeous all the same.
Do start out early. We headed out right after sunrise (7:50am), which is definitely worth waking up for as the colors and hues are unmatched by any other time during the day. In the summer, you’ll want to start before the sun rises or you’ll pay for it as the sun beams mercilessly above you as you hike further into the canyon. We ended our hike before 3pm. I passed out at 5pm and woke up at 7am the next day. Poor Mark.