Grand Canyon trip planning Enlightened

Grand Canyon Christmas photo by Michael Quinn NPS

A Grand Canyon Christmas

While most people stay home for the holidays, there are some die hard travelers that want to spend Christmas in their National Parks. Many parks are difficult to visit during the winter months or have limited access due to road closures and weather. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is not only open, but there are some great activities to enjoy while on your winter vacation. From the Polar Express to a backcountry Christmas at Phantom Ranch you’re sure to have a happy holiday at Grand Canyon National Park.

Polar Express

This holiday experience starts from the Grand Canyon Railway Depot in Williams Arizona and makes its way to the North Pole through a beautiful pine forest near Grand Canyon National Park. This festive experience has song, dance and hot chocolate while you listen to The Polar Express story by Chris Van Allsburg. The much anticipated arrival to the North Pole makes its final stop at Santa’s Village, where Santa boards the train to fill every boy, girl and grown up with the Christmas spirit. The Grand Canyon Railway offers trips to Grand Canyon Village all year, but the Polar express is one of their special events. The Polar express offers an afternoon matinee and evening train rides from November through the first week in January. Reservations are recommended if you want to go close to Christmas when dates fill quickly, especially for the Christmas Eve limited train ride.    

Grand Canyon Inversion

Although rare, the winter months offer a chance to see an inversion at Grand Canyon National Park. The bottom of the Grand Canyon is generally much warmer than the rim, but when air temperatures are cooler on the canyon floor than the rim of the canyon, a sea of clouds can form inside the Grand Canyon making rock formation look like they are rising from the clouds. This unique weather phenomenon is called a total cloud inversion. Years may go by without this event occurring, but on a good year there may be several inversions at the Grand Canyon and if you are lucky enough to see one it will be an experience you’ll always remember.

Christmas at Phantom Ranch

If you’re looking for something different to do for Christmas, take a hike to Phantom Ranch Lodge at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Hikers headed to Phantom ranch will need to make the 7 mile trek down the South Kaibab trail or the 9.5 mile hike down the Bright Angel. You’ll want to make sure you’re prepared for snow and ice on the rim with warm clothing and some instep crampons for your hiking boots. You’ll also need some clothing for warmer weather at Phantom where December temperatures can reach 70 degrees after you started your day hiking through snow on the South Rim. Phantom Ranch has dorms and cabins that make your stay comfortable and provides meals so you don’t have to worry about cooking or carrying extra weight for your trip. If reservations aren’t available at Phantom, Bright Angel campground is only a few hundred feet away and you can usually still make reservations for meals even if the lodging is full. You can generally find permits this time of year at the parks backcountry office for Bright Angel Campground, but whether camping or staying at Phantom Ranch reserving space in advance is the way to go.

Cross Country Skiing on the South Rim

Visitors to Grand Canyon National Park usually don’t associate the canyon with skiing, but the South Rim can get heavy snowfall in December and throughout the winter and spring months. This can create a very unique opportunity if you’re into Cross Country Skiing. The trails along the South Rim after a fresh blanket of snow (and the roads and trails through Kaibab National Forest right outside the park) can be transformed into an amazing winter wonderland with a little luck and the right weather.

Christmas Dinner at the El Tovar

For many people an amazing meal is a big part of Christmas Day. If you’re worried about not having your Christmas ham have no fear, the El Tovar has a luxurious holiday feast to meet your needs. Located along the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, the El Tovar dining room offers a great menu on Christmas Day. Start with a Christmas beverage to lift your spirits like the Hermit’s Cider or Peppermint Patty, pig out on roasted ham or prime rib and finish your meal with a perfect holiday desert like pecan pie or red velvet cake.


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