Winter in Grand Canyon National Park

After an amazing morning hiking Bright Angel Trail and a mid-day siesta to avoid the hail storm that was passing through, we decided to spend our first afternoon in Grand Canyon National Park exploring Hermit Road.

Hermit Road is usually closed to personal vehicles. During peak season, you have to take one of the park shuttle buses or hike along the Rim Trail in order to access the viewpoints. An advantage of visiting the park in winter is that for a short window of time, you can drive your personal vehicle along Hermit Road and see the sights at your own pace.

When I was planning this trip, I really liked the idea of hiking the Rim Trail in one direction and riding the shuttle in the other, but that will have to wait for a future trip when the season, weather, and status of COVID-19 are different.

Our first pullover was Trailview Overlook where we not only had wonderful views of the canyon, but – surprise! – we had amazing views of Bright Angel Trail, which we had hiked that morning. In the photos below, you can see the trail winding down into the canyon, beginning with gradual switchbacks that become shorter and steeper the farther down you go.

Despite the ominous clouds, the sun would occasionally break through and illuminate the red, gold, and green colors in the canyon.

The wind was starting to pick up so we skipped Maricopa Point and only briefly stopped at Powell Point, Hopi Point, and The Abyss.

Having recently read The Emerald Mile, I had an appreciation for Powell Point and the monument honoring John Wesley Powell, one of the first non-indigenous people to journey through the canyon on the Colorado River.

Powell Point is a significant and interesting place to stop along Hermit Drive, and is actually the site where the Grand Canyon National Park was dedicated all the way back in 1920. Here, you’ll also find a statue memorializing John Wesley Powell, for whom the stop is named. Powell played an extremely important part in the discovery of the canyon, leading groundbreaking expeditions of the Colorado River in 1869 and 1872. 

Grand Canyon Visitor Center

The wind was really picking up as we wandered the path along the rim at Pima Point, one of the final stops along Hermit Road. We had only been admiring the views for a moment when the dark clouds that had been heading our way from the west were upon us.

Brian captured the storm in his photo sequence below — clouds, hail, and sweeping winds that we had to fight to get back to our car. Several cars ahead of us turned east on Hermit Drive toward the visitor centers, but we turned west and headed straight into the clouds toward our final destination, Hermit’s Rest!

We pulled into Hermit’s Rest and couldn’t see a thing! After a quick selfie at the sign, we popped inside the 1914 building for some hot chocolate before heading back toward the visitor centers and Mather Point.

The building was really neat, especially the gigantic fireplace, but much of it was closed because of COVID-19 and you could only make a one-way loop through to the concessions, which you then had to take outside to eat/drink.

We heard from others that during good weather and non-COVID time the rooms are worth exploring and the views off the porch are wonderful so I would recommend trying to get to this turnaround point if you’re able!

We warmed up in the car on our drive back to the Bright Angel area and decided to continue on to Mather Point to see if we could catch any sunset amid the storm.

Along the way we came across a small herd of elk! (FYI, apparently it’s also appropriate to refer to multiple elk as a gang.) Aside from the big horn sheep on our hike and a few mule deer near our cabin, we hadn’t seen much wildlife in the park – certainly nothing close enough to photograph well.

I was surprised to see them out in the wind and snow but I guess it was time for dinner, regardless of the elements!

Our final stop of the day was Mather Point, which we hit just in time for sunset. Apparently this is usually an extremely busy spot for people interested in seeing sunrise/sunset in the canyon. There were only a few people when we visited – clearly the weather was keeping the big crowds away!

The wind had died down and while it was cloudy and not a terribly colorful sunset, I thought the deep colors and contrasting white snow were beautiful.

We enjoyed a few last cold and windy views before climbing back into our car, heading back to our cabin, and hunkering down for the evening. A successful winter day in Grand Canyon National Park!

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