Grand Canyon in Winter - Hermit Trail to Bright Angel


Oct 30, 2016
This was a 4 day 3 night trip through the Grand Canyon in February 2013.

Day 1 (8 miles, -3800ft)

Blue skies and crisp winter air set the scene for the beginning of our hike. Snow and ice covered the south rim of the canyon, making the hike down Hermit Trail exciting in spots.


As we lost elevation we gained warmer temperatures and we shed layers while making our way to Santa Maria Spring, a couple miles from the trail head. There's a small shelter at the spring where we stopped to have lunch, looking out in to a bowl surrounded by canyon walls.



After lunch and a refill from the trickle of water still flowing at the spring, we got back on the trail and headed off to the first night's camp another 6 miles ahead at Hermit Creek. This was my first time to the canyon ever, so to say that the scenery was overwhelming would be an understatement. I just kept wondering what the first people to have come across those flat approaches to the rim must have thought when all of a sudden they saw the gaping maw of this place beneath their feet. Incredible.




We made it to Hermit Creek shortly before dark, set up camp and had dinner. The comfortable highs of the day didn't prepare me for what would be a very cold night. I didn't get a lot of sleep due to waking up cold.

Day 2 (5 miles)

After another water top-off at the creek, we headed out. The second day of the trip was pretty easy hiking across the Tonto Trail towards the Colorado River. After a few miles we had lunch near Monument Creek under the impressive and improbable stone pillar 'monument' that gives the place its name.


A short hike to the mouth of the creek bed saw us to the night's camp site at Granite Rapids.



That's me there trying to look very zen, but really sitting there wondering if I'd framed the shot right and if it would look like I was pooping out a log. You be the judge...

This was the warmest temperature we'd experience in the canyon. Mid-70's and chilling in a t-shirt - a real vacation highlight for someone used to February in Chicago. The rapids were loud and the steep cliff walls hugging the river very impressive. More time to relax before sundown today, so I hiked up the Colorado a bit and explored some.



Eventually the blue skies were overtaken by dark clouds, and soon enough the sun went below the rim. Time to hole up in the tent again, though the night's sleep was better. Not really much warmer, just too tired to wake up and pretty good and hypnotized by the sounds of the river twenty feet away.



Day 3 (10 miles)

Woke up to a brisk morning under mostly cloudy skies and enjoyed breakfast on the beach.


Eventually we got around to hiking, with about 10 miles of hills across the Tonto on the way to Horn Creek.

It's hard to rank one part of the canyon over another as far as 'views', but this stretch of the interior was especially impressive I thought. Optical overload at every turn. At one point we passed an outcropping of canyon walls from which a piece had fallen off, and that piece had to be close to the size of about half of the block my house is on. So huge. I can't even imagine being nearby when it landed or witnessing something so incredibly permanent suddenly in free fall.





At Horn Creek we passed a group leaving the camp site and heading elsewhere. Each night we'd been the only people at our camp site, and these were the first people we'd seen since hiking down the first day. We'd topped off water earlier, I can't remember where, since the water at Horn Creek is radioactive from an old uranium mine nearby. The day had grown progressively cloudier and at this point we could see snow coming down over the north rim. Over night I would periodically wake to the sound of rain and then sleet.

Day 4 (7 miles, +3000ft)

Summit day! Well sort of ;) Up and hiking in the dark, three headlamps floating along a trail surrounded by absolute silence. It was cold, and I could smell winter in the air even down here, unlike the last three days. As dawn broke we could see that the snow falling over the north rim had made its way across the canyon, and the south rim was now getting a pretty good covering itself.



After a few miles we reached a completely empty Indian Gardens. Enjoyed the use of a proper bathroom, dumped the used toilet paper I'd been packing out, chuckled at the ironic 'your brain on sun' sign, and steeled ourselves for the climb up to the rim.


I had heard of Bright Angel trail before, and knew it had a reputation as a tourist killer in summer heat. It's certainly a heck of a climb, no doubt about it. Endless switchbacks right up the wall, and the higher we went they more ice and snow there was to deal with.


I didn't have microspikes, and they'd probably have made things a bit easier, but cold and hunger can get you up a trail just as easily and after the longest three hours of the trip we were standing at the top in a pretty decent little snowstorm. In fact an unexpected blizzard had made its way through Arizona, even dumping a few inches of snow on Phoenix.


To this day I feel bad for the few people sitting in the restaurant who had to smell us while we plowed through one of the best tasting breakfasts I can remember eating, lol.

Great trip, great route, great time of year to go.


Broadcaster, formerly "ashergrey"
May 5, 2012
I bet coming up that last push in the snow must have been fun. Beautiful pictures.


Oct 30, 2016


Oct 5, 2014
And I hiked this same route (with the same campsites but with an extra couple of nights across at Bright Angel Campground) in April 2011 and there was snow at the rim but no more than 80 degrees down at the bottom. Very pleasant.
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