We’ve prepared this brief guide to assist you in planning & preparing for your photography trip to the Grand Canyon. Being photographers we tend to obsess over our gear. Equally as important as bringing the right camera gear, is bringing the right personal gear to best cope with the high-desert environment of northern Arizona.
Besides bringing your camera and a selection of lenses, your gear selection will revolve around when you are visiting. While we know that in most of Arizona the temperature gets pretty hot, and that it’s hot for most of the year, the reality is that northern Arizona and especially the Grand Canyon are not like the rest of the state. Please be sure to take note of the type of weather you could have while visiting the Grand Canyon.
Temperatures on the rim of the canyon can be range from summer highs in the low 90s to winter lows well below freezing. This is due to the elevation on the canyon’s rim. The altitude above sea-level on the South Rim ranges from 6,700 to 7,500 feet (2,040 to 2,290 meters), and on the North Rim it ranges from 8,000 to 8,803 feet (2,440 to 2,685 meters). The high altitude keeps things relatively cool, and quite pleasant during most of the summer.
During the summer months, the high temperatures can be in the 80s (27-32°C), with early morning temperatures occasionally dipping into the 40s (4-9°C). June is the hottest month at the canyon, and temperatures can get into the 90°s. Due to the high altitude there is less atmosphere to block out the sun. Be sure to bring a sunhat and plenty of sunscreen. The sun is intense here and you can get a sunburn very quickly.
From mid-July through mid-September the Grand Canyon and most of the American Southwest sees a major shift in the weather patterns with the arrival of the Southwest Monsoon. This period typically has afternoon thunderstorms with brief periods of heavy rain. This is also the time of year when the storms tend to produce lightning and rainbows. If visiting during the monsoon, I recommend coming equipped with a lightning trigger for your camera and lots of batteries & memory cards!
The rim of the canyon can be very cold during the winter months, and I have seen temperatures go below freezing as early as September and as late as May. I’ve experienced temperatures as low as -20°F in the morning just before sunrise. Winter also brings the chance of snow with the South Rim averaging about 60″ of snowfall annually.
It’s important to come prepared with the right clothing. This means dressing in layers, and to have a warm winter coat, hat, and gloves. Footwear is also important, and I recommend hiking boots and warm wool socks. REI has a wonderful page dedicated to learning How to Layer Clothes for a winter environment.
Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to reach the park. In good weather the drive is 4.5 hours from Las Vegas and about 4 hours from Phoenix. It could take much longer if it’s snowing around Flagstaff and the northern Arizona region. There is always the chance that if a major storm system impacts the region, the park may close certain roads such as the Hermit Road or the Desert View until they have been plowed and cleared of snow and ice, and are once again safe to travel on. Yes, we’re still talking about Arizona here.
Bottled water is not available inside Grand Canyon National Park. There are several water stations where you can refill your reusable water bottle or a CamelBak for no charge.
What equipment should I have?
The equipment checklist below covers most of the essentials that you should have so that you can have a great experience photographing the Grand Canyon. You can also see what Adam uses on the What’s in Adam’s Camera Bag? page.
- Camera body of your choice
- Lenses covering 16mm to 300mm (for full frame cameras)
- Lenses covering 12mm to 200mm (for crop cameras)
- Camera batteries – 1 per day
- Battery charger for your camera
- Extra memory cards
- Circular Polarizer filters to fit all of your lenses
- Sturdy Tripod & Ballhead
- Rain cover for the camera
- Rain cover for the camera pack
- Camp towel (or chamois cloth) to wipe rain and/or snow from the camera
- Lens cleaning supplies such as a LensPen and Rocket Blower
- A photo backpack to carry everything in!
- Lightning Trigger
- 2-Stop soft-edge graduated neutral density filter
- 3-Stop soft-edge graduated neutral density filter
- Cell phone & car charger
- Reusable water bottle or CamelBak
- Snacks for the day
- ChapStick/Lip Balm
- Headlamp (with extra batteries)
- Local Area Map
- Full tank of gas
- Good hiking shoes or boots
- Quick-dry hiking pants
- Full-brim hat
- Mid-weight jacket such as a fleece jacket
- Rain Jacket
Additional Winter Clothing
- Warm jacket or coat
- Winter hat
- Warm gloves
Remember the “6Ps”…Proper Prior Planning Promotes Peak Performance!