Phoenix > Sedona > Grand Canyon?
December 12, 2013 10:00 AM   Subscribe

What will the weather be like on a Phoenix > Sedona > Grand Canyon trip in early-mid February?

I'm planning on flying into Phoenix, then going to Sedona for perhaps 4 nights, with a day trip to the Grand Canyon. It's been recommended to me to rent a car, even though there seem to be a number of shuttle options between the cities and areas. But I'm worried I'll run into some winter weather conditions, which I really do not want to drive in. What's the likelihood of running into winter precip along a Phonenix > Sedona >Grand Canyon (south rim) route in early-mid February? Are there weather forecasts for what kind of winter is in store for the area? What kind of vehicle do you recommend renting - can I get away with an economy car, or should I upgrade to something for varying driving conditions?

This is a totally recreation trip, where I mostly want to relax with some lovely nature sights, with wine by the fireplace, and some light hiking during the day. Anything else or specific that can be recommended to see in the vicinity would also be much appreciated.
posted by raztaj to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There's a decent likelihood that you'll hit some winter weather. If you're going Phoenix>Sedona>Grand Canyon, you'll probably also be driving through Flagstaff, which is located at 7000 feet and gets 20" of snow a month from January through March. The south rim is at a lower elevation, possibly low enough that it won't get the accumulation that Flagstaff does.
posted by LionIndex at 10:09 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

You'll want to upgrade anyway, because there are lots of elevation changes, and running on the highways in a little car will be a frightening experience if you aren't super comfortable driving already.

I did a similar trip in 2008, and we rented a Vibe. I love driving, but I won't do that again. That little car couldn't get out of it's own way on the the climb up out of the Phoenix valley and again on 89 coming back into Flagstaff. I was there last summer in my Tacoma and it was a much better experience.

If you like neat and very interesting drives, Jerome is a very cool town. It's on the side of a mountain and there are like 30 switchbacks as you go, but it's very fun, scenic, and interesting. Just go up into Prescott and take 89A up and over into Sedona. Much nicer than the Interstate, but it is two lane, somewhat remote and little scary. Worth it, though.

The drive along highway 64 from GC village to highway 89 is nice. You can make a good loop of that. You can drive up to the North Rim, but much of the stuff up there is closed, and in particular you can't get down from Jacob Lake to the North Rim visitor center. Lees Ferry should still be open, and that is a nice little side jaunt with a very pretty drive to it.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:32 AM on December 12, 2013

It'll be cold, possibly with snow ... but as others have said, take your coat and snow boots and go anyone. If we get enough snow, the Snow Bowl is a geat place for outdoor recreation. Seconding, Jerome as well (where you can often catch some very cool bands at The Spirit Room.)

The SO and I just did that drive the day after Thanksgiving and the beauty of that alone was well worth the trip. Have fun.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 10:54 AM on December 12, 2013

Driving time to the Grand Canyon from Sedona is not an insignificant part of the day. Assuming good weather: 1 hour from the North end of Sedona to Flagstaff on 89A up Oak Creek Canyon. Then 2 hours to the canyon from Flagstaff. You can go north on 180 through snowbowl and Kendrick Park. If the weather is bad this road will be closed/impassable (and that time of year it is closed A LOT). Or you can take i-40 to Williams and north on 64 to the Canyon. Weather can still close this road but it is rarer than closing 180. If you have bad traffic (rare in February) or weather (really common in February-and the reason not a lot of tourists are causing traffic problems). So for a round trip you are looking at 6 hours in the car, minimum. With only about 8-9 hours daylight that can make for a really short visit to the Canyon.

The south rim of the canyon is about 6k feet in elevation. The climate is pretty much exactly the same as Flagstaff. In the winter this means cold days, VERY cold nights (single digits to negative farenheit is not unusual at all), frequent blizzards, high winds (20-30 mph is the average, THE AVERAGE). Even day hiking at that time of year can require good equipment to stay safe-layers, hats, sunglasses, warm boots and if you get a blizzard don't even try unless you are very comfortable in that kind of weather). And the air is so dry you can get dehydrated without actually ever being warm/sweating.

However the Weather in the Verde Valley (where Sedona is located) is great that time of year. Warm days, brisk nights and very rare snow fall. You might get a thunderstorm or two (February is one of the wettest months in Phoenix) but nothing too bad. The violent storms are in the monsson season at the end of summer/fall in that part of the world. You might get really lucky and witness a thundersnow even. It is kinda weird.

Driving between Phoenix and Sedona is usually ok, but making it over Mingus Mountain can be tough in bad weather, on either I-17 or 89A through Jerome (which is totally worth doing). I would play it by ear, rent a car and if the weather is bad visit some site around phoenix, go to globe (old mining town) and/or Tucson. If the weather is good go and see the Verde Valley. It is full of state parks, monuments and interesting old towns. If the weather Is REALLY good go see the Canyon.
posted by bartonlong at 11:38 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yup, it might get cold and it might snow. You might also be driving over a lot of elevation changes, which will increase the chances of cold and snow and will add complications of their own. It won't be terrible though, with some good clothes and a good car you'll be fine. And you'll be there in the off season, which means less crowds! Especially since you're going to Sedona and the Grand Canyon (two of the most heavily touristed parts of the Southwest) being there when it's less crowded will in my opinion more than make up for the chilly weather.

Like others have said, this isn't a hard or dangerous trip – just make sure that you are prepared for it. Rent a reasonably powerful car with 4WD (doesn't have to be some monster SUV, something like a Subaru Outback would do you fine) and buy chains if your route will take you over any mountains because you may encounter mandatory chain zones if there's ice on the road. Throw a thick blanket, a shovel, some kitty litter, and some emergency food and water in the back of the car just in case you get stuck on an empty stretch of highway somewhere – not that it's likely, but it's so easy to be prepared that there's no excuse not to be. Bring some long underwear, thick socks, a hat, gloves, and a good coat. You'll do fine.

Also, if I may be so bold, you should think about scheduling at least one or two "free" days to go wandering in that rented car. There's a lot of just incredibly beautiful stuff out in the Southwest, much of it a bit off the beaten path. Also the Southwest is probably the best part of the country (if not the world!) to just drive around in – that's one of the best ways to see it, if you ask me. If you decide to go this route and would like any recommendations, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by Scientist at 11:45 AM on December 12, 2013

You take 10 to 17 out of Phoenix, and you'll be fine without chains or any of that, although I nth the suggestion of a decently powered rental, so upgrade. It shouldn't be that big of a deal.

Then arrange a shuttle/day trip to the Grand Canyon from Sedona.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:05 PM on December 12, 2013

I'm worried I'll run into some winter weather conditions, which I really do not want to drive in.

If you are driving, and the weather is bad, you can change your plans.

If you pay a shuttle driver to take you, and the weather is bad, they are under some financial pressure to drive even if the conditions are unsafe.

An economy car should be fine, 4WD doesn't help you stop in the snow. Check the weather and if you'd be driving in a storm change your plans -- being either a driver or a passenger in a snowstorm is very stressful.
posted by yohko at 2:03 PM on December 12, 2013

4WD doesn't help you stop in the snow, but it does help you maintain a straight course or make a turn without skidding wildly out of control. If you hit a patch of loose snow or some ice with one drive wheel in a 2WD car, you're really going to notice it. Hit it with both drive wheels and suddenly the steering and pedals become totally disconnected from the rest of the car and you're just skidding along in the grip of Newtonian physics, hoping that you'll find some traction before anything dangerous happens. In a 4WD car you will just keep on going if one wheel loses grip, and you might even be able to momentarily lose traction in two wheels at once without it affecting the car's handling very much, depending on which wheels they are. It'll also make the car much less likely to get stuck if you have to start on an icy hill or in a patch of deep snow, since you've got twice the traction and twice as many chances to get a wheel into a spot where it can grip.

That's not to say that it's impossible to drive in snow in a 2WD car, but for someone who's a novice to winter driving and who is a bit apprehensive about it, I'd say that 4WD will make for a much more secure ride. I've been out in the mountains in the winter with 2WD, and it was manageable but it was pretty white-knuckle stuff – I had to be constantly hyper-alert and the car would frequently try to go its own way unless I really kept on top of it. (The conditions I was driving in were admittedly much worse than those you are likely to face on your trip, however.) It's not like you can just ignore the snow in a 4WD, but it does make things noticeably more sedate and predictable – the car will handle much more like what you're used to, though you should still take it a little slower and be a little more careful and deliberate in your maneuvering.

Chains are indeed probably overkill, at least going from Phoenix to Sedona. Going from Sedona to the Grand Canyon though you have to go up through Flagstaff, which is up at 7,000 feet. (And then you have to get back down to 1,000 feet one way or another to return to Phoenix.) It's a hilly drive, though it's mostly on major roads that will be aggressively cleared in the event of snow. (I remember my old Honda Accord didn't want to do those hills at anything over 30mph though, at that elevation – that was just all it would give me, so something with a bit more power is definitely in order.) There's always a chance that things will get gnarly though, and in that event chains would possibly let you continue as planned rather than having to miss that part of your trip. They cost around $30-$50, or perhaps you could rent them with the car for all I know. I would say that they're definitely optional, it's up to you if you feel they'd be worthwhile to have.
posted by Scientist at 3:33 PM on December 12, 2013

I'd like to third the suggestion that you go through Jerome, by the way. It's not that far off your route and is definitely worth it. Yes, the road is quite switchbackey – but if you take it slow and only go if the road conditions are good then it's not difficult. It's absolutely worth it, it's a tourist town but in a funky way and it has a lot of history and is very beautiful. Prescott, which is on the way, is quite a nice little town too. Stopping at the Dinner Bell Cafe in Prescott for breakfast or lunch is highly recommended, one of the best diner experiences I've ever had and believe me I've tried a fair few.
posted by Scientist at 3:39 PM on December 12, 2013

You probably will want a rental car, as public transportation in Sedona is practically non-existent. Nthing something with more power than your basic economy car for the Phx-Sedona part of it (and bonus if it's got a little more clearance too...there's some good hikes in Sedona off of paved roads, but exponentially more on unpaved, bumpy roads that will be easier to navigate in a higher-clearance car.) And with a rental you can do Jerome as an easy side trip from Sedona, or visit a bunch of wineries that exist between Sedona and Jerome. The weather should be absolutely lovely in Feb, and chances are pretty low that you'd run into any snow for that part of the trip.
That said, I would highly recommend getting a shuttle for Sedona - Grand Canyon. As said above, it makes for a long day of driving, and the possibility of snow/ice is much much more likely for that part. Plus, it's easier to admire the gorgeous landscape if you're not driving, and if on the way back you'd like to catch a nap, it's best not to be driving!
I'm in the area, feel free to memail me if you have any questions!
posted by csox at 6:02 AM on December 13, 2013

« Older Videos for the office TV?   |   Avengers inspiration: How do I get a body like a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.