When you think of things to do in national parks, do you envision warm, sunny days of camping, swimming, kayaking and similar warm weather activities? Are you waiting patiently for the snow to melt away so you can go out and have fun? There’s no need to wait. The parks are open now, and there are still a few weeks left to enjoy this special time of majestic views and unique winter experiences in Utah’s National Parks. From venturing out to vistas without another person in sight, to guided activities, winter is a wonderful time to explore “The Mighty 5®.”
The diverse terrain of Bryce Canyon includes the Paunsaugunt Plateau, which rises up to 9,000 feet with an average snowfall of around 200 inches for the longest snow season in the southwestern United States. Popular things to do here include photography, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, ice skating and ice fishing. Most of the trails require snowshoes. If you don’t have a pair of your own, high-tech MSR snowshoes and poles are provided free for participants of ranger-guided snowshoe activities. If you enjoy your snowshoeing experience and want to do it again, Utah Mom Connection offers suggestions for future outings. After a few days of melt-off, you can also hike through the terrain using waterproof hiking boots, but traction devices are recommended for steep and icy trails.
This park promotes its landscape of contrasting colors, landforms and textures as being unlike any other in the world. It’s a great place to take children for a more low-key winter adventure. There are no ranger programs in the winter, but the visitor center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and watching their orientation film can count toward earning a Junior Ranger Badge. Free Junior Ranger booklets are available at the visitor center or for download online. Once children complete five or more of the exercises designed for ages 6 to 12, a ranger will give them a badge and a certificate. One way to help your child complete the exercises is to check out an explorer pack at the visitor center. These packs contain binoculars, a hand lens, a naturalist guide, a notebook and activity ideas for families to do on their own in the park. After a day exploring, consider staying for stargazing. One of the best features of the park is the vast display of stars in the night sky, and the play of colors between times of darkness and light which are truly photo-worthy. Wilderness.org recommends planning ahead for your trip, since in the freezing temperatures of winter even light snowfalls can impede travel on trails and roads. You can check the park’s Facebook page or website for updates on road construction and weather-related trail closures and warnings.
The Utah Office of Tourism describes the less-visited Capitol Reef Park as being almost like a planet unto itself, with broad, sweeping vistas of tortured and twisted landscape that can offer a more relaxing experience than the more famous Utah attractions. The National Parks Traveler says you shouldn’t miss this park in the winter because it becomes a “virtually private playground,” and a “visual delight” draped in a “contrasting white cover of snow.” This is the place to come during the winter if you love to hike. Unlike other parks, where trails may be closed as a result of winter weather, the trails here generally remain open, especially during drier winters. Winter temperatures range from below zero to the 50s, so planning ahead and taking the right equipment, like footwear with good traction and lots of water, is essential for a good experience. For suggestions on how to prepare and what to expect, click here.
If you are adventurous and fairly self-sufficient, the snow-covered canyons and ridges of the Canyonlands can be inspiring, as you can see in recent photos posted on the park’s Instagram, Twitter and Facebook page. Although the park is open and rangers are on duty, visitor centers and other guest services are closed or unavailable during winter months. The Colorado Plateau of southeastern Utah is a high desert region with cold winter nights averaging between zero and 20 F, where snow often closes roads and trails. If you plan to visit, take water and be prepared for temporary road closures to allow for plowing. For views of the park which are updated multiple times an hour, check out the Island in the Sky Webcam.
One of the best ways to see the beauty and wonder of Zion National Park during the winter is to drive through it. If you want to sit back and enjoy the view without doing the driving yourself, shuttle service is available along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive during the weekends. Snow at lower elevations typically melts off within hours, but accumulates at the higher elevations. Most roads are plowed, but snow, ice, rockfalls and erosion may force the closure of trails, particularly between the months of December and March. To make sure the trail you plan to spend the day on is clear, stop by the visitor center, or check the website or Facebook page for current conditions. The official newspaper of the park provides visitors with a map and guide to activities, as well as suggestions for your visit.
The beauty of the winter season should not be missed, so get out there and enjoy it before the snow melts and your spring activities begin. Because whatever the season, there is always something to do in Utah’s National Parks – making them a fantastic resource and investment for our nation.
What’s your favorite wintertime activity in the Utah National Parks? Share it in the comments below.