Why It’s the Best Time to Visit
One of my favorite vacation memories is hiking to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park with
my children and parents in February. It was the first time my youngest child and my mom had hiked to Delicate Arch, and it was especially challenging for Mom. When she finally made it, she exclaimed, “I’m glad I did it. Everyone should see this at least once.”
Does it matter that this story happened in February? Yes. The hike to Delicate Arch can be
unreasonably hot and crowded at other times of the year. If we had been unable to find a
parking space, if the sun had been relentlessly hot on the sandstone slopes, if large crowds
made it difficult to find a place to sit, catch our breath, and contemplate nature’s splendor at
the end of the trail, my mom probably would not have tried the hike, and this family memory
would have never happened.
Why else should you visit in winter? Here are four great reasons:
1. See the parks in a new way
Bryce Canyon is stunning year-round, but if you haven’t seen its orange hoodoos capped with
fresh white snow against a bright blue sky, you’re missing out. Rangers lead snowshoe hikes
to viewpoints unreachable by car in the winter. Some park roads are left unplowed for crosscountry
skiers and 40 kilometers of trails are groomed for both classic and skate cross-country
skiing. The cold, dry air is perfect for stargazing in Bryce Canyon’s famous night sky. Bryce also
hosts their annual Winter Festival February 14–16, 2016, which features cross-country skiing,
ice skating, snowshoeing, running and skiing clinics, free demos and tours, and a concert.
2. Great hiking weather
All of Utah’s national parks get some snow in the winter, which adds to their beauty, but it
usually doesn’t last long. Some trails close in the winter, but many of the sunny hiking trails
in Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Capitol Reef, and even Bryce Canyon are accessible year-round.
40o F was just about right when my family hiked up the sun-soaked slickrock to Delicate Arch.
Be sure to watch the weather forecast before your trip and pack layers and footwear with
exceptional traction so you’ll be prepared for any temperature or terrain.
3. Avoid the crowds
Trolling for a parking space at the visitor center or a popular trailhead and sharing spectacular
viewpoints with busloads of tourists is no fun. Nobody wants that at national parks, but
during peak seasons, it’s often a reality. Winter attracts far fewer visitors, making it easier to
contemplate the parks’ beauty in solitude or get that perfect photo. At Zion, you can even drive
on the park’s famous red roads in the winter from mid-November to mid-March and skip the
crowded summer shuttle.
4. Save money
Savvy travelers know that off-season is the time to find the best rates at local hotels and resorts.
Look for bargains in Moab, Springdale, Torrey, and other communities near the parks from
November to March. Some park campgrounds are open year-round as well. Expect to find fewer
restaurants and other services open during the off-season though. When my husband and I
visited Bryce Canyon in January, just one restaurant was open—Ruby’s Inn. We ate dinner there,
but packed our own picnic supplies to eat in the park, which is a great way to save money.