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Visiting Canyonlands National Park in Winter: 10 Brilliant Things to Do 

Visiting Canyonlands National Park in Winter: 10 Brilliant Things to Do 

Get ready to discover everything you need to know about visiting Utah’s largest national park when you visit Canyonlands in the winter. 

To say there’s no shortage of things to do in the expansive 337,570 acres that make up Canyonlands National Park is clearly an understatement.

The park is so big, in fact, that it’s officially divided into 4 districts. Island in the Sky, The Maze, Needles, and the Rivers districts are all worth visiting in the winter, as they offer some of the most scenic views you’ll find in the USA. 

What is there to do in the winter? More than you may think. Let’s take a look.

Why You Should Visit Canyonlands National Park in the Winter

Canyonlands National Park in Winter

Canyonlands is the national park for people who want to truly get away from it all.

Featuring amazing hiking trails, areas that you can only access on foot (or with a 4×4 vehicle), and more land than any other park in the state, it’s not hard to find personal space in the largest of Utah’s Mighty Five.

Winter offers even more peace and quiet than usual, with an excellent chance to see bighorn sheep, coyotes, deer, and other fascinating wildlife in the wind and water-swept canyons long after most tourists have gone home.

Canyonlands National Park in December

Canyonlands National Park in Winter

The weather starts cooling off in December, and it’s not uncommon for the temperature to dip below 40°F in the park. You won’t need to worry much about snow, but rain can sometimes affect the road quality.

Canyonlands National Park is open 365 days a year, so you can even plan a holiday visit with your family and friends.

Canyonlands National Park in January 

Canyonlands National Park in Winter

Start your new year in Canyonlands National Park, where the hiking trails and petroglyphs are open year-round.

January is often the coldest month of the year, with an average low of 17°F and a high temperature of 42°F, but there are plenty of beautiful afternoons to enjoy.

Canyonlands National Park in February

Canyonlands National Park in Winter

February is our favorite month to visit Moab and Canyonlands National Park. Why? You won’t contend with the spring or summer crowds, and the weather is often perfect for getting out in the great outdoors.

Expect mostly dry days and nights and high temperatures approaching 50°F.

Top 10 Things to Do in Canyonlands National Park in the Winter 

Mesa Arch Sunrise

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA

If you only do one winter activity in Canyonlands National Park, you need to show up early in the morning to watch the sunrise over (and through) the famous Mesa Arch

It’s only a 15-minute hike from the trailhead, and the reward far outweighs the effort of the walk, even in the winter. 

Get there while it’s still dark, and you can watch the sun slowly peak through the large keyhole arch, where you can see the rugged cliffs and valley floor.

It’s one of Canyonlands’ most striking examples of rock formations caused by millions of years of erosion and a beautiful area to see the sunrise.

Getting There: Once you pass the visitor’s center, take the scenic drive about 6 miles south until you get to the Mesa Arch Parking Lot and follow this trail.

Hike Upheaval Dome 

Upheaval Dome 

As the name suggests, the geology of this landmark hike is one of the most unique in the park.

Experts debate what really happened millions of years ago, but one of the most popular theories is that a meteorite crashed into Earth, leading to the landscape we can see today.

The best way to see the dome in the winter? Taking this moderate 1.3-mile hike to the crater allows you to see it from 2 different vantage points. The second viewing area involves a scramble, however, so you’ll want traction devices for your shoes.

Read Next: Discover More of the Best Hikes in Canyonlands National Park

See the Petroglyphs In and Around the Park 

Hidden Valley Anasazi Indian Petroglyphs, Moab, Utah

One reason many people visit Canyonlands and Moab, Utah, is to see the spectacular petroglyphs – ancient stone carvings dating back to 3500 BC. 

What’s the best way to see them? Head out on a scenic drive. 

We recommend taking Highway 313 North out of the park and starting with Intestine Man – a pictograph that looks exactly like it sounds. From there, take a right on Highway 191 and drive to Courthouse Wash, near the intersection of the Colorado River and Highway 128. 

Courthouse Wash is one of the most impressive examples of ancient artwork, with numerous examples of rock carvings and paintings of anthropomorphic figures dating back thousands of years.

Once you’ve seen Courthouse Wash, you can continue down Highway 128 to see the Roadside Petroglyphs and the famous Birthing Scene down the road.

Hike Hidden Valley Trail 

Hidden Valley Trail not only allows you to see one of our favorite petroglyphs in Canyonlands National Park, but it also offers some of the more challenging hiking trails in Canyonlands in the winter. 

The 7.5-mile out-and-back trail is open year-round and gives you access to the Moab Rim and Hidden Valley.

You’ll find large sandstone formations scattered throughout the high desert, but the long wall of petroglyphs you’ll scramble to around the 2-mile point is the most exciting part of the trail.

Here, you’ll see anthropomorphic figures, wildlife, and other rock carvings from Indigenous cultures that far too many visitors overlook.

Drive to the Grand View Point

Grand View Point

Taking a leisurely drive is one of the best options for visiting Canyonlands National Park in the winter, and the Island in the Sky has one of our favorite scenic routes. 

If you take the Island in the Sky Scenic Drive as far south as you can go, you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the park, including the Green and Colorado Rivers, The Needles, and The Maze from above.

Trust us, it’s well worth the 25-minute drive.

Top Tip: Use a map, which you can download from the NPS, for the most accurate directions on this drive. 

Trek Through The Maze

If you’re looking for a serious challenge on your winter trip to the Canyonlands, head to The Maze.

This section of the park is remote but offers views of the rugged rock formations and steep drops into the canyons that are among the most beautiful in the park. 

Chocolate Drops Trail gives you an up-close look at the iconic rock formations, which are 4 dark brown towers of Organ Shale stretching from the valley floor below.

You’ll need traction devices for your boots, a 4WD vehicle to access the trailhead, and a reliable map or GPS to navigate this challenging but rewarding hike through The Maze.

Read Next: Discover Everything We Love About The Maze Here

See the Rock Formations at The Needles

The Needles

The Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon tend to get most of the credit, but we promise you that The Needles offer just as much excitement to budding geologists.

Why? The towering spires are remarkable to see in person, and they’re a great example of how erosion creates otherworldly landscapes in our backyards.

Because Canyonlands is home to the Green and Colorado Rivers, many of the rocks have been carved out from flowing water over time.

While Druid Arch is one of the best hikes in The Needles, we recommend sticking to a shorter hike like Cave Spring Trail. It offers a peak into the geological formations (literally) and a chance to see pictographs on the sandstone rocks on a .6-mile hike.

Read Next: Discover Where to Hike and Sightsee in The Needles

Backpack to Angel Arch

If you’re visiting Moab and don’t have time to head to Canyonlands and Arches National Park, don’t fret.

Taking a long hike to Angel Arch requires scrambling and a strong sense of direction (and the ability to camp in the cold). But if you do, you can see a towering 135-foot arch up close.

It’s the biggest arch in Canyonlands, and the hike itself is scenic and offers a chance to experience winter camping near Moab if you’re up for the challenge.

Top Tip: This trail is only for the most experienced campers and hikers. Pack warm clothes, water, and alert family and friends before leaving.

Warm Up With a Pint of Local Beer

We don’t blame you if an afternoon of hiking and photographing the remote Utah wilderness has you ready for a pint or 2 of craft beer and some snacks to go with it.

Luckily, Moab Brewery isn’t too far from the park and offers a beer style for nearly anyone, ranging from hoppy IPAs to Belgian tripel ales.

The menu features standard pub fare like quesadillas, chicken wings, and burgers, which are the perfect way to warm up after a long day outside.

Read Next: Learn More About Craft Breweries Near Moab

Take a Day Trip to Arches

Arches National Park

Arches National Park features a stunning collection of over 2,000 arches, and it’s only about 30 minutes from Canyonlands. 

If you make the drive from Canyonlands or Moab, be sure to check out a few hiking trails and vistas. 

The best stops in the winter include the 52-foot Delicate Arch and the unique geology of the Balanced Rock, which are relatively easy to access and far less crowded in the winter. You can see Balanced Rock from a viewpoint just off the road, or take this 3-mile trail to Delicate Arch.

Read Next: Learn About Visiting Arches National Park in the Winter

Practical Tips for Your Winter Trip

Where to Stay Near Canyonlands National Park

Moab is only about 30 miles from the national park entrance and has lots of hotels you can choose from for your trip. 

The Hampton Inn Moab is a reliable option with inexpensive accommodations that feature sleeping quarters, spacious bathrooms, and a popular breakfast.

Read Next: Where to Stay in Moab: The Best Areas + Hotels for Your Trip

Dress Warm During the Winter

Like nearly any national park, winter brings cooler temperatures to Canyonlands. While snow isn’t widespread, temperatures between 20°F and 45°F are common, so pack your gloves, hats, and warm layers.

Roads Close Due to Weather and Rock Slides

Check the NPS website before your visit. Certain areas will temporarily close when the park sees heavy snowfalls or unexpected rock slides. 

The Visitor Center Has Limited Hours

If you visit Canyonlands in the winter, you won’t always have access to the visitor’s center.

The station closes at 4 pm most days from December through February but is closed on Christmas Day and has limited hours on Christmas Eve and Thanksgiving Day.

Because rangers aren’t always around, make sure you pack a GPS and reliable map.

You can learn more about the hours and closures here

Winter in Canyonlands: Map

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