Why Winter Is the Best Time to Visit Southern Utah — Land of Red Rock Arches, National Parks, and Year-round Activities

This lesser-known part of Utah is perhaps even more stunning in the winter.

Zion National Park after a snowstorm

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When winter arrives, travelers tend to split — half head to the mountains to ski; the other half seeks out warm waters and sandy beaches. Most overlook the Southwest, a region with year-round blue skies, mild weather, and red rock arches and spires that only look more stunning with a dusting of snow. 

That landscape is perhaps best represented by southern Utah, an often-overlooked section of the state that’s dominated by Mars-like spires, twisting canyons, and delicate sandstone arches. Southern Utah is home to all five of the state’s national parks and is often best visited in the winter when the hot, dry summer has passed and the crowds have dispersed.

Here’s everything you need to know to plan a visit to this lesser-known winter destination.

What to Do

Rear view of hiker walking on snow covered mountain at Bryce Canyon National Park

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All five of Utah’s national parks are found in the southern half of the state. In fact, it’s hard to plan a trip to southern Utah without incorporating a visit to at least one of the national parks.

Zion National Park is the furthest south and is known for its narrow slot canyons and pink sandstone cliffs. Nearby is Bryce Canyon National Park, home to the world’s largest concentration of hoodoos (irregular columns of rock). To the east are the red rock canyons, cliffs, and domes of Capitol Reef National Park, while the adventure town of Moab acts as the gateway to both Arches and Canyonlands national parks, with delicate sandstone arches and red rock canyons.

Snow-covered stairs on the trail to the North Window Arch rock formation in Arches National Park in Utah.

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Beyond hiking, and in some cases, camping in southern Utah’s national parks, this part of the state is home to plenty of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, two winter sports that are beginner friendly and affordable (chances are, once you rent your gear, you won’t have to pay a dime). Those with their heart set on downhill skiing can find it at Brian Head Resort (near Bryce Canyon) or Eagle Point Resort, two ski areas with significantly lower prices than those found in northern Utah.

But there's also year-round hiking, biking, camping, and backpacking in the southern part of the state. And in the evenings, when you’re resting your weary legs, make sure to look up — the long winter nights lend themselves to excellent stargazing.

What to Pack

It’s all about layers in the winter. If you plan to be outside most of the day, you’ll want to wear synthetic or wool base layers and pack a warm jacket and hat. Sunny days are the norm, even in the middle of winter, so sunscreen and sunglasses are a must.

If you plan on hiking in the snow, it may be worth getting a pair of cleats that fasten over your winter footwear and provide added traction. 

Mt Kinesava in Zion National Park Utah showing snow-covered trees along the Virgin River

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Where to Stay

Many of southern Utah’s national and state parks offer year-round camping, but if you don’t want to battle the dip in temperature, base your adventures out of a hotel or inn instead.

Those looking to explore Capitol Reef National Park should check out Red Sands Hotel & Spa, set in the dark-sky community of Torrey, Utah. When you’re not out exploring Capitol Reef (or the nearby Goblin Valley State Park), you can sink into the spa’s salt float tank or enjoy the view from one of their private soaking rooms.

Meanwhile, those wanting to set up their home base near Bryce Canyon National Park should check out Ruby’s Inn, “the closest lodging to Bryce Canyon National Park,” or Escalante Yurts, which offers glamping sites that are less than an hour from the park.

One of several yurts at Escalante Yurts in Escalante, Utah

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Just outside the entrance to Zion National Park, travelers will find the brand-new Watchman Villas, which have full kitchens, washers and dryers, and views from the balcony. Glampers will want to check out Open Sky, a luxury resort that’s less than 30 minutes from Zion. Finally, those heading to Arches or Canyonlands national parks can book a room at the four-star Sorrel River Ranch Resort & Spa, set along the Colorado River and a short drive to both of Moab’s national parks. 

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