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Visiting national parks in the off season is my favorite. I love visiting them when they’re in their prime, too, but there’s just something about visiting them in the winter, and Canyonlands is no different.
I’ve visited Canyonlands National Park in the winter twice now, once in December and once in February. Both were wonderful and both are months I would recommend to go in.
Planning a visit to Canyonlands in winter isn’t all that different than visiting in the summer, but there are a few things that will be helpful to know before you go.
This isn’t about things to do in Canyonlands in winter since it’s really not that different than any other time of year. It doesn’t get enough snow to have specific winter activities, your only limitations would really be snow and ice on roads/trails.
This post is all about things that are good to know before going to Canyonlands in winter. Things like weather, road conditions, affordability, and crowds. Whichever winter month you decide to visit in, you can’t go wrong.
National Park Pass + Other National Park Deals
- If you’re planning on visiting multiple parks (3 or more) on this trip or within the year, I would highly recommend getting a national park pass. It’s $80 but will pay for itself in about three trips to parks. It’s so worth it and I buy one every year! They’re also great for gifts for the park lovers in your life.
- To help plan the best national park trip ever, this Ultimate National Park Planning Bundle is perfect! You get two ebooks and a planner, saving 50% by getting them as a bundle! If you want all the details, this is the bundle for you. Buy the Ultimate bundle here.
- This National Park Planner (one of the ebooks from the bundle above) is perfect if you just want some guidance in your planning. Buy the planner here.
- Get yourself a little National Park notebook to write all about your adventures while you’re on the road. These from Field Notes are all very cute! If you want one for all of the NPS sites (400+!) then this one is for you!
- Before your trip, get some national park apparel for your trip! Homage is donating 5% of sales from the national park collection to the National Parks Conservation Association this year. Buy national park shirts here.
- Consider reading some of these books set in national parks before your big trip, on your adventure, or once you get home to take you back to the parks until next time.
- Planning a big national park trip? Check out these other posts: National Park bucket list, Make the most of a National Park trip, National Park camping packing list, My favorite National Park hikes, More National Park hikes I love, Underrated National Parks.
Island in the Sky may be colder than Moab
Island in the Sky is at a higher elevation than Moab so it can be cooler up there. Probably not like, a huge difference but it may be cooler so you’ll want to bring an extra layer, just in case.
It could also be windy which would make it feel even colder so prepare for that, too. Definitely bring a warm hat and gloves. I wore both our entire time in Moab in December.
It does snow
Moab and Canyonlands don’t get a ton of snow in the winter, but it does happen. It’s beautiful seeing the red rock dusted with snow but it can make driving and hiking more difficult.
Just keep an eye on the weather before your trip to plan accurately for any chance of snow. It’s best to bring layers because even though it can snow, it can also be in the 50s or 60s occasionally.
It’s way less busy
And it’s SO nice. Visiting Moab, Arches, and Canyonlands in winter is my preferred experience for a lot of reasons and one of those is a lot less people around.
We didn’t hike to Mesa Arch this trip but on a previous winter trip to Canyonlands we did. It was late afternoon and I think we only saw two other people at the arch.
Except for holidays
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years are good times to avoid the Moab area and it’s national parks. They are very busy. And I know Easter is in spring, but avoid that, too because not only is it a holiday, but that’s when Jeep Week is.
Also, if Moab is anything like Springdale near Zion, right after New Years (like, January 4th) is way less busy. So if you can, visit right before or right after a major holiday. If not, it will still be great, just know it may be very busy.
White Rim Road may be impassable
If you were planning to drive White Rim Road on your visit to Canyonlands in winter, it’s good to know the road may be impassable if it is or has been snowy or rainy recently.
This is not a road I would want to drive if it was really muddy because it’s rough and has some fairly steep dropoffs plus the switchbacks at the beginning. Drive this with caution and know you may not be able to drive it at all if weather has been bad recently.
It can be foggy
On our trip to Canyonlands in February 2018, the roads were clear but the canyon was pretty foggy. We stopped at the White Rim Overlook and it was very foggy.
Or maybe it was clouds in the canyon, I’m not sure, but there were some light snow flurries, too. It was beautiful but your view may be impacted if that happens.
The campground at Island in the Sky is open
That’s right, you can still camp at Canyonlands in the winter! The campground at Island in the Sky (and The Needles) is open in the winter and it is first-come, first-served.
If you don’t mind camping in the cold, this would be a great way to experience the park with fewer people around. It would be easier to take full advantage of the more limited daylight.
Be prepared for cold temperatures, especially if you’re camping
I know I’ve already said it can be cold and it can snow but if you are planning on camping at Canyonlands in the winter, make sure you have the right gear and are prepared for the low temperatures which average from 0-20 F. That’s cold.
The weather at Island in the Sky could be very different from The Needles
The Needles and Island in the Sky are both part of Canyonlands but they can have very different weather. The year we went to Canyonlands in February, in one day, Arches got a little snow, it was clear in Moab but the road out to the Needles was almost blizzardy. You never know how it will be and one area can be totally different than the other.
Moab is way more affordable
Moab is SO much more affordable in winter, it’s wild. The perfect example of this: When we visited Moab in December, we spent five nights at the Sleep Inn which is not right in the heart of downtown but it’s close enough to walk easily. Like, five minutes from there to the main intersection.
For the five nights we were there, we spent $328 for the hotel. For five nights. For the same days (Friday to Wednesday) in July, the same hotel is $1,236! That’s a $908 difference. WILD!
But some restaurants are closed or have limited hours
There are a lot of restaurants in Moab that are closed in the winter or have weird hours. There are a lot of places that are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays or just have weird hours and Google doesn’t always reflect this.
This isn’t a huge deal but it can be really annoying when you’re trying find somewhere to eat after a long day of hiking. It’s definitely not a reason to avoid visiting Canyonlands in winter, just something to know.
Trails may be snowy or icy
And that can make hiking very difficult. Keep an eye on the weather leading up to your trip and for the time during your trip. If there is snow or rain with below freezing temperatures forecasted, I would definitely bring microspikes in case the trails are snowy or icy.
Be careful on any icy trails ,especially any that are steep or have loose rocks and steep drop offs. Upheaval Dome, Syncline Loop, and the Gooseberry Trail are three to really be careful on with ice and snow.
The main road may close temporarily after a snow storm
This goes for Island in the Sky and The Needles. If there is a heavy snowstorm, the road may be closed for a period of time for the roads to be plowed. And if one is closed, the other may still be open. I don’t think this happens too often in Canyonlands in winter, but it’s a possibility.
The Needles Visitor Center is closed from late November to early March
The visitor center is closed in winter but water is available there. It’s recommended to bring any water you’ll need with you, just in case. It is a very remote area.
There are toilets at the visitor center, campground, and Elephant Hill area. The campground is open in the winter and it is first-come, first-served. In case of emergencies, you can use the payphone out front. There are rangers on duty here.
Backcountry permits are still required (for certain things)
Backpacking and some other activities may require permits, especially in The Needles and The Maze. If the visitor center at Island in the Sky is closed, you can get permits online two days in advance. At The Needles, they can be gotten at the self-issue permit station outside the visitor center. Things that require permits:
- Day use on White Rim Road
- Backpacking in The Needles
- Overnight trips on White Rim Road
- Elephant Hill Road
- Lavender Canyon Road
- Peekaboo/Horse Canyon Roads
Everything for The Maze District is pretty much the same as usual
The Hans Flat Ranger Station is still open from 8-4:30, there are no services of any kind, there is no water available, and permits are required for any overnight activities in The Maze.
It’s pretty much business as usual here, roads just may be impassable more frequently (because of snow or rain) since they are all dirt/gravel/sand. I wouldn’t try to visit this area unless you are very used to backcountry travel and off-road driving.
What to bring to Canyonlands in winter
Hand and toe warmers – If you don’t want to get thicker gloves, bring some hand warmers. If your feet get really cold really easily, definitely bring toe warmers. They’re a game-changer. Buy hand warmers here.
Cozy Sweatshirt – I have a few different Patagonia sweatshirts and love them all. They’re great for layering in cold weather. I have two Re-tools, a Better Sweater, and a Synchilla. Sometimes you can find them on sale on REI or Backcountry. I also like to keep an eye out for them on Poshmark (use code REDAROUNDWORLD for $10 off your first purchase) and Mercari (you can save $10 with that link as well!) I’ve found some really good deals on both.
Utah posts you may also like:
Have you been to Canyonlands National Park in winter? What did you think of it? Do you want to visit Canyonlands in winter?