Utah State Parks in Winter
Five Minutes with Utah State Parks Director Fred Hayes
Variety is the spice of Utah's outdoor recreation life, and winter sports rightfully get most of the attention this time of year. From Olympic-caliber groomers to backcountry bliss, Utah boasts an incredibly varied snow-based winter recreation scene that is defined by world-class experiences. Utah's state parks are no exception, as recently highlighted in a First Day hike on Antelope Island. We caught up with Utah State Parks and Recreation director Fred Hayes to learn more:
“The best winter destinations are in St. George,” laughs Fred Hayes, who states a personal preference for warmer-weather recreation. On that note, Hayes points out the southern parks are all open and virtually year-round you can hike and bike in a much more mild winter climate. Daytime temperatures at Snow Canyon, for example, are in the 60s.
But that being said, what is available in Utah’s state parks for winter sports enthusiasts?
“We’re responsible for the state’s off-highway vehicle program, and that includes the state’s snowmobile program. So we’re the guys that are out there grooming the trails from Bear Lake in the north to Cedar Mountain in the south, preparing those trails for snowmobilers and cross-country skiers."
Several of Utah's state parks have skiing opportunities that the team will set a trail on. Hayes points to Wasatch Mountain State Park in Midway, whose golf course makes for an excellent cross-country skiing experience for the whole family given the fairly level terrain. Adjacent Soldier Hollow hosted biathlon and cross-country ski events during the 2002 Winter Olympics and today is a top cross-country ski resort and tubing destination. The Utah Office of Tourism Official Scenic Calendar highlights the breathtaking winter beauty of the Heber Valley in the January panel.
"Up north we focus our efforts on the cross-country skiing and the snowmobile destinations. And world-class snowmobile destinations. Monte Cristo east of Ogden is traditionally listed as one of the premier destinations in the West for snowmobiling. A lot of it takes place on Forest Service lands but we’ll groom a trail back in there and you can spend all day playing. That Greatest Snow on Earth is not just for skiing.”
Call ahead for road, avalanche and trail conditions. From Ogden take Highway 39 up Ogden Canyon. Continue up Highway 39 for 30–40 minutes to the Monte Cristo snowmobile trailhead. More than 180 miles of trails await through the Monte Cristo, Hardware Ranch and Logan Canyon complexes of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Early start? Hayes says you can ride into Garden City for lunch. On the way out, stop in Huntsville for a Star Burger at the Shooting Star Saloon. As is.
As winter winds down, many have their sights set on great summer recreation. Utah's 43 state parks have a wide range of adventure, from hiking and biking to boating and fishing, and almost everything in between. But Hayes recognizes the same diversity that brings the parks to life in the winter will ensure everyone in the family can enjoy the parks in the summer.
"We tried to come up with new things for people to do. If I don't have a boat, and I don't fish there's not much for me at, say, a Starvation [Reservoir]. But there ought to be. We've asked our managers to figure out the next thing. So we're going to have an archery ranger at Starvation. So people can camp and take their bows and play their Hunger Games thing out on the archery range through the trees at Starvation."