Winter's Summits and Rockscapes
There’s no better way to experience a bit of everything Utah offers: Ski its heavenly powder snow, then point your car southward to wind your way through the exquisite Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park and a series of crimson-hued state park gems along the way.
Ta da! This itinerary covers some of the magic Utah's wildscapes have to offer, from the high alpine summit of Mt. Timpanogos to the petrified sandstone dunes of Snow Canyon and everything in between. We’ll conjure up some of the most spectacular vistas in Utah, including multiple state parks and world-famous Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. You won’t believe your eyes, and, you'll want to come back for more.
By visiting in winter, you get a rare look at both the ski resorts up north and the parks in the south, which are infinitely quieter and more peaceful in the colder months. It's a chance to see what our dramatic desert red rocks look like when dusted with snow. You'll want to hike it all... but budget plenty of time for photography, because you're going to need it.
Bundle up, bring some good walking shoes and pack layers to accommodate varied climates and conditions. You'll need your puffiest puffy jacket for stargazing at night in Bryce Canyon at 8,000 feet, yet you can probably get away with shorts and hiking sandals under the desert sun in St. George a couple days later. Plan accordingly! And keep in mind, your clothes aren't the only thing that need to be winter-ready. You'll hit some high elevations on this trip, and with those come snowy roads and occasional storm conditions. So, if the forecast is snowy or icy, a four-wheel drive car or all-wheel drive with snow ready tires or chains are a must (and are required by law on many Utah canyons and passes). (Read: "How To Visit Southern Utah in Winter")
Start: Sundance Resort
Finish: St. George
Hours of drive time: 12
Experience Utah’s Famed Powder at Charming Sundance Resort
Sundance Resort is a gem tucked-away just an hour south of the bustling Salt Lake City and Park City area resorts and minutes from the Provo-Orem metropolitan area. Far enough to feel away from it all, yet in striking distance for easy day-tripping and resort-sampling. Sundance was founded by actor, director and activist Robert Redford, whose artful taste and genuine love of the outdoors found a wondrous and welcoming home in the Wasatch Mountains. His aesthetic is forever imprinted on every aspect of Sundance experience, from the southwest chic decor to the curated dining menus,heart pounding on-mountain adventures… and a bit of smouldering romance set beneath the dramatic ridgelines of 11,700-foot Mt. Timpanogos.This resort enthralls skiers and snowboarders and those that just want to embrace the passion this place inspires.
There are a number of rooms, suites, and cabins available to rent on-site, as well as plenty of great Airbnb rentals within striking distance. Enjoy a midday snack at its delicious deli, followed by a hot toddy at the beloved Owl Bar, a rich yet laid-back rustic atmosphere. Park City and Deer Valley are within easy driving distance if you want to pursue their shops,restaurants or nightlife venues.
This itinerary plans on just a day at Sundance, which is enough for a taste, but spend a few more days in the area if you can. Not only is Sundance worthy of multiple days of skiing or riding, but there are several additional world-class resorts easy to visit within about one hour's drive –– Park City, Deer Valley, Snowbird, Alta, Solitude, and Brighton. Get your fill of famed featherlight Utah powder before heading south to see what this desert is all about.
Where to Stay
Sundance Resort, Utah Valley
Tips for Travel
Make your reservations as soon as possible, especially during peak and holiday periods. Sundance is a cozy resort with just a few (excellent) restaurants on-property, and you'll want to make sure you have your spot secured. By pre-arranging your dining, rental gear, lessons and lodging, you'll be well situated to do what these mountains encourage you to do: relax.
From Mountaintops to High-Elevation Hoodoos
- Stargaze in a Dark Sky National Park
- Take a guided snowshoe tour
- Hike the Navajo Loop
- Hike the Queen's Garden Trail
Get up bright and early for a four-hour drive south to the exquisite Bryce Canyon National Park. It's hard to imagine a more otherworldly landscape, and with any luck the famous "hoodoo" rock formations will be capped with brilliant glittering snow.
From the park's central "Bryce Canyon City," there's an entire network of hiking trails and paths of varying degrees of length and difficulty –– but all are beautiful. We recommend the Navajo Loop and Queen's Garden Trail as a moderate-length hike that gives a great sampler of the landscape. You can sign up for a guided snowshoe tour at the Visitor Center. Snowshoeing is beginner-friendly and a gorgeous way to tour the park –– all you have to do is walk, and you'll float on the snow's surface.
Bryce Canyon is also a designated International Dark Sky Park, which means the stargazing is unbelievable and, as one of nine such parks in Utah, the greatest number on Earth, might be the best place to see and contemplate the universe. For a guided stargazing evening, inquire at the ranger station about the latest astronomy and night sky programs.
Where to Stay
In the park, Sunset Lodge is open for part of the winter, or choose a hotel just outside the park; there are plenty of options in the park's gateway town of Bryce and in Tropic just minutes down the road.
Tips for Travel
Bring winter hiking boots, winter shoe spikes, trekking poles, and plenty of warm clothing if you want to stargaze or spend a lot of time outside. Always pack snacks and stay well hydrated to help avoid dehydration and altitude sickness. Also, keep in mind that since Bryce Canyon is in remote, mountainous terrain, a four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicle, snow rated tires or chains are prudent and might be required by law for many Utah canyons and passes.
Rainbows of Desert Rock: Descending the Grand Staircase to Zion
- Sip a pint at the Zion Canyon Brew Pub for dinner
- Hike the Panorama Trail at Kodachrome Basin State Park
- Stop at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Being in Kodachrome Basin State Park is like stepping into a world with super-powered filters that enhance and enrich every color. A bit quieter and smaller than Bryce Canyon nearby, it's a special corner of the world with meandering hiking trails that wander through age-old rock formations in unfathomable shapes. You'll encounter colorful striated rocks, sandstone pinnacles jutting into the sky, curious rock bridges, and countless nooks to explore.
There are several excellent established hikes and nature walks, and you certainly can't go wrong –– so choose a shorter one if you're sparse on energy or time. If you're able to swing it, the Panorama Trail is a six-mile wonder.
Then, stop at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, which is just a 20-minute jaunt south of the turnoff to Zion –– well worth a detour for beautiful midwinter photographs of huge pink sand dunes against a blue desert sky. Then, head back to the westerly turn to Zion National Park, yet another magnificent park that, with fewer crowds in winter months, offers views and hikes, including the water-filled Narrows, that will amaze and inspire.You'll arrive in Springdale just in time for dinner and perhaps a pint of local ale at the Zion Canyon Brew Pub.
Where to Stay
Springdale (or consider East Zion-area accommodations)
Tips for Travel
As you descend to lower elevations and latitudes, the temperatures rise. However, you'll still want to pack plenty of layers for hiking, and keep hiking boots, spikes and trekking poles in your pack to sure your footing on snowy or icy paths.
Behold Zion National Park in its Silent Winter Glory
Welcome to stately Zion National Park... sitting in relative solitude. Gone are the summer crowds waiting for shuttle buses in the high desert heat radiating off the canyon walls. The valley instead is teeming with wildlife and a cacophony of nature’s voices reverberating from the gelid, riparian floor past the sonorous chains rising to a divine pinnacle above.
Take a hike to Scout Lookout or Observation Point, carefully avoiding any icy trails or sections. Scout Lookout gets you within a stone's throw of the famed Angel's Landing, minus the challenging final section, which is even more dangerous to hike in winter (and as of 2022, requires a permit). Then, have a close-up look at the Virgin River and the famous Zion Narrows on the Riverside Walkway. The Narrows are a refreshing hike in the summer but, unless you’ve rented insulated waders in Springdale, you probably won't be in the mood to get wet in the winter. So, just observe from the paved path and dry shoreline.
Where to Stay
Tips for Travel
Temperatures in Zion vary wildly based on whether you're in the sun in midday or in the shadow of the park's deep canyon walls in the mornings or late afternoons. Bring more layers than you'll expect, hiking boots or sturdy shoes, spikes and trekking poles to help prevent slipping on wet, icy or uneven trails. Never attempt a steep or exposed trail if the surface is slick (and assume in winter that it is), and watch for overhead ice and rocks.
Petrified Sand Dunes, Desert Art and Magic
- Explore Snow Canyon State Park
- Explore Red Cliffs Desert Reserve
- Wander the Kayenta Artist's Village
Descend from the sky-high canyon walls of Zion to the sunny St. George area, where temperatures hover around the mid-50s even in mid-winter. (Hey, it isn't balmy, but it's a pleasant novelty after skiing four days ago.) One of the best ways to get to know St. George is to venture into Snow Canyon State Park, which lies within the greater Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, a gem amid a gorgeous landscape. There are several exceptional hiking trails and paths, plus a long, paved bike path. The Petrified Sand Dunes are a favorite winter walk, with sweeping views of the greater canyon surrounding you.
Around mid-day, check out the Southwestern and Native American art galleries in nearby Kayenta Artists' Village, which doubles as an excellent lunch spot. You can also reserve a tee time at one of the area’s many golf courses. With its mild weather, St. George is a beloved winter oasis for Utahns, who come down from Salt Lake in the cooler months to enjoy a few rounds on the links or mountain bike trails. (Similar to Palm Springs, temperatures in St. George exceed 100°F in summer.)
Where to Stay
The Advenire Hotel as well as many chain hotels in St. George provide a variety of options for travelers. In nearby Ivins, Red Mountain Resort, provides more on-site amenities You can also reserve an entire home or condo through one of the many online apps.
Tips for Travel
In sunny St. George, you aren’t far from snow-capped mountains but feel like you’re a world away. Close your eyes, tilt your face to the sun and take a deep breath. You’ve discovered the magic of Utah. (Don’t forget to bring your sunscreen.)
A Winter’s Desert: Visiting Southern Utah in the Slow Months
Experiencing the peace of canyon country in the winter is an attraction of its own.
Across a Snow-Covered Desert
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An Uncommon Confluence
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Best Hikes in St. George During Winter
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Find a Winter Refresh in a Utah State Park
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Gravity and Water: Mark Making in a Winter’s Desert with Anne Kaferle
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Ice and rock, snow and splendor: Winter in Southern Utah
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The Complete Winter Camping Packing List for Staying Warm in Southern Utah
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Winter in Southeastern Utah: Arches and Canyonlands
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Winter in Southern Utah Like a Local
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Winter Wonders in Greater Zion
As you’re mapping out your winter trip through southeastern Utah, consider adding the following parks and natural wonders to your itinerary.
Yurt Camping in Utah: How To Have a Wintertime Yurt Excursion
Whether you’re glamping or choosing a simpler option, yurt camping in Utah during the wintertime is a fun, unique experience you won’t want to miss out on.