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Bryce Canyon National Park, is an absolute wonderland during the winter months. With glittering snow blanketing the peaks of the dusty pink cliffs, crystal snow crunching beneath your feet as you trod along the icy trails. A picturesque moment, when you’re standing 8000 feet above the ground, gazing into the clear cloudless skies. If you’re planning to visit this fabulous park during the winter months, then you might want to know what you’ll expect. We all know visiting the National Parks in Utah are absolutely spectacular all year round, but what about last minute winter trips?
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is a United States National Park in southwestern Utah, the major feature of the park being the Bryce Canyon which wasn’t formed due to erosion, rather it was initiated from a central stream – technically it isn’t a canyon. Bryce Canyon is a collection of giant natural amphitheaters along the eastern side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Bryce Canyon is famous for its entirely unique geology. The erosional force of frost-wedging and the super dissolving powers obtained from rainwater have consequently shaped the iridescent limestone rocks into magnificent but odd shapes, including slot canyons, windows, fins and spires called hoodoos.
The red, orange, and white colours of the rocks provide incredible views for park visitors, you’ll never tire from pulling your camera out and snapping at the views that are exposed before your very eyes. There are forests and meadows in Bryce Canyon, which provide to habitat to support diverse animal life which include, foxes, badgers, porcupines, marmots, squirrels, chipmunks, elks, mule deer, black bears, mountain lions, bobcats and cayotes. There are about 175 different species of bird that have been spotted in the park. Most species migrate to warmer areas during the much colder months, although jays, ravens, nuthatches, eagles, and owls stay behind. Bryce Canyon has 8 marked and maintained hiking trails that can be hiked in less than a day!
bryce canyon winter
Bryce Canyon National Park is located in Southern Utah, along State Route 63, not far from Bryce Canyon City, where you can find hotels, a few stores, and petrol stations. The closest town is Panguitch, about 27 miles away, offering a wider choice of food and accommodation options. For visitors who plan to fly in, the best airports to head to are Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, both of which are about 270 miles away. Bryce Canyon is 72 miles away from Zion National Park which is also a great place to visit in winter. The driving time between the two parks is approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes, so you could decide to visit both of these parks in one day! But it’s definitely worth dedicating at least one entire day to each.
Bryce Canyon Winter Weather
Since Bryce Canyon is located at such a high altitude – between 8000 and 9000 feet – it’s no surprise that it’s generally colder than the other parks in Southern Utah. This is great for the summer months, but not so much for winter. During the winter months of December, January and February, the average highs are between 36 and 38° F which is just above 0°C dropping to 15-17°F (approximately -10°C) at night. At night the temperatures drop below freezing between October and May, so even if you’re not planning to visit Bryce Canyon in the winter, you might still want to pack a warm jacket.
Snowfall starts as early as late October, and you’ll find snow all the way through to April. Most snowfalls between December and February, so beware of winter storms that you really don’t want to find yourself caught up in. Most of the time, the weather at Bryce Canyon in winter is bright and sunny, with crystal clear skies, that highlight the gorgeous layers of snow, covering the pretty pink rocks even more. Here is the daily average temperatures in Bryce Canyon:
|58 to 32°F|
14 to 0°C
|45 to 23°F|
7 to -5°C
|36 to 15°F|
2 to -9°C
|37 to 15°F|
2 to -9°C
|38 to 17°F|
3 to -8°C
Prices at Bryce Canyon Winter
The entrance fees at Bryce Canyon remain the same all year round, costing $35 per vehicle; valid for 7 consecutive days. Alternatively, if you’re planning to visit Zion or other national parks, then you might want to buy an America the Beautiful pass – it costs $80, and allows access to all US national parks for an entire year. Visiting Bryce Canyon in winter, means that you’ll find fewer crowds of people and you can find great deals on accommodation.
Driving Through Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon could be the most bedazzling visit during the winter. Driving through the park is a great advantage, as you can stay warm and cosy in your car, hopping out to peer at panoramic overlooks; snapping photos of red peaks piped with snow. Immerse yourself among the hoodoos by hiking through this magical winter wonderland, letting your finger tips graze the rough, cool edges of the many rocks that surround the park.
Before heading out on any winter adventure in Bryce, it might be wise to stop at the Bryce Canyon Visitor Centre, or visit their official website to learn of the weather conditions, for the time period of your visit. Find out which trails are open, and learn the safety tips. Keep in mind that some roads are left unploughed in the winter, and some roads could close for a while after a winter storm, just until they are clear and safe for travel.
Sunrise Point Bryce Canyon
Sunrise Point is the northernmost of the four major viewpoints that overlook the iconic Bryce Amphitheater, standing at an elevation of 8,100 feet, Sunrise Point is slightly higher than the Rim Trail. The 5.5 mile Rim Trail connects this view to the Sunrise and Fairyland Points. Sunrise point displays the main riveting landscapes that lay ahead. The hoodoos are impeccable, and they have sand dunes surrounding them with lush greenery worming its way into their crevice’s.
Sunset point Bryce Canyon
Sunset Point is a great place for one to sit back and do some light birdwatching. Here you might find Violet-green Swallows, Cliff Swallows, and White-throated Swifts patrol the cliffs and hoodoos for insects that they make breakfast out of occasionally.
Things to do at Bryce Canyon in Winter
Snapping multiple pictures of you and your family as you stand in the midst of the white ground, a towering orange peak captured in the background, and you can’t tell whether you’re shaking from the cold, or sheer amazement; unable to tear your gaze away from the crystallised surroundings that beckon your attention. If you’re looking for fun things to do at Bryce Canyon National Park during the winter, then you might want to take a good look at the list below.
- Scenic Drive
- Ice Fishing
- Inspiration Point
- Visit Red Canyon
- Cross-Country Skiing
- Winter Festival
The best and easiest way to enjoy Bryce Canyon National Park in winter is through driving along the main 18-mile road, offering a series of scenic stops in various locations on the rim of the amphitheater. Between mile 1 and 3 (Bryce Amphitheater), the road is ploughed immediately after storms, so it will be safe to drive even if you visit during mid winter. From mile 3 to 18, the road might be closed off for 3 days following winter storms.
Rangers at the visitors centre recommend to drive at the end of the scenic road first, and then stop at the viewpoints on your way back, so that parking spots are on the same side that you’re driving on. The scenic spots are marked and quite easy to find, grab a map from the visitor’s centre – marked with a list of viewpoints and their corresponding mile marker – as this would help you navigate around the park, when driving.
The first viewpoints, at the end of the scenic road are Yovimpa and Rainbow Point, you’ll also find yourself coinciding with the parks highest location. At Yovimpa Point, you’ll find various trailheads leading to campsites. Unfortunately campsites are closed during the winter, as well as most hiking trails because of the possibility of heavy snowfall.
Carrying on from the scenic drive you’ll encounter two other marvellous locations, which are worth stopping at – Natural Bridge (Mile 12) and Swamp Canyon (Mile 6). You should give yourself half a day for this scenic drive, as there’s so much beauty to discover.
Walking in snow is great, but walking in snow with snowshoes is terrific! Huffing and puffing, ploughing your booted feet through the snow, catching an eyeful of pearly white snow setting atop the red peaks is simply mesmerising, some may argue that Bryce Canyon is even more appealing during the winter. Snowshoeing is permitted throughout the park on all trails.
Most snowshoers enjoy walks along the Rim Trail, Bristlecone Loop, Fairyland Road, and Paria Road. Don’t panic if you haven’t got your own snowshoes, join a Ranger-led snowshoe hike, as they are designed for all levels of experience from beginner to expert. One of the rarest ranger programs is a full moon snowshoe hike, but it all depends on the hopefully cooperative weather conditions as they would have to align with the full moon date, ensuring that the hike is pretty smooth sailing.
During the very cold months the lakes harden with over an average of 12 inch hard ice, but this doesn’t mean that fishing slows down rather it is more frequent and rewarding. The fish beneath the frozen lake, will try to keep weight on their flesh to keep warm, so they’ll gobble any type of bait you throw out to them. If you’re interested in trying out some ice fishing during your stay in Utah, try planning a day to Panguitch Lake. The Panguitch Lake Big Fish Derby, brings forth other enthusiasts from all over the country. During the winter, the Boulder Mountain area contains around 60 fishable lakes that are well stacked with trout. From November to April, most of the roads leading to the high-elevation of lakes of Boulder Mountains are closed, but snowmobile is accessible.
A stunning viewpoint that should not be missed on your visit to Bryce Canyon is Inspiration Point. Silent City (near Sunset Point) has many rows of seemingly frozen hoodoos. Inspiration Point’s natural aspects include a variety of plants, including Bristlecone Pines which are tall and narrow, having needles covering the entirety of their branches giving them an attractive bushy appearance. If you’re lucky enough you might even run into a Mountain Short-horned Lizard attempting to camouflage itself in the mesmerising scenery.
Another incredibly thrilling winter activity you can try is snowmobiling near Bryce Canyon. Snowmobiling isn’t actually permitted within Bryce Canyon National Park. Instead the East Fork Trails, which are considered to be the perfect spots for snowmobiling, offer several miles of trails and play areas near the Tropic Reservoir and the East Fork of the Sevier River. You can discover and experience stunning plateaus and panoramic vistas of Bryce Canyon through the incredibly mesmerising Dixie National Forest.
Visit Red Canyon
Cocooned within Dixie National Forest, Red Canyon is located nearby within just 9 miles of distance and should definitely be visited at some point during your trip to Bryce Canyon. A ridge cutting along the 7-mile Thunder Mountain Trail offers one of the most heavenly views of Red Canyon. This trail passes through tree-covered washes on its way to the Claron Formation’s pink and white limestone cliffs which feature some of Utah’s most alluring, ruby red rock formations. As you can envision, the views from the top of the white, snow splashed red cliffs below are nothing short of breathtaking. When blanketed in snow, the Red Canyon, which parallels Scenic Byway 12, provides easy-accessible trails, for cross country skiing and snowshoeing.
Cross-Country skiing lovers will be delighted when they find that there’s tons of opportunities for the spot around Bryce Canyon. Going cross country skiing in Bryce Canyon allows enthusiasts to access around 30 kilometres of groomed trails that wind through Ponderosa pine forests, meadows, and most importantly, tremendous views.
Bryce Canyon is the ultimate location to learn about the jewels of the night sky. Miles away from the light pollution of civilisation, and protected by a special force of park rangers, Bryce Canyon is a sanctuary for the natural beauty of darkness. The pitch-black night sky makes it easy for us to find thousands of stars on a moonless night. You’ll notice the Milky Way extends from horizon to horizon like a magnificent silver rainbow.
This annual winter festival is not worth missing. Each February Ruby’s Inn holds the annual Bryce Canyon Winter Festival including guided cross country ski and snowshoe tours, ice skating, art classes and lots more! Bearing in mind that Bryce Canyon might be a lot busier during this period of time, compared to most of the winter season, but its always worth participating in fun activities.
Winter Hikes at Bryce Canyon
If you love winter hiking, Bryce Canyon is the park for you. You will most certainly find your feet buried in snow, meaning that equipment like winter boots, traction devices such as spikes or crampons, and hiking sticks must tag along on this trip. You can purchase traction devices at the visitor’s centre, if you feel like you really need them. Some trails at Bryce Canyon National Park are closed in winter, take a look at this list of those that remain open and are usually safe to hike – always check the trail conditions at the visitors centre before going on a winter hike.
- Navajo Loop & Queens Garden Trail
- Mossy Cave Trail
- Tower Bridge Trail
- Fairyland Loop
Navajo Loop & Queens Garden Trail
One of the most popular hikes in the park is Navajo Loop & Queens Garden Trail. They provide the most diverse scenery of any moderate hike in Bryce Canyon. The trail combined the more open views and unique hoodoos of the Queens Garden Trail with narrower sections of towering redrock limestone walls and switchbacks along the Navajo Loop Trail. The loop is created by combining the Queen’s Garden Trail which descends from the Sunrise point, with the Navajo Loop; descending from the Sunset point. The scenic views are definitely worth the visit, so make sure you have a camera with you!
Mossy Cave Trail
This fairly easy hike of Mossy Cave is one of the lowest elevation hikes in the park. A hike that begins with a climb and ends with a descent is great for beginners. The trail is 0.4 miles one-way and forks, allowing access to Water Canyon in one direction and a protected overhand known as Mossy Cave in the other. During the wintertime this area is covered in triangular icicles, and moss in the summer.
Tower Bridge Trail
Tower Bridge is a moderately trafficked, out-and-back trail. It starts at Sunrise Point and heads northeast along the Fairyland Loop Trail. It’s a 3 mile hike that takes about 2 to 3 hours to complete. The trail has some levels of difficulty, because of the drop in elevation from the rim down to the Tower Bridge site which is about 290m. Once at Tower Bridge you can either return to Sunrise Point or continue and get around the Fairyland Loop.
An iconic hike at Bryce Canyon would be along the Fairyland Loop Trail. It’s 8 miles long and located in the northern part of the park. It takes you through amazing hoodoos and bedazzling scenery along the rim and into the canyon; including a spur trail to Tower Bridge. When hiking in the winter months you could encounter, mud, snow, or ice, but the hike is very much doable and offers a really great experience with incredible landscapes.
Tips For Hiking in Bryce Canyon During Winter
Its best to keep an eye out on the current weather and road conditions before setting out on the slippery slopes of adventure. Heed warnings to steer clear off certain roads or areas whenever needed. If you’re slightly uncomfortable with having to drive in thick snow, take extra caution.
If you happen to run into a storm whilst you’re driving, the best car for this job is a 4-wheel drive with good tires that’ll sturdily take you through the thick chunks of snow, covering the trails.
The winter months in Bryce Canyon can reach below freezing especially during the early morning and evenings. Bring lots of layers, and make sure you’re wearing lots of layers as well, multiple gloves, a couple of socks, thick hats, large coats etc.
Some Bryce Canyon winter hikes require traction devices, which will allow your shoes to have the right amount of grip when walking through the snow. This is because the trails can be steep and when the snow piles atop more snow, the trails can get very slippery. It’ll become almost impossible to climb up and dangerously slippery on the way down.
You might think that packing lots of water isn’t necessary, as opposed to you visiting Bryce park during the warmer times of the year, where you’d be loading your backpack with lots and lots of water, hearing it slosh as you hike along the trail. However, staying hydrated is still very important, regardless of the weather outside. Plus hydration is even more crucial especially if you are not accustomed to the high altitude of Bryce Canyon, the water will help you adjust.
Most of the places in the park that would allow you to buy some food are all closed during the winter season. Pack lots of food, for a picnic if you fancy, and enjoy a warm lunch in the comfort of your car between activities. And if the outside crystallised world isn’t extremely cold, then you could enjoy your picnic out in the open, in front of the majestic views.
You will inevitably find yourself getting plastered with wet snow one way or another, whether its accidental, or an drastic twist in weather conditions. It’s always a good idea to carry extra clothes with you, so that you are prepared for moments like these, and can change into fresh, dry clothes without the discomfort.
You can expect the sun to disappear at around 5 to 6pm so make sure your days of visitation are planned accordingly, naturally the days will be much shorter, so a little less time will be available for exploring the entirety of the park, if most of the time is wasted, getting lost etc.
Where To Stay?
Ruby’s Inn and the Bryce Canyon Grand are typically the only Bryce Canyon hotels open in winter. They are located right outside the park with basic facilities including restaurants, activities, and services. The Bryce Canyon Grand is a lot newer in comparison to Ruby’s Inn, which is much bigger and less expensive. You might find that there are other optional places to stay at, around the National Park. But with winter rates at Ruby’s Inn coming to a little under $100 a night, you might not want to shop around. Especially after a long tiresome day of scenery absorbing, and hiking.
Where To Eat?
There is only one restaurant inside Bryce Canyon National Park and it’s closed in the winter. This leaves you with Cowboy’s Buffet and Steak Room at Ruby’s Inn along with some other restaurants like Pines, a little further out of the park. You might be pleased to know that Ruby’s Inn also has a small grocery store, where you can pick out all your picnic supplies for the day. There are also in-room refrigerators and microwaves in the bedroom.
Planning on visiting Bryce Canyon during the winter? Go for it. There’s nothing you have missed during the summer walking the trails of this tremendous park, that isn’t several times better when visited during the freezing months of winter, where storms and snow are evident, the sky threatening to break open and unleash its full bladder. Though the hikes and climbs will be slippery because of the snow encasing the firm ground, aside from the precautions you should take before visiting, there really is no stopping someone who’s thirsty for a peaceful adventure.
Is Winter a Good Time to Visit Bryce Canyon?
Bryce Canyon National Park is open all year-round, and the winter is a great time to go. With orange hoodoos, and green bristlecone pines topped with a scoop of snow, glimmering against the pristine blue skies.
Is it Good to Visit Bryce Canyon in December?
It’s a good time to visit Bryce Canyon in December, due to the freshly fallen snow, and lack of visitors that gives this place a deserted year enchanting feeling.