Why You Should Visit Canyonlands National Park in December

Use this Canyonlands National Park guide to help you plan a fun winter vacation. We enjoy visiting Canyonlands National Park in December, even if there’s snow!

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about planning a trip to Canyonlands in December: things to do, what to pack, where to stay, and more!

Canyonlands in December

We enjoy the winter months because it’s nice to explore Canyonlands without the crowds and daytime heat you find in the summer.

Canyonlands is a remote park so it’s important to know what to expect: services available, road conditions, weather, and more!

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A Photo Tour of Canyonlands National Park

Take a visual tour through Canyonlands National Park (and Dead Horse Point) to see the stunning landscape in the parks!

Visiting Canyonlands in December

Visiting Utah National Parks in the winter is quite different from the summer months, especially at Canyonlands. You’ll enjoy the park with fewer people and avoid the heat of summer. In December you won’t wait in line to enter the park and you often have the parking lots and trails to yourself!

We love visiting Canyonlands National Park in the winter! But there are some drawbacks to keep in mind. Visitor services are reduced at Canyonlands in December. You’ll need to be more self-reliant when visiting Canyonlands National Park in the winter.  

Here’s what you can expect at Canyonlands in December.

Canyonlands Weather in December

The Canyonlands National Park weather in December is cold with highs around 45 and lows around 23 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remember that Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky is located at 6,100 feet above sea level, and Needles Canyonlands is 5,920 so it does get cold in the winter, even if the sun is out.

Keep in mind the weather can be unpredictable if a storm rolls through with rain or snow. You will definitely want to pack winter clothing and dress in layers. We recommend you have waterproof hiking shoes, winter coatfleece jacketwinter hat and gloves when visiting in the winter.

You’ll want to check current Canyonlands road conditions before making the long drive only to find out the park is closed.

snowy road to Canyonlands in the winter

Is December a Good Time to Visit Canyonlands?

We enjoy the quiet you find in December at Canyonlands, but it’s not for everyone! Check out our guide for finding the best time to visit Canyonlands National Park. Each season and month of the year will have different activities and services available.

Due to unpredictable weather conditions in December, you may be limited on the things you can do at Canyonlands during and after a snow storm if roads are closed.

Services are limited or closed in December – there is no gas, food, or lodging at Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky or Needles Canyonlands.

Know what Canyonlands winter services are available as well as road and trail conditions before heading into the parks.

Remember that both areas of the park are remote locations so always be prepared with water, food and proper clothing so you can be self-reliant.

In December after a snow storm, paved roads may close temporarily so crews can plow. Unpaved backcountry roads may be impassible for longer periods of time so check road conditions before you head out!

Things to Do at Canyonlands National Park in December

Canyonlands is located in Eastern Central Utah near Moab. There are so many things to do at Canyonlands National Park in December. Check out these resources for the two different districts you can visit:

You can enjoy hiking trails, scenic drives, stunning viewpoints and photo spots! But there are no ranger-led programs during the winter.

Visitor Centers at Canyonlands in December

The Island in the Sky Visitor Center closes two days of the week during the winter. Water is only available at the Visitor Center. Toilets can be found here and at various overlooks.

During the winter, the Needles Visitor Center is closed, but there is a pay phone and there are rangers on duty. Water is only available at the Visitor Center. There are toilets here, at the campground and the Elephant Hill trailhead.

Canyonlands Green River Overlook in the winter with snow

Scenic Drives at Canyonlands in December

Due to the elevation at Island in the Sky, check to make sure the Island in the Sky scenic drive is open after a snow storm, especially in December. If there is snow, and the road is open, you’ll love seeing the white snow against the red rock canyons!

You’ll also see the same cool contrast of white snow against colorful stone spires driving through Needles Canyonlands. We like to stop at all pullouts to enjoy the diverse beauty of the stone spires in this part of the park.

Hiking at Canyonlands in December

Canyonlands hikes are nice in December when the sun is out because it’s not too hot.

Here’s a list of good Island in the Sky hikes: Mesa Arch, Grand View Point, Aztec Butte and Upheaval Dome. And here’s a list of hikes at the Needles district: Roadside Ruin, Pothole Point and Cave Spring.

Here’s a list of fun Canyonlands Needles hikes that are easy: Roadside Ruin, Pothole Point, Cave Spring. There are a few popular difficult hikes as well: Chelser Park Loop and Druid Arch trails.

Remember that even though the temperatures are cold, it’s still important to stay hydrated and carry a hydration pack or a refillable water bottle in your backpack. You’ll even need to still wear sunscreen in the winter!

If there’s snow on the ground, you may need snowshoes as you walk along the Island in the Sky hikes and Needles hikes. When the trails become icy, you may need hiking traction devices for your shoes.

Photographing Canyonlands in December

Winter Canyonlands National Park photography is amazing, especially after a snow storm! Be prepared for all types of winter photography due to weather, and be ready to capture amazing photos with rain, snow and fog.

Grand View Point and Mesa Arch; Colorado River Overlook at sunset. All the viewpoints along the scenic drive at Island in the Sky provide stunning landscapes that need to be photographed!

CHECK OUT our Arches & Canyonlands Photography Guide that includes a list of best photo spots for sunrise and sunset… and includes a 3-day itinerary for both parks!

Make sure you pack the winter photography gear you’ll need to take amazing pictures at Canyonlands! Since it will be cold, we like to use photographer gloves and keep rechargeable hand warmers in our coat pockets!

Arches and Canyonlands photography guide

Stargazing at Canyonlands in December

You’ve never seen a starry sky like the one you’ll experience at Canyonlands! The park slogan “Half the Park is After Dark” says it all. Canyonlands National Park is internationally recognized as one of the best places for stargazing because of its remote location, accessibility, altitude and clear skies.

It will be cold in December at night, but it’s worth it to set aside one evening to stay after the sun sets and LOOK UP!

Canyonlands sign in the winter

Off-road Trails at Canyonlands in December

Exploring the off-road trails at Canyonlands in December depends on the weather and the trail conditions. If the Shafer Trail is open, and you have the right vehicle, we recommend this challenging, unpaved backcountry road in Island in the Sky that connects with Moab.

And check out the 4×4 trails at Needles Canyonlands, but again check to see if they’re open or if you’ll need a permit.

At Canyonlands, high-clearance 4WD vehicles with a low range gear (4LO) are required on all off-road trails. ATVs, OHVs, or UTVs are not permitted inside the park. Do not attempt to drive these trails if you are inexperienced since there is a high risk of vehicle damage that could lead to towing costs in excess of $1,000!

More Canyonlands Activities

BUY AT AMAZON: Arches and Canyonlands Guides and Maps:

Arches Canyonlands guides and maps

Where to Stay Near Canyonlands

There are no lodging facilities in the park, but there are campgrounds:

  •  Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Moab – we enjoyed our stay and highly recommend this hotel due to its location close to Canyonlands.
  •  Purple Sage – our all-time favorite place to stay in Moab – walking distance to shopping, full kitchen, and only 8 units so you don’t feel lost in a large hotel.
  •  Red Cliffs Lodge – rooms up to 6 people – located 17 miles from Moab, this lodge is known for its beautiful location, winery and activities like horseback riding, fishing and more!
  • Townhomes south of Moab – we really like the townhomes in Spanish Valley with kitchen, washer and dryer in the unit and a swimming pool/hot tub (just a 5 minute drive south of Moab).
  • Rent an RV – have it dropped off at your vacation destination!

Plan Your Canyonlands Vacation

Things To Do Near Canyonlands

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