Visiting Canyonlands National Park in December

You can’t beat planning a trip to Canyonlands National Park in the winter! We enjoy visiting Canyonlands National Park in December, despite the cold and possibility of snow!

Canyonlands is located in southeast Utah with a stunning landscape of canyons, mesas, buttes, and rivers. It’s a remote park so it’s important to know what to expect when visiting in December: services available, road conditions, weather, and more!

Canyonlands in December

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

We live only a few hours away from Canyonlands so we’ve had the opportunity to visit many times during every season. The tips we share are based on our experiences visiting Canyonlands National Park throughout the years, and specifically for the month of December!

Our biggest tip is to be prepared for the weather so you’re able to enjoy the outdoor activities you want to do at Canyonlands!

Use our Canyonlands Packing List to make sure you have the right clothing and gear for visiting in December! Grab your free printable packing checklist by clicking the image below!

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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 and prepared with food, water, and clothing at the minimum for your time at the park during the winter months.

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. 

If you’re not used to Utah’s dry air, you’ll also want lip balm and lotion!

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
Snowy road to Canyonlands

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

Here’s a list of Canyonlands Winter Activities you can do in December: hiking, scenic drives, landscape photography, and more!

There are fun ways to get everyone excited before, during and after the trip with National Park activities:

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.

There are no ranger-led programs during the winter.

Canyonlands Green River Overlook in the winter with snow
Green River Overlook

Canyonlands Scenic Drives 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.

Check out these two scenic drives to see different views of Island in the Sky and Needles!

We recommend the Canyonlands GuideAlong App to hear fun behind-the scenes stories and local tips that play automatically as you drive, based on your GPS location.

Canyonlands Hiking in December

There are a variety of Canyonlands National Park winter hikes that are perfect when the sun is out because it’s not too hot.

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.

Canyonlands Needles hikes: 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 trails. When they become icy, you may need hiking traction devices for your shoes.

Mesa Arch with snow
Mesa Arch with snow

Canyonlands Photography 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.

To photograph Canyonlands sunrise at Island in the Sky we like Grand View Point and Mesa Arch. In December you “could” enjoy Mesa Arch without other photographers, but since it’s a popular photo spot in Canyonlands, it’s always a busy location at sunrise.

PHOTO TIP: The glow on the bottom side of Mesa Arch lasts a long time. We like to wait for all the sunrise photographers to get their shots and leave, then we usually have the place to ourselves!

And for Canyonlands sunset photo spots at Island in the Sky we like the Colorado River Overlook as well as nearby Dead Horse Point State Park.

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!

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!

Canyonlands Stargazing 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.

In December you won’t be able to see or photograph the Milky Way, but the endless sky of stars is incredible nonetheless!

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
Canyonlands sign in the winter

Canyonlands Off-road Trails 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!

Canyonlands Tours in December

One of the best ways to get to know the park is booking a Canyonlands National Park tour! Whether you’re looking for a half-day or full-day excursion, there are plenty of Canyonlands tours available to fit your needs.

Canyonlands Biking in December

You can ride on any public roadway at The Needles and Island in the Sky. You must ride single file. There are no road shoulders or bike lanes.

You’ll find hundreds of miles of roads for mountain biking in Canyonlands for day trips and overnight trips:

  • Overnight Biking Trips: must have a Canyonlands overnight backcountry permit. Reservations for White Rim campsites are very competitive so plan to make a reservation up to four months in advance.
  • Day Biking Trips: must have a Canyonlands day-use permit for White Rim, Elephant Hill, Lavender Canyon, and Peekaboo/Horse Canyon roads.

If you’ll be riding on 4WD roads, there are no shoulders or bike lanes so be aware of passing vehicles.

Arches Canyonlands guides and maps

BUY AT AMAZON: Arches and Canyonlands Guides and Maps

Winter Lodging at Canyonlands

Things To Do Near Canyonlands in December

Canyonlands Itineraries

We’ve put together our favorite Canyonlands National Park Itineraries for 1, 2, or 3 days in the park! Grab a free copy by clicking the graphic below. Click on the links to read the detailed itinerary for Canyonlands based on the time you have to spend at the park!

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