Guide to Visiting Canyonlands National Park in January

Have you ever considered planning a trip to Canyonlands National Park in January? It’s one of our favorite times to visit to avoid the crowds and get off-season rates!

Use the tips below and our Canyonlands National Park guide to plan your vacation.

We share what to pack, where to stay and things to do in January at Canyonlands.

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Canyonlands National Park Packing List

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VISITING CANYONLANDS IN JANUARY

Winter is a quiet time at this Utah National Park. You’ll enjoy the park with fewer people and avoid the heat of summer. In January you won’t wait in line to enter the park and you often have the parking lots and trails to yourself!

But visitor services are reduced at Canyonlands National Park in the winter. You’ll need to be more self-reliant when visiting either Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky or Needles Canyonlands in January.

The hiking trails remain open year-round, but you may encounter snow and ice which may require traction devices and trekking poles. 

If you’re ok with those two things, then you should definitely visit Canyonlands in January!

CANYONLANDS WEATHER IN JANUARY

The weather at Canyonlands in January is cold. And if a snow storm rolls through, local trails and roads may become impassable.

The average highs are near 40 degrees with the lows near 20 degrees. Remember that Island in the Sky is located at 6,100 feet above sea level, and Canyonlands Needles is 5,920 so it does get cold in the winter, even if the sun is out.

Dress in layers when visiting Canyonlands in January. Take warm winter clothing and dress in layers so you’ll actually want to get out of the car when you get to the trailhead. Hiking boots should be warm and waterproof. No one wants soggy feet!

After a snow storm, the park road might be closed for plowing for a few hours. Keep in mind that the roads, parking lots, and pullouts in the park can still be icy, especially in shaded areas. You can see current NPS weather conditions on the NPS website.

Green River Overlook at Canyonlands with snow

THINGS TO DO AT CANYONLANDS IN JANUARY

Check out all the fun things to do at Canyonlands National Park.

Here are some tips for visiting Canyonlands in January:

  • Check road and weather conditions so you’re prepared to enjoy the outdoors.
  • Be flexible with your schedule, especially in the winter as conditions may close parts of the park.

Check out our article explaining Canyonlands Island in the Sky vs Needles!

Canyonlands Visitor Center in January

Check the website for operating hours for the Canyonlands Island in the Sky Visitor Center and a Needles Visitor Center in January. We recommend you stop and talk with the Park Ranger on duty so you get the most updated information like road conditions and trail conditions before you start exploring the park.

You’ll find exhibits, book and map sales, backcountry permits, picnic area, and general information. Water is available year-round at both Visitor Centers.

Canyonlands in the winter with snow

Canyonlands Scenic Drive in January

If you’re lucky enough, you might get a snow storm that rolls through in January so you can see and photograph the contrast of white snow on the red rock landscape! 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.

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.

Canyonlands Hiking in January

In January Canyonlands hikes are very enjoyable when the sun is out. It’s quite different from summer when you’re sweating and worrying about heat exhaustion.

Be sure 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!

Most of the trails at Canyonlands are fully exposed to the sun, which is perfect for your visit in January. Keep in mind you may encounter ice, snow and mud in shady areas of the trails because January is the coldest month of the year at the park and the wet areas don’t dry out.

You may need traction devices on some trails. Check with the visitor’s center for the most current trail conditions. Permits are required for backcountry hiking. Services to get those permits are limited in January so plan ahead!

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.

Mesa Arch at sunrise with snow

Canyonlands Photography in January

We love it when it snows during our January trip to Canyonlands. The landscape of red rocks with white snow is so pretty! Be prepared for all types of winter photography due to weather. You can still capture amazing photos with rain, snow and fog.

Canyonlands National Park photography is best at sunrise and sunset. Our favorite sunrise spots at Island in the Sky are Grand View Point and Mesa Arch. We like the Colorado River Overlook at sunset. The colors are vibrant and the light creates a spectacular glow on the red rocks that cannot be missed.

If you’re serious about photography, check out our Arches & Canyonlands Photography Guide and Itinerary. We share the best photography spots at each park for sunrise, sunset and even night time…and give you our favorite 3 day itinerary! 

And since January will be cold, we like to use photographer gloves and keep rechargeable hand warmers in our coat pockets!

Arches and Canyonlands photography guide

Canyonlands Stargazing in January

It will be cold in January at night, but it’s worth it to set aside one evening to stay after the sun sets and LOOK UP! You’ll quickly see why Canyonlands has the slogan: “Half the Park is After Dark”.

Canyonlands is internationally recognized as one of the best places for stargazing because of its remote location, accessibility, altitude and clear skies. It’s a popular destination for astrophotographers so you won’t be alone in the park at night.

Canyonlands 4×4 Off-Road Trails in January

January may not be the best time for exploring the off-road trails at Canyonlands. 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!

Other Canyonlands Activities

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FAQ’S FOR VISITING IN CANYONLANDS IN JANUARY

Is Canyonlands National Park Open in January?

You bet! The park is open 24/7, but check the NPS site to get the updated winter hours.

Does it Snow at Canyonlands in January?

January is the second-snowiest month at Canyonlands National Park. When it does snow, it’s not usually large amounts. When a storm rolls through, the park can get a dusting of snow, or even a few inches.

Do the Roads Close at Canyonlands in January?

The park road might be closed after a snowfall for several hours for plowing. For road conditions getting to Canyonlands, check the Utah Road Weather Forecast or call 1-866-511-UTAH (8824).

Park roads, parking lots, and pullouts can still be icy, especially in shaded areas. Check at the visitor center for the latest information on road conditions.

What Park Services are Available in January?

  • There is no gas, food or lodging at Canyonlands. There are toilets at the visitor center and various overlooks.
  • Water is available at the Sky Visitor Center only from 9 am to 4 pm. You can only get water at the Needles Visitor Center. It’s recommended you pack ALL the water you’ll need for your visit just in case these facilities are closed.

What is the Best Time to Visit Canyonlands National Park?

When visiting Canyonlands National Park in the winter, ALWAYS remember to check the forecast and road conditions because conditions change from day to day, and don’t follow a set pattern.

For us, the best time to visit Canyonlands National Park is in the winter to avoid the crowds and heat during the other times of year.

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.

Where to stay near Canyonlands – these are our favorite places in Moab:

  •  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 town – 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!

Camping in Canyonlands in the Winter

There are 12 sites at Willow Flat Campground at Island in the Sky. They are first-come, first-served. This campground is open year-round.

There are 26 sites at The Needles Campground. During the winter these sites are all first-come, first-served.

Visit the NPS website for more information on camping at Canyonlands in the winter.

Plan Your Canyonlands Vacation

Things To Do Near Canyonlands

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