Visiting Canyonlands National Park in January

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

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 January: services available, road conditions, weather, and more!

Canyonlands National Park in January

Use this Canyonlands National Park guide to plan your January vacation: 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 January!

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 January! 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 January

Experience a quiet time at all Utah National Parks in the winter. At Canyonlands 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 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. 

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.

Canyonlands Weather in January

The Canyonlands National Park weather is unpredictable in the winter. 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.

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. You will definitely want to pack winter clothing:

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

winter hiking gear

Is January a Good Time to Visit Canyonlands?

We enjoy the quiet you find in January 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 January, 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 January – 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 January 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 January

Here’s a list of Canyonlands winter activities you can do in January: hiking, scenic drives, landscape photography, and more! Check out these resources for the two different districts you can visit:

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

Canyonlands Visitor Center in January

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.

Road to Canyonlands in the winter

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.

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.

Aztec Butte in the winter
Aztec Butte in the winter

Canyonlands Hiking in January

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.

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.

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. Canyonlands backcountry permits are required for hiking these trails. Services to get those permits are limited in January so plan ahead!

Mesa Arch at sunrise with snow
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. The colors are vibrant and the light creates a spectacular glow on the red rocks that cannot be missed.

To photograph Canyonlands sunrise at Island in the Sky we like Grand View Point and Mesa Arch. In January 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.

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.

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, pack the winter photography gear you’ll need to take amazing pictures at Canyonlands! We like to use photographer gloves and keep rechargeable hand warmers in our coat pockets!

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 sign with snow

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!

Canyonlands Tours in January

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. Winter weather will affect tour schedules so check in advance!

Canyonlands Biking in January

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 January

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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