Visiting Canyonlands National Park in the Winter

Canyonlands National Park in the winter is our favorite time to visit the park.

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

There is so much to do, see and photograph at Canyonlands in December, January and February. 

Here’s our guide to visiting Canyonlands Island in the Sky and Canyonlands Needles in the winter.

Some of the links on this site are affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, we may earn a small commission – at no extra cost to you! Read the full Disclosure Policy.

WHAT TO PACK FOR A TRIP TO CANYONLANDS

To get the most out of visiting this park, you must be prepared with the right clothing and gear.

DOWNLOAD our US National Park packing list for summer and winter.

Hiking Shoes – Injuries from improper footwear is a common problem that casual visitors and hikers encounter. To make your trip as safe and enjoyable as possible, avoid smooth-soled shoes and only wear sturdy shoes with ample tread.  → Check out the Merrell Moab hiking shoes we use.

Hydration and Food – Due to the high desert and altitude in Southeastern Utah, you should drink at least one gallon of water per day, and always carry water with you during all hiking activities. Eat plenty of healthy snacks and food. → We use Camelbak hydration packs or carry Hydroflask bottles in our packs.

Lip Balm and Lotion – Utah’s high elevation and dry air can be hard on your skin. You’ll want to carry lip balm with sunscreen and hydrating lotion to apply as needed when you’re out exploring the trails.

Clothing – Summers in the park mean soaring temperatures, unrelenting sunlight, and low humidity. To keep cool, wear light colored, loose fitting clothing that does not absorb sunlight. Also avoid sun burn by wearing a wide brimmed hat and by generously applying sunscreen to any parts of your body that are exposed to the sun.

During the winter, wearing the right winter clothing is important to stay dry and warm. Take note that snow and ice can accumulate and make popular trails quite slippery. That’s why trekking poles and traction devices for your shoes are essential. It’s also just as easy to become dehydrated in the cold as it is in the heat. It’s important to carry plenty of water during the winter, and not just during the summer.

During spring and fall, it’s all about layers! The mornings and evenings will be cool so have a fleece jacket handy!

National Parks Pass – Before you visit Canyonlands be sure to pack your The America the Beautiful Annual Pass.

Other items we recommend – US national parks packing list

But above all else, always make sure to carry enough food, water, and other essentials since Canyonlands is a remote park with few services and reliable sources of freshwater. 

Canyonlands National Park in the Winter

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.

Here’s a breakdown of what to expect each month during the winter at Canyonlands:

Winter Weather at Canyonlands

Winter is our favorite time to visit Canyonlands National Park because it’s the offseason so it’s not crowded.

BUT the cold winter weather may not be for everyone.

  • NOVEMBER: Highs 56 and lows 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • DECEMBER: Highs 45 and lows 23 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • JANUARY: Highs 44 and lows 22 degrees Fahrenheit.

During the winter you need to be prepared for rain and snow. You will definitely want to pack winter clothing and dress in layers. 

Things to Do In Canyonlands National Park in the Winter

Canyonlands is located in Eastern Central Utah near the fun outdoor adventure town of Moab

There are so many things to do at Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky and Needles Canyonlands in the winter.

You can enjoy hiking trails, scenic drives, stunning viewpoints and photo spots! There are no ranger-led programs during this season.

In the winter visitor services are reduced or closed. We recommend you are prepared to be self-reliant when visiting these remote parks in the winter.

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

Stop at the Visitor Center

Make the Canyonlands Island in the Sky Visitor Center your very first spot! It is open 5 days a week in the winter. Be sure to check the NPS website for updated information. 

Take time to talk to the park ranger to get information about things you are interested in seeing and doing. Get tips and ideas on other things to do as well! 

If you plan on hiking or off-roading, be sure to get updated trail information before you head out!

The Needles Visitor Center is closed in the winter, from late November to early March.

Scenic Drive

In the winter, the park roads may be temporarily closed to allow for snow removal. You’ll want to check road conditions before making the long drive to Canyonlands to find out the park is closed.

Stunning views is what you’ll find when visiting Canyonlands National Park.

There are 10 overlooks and viewpoints along the Island in the Sky scenic drive to enjoy the vast and spectacular landscape at this park!

You’ll definitely want to have your camera ready to capture the beauty you’ll see!

Driving through Needles Canyonlands, be sure to stop at all pullouts so you can experience the diverse beauty of the stone spires in this part of the park.

Take a Hike

There are hundreds of miles of Canyonlands hikes to explore the park.

Island in the Sky hikes and trails at The Needles include short walks, day hikes and backpacking trails.

Trails are usually marked with cairns (small rock piles) and have signs at intersections.

Many remote trails do not receive regular maintenance and may not be adequately marked. All backcountry hikers should carry a topographic map.

In the winter the trails may be covered in snow or ice that may require traction devices for hiking.

sunrise at Grand View Point Canyonlands

Photography in the Winter

Winter photography at Canyonlands is awesome, especially if there are clouds, fog or snow! 

Our favorite sunrise spots at Island in the Sky are Grand View Point and Mesa Arch.

All the viewpoints along the scenic drive at Island in the Sky provide stunning landscapes that need to be photographed!

If you’re serious about photography, check out our Arches & Canyonlands Photography Guide and Itinerary. We share the best photography spots broken down by the time of day, and give you our favorite 3 day itinerary! 

Enjoy Stargazing

Did you know that Canyonlands has some of the best stargazing? There’s a saying that says “Half the Park is After Dark”.

Take the time to stay in the park on a clear night and you’ll see why!  

Our favorite locations to photograph the stars and milky way at Canyonlands Island in the Sky is Mesa Arch and Grand View Point.

Due to the remote location of Needles Canyonlands, you’ll experience amazing dark skies without much light pollution.

You wont’ see the milky way in the winter, but you can photograph the starry skies or even capture star trails!

Canyonlands sign in the winter

Drive 4×4 Trails

In the winter, unpaved backcountry roads may be impassible when wet. Check with the rangers for road conditions before heading out!

We like to drive the Shafer Trail from Island in the Sky back to Moab. It’s a switchback road with steep drop-offs so it’s not for everyone. But if you’re up for the challenge, it’s an experience of a lifetime!

You’ll also find fun 4×4 trail at Needles Canyonlands, but check to see if you’ll need a permit for the trail you want to drive.

High-clearance 4WD vehicles with a low range gear (4LO) are required on all off-road trails in Canyonlands. ATVs, OHVs, or UTVs are not permitted inside the park.

These trails should not be attempted by inexperienced drivers since there is a high risk of vehicle damage that could lead to towing costs in excess of $1,000!

WHERE TO STAY NEAR CANYONLANDS

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

Here are 4 places we recommend:

  •  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!

Where to Stay Near Canyonlands Needles

There are no lodging facilities in the park, but there is one campground.

You can visit Needles and stay in Moab, and most people do that.

The town of Monticello is a bit closer to Needles, but the lodging, food and shopping options aren’t as good. It’s a much smaller town than Moab.

Plan Your Canyonlands Vacation

national park packing lists

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *