Visiting Canyonlands National Park in the Winter

There is so much to do, see and photograph at Canyonlands in December, January and February. Canyonlands National Park 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. Use this Canyonlands National Park guide to plan your winter vacation: services, weather, things to do, what to pack, and where to stay.

Canyonlands in the winter plus free packing list

Canyonlands Island in the Sky and Canyonlands Needles are remote areas of the park so it’s important to know what to expect when visiting in the winter.

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 throughout the years specifically during the winter months!

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 the winter! 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 the Winter

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

When visiting Utah National Parks in the winter you avoid the crowds and heat of summer, but you do need to worry about snow and cold temperatures.

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 during December, January, and February.

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.

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

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

Snowy roads at Canyonlands Island in the Sky
Snowy roads at Canyonlands Island in the Sky

Is Winter a Good Time to Visit Canyonlands?

The winter months at Canyonlands are cold and the weather is unpredictable. You may be limited on the things you can do during and after a snow storm if roads are closed.

Due to the remote location of Canyonlands, always be prepared with water, food and proper clothing so you can be self-reliant. In the winter 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!

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

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.

Winter Weather at Canyonlands

The cold Canyonlands National Park weather in the winter may not be for everyone.

  • DECEMBER: Highs 45 and lows 23 degrees F.
  • JANUARY: Highs 44 and lows 22 degrees F
  • FEBRUARY: Highs 52 and lows 28 degrees F

Dress in layers and pack winter clothing for your winter vacation to Canyonlands:

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

winter hiking gear

Things to Do In Canyonlands National Park in the Winter

Here’s a list of Canyonlands winter activities like 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 Centers in the Winter

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 Canyonlands ranger-led programs during the winter.

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

Canyonlands Scenic Drives in the Winter

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

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

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.

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 in the winter with snow
Canyonlands in the winter

Canyonlands Hikes in the Winter

There are a variety of Canyonlands National Park winter hikes to explore the park.

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 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.

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.

Most of the trails at Canyonlands are fully exposed to the sun, which is perfect for your visit in the winter. Keep in mind you may encounter ice, snow and mud in shady areas of the trails where 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 the winter so plan ahead!

View from Mesa Arch in the winter
View from Mesa Arch in the winter

Canyonlands Photography in the Winter

Winter photography at Canyonlands is awesome, especially if there are clouds, fog or snow! We focus our Canyonlands National Park photography at Island in the Sky for sunrise and sunset photography.

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.

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 broken down by the time of day, and give you our favorite 3 day itinerary! 

Make sure you pack the winter photography gear you’ll need to take amazing pictures at Canyonlands! And YOU the photographer need to have the right gear too: we like to use photographer gloves and keep rechargeable hand warmers in our coat pockets!

Canyonlands Stargazing in the Winter

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
Canyonlands sign in the winter

4×4 Trails at Canyonlands in the Winter

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!

Canyonlands Tours in the Winter

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 the Winter

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 the Winter

Canyonlands National Park Itineraries

We’ve created some done-for-you itineraries for visiting Canyonlands depending on the time you have to spend at the park. Click the graphic below to get a free travel bundle that includes printable daily itineraries. Or click the links below to see detailed itineraries of the best things to do at Canyonlands!

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