Canyonlands in winter offers extraordinary views of snow-dusted red rock canyons. Here’s a list of the best Canyonlands National Park winter hikes to see this landscape up close!
Use this Canyonlands National Park guide to plan your winter vacation: hiking trails, what to pack, where to stay, and more travel tips.
Hiking is one of the best ways to explore the rugged landscape that has been transformed into a multitude of canyons, mesas, buttes, and arches by the erosion of the Green and Colorado rivers.
Here’s a list of the Canyonlands hikes you can enjoy in the winter for all levels: easy, moderate and strenuous.
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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 National Park 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 Canyonlands National Park in the winter you avoid the crowds and heat of summer, but you do need to worry about snow and cold temperatures.
Here’s a breakdown of what to expect each month during the winter at Canyonlands:
- Canyonlands National Park in December
- Canyonlands National Park in January
- Canyonlands National Park in February
Winter Weather at Canyonlands
The cold Canyonlands National Park weather in the winter may not be for everyone.
- DECEMBER: Highs 45 | lows 23 degrees F
- JANUARY: Highs 44 | lows 22 degrees F
- FEBRUARY: Highs 52 | lows 28 degrees F
At Canyonlands during the winter you need to be prepared for rain and snow. You will definitely want to pack winter clothing and dress in layers.
You’ll want to check current Canyonlands road conditions before making the long drive only to find out the park is closed.
Tips For Winter Hiking at Canyonlands
One of the best Canyonlands winter activities is hiking. But due to the remote location of Canyonlands, always be prepared with water, food and proper clothing so you can be self-reliant.
Services are limited or closed in the winter. Remember 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.
Winter Clothing for Hiking
Canyonlands National Park experiences cold weather in the winter. Be sure to wear and pack winter clothing essentials.
- Base Layers: Wicking base layers will give you the warmth you need to fight off the cold winter weather in Canyonlands. Plus, you can take them off easily whenever you no longer need them.
- Fleece jackets: Fleece jackets serve as a light layer on warmer days in the park but can also add warmth to your layering.
- Insulated Jackets: Insulated jackets provide the perfect warmth whether you are going for a light hike or a more extended excursion.
- Wool socks: Do not wear cotton socks. It is best to wear wool socks for winter. Bring a spare just in case anything unexpected happens.
- Insulated hats: An insulated hat will protect you from losing too much of your body temperature through your head.
- Winter gloves: If it’s extremely cold, use an insulating glove inside a waterproof shell mitt to provide dexterity and warmth.
- Waterproof hiking boots: Hiking boots need to be waterproof. You may also need traction devices for some trails.
Winter Hiking Gear
Canyonlands National Park has no services during the winter, so you must bring everything you need. Here’s the winter hiking gear we recommend:
- Water: 1 quart per person for short trails and 1 gallon for long trails. Use a wide-mouth Nalgene water bottle since the narrow-mouth are prone to freeze shut more easily. A Neoprene bottle sleeve also works. Canyonlands is a desert so dehydration remains a threat even in winter. The Maze does not have running water, but you can get water at Island in the Sky and The Needles.
- First aid kit: No matter whether your hike is long or short, always pack a hiking first aid kit. Make sure your first aid kit has the essentials like plasters, bandages, anti-bacterial wipes, etc. Other items to pack for a winter day hike are a hiking lighter and a PLASTIC whistle.
- Headlamps: Carry a headlamp for winter hiking because there are fewer hours of daylight. Use lithium batteries for all electronic devices since they are resistant to cold temperatures.
- Snacks: Snacks are essential. Choose the ones that are easy to munch, so you can grab them to refuel your energy. Also, snacks that are high in protein and carbohydrates are strongly recommended.
Since most of the trails are fully exposed to the sun you’ll need sunscreen, even in the winter.
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.
Winter Canyonlands Hikes at Island in the Sky
There are hundreds of miles of Island in the Sky hikes. Here are the trails we recommend for winter hiking to see panoramic views and incredible scenery.
Mesa Arch Hike in the Winter
One of the most iconic landmarks of the Canyonlands, this short beginner hike will take you about thirty minutes and leads to the spectacular cliff-edge Mesa Arch.
Even with snow on the ground, it is easily accessible and less than half a mile from the parking lot. Mesa Arch trail is an easy hike. Over the horizon, the snow-capped La Sal Mountains can be seen in the distance.
Grand View Point Winter Hike
You can hike a short distance (1.8 miles) from the southern tip of the Island in the Sky for one of Utah’s most spectacular views. This area features canyons carved out by the Colorado River and some side canyons filled with attractive totem poles, hoodoos, and the La Sal Mountains.
The Grand View Point trail is an easy in-and-out hike that follows the canyon edge of Island in the Sky mesa and takes about an hour and a half.
White Rim Overlook Winter Hike
Near the south end of the Canyonlands Island in the Sky district sits the White Rim Overlook. This trail takes about an hour and a half and is best viewed in the late afternoon.
The overlook gets its name from the layer of white sandstone that forms at the edges of the canyon rim. The contrast of the white rock against the surrounding shades of red-orange cliffs is exquisite. There is extremely limited trailhead parking here but it’s worth it for the spectacular panoramic view from the overlook.
Murphy Point Winter Hike
A much longer hike, Murphy Point provides excellent wide views off the western end of Island in the Sky. Downhill most of the way, this Islands in the Sky hike leads you past a historic corral on the mesa top.
You’ll enjoy panoramic views of the Green River, Candlestick Tower, and the White Rim Road.
We recommend you get the latest trail conditions from the Visitor Center before starting this hike in the winter.
Upheaval Dome Winter Hike
The total trail is 1.7 miles but it’s a short, steep, under a mile hike to the first overlook; the second overlook adds a mile. The Upheaval Dome Trail is thought to be the most unique geological feature in Utah.
A 3-mile-wide area with a 1000-foot-deep crater with rocks pushed together in the center to make a dome-shaped structure. To truly appreciate it, this is one you’ll have to see in person. You can learn all about the dome at the exhibits at the end of the trail.
Whale Rock Winter Hike
The Whale Rock hike leads you up the side of a large, rounded sandstone rock that some would say resembles a whale.
This trail is a fun one to climb and the handrails make it easier to navigate. The Whale Rock Trail rewards you with broad views of the Canyonlands Island in the Sky.
Aztec Butte Winter Hike
One of the most interesting hikes in the Island in the Sky district, the Aztec Butte trail is short but challenging at times. You’ll be required to hike up ledges and slickrock which can be difficult without snow or ice!
Early on, the trail splits with Aztec Butte to the right and another smaller butte to the left before dropping below the rim to see two Puebloan structures called granaries. These are a unique find and both have been well-preserved. The hike is 1.8 miles if you continue to the second butte, 1.3 miles if you skip it. View structures from a distance; entering, touch and climbing on the sites is prohibited.
Syncline Loop Winter Hike
Before heading out on the difficult Syncline Loop Trail, check conditions with the Visitor Center. Be sure to carry plenty of water, a flashlight, and a map.
The trail follows the canyons around Upheaval Dome. With a steep 1,300-foot elevation change, Syncline Loop requires experienced hikers to navigate sharp ledges, massive boulders, and steep slickrock. Rewarding in the end, this hike is not for the inexperienced.
Gooseberry Canyon Winter Hike
In the winter, the park’s steepest trail may be difficult to navigate depending on conditions. This is another hike you need to talk to the rangers about before heading out.
Gooseberry Canyon descends an incredible 1500 vertical feet. The views and scenery here are stunning but it will challenge your hiking abilities, only experienced hikers in great shape should tackle this trail.
Remember, if you go down, you’ll have to venture back up. The Gooseberry Canyon trail is unique because you hike below the level of the mesa, instead of viewing from overlooks above. When you’re at the bottom don’t forget to look up to see how far you’ve hiked.
Winter Canyonlands Hikes at The Needles
The Needles Canyonlands district makes up the southeast corner of Canyonlands National Park and gets its name from the hundreds of colorful spires that dominate the area.
Due to the remote area of this part of the park, you’ll need to pack everything you need and be prepared to be self-reliant!
We recommend you talk to the rangers before exploring any Canyonlands Needles hikes in the winter.
There are Canyonlands winter camping areas in the Needles district for those who want to stay overnight and spend more time exploring the Needles trails.
Roadside Ruin Winter Hike
This easy, kid-friendly trail is short with only a few stone steps to navigate. The Roadside Ruin trail is highly trafficked but in good condition. Here you’ll get to see a Puebloan-era storage structure that was once used to store food.
The Roadside Ruin trail guide explains the ruins and points out the native plants you’ll see along the way.
Pothole Point Winter Hike
Although short, this trail is uphill and has uneven footing so might be considered moderate for some. Pothole Point is a short loop trail that crosses communities of sandstones with natural depressions called potholes.
To preserve these delicate potholes, it’s important to walk around them and avoid putting anything in them, even when they are dry. There are no trail guides, but small rock piles (cairns) show the way. Panoramic views from the trail are memorable and this trail offers one of the best viewpoints of the Needles.
Cave Spring Winter Hike
A short loop that winds around a white and red sandstone mesa, there’s a lot to see on this trail. Here you’ll pass Cave Spring, prehistoric rock paintings, well-preserved pictographs, and a historic cowboy camp with many original artifacts on display.
You will climb two wooden ladders on the Cave Spring trail, one of which that takes you to a 360-degree panoramic view of the Needles district. This trail is easy for those who have no problem climbing the two ladders and the sandstone rock but might be challenging for children or the elderly. It is recommended that you take the trail clockwise so you’re climbing up instead of down the ladders.
Slickrock Foot Trail Winter Hike
A moderate trail with most of the hike on the hard slickrock surface that gives the trail its name. This trail offers stunning views of the canyons and the Needles. Grab a brochure at the trailhead to help you identify the landmarks along the way.
You’ll appreciate the spurs to the 4 great overlooks with amazing views. This is a good beginner hike with lots of potential for exploring, the strategically placed cairns make it easy to pick the trail back up. I recommend this trail in the morning or evening as you are exposed to the open sun and heat on this trail.
Chesler Park Loop Trail Winter Hike
This moderate trail is fun and popular because of its diversity in the landscape. The Needles Chesler Loop Trail has you climbing up and down over rock formations, through sand and various rock terrain, slit canyons, and grasslands.
This is a beautiful trail with lots to explore and stunning panoramic views of the Needles. Please keep in mind that a four-wheel-drive vehicle is required to get to the trailhead.
Druid Arch Winter Hike
A favorite of the Canyonlands Needles hikes, Druid Arch is located about 5 ½ miles from the Elephant Hill Trailhead and offers one of the most spectacular views in the Needles district.
The Druid Arch trail will have you scrambling through high desert, canyons, a maze of needles, up a steep ladder and a rock wall to get to the arch. These obstacles could be difficult in winter conditions.
Confluence Overlook Winter Hike
Crossing through Big Spring Canyon, the Confluence Overlook Trail takes you through miles of open desert, areas of slickrock and deep packed sand, and ends at a dramatic cliff overlook with magnificent panoramic views of the Colorado and Green River confluence.
These two rivers define the three districts of Canyonlands National Park. At the overlook you can see the two rivers 1,000 feet below for a grand view. Make sure to check out the colored sandstone spires and a huge red butte along the trail.
Squaw Canyon to Lost Canyon Loop Winter Hike
The Squaw Canyon / Lost Canyon loop trail is combined for a pleasant hike that’ll take you over sandstone hills and slickrock, through a creek crossing, up a ladder, and through some challenging sections as you navigate between the two canyons.
You’ll see spectacular views and diversity along the trail. Slickrock, grasslands, tree-lined canyons, mesas, buttes, and mountains can all be seen from this scenic trail. Backcountry campsites are available at both Lost Canyon and Squaw Canyon, but a permit is required.
Check out our done-for-you 1, 2, and 3-day Canyonlands Itineraries to help you plan your vacation based on the time you have to spend at the park:
- Canyonlands National Park One Day Itinerary
- Two Days at Canyonlands National Park
- Three Days at Canyonlands National Park
- One Day at Needles Canyonlands National Park
Where to Stay Near Canyonlands
There are no lodging facilities in the park, but there are campgrounds:
- Island in the Sky Campgrounds
- Needles Canyonlands Camping
- Where to Stay Near Canyonlands
- Hotels Near Canyonlands National Park
- 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 Moab – 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).