Canyonlands Winter Activities + Travel Guide

There are many Canyonlands winter activities to enjoy during the off-season at this National Park in Utah.

Use this Canyonlands National Park guide to plan your winter vacation: services, weather, things to do, what to pack, and where to stay.

Canyonlands National Park winter activities

You’ll find many things to do at Canyonlands National Park in the winter like scenic drives, hiking, biking, and photography!

Visiting Canyonlands National Park in the winter is a great time to go to avoid the crowds during the other times of the year. 

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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!

What to Expect at 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.

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

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. We recommend you have waterproof hiking shoes, winter coatfleece jacketwinter hat and gloves when visiting in the winter.

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

Snow-covered road at Canyonlands
Snow-covered road at Canyonlands

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!

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.

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.

Canyonlands Winter Activities

Canyonlands is located in Eastern Central Utah near Moab. There are two main districts you can visit in the winter: Island in the Sky and Needles

You can enjoy hiking trails, scenic drives, stunning viewpoints and photo spots, but there are no ranger-led programs during the winter.

Canyonlands Visitor Centers in the Winter

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

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

Canyonlands Scenic Drives in the Winter

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

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.

view from Aztec Butte in the winter
View from Aztec Butte

Canyonlands Hikes in the Winter

There are hundreds of miles of Canyonlands 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.

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

Mesa Arch with snow
Mesa Arch with snow

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.

Check out our list of best photo spots at Canyonlands Island in the Sky: sunrise at Grand View Point and Mesa Arch; Colorado River Overlook at sunset. 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! 

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!

tent-camping-in-Moab-in-the-winter
Tent camping in Canyonlands in the winter

Canyonlands National Park Winter Camping

There are campgrounds and backcountry sites open for winter camping at Canyonlands:

Island in the Sky: Willow Flat Campground: The only option for camping in the winter at Island in the Sky is at Willow Flat Campground. It’s a small campground with only 12 sites. It is fully operational all-year-round, but the sites fill quickly.

Island in the Sky: Murphy Point Overlook: There is a 1.8-mile hike to get to the overlook and camping area. There is a limit of one permit (1 group up to 7 people) for this camping zone. Murphy Point Overlook is an open desert site without facilities nearby.

Island in the Sky: Syncline Campsite: The campsite is reached via the Syncline loop trail. The trail is a strenuous 7.9 miles round trip. It’s a primitive camping site.

The Needles Campground: Fourteen campsites in Loop A are always on a “first come, first served” basis. There is NO potable water in the winter at Needles. Camp sites have toilets, fire rings, picnic tables, and trash cans.

Island in the Sky Backcountry Camping: You can get permits at the Canyonlands Island in the Sky Visitor Center that is open 7 days a week, but with shorter hours in the winter. The Visitor Center closes early on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve, and it’s closed on Christmas Day. When the Visitor Center is closed, you can reserve your permit online at Recreation.gov.

Needles Backcountry Camping: You can get permits at the Needles Visitor Center that is open 7 days through December 10. The Visitor Center is closed from December 11 through February 11. When the Visitor Center is closed, you can only get these backcountry permits for Needles at the self-issue permit station outside the Visitor Center.

BUY AT AMAZON: Arches and Canyonlands Guides and Maps:

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