Visiting Canyonlands National Park in the winter is a great time to go to avoid the crowds during the other times of the year. There are many Canyonlands winter activities to enjoy during the off-season like scenic drives, hiking, biking, and photography!
Canyonlands is located in southeast Utah with a stunning landscape of canyons, mesas, buttes, and rivers. 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.
Use this Canyonlands National Park guide to plan your winter vacation: services, weather, things to do, what to pack, and where to stay.
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!
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:
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.
You’ll want to check current Canyonlands road conditions before making the long drive only to find out the park is closed.
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
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
- Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky
- Needles Canyonlands
- Canyonlands Island in the Sky vs 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 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.
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 Hikes in the Winter
There are hundreds of miles 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.
In the winter the trails may be covered in snow or ice that may require traction devices for hiking.
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!
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!
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 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
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
Click the graphic below to get your free Canyonlands Travel Bundle to help you plan your vacation based on the number of days you have to spend at the park!