Avoid the Crowds: Utah National Parks in the Winter

My first time experiencing the Utah national parks was in February⁠—the middle of winter. I have to say, the next time I go back to Moab, I'm planning for winter again. From the crowd-less parks and low hotel rates, to the snow-capped arches and cozy cafes, it just seems like the best time to visit.
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This story was created in partnership with Discover Moab. All photos by Tobey Schmidt.

Sure, Moab can be cold in the winter, but it can also be very sunny. Temperatures were above freezing during our visit, and there was snow in higher elevations, but the sun was out every day. Plan the perfect winter trip by skiing the slopes in Salt Lake City before heading south to experience the parks in Moab.

Collage of Utah National Parks

Enjoy Solitude in Utah National Parks + State Parks

My partner and I sat completely alone underneath Delicate Arch at sunset. “Wow, I bet you never get to see this without people,” I said aloud.

Arches National Park

While it was unusual to have Delicate Arch to ourselves, apparently that’s not an uncommon occurrence during the colder months. ‘Why wouldn’t people want to come here in the winter?’ we asked ourselves. Glistening snow was dusted on the tops of the red, sandstone arches and the breeze kept us cool as we hiked uphill.

arches national park delicate arch in utah in winter

The best part about being alone in Arches was that I could really hone in my photography without having to worry about there being 30 random people in my shot.
Lucas looking up at Double Arch

Deadhorse Point State Park

Known for its incredible overlook of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park, Deadhorse Point State Park is a great spot to hit at sunrise. Hard to motivate that early in the morning? We stopped by Love Muffin Cafe for some coffee and homemade muffins to enjoy on the 40-minute drive. Muffins or not, it was so worth it to be out there as the sun rose over the canyon, reflecting off the river below.

Looking out over Deadhorse Point State Park at sunrise on a trip to Utah national parks in winter

Canyonlands National Park

After enjoying the sunrise, we drove just down the road to Canyonlands National Park. The park is split into three districts, and the closest to Moab is called Island in the Sky. We planned to hike, but the weather was nice enough that we could have even ridden bikes on the trails if we wanted.

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, in winter

Since it was my first time in the park, I really wanted to photograph the famous Mesa Arch. It’s a quick loop hike that visits a spectacular arch on the edge of cliff. The bottom of the arch was glowing orange from the sun’s illumination. Looking through the arch we had views of the canyon and the snowy La Sal Mountains in the distance. We saw many arches on this trip, but Mesa Arch might have been my favorite.

Rappel into Slot Canyons

Many people don’t realize how many activities there are to do in the wintertime in Moab—it’s not all sightseeing and hiking. Looking for something more adventurous, we booked a full-day excursion with Moab Canyon Tours. Our guide, Zach, took us to Irish Canyons where we went up through one canyon, and down into another.

Irish Canyons with Moab Canyon Tours

Going up the first canyon required lots of scrambling moves using body tension. If Zach ever felt it was risky, he could give us a belay using a rope so that we wouldn’t fall. Going down the second canyon was even more fun. We rappelled three times, each time going deeper into the canyon. One rappel began by crawling into a hole and then descending another 30 feet, where we ended up in the most beautiful slot canyon I’ve ever seen. This tour was definitely a highlight of our trip.
Two pictures of Lucas in the slot canyons

Rock-Crawl in a Jeep & Visit Dinosaur Tracks

I’ve been off-roading in a Jeep only a handful of times, but this experience with Big Iron Tour Co. was something else! Owner of Big Iron Tours, Mike, took us on some dubious routes along steep, rocky ridges. I didn’t know the capabilities of the 4-wheeled rock-crawler until I watched Mike easily maneuver the Jeep over what I thought looked like vertical rock face.

Jeep crawling over rocks in Moab

Mike took us into a hidden cave where he taught us about the pictographs on the rock and what he thought the Native American had used the cave for. We also went to the sites of dinosaur tracks and fossils. I had no idea there was that much history so close to town. We (literally) rode into the sunset and watched the moon rise over the La Sal Mountains, all while Mike kept us entertained with his stories.
Big Iron Tour Co. Jeeps in Moab

Dine + Stay

Sometimes I get worried during travel that I won’t be able to find good food. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy cheap burgers and fries every once in a while, but it’s not what I want for dinner every night. Luckily the food scene in Moab is so rich, that I didn’t need to worry. From gourmet steakhouses to authentic Thai food, they have got it all. To top it off, there’s even a health-foods store with an impressive produce section, and a hot-food bar for quicker, healthy meals.

A collage of food options in Moab

As I mentioned, hotel rates are typically much cheaper in the winter than during Moab’s peak season. We stayed at the new Hoodoo Moab, Curio Collection by Hilton, where the rates were less than half of their normal price. Plus, g-l-a-m-o-r-o-u-s! It was nice coming back after a long day in the dirt to a clean room with an on-site hot tub.
Hoodoo by Hilton Hotel Moab, Utah

We are advocates of sustainable travel, and I know that Discover Moab is too, which is why they’d like everyone to learn how to do Moab Like a Local while you’re enjoying all there is to see and do in Moab at discovermoab.com. Now bundle up and go enjoy those crowd-less Utah national parks! When you’re finished with Moab, head further south and experience Zion National Park classic hikes, “winter style.”

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