The Secrets to Visiting Bryce Canyon in Winter

If you dream about towering red rock hoodoos dusted in snow, then you’ve got to check out Bryce Canyon in winter. In fact, seeing Bryce Canyon with snow might be one of the better times to visit the stunning national park. The crowds are much thinner than the summer months and the landscapes are utterly serene.

Bryce Canyon National Park in winter can be quite cold, but it’s worth the rosy cheeks to experience the magic of the canyon dusted in snow. There are a few closures to navigate, but if you’re flexible, you can see most of the park’s highlights during the winter months.

If you’re looking to explore Bryce Canyon like a local, not a tourist, then you’ve come to the right place. I’ve visited Bryce Canyon many times, including the winter months. Out of all of my visits to this natural phenomenon, winter is by far my favorite. So bundle up and let’s discover what makes Bryce Canyon in winter so special!

About this Guide to Bryce Canyon in Winter

Inside this epic guide to exploring Bryce Canyon’s winter wonderland you’ll find:

Is Bryce Canyon Open in Winter?

Yes! In fact, most of the US national parks are open year-round and Bryce Canyon is no exception. If the weather is particularly bad, the park may close temporarily for snow removal, but in general, the park is open for visitors. With just a couple of exceptions, the majority of the park’s attractions are open to visitors.

Do keep in mind, there are a few closures. First, the visitor’s center is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day (but the park is open). The General store and bathrooms at Inspiration Point and Peekaboo Loop are also closed during the winter. Dump stations at the North Campground are also closed for use.

Pro Tip: The Bryce Canyon snow is only plowed from paved sidewalks at overlooks and the paved section of the Rim Trail between Sunrise and Sunset Point so you’ll want waterproof footwear and strap-on traction for your feet.

Bryce Canyon map in winter
Image courtesy of the National Parks Service.

Is Bryce Canyon Worth Visiting in the Winter?

Absolutely! In fact, you can argue that Bryce Canyon is actually better to visit in the winter. Many people think Bryce is one of the best national parks for winter. You won’t see the huge lines of tour busses, crowds are thinner, and the scenery is more magical. Seeing the contrast of deep, white, fluffy snow against an amphitheater of hoodoos is a special treat.

Many people opt to visit Bryce Canyon in December. This is an excellent time of year to visit. The park sees an uptick of crowds for the Christmas and New Years’ holidays, but it’s otherwise an amazing time to enjoy the stunning scenery of Bryce Canyon.

What’s the Weather Like?

Bryce Canyon sits at about 8,000 feet above sea level, which means that it has more of a mountain climate despite the red rocks. Bryce Canyon in winter is quite cold. Temperatures are regularly below freezing and nighttime lows are typically in the teens.

  • November: Average high 45F, average low 23F
  • December: Average high 36F, average low 15F
  • January: Average high 37F, average low 15F
  • February: Average high 38F, average low 17F
  • March: Average high 45F, average low 23F

Pro Tip: Pack plenty of layers and bring a face covering for cold days. And don’t forget, you’ll want sunscreen for that high-altitude sun too!

Bryce Canyon snow totals for winter typically range between 14 and 17 inches per month. With temperatures below freezing and some areas of Bryce Canyon receiving very little natural light, it’s almost guaranteed that if you visit Bryce Canyon National Park in winter, you’ll see snow.

Bryce Canyon Altitude

Many people are surprised to learn that Bryce Canyon sits at about 8,000 feet above sea level. This means you’ll likely feel the altitude. When you’re visiting Bryce Canyon, be sure to properly acclimatize to the altitude.

Bring plenty of water (warm beverages in a thermos help keep you toasty). Plan on drinking at least 2 liters a day per person. Also, avoid alcohol and too much caffeine intake when you first arrive.

Another thing to note about the altitude is that the climate in Bryce Canyon is more like the mountains and less like the desert. This means that snow totals are much higher in Bryce Canyon than other national parks in Utah. Good news for photographers and those looking to enjoy the unique winter scenes of Bryce.

However, keep in mind that this means you’ll want proper footwear for visiting Bryce Canyon in winter. Plan on wearing waterproof hiking boots. Snowshoes and traction like microspikes are also quite handy!

bryce canyon national park in winter

Where is Bryce Canyon?

Bryce Canyon is located just south of the town of Bryce in the southwestern corner of Utah. The area surrounding Bryce Canyon National Park is quite rural. However, the main road is paved and easy to access. At about 4 hours and 15 minutes from Salt Lake City, Bryce Canyon is one of the more accessible national parks in Utah.

How Long to Spend in Bryce Canyon in Winter

Most people will opt to spend one day in Bryce Canyon. However, two days in Bryce Canyon will let you see all the sights and really experience the park.

However long you decide to spend in Bryce Canyon, you’ll certainly want to see at least one sunrise and sunset. Experiencing the park for sunrise is an exceptional treat – and a great way to see some of the top sites with literally no one around. Sunset is another excellent time, especially if you’re into photography.

Pro Tip: If you’re planning on visiting multiple national parks within a 12-month period, consider purchasing an America the Beautiful Parks Pass. Otherwise, it’s $30 per day to enter the park. You’ll have to pay the fee again if you exit and re-enter the park on the same day.

What is There to Do in Bryce Canyon in the Winter?

There are plenty of amazing things to do in Bryce Canyon. Although some activities (like horseback rides) are not available in the winter, there’s still a wide variety of ways to experience the park.

Driving Bryce Canyon in Winter

Arguably one of the best ways to experience Bryce Cayon National Park in winter is to go for a scenic drive. The main road through the park is regularly plowed in the winter, making it an excellent way to enjoy the famous Bryce Canyon overlooks and warm up in your vehicle. A few must-see spots include:

  • Sunrise Point
  • Sunset Point
  • Bryce Point
  • Inspiration Point
  • Fairview Point
  • Natural Bridge
  • Rainbow Point

Road Closures for Bryce Canyon During the Winter

There are only two sections of road that close permanently during the winter months. The 1-mile road leading to Fairyland Paint and the 0.30-mile road leading to Paria View. Both of these roads can be accessed with snowshoes/hiking or with cross-country skis.

If there’s a bad storm, the main park road may close temporarily at mile marker 3 for snow plowing. These closures usually last a day. The first three miles of the road include the Bryce Amphitheater (Sunrise, Sunset, Bryce, and Inspiration points) is the first area to be plowed so there’s still park access.

bryce canyon snow

Snowshoeing and Hiking in Bryce Canyon

One of the best ways to explore the park is to head out on one of the many amazing Bryce Canyon hikes. Snowshoeing and hiking in Bryce Canyon is an amazing way to get down into the hoodoos and experience the park. With several different hikes catering to all abilities, there are a lot of trails worth exploring. A few noteworthy winter trails include:

  • Queens Garden to Navajo Loop: 2.9 miles, 2-3 hours, easy to moderate
  • Fairlyand Loop: 7.8 miles plus 2 miles of road walking. 4-5 hours. Moderate to difficult
  • Peekaboo Loop Trail: 5.2 miles. 2-3 hours. Moderate.
  • Sunrise to Sunset Point: 1.1 miles. 30 minutes to an hour. Easy
  • Tower Bridge Trail: 3.5 miles. 1.5 to 2 hours. Easy to Moderate
  • Rim Trail: 7.5 miles. 3.5 to 5 hours. Easy to moderate.

What to Pack for a Winter Hike in Bryce Canyon

Hiking in Bryce Canyon in winter requires special gear. The snow is often slippery and can be quite deep in parts. If you’re planning on hiking you’ll want to bring:

  • Layers: Fleece layer, base layers, jacket, beanie, gloves
  • a Buff to protect your face
  • Sun protection: Sunhat, sunscreen, sunglasses
  • Sturdy waterproof hiking boots
  • Microspikes
  • Snowshoes (optional)
  • hiking poles (optiona, but helpful if you are wearing snowshoes)
  • 2 liters of water
  • Snacks
  • Camera
  • First aid kit
  • Extra pair of non-cotton socks
  • Hand and toe warmers

Trail Closures in Bryce Canyon for Winter

There are a few seasonal trail closures to be aware of. First, the Wall Street Side of the Navajo Loop Trail is closed due to rockfall hazards. You can take the Two Bridges Side if you are doing a loop hike with Queen’s Garden or Peekaboo Trail.

The Rim Trail between Inspiration and Bryce Point closes each year due to snow cornices. The only way to access Bryce Point is by car.

Pro Tip: Always check with the National Parks Service for up-to-date conditions.

bryce canyon in december

Stargazing and Full Moon Hikes

Even though the snow is here, Bryce Canyon still offers a variety of ranger programs. A few fun programs include a full moon snowshoe hike where you can experience the park basked in moonlight. Scheduled in accordance with the full moons, this is one of the must-do activities in Bryce Canyon.

Not visiting during a full moon? Then you’ll want to visit Bryce Canyon at night time to scope out the stars. Bryce is known for its dark skies and the stargazing is incredible. With crisp winter air, the stars feel even more vibrant. But certainly pack warm gloves, a thermos of hot cocoa, and a parka!

Check the weather to ensure the skies are clear so you aren’t disappointed. Since the temps get frigid cold at night, consider going to an overlook such a Bryce Point or Sunrise Point so you aren’t too far from your vehicle.

Photographing Bryce Canyon in Winter

Winter is the best time to photograph Bryce Canyon. The landscapes are serene with unbelievable color displays that you won’t believe. It’s truly a photographer’s dream. Photographing a sunrise and sunset in Bryce Canyon is an absolute MUST while visiting.

Personally, I think Sunrise Point is more impressive at sunset and Sunset Point is better for sunrise. Having photographed virtually all of the popular viewpoints during dusk and dawn in the park, I’d recommend checking out Inspiration Point for sunrise.

In winter, be sure to bring a tripod and keep a few extra camera batteries on you. Stash them in a chest pocket so they stay warm. Batteries die quickly in frigid temps. Bring along a USB charger you can use in the car too!

bryce canyon in winter

Cross Country Skiing

Cross country skiing is a popular wintertime activity in Bryce Canyon National Park. Ruby’s Inn rents both snowshoes and cross-country skis for reasonable rates. You can find their Winter Adventure Center in the town of Bryce. Popular cross country ski routes include:

  • The Rim Trail
  • Bristlecone Loop Trail
  • Paria Ski Loop
  • The unplowed Paria View and Fairlyand Point roads.

Sledding and Backcountry Skiing in Bryce Canyon

Unfortunately, due to safety reasons and the delicate nature of the rock hoodoos, it is illegal to sled or backcountry ski in Bryce Canyon National Park. Snowboarding is also not allowed. You are not allowed to downhill ski whatsoever in the park and sledding is prohibited. So keep the sled and backcountry setup at home.

Where to Stay in Bryce Canyon

There are plenty of options for lodging during the winter in Bryce. You can opt to stay at Best Western Plus (aka Ruby’s) in Bryce Canyon for a standard budget hotel experience. Or you can opt for one of the vacation rentals in Bryce. Use a tool like AirBnB to find a place to stay.

Bryce is just 5 minutes from the park and the easiest place to call home base. The town itself is extremely small and very touristy. There are a handful of restaurants, a gas station, and a few lodging options.

If you’d prefer to camp the North Campground Loop A is available, but be prepared for extremely cold temperatures. You can also opt to camp for free just outside the park. Learn how to find free camping in National Parks with my mini-course on finding epic free camping.

Additional Utah Adventure Travel Resources

Looking to explore Utah this winter? Check out these pro resources:

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Your ultimate guide to Bryce Canyon in winter, including things to know, what to do, how to beat the crowds, and everything you could need to make the most out of your visit to Bryce Canyon in winter.

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Meg aka Fox is a 30-something who's born to explore. Her mission is to get you out on your greatest adventure. She'd rather be dirty than done up.