Moab in Winter: An Expert’s Guide

Alright, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Moab in winter is absolutely incredible. Sure, you may be bundled up, but with super-thin crowds and a magical red-rock landscape dusted in snow, this place is pure heaven during the winter months.

A winter trip to Moab, Utah certainly needs to be on your bucket list. I’ve been to Moab countless times and my winter visits are always a special treat. Why? Because there’s no other time during the year where you can have top destinations like Delicate Arch all to yourself (ya that happened…more than once).

The dance of contrasting colors, brilliant oranges, and reds against pure white snow patches is a photographer’s dream. While many of the most popular areas are completely vacant from people. So here’s how to make the most of Moab in winter.

About this Guide to Moab in Winter

If you’re looking to explore Moab like a local, not a tourist, then you’re in the right place. Inside this expert’s guide to exploring Moab, Utah in winter you’ll find:

  • Information about the weather in Moab during the winter
  • Is Moab worth visiting in winter?
  • Beating the crowds in Moab
  • The best things to do in Moab in Winter
  • Additional Moab travel resources
moab in winter

What’s the Weather Like in Moab, Utah in the Winter?

The weather in Moab in winter can be quite cold. However, if the sun is out and the wind isn’t blowing, the rocks will heat up the surrounding air and it will feel warmer than it actually is. Just remember, the tops of canyons can be windy places, so certainly pack in layers to bundle up if you need to.

Moab in December. Highs are around 45 degrees, lows are 22 degrees Farenheit. Typically there are there days of moisture.

Moab in January. High is 44 and lows are 20, with temperatures frequently in the teens. 3 days of precipitation (usually snow) on average.

Moab in February. Highs can reach 52 degrees and the lows hover around 26. Again, 3 days of precipitation on average.

Does Moab Get Snow?

Yes! It does snow in Moab, although typically not in huge amounts. A typical storm may drop 3 inches of the white stuff and sometimes larger amounts are possible with a really big front moving through.

One thing to note about snow in Moab is that it will melt quite quickly. In fact, it’s not common for it to snow in the morning and melt by the afternoon. Sunny southern and western faces typically melt quickly.

However, the Northern faces of rock and some eastern faces stay in the shade for longer. This means that there will be ice and snow for days on northern faces. Lucky if you happen to miss a snowfall, you might still see shady hillsides dusted with white fluff.

Pro Tip: Bring traction for your feet, such as microspikes, so you don’t slip and fall in shady areas.

Can You Visit Moab in Winter?

Absolutely! Moab is open for tourist year-round and winter is a excellent time to visit Moab if you’re looking for a quieter experience. Many of the privately-owned campgrounds and the more touristy shops and restaurants in Moab close for winter.

However, that just means you’re missing the tourist traps. The vibe in Moab in winter is very local and low-key. You’ll find plenty of shopping, cheaper lodging options, and the more lucrative restaurants (ie better food) stay open in winter. Other activities such as bike rental, ATV/Jeep rentals are also open.

Moab in winter

Beat the Crowds in Moab

If you’re looking to beat the crowds in Moab, then there’s no time like winter visit. Unlike the uber-packed spring, summer, and fall, winter in Moab is a tranquil paradise.

Of course, top attractions like Arches National Park still see plenty of people, especially during the day, but it’s a far cry from the long lines and insane waits you find during other times of the year.

If you really want to beat the crowds in Moab in winter, opt for a sunirse hike or drive. Enter places like Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park before sunrise to have plenty of solitude. That’s how I saw Delicate Arch with virtually no one else around.

The best part about a sunrise adventure in winter is that the sun rises later, meaning you’ll have a little more time to sleep in. But be sure to bundle up! It can be into the teens in the early morning hours. Pack a thermos with your favorite hot beverage, a wooly hat, gloves, parka, and a headlamp for early morning adventures.

What is There to Do in Moab in Winter?

Many of the same things to do in Moab throughout the year are still options for winter fun. Some dirt roads may be closed due to weather conditions, water sports may be too chilly, and camping is certainly a cold experience, but otherwise there are an array of amazing winter activities in Moab.

Spend the Day in Arches National Park

Famed as one of the top national parks to visit in winter, Arches National Park is a real winter wonderland. From the spectacular views along Arches Scenic Drive to visiting Delicate Arch at sunrise there are plenty of ways to enjoy Arches National Park in winter. A few can’t miss sights include:

  • Delicate Arch: Excellent sunrise spot
  • The Windows and Double Arch: Great for sunset
  • Landscape Arch: The largest arch in the world
  • Park Avenue: A unique wander that passes by enormous rock towers
  • Balanced Rock: Defies gravity and has a stunning view of the La Sal Mountains

Pro Tip: There is still a line to get into the park, even in winter, if you arrive after 9 am. Plan to be there before the sun gets up to get ahead of the crowds.

moab utah in winter

Explore Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park in winter is a real treat. With three distinct districts (2 of which are easily accessible in the winter) there is plenty of stunning scenery to explore.

If you’re into hitting the trails, then you’ve got to head to the Needles District – about a 1.5 hour drive from Moab – to enjoy some of Canyonlands’ best hikes.

Photographers will love the Island in the Sky District, where you can get that iconic shot of Mesa Arch at sunrise, or experience the incredible viewpoints along Grand View Point Drive. Here are a few must-see spots in Island in the Sky:

  • Grand View Point: A little over a mile hike that takes you to stunning views of White Rim Canyon, Orange Cliffs, and more.
  • White Rim Overlook: Gaze upon the canyon system that makes up the inconic White Rim Trail.
  • Green River Overlook. Utterly stunning views of the lazy green river without crowds.
  • Drive Shaffer Canyon. Typically the upper switchbacks are closed during the winter due to snow and ice, but if you start at Potash Road, you can make your way up this utterly scenic dirt road. Don’t forget to stop at Thelma and Louis Point!
  • Mesa Arch. An iconic arch at the top of the canyon that overlooks unbelievable desert scenes.
canyonlands national park in moab in winter

Scope out Dead Horse Point State Park

Along the way to the Island in the Sky of Canyonlands National Park, you’ll pass Dead Horse Point State Park. This dog-friendly perch is the perfect place to take your pooch for a stroll. Featuring over 7 miles of both paved and unpaved trails, this is a great spot to really soak in the views of the canyon systems near Moab.

If you want to try mountain biking, then you’ve got to check out trails at Dead Horse Point State Park. You’ll find an array of beginner biking routes that feature all of the incoinc Moab landscapes.

dead horse point state park in winter

Go for a Scenic Drive in Moab in Winter

There are countless scenic drives near Moab. From the paved drives that carve their way through the desert to multi-day 4×4 adventures, you can find a driving adventure that suits your mood. Gemini Bridges is popular if you have a little bit of clearance, or wander the shoreline of the Colorado River along Potash Road.

Pro Tip: Go for a sunset drive to really soak in the beautiful magic of the Moab in winter.

Take a Hike

It’s no secret that there are countless stunning hikes in Moab. Virtually all of the hiking trails in Moab are open year-round. A few hikes you can’t miss include:

  • Corona Arch: 2.3 miles. Easy. Somewhat dog friendly – dogs are allowed but the steep slick rock and ladders may be challenging for some pets.
  • Dead Horse Point Rim Trail: 5 miles. Easy. Dog-friendly.
  • Fiery Furnace: 1.7 miles. Challenging scramble requiring canyon navigation and the use of your hands.
  • Arches National Park. No dogs.
  • Devil’s Garden Loop: 7.5 miles. Difficult and requires the use of your hands. Arches National Park. No dogs.
  • Delicate Arch: 3 miles. Easy to moderate. Arches National Park. No dogs.
  • Fisher Towers: Along Route 128. 4.7 miles. Moderate. Dog-friendly until you reach a ladder.
  • Mesa Arch: 0.6 miles. Very easy. Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky. No dogs.
  • Druid Arch: 10.4 miles. Moderate. Canyonlands National Park Needles. No dogs.
  • Chesler Park: longest route is 11.6 miles. Moderate to difficult. Canyonlands National Park Needles. No dogs.
  • Landscape Arch: 1.9 miles. Easy. Arches National Park. No dogs.

Keep in mind you’ll still want to bring plenty of water (the desert is still dry), layers, and sturdy hiking shoes or boots. Take traction devices, like microspikes for slippery, snowy terrain.

Pro Tip: Be in the know about desert hiking. Stick to marked trails and durable surfaces whenever possible so you don’t trample fragile wildlife.

things to do in maob utah in winter

Ride a Bike

Think you can’t mountain bike in winter? Think again! Moab is world famous for mountain biking trails and the winter is an excellent time to hit the single track. As long as the trails are dry and free of mud, they are open for bikers. Bike shops offer rentals (but very few shuttles – you can call and ask) throughout winter.

Famous bike routes like The Whole Enchilada have closed sections at the higher elevations until after the snow melts. But you can still enjoy classic rides such as Captain Ahab, Amassa Back, and Porcupine Rim are still open in the winter.

If you’re new to mountain biking and want to check out these areas:

  • Dead Horse Point State Park
  • Klondike Bluff
  • Brand Trails Area

Pro Tip: Pack gloves for the cold and always wear your helmet! Remember, there is not a lot of cell phone service around Moab so be sure to pack items like a tire kit, tool kit, first aid kit, and all the things you’ll need with you while you ride.

Enjoy Some Rock Climbing

Similar to mountain biking, Moab is well-known for rock climbing. In fact, many of Moab’s best rock climbing areas have winter options. You’ll need to bring your own gear (or hire a guide – which may be difficult) but if you’re looking to climb famous desert splitter cracks or just hop on a slabbly sport route for some sunshine, there’s a climb out there for you. Check out these areas in winter:

  • South-facing routes in Indian Creek: single-pitch trad.
  • Looking Glass Rock: A fun, easy, multi-pitch sport route to a unique rappel.
  • The Wall Street Area: Slabby sport climbs. Right on the road not kid or dog friendly.
  • Big Bend Climbing Area: Bouldering.

Pro Tip: NEVER climb wet sandstone, it’s exceptionally dangerous as the rock becomes brittle and breaks easily (bolts and gear can pull out). Wait 24 hours after precipitation to climb.

Explore the Local Side of Moab’s Shops and Restaurants

After lots of fun-filled adventure, why not relax in downtown Moab? Many of the shops have reduced hours (sometimes only open on weekends). However, you can still find a few amazing, locally-crafted souvineers. Moab Made is a must-see shop. For food, there are several options, but no trip to Moab in winter is complete without a trip to the Moab Garage.

Downtown Moab in winter is a sleepy place, but it’s nice to see the town with a local vibe.

Catch an Epic Sunset

Sunsets in Moab are simply unbelievable. There are several must-see sunset spots in and around Moab that you can’t miss. Here’s a look at a few personal favorites:

  • Thelma and Louis Point
  • Dead Horse Point State Park
  • The Windows area of Arches National Park
  • Hidden Valley Trail in Spanish Valley
  • Green River Overlook in Island in the Sky
moab in winter

Go on a 4×4 Adventure

If you’re up for a rugged ride, you can enjoy some of the top Jeep trails in the world right near Moab. In winter, it’s probably best to rent (or bring) your lifted, off-road ready Jeep to the occasion. But you can also rent OHVs at deeply discounted prices too.

Be sure to check out Hells Revenge, Fins and Things, Metal Masher, and Poison Spider Mesa for a few classics. Just be sure to read up. concurrent trail conditions and make sure you’re experienced enough (if not, hire a guide) for these rough rides.

Photograph Moab in Winter

It’s hard to go wrong with winter photography in Moab. We’ve touched on all of the top spots already from scenic drives to state and National Parks. Simply pack up your camera and hit the road.

Sunrise, sunset, and evening/morning hours are the best for photography in Moab. Mid-day lighting tends to be quite harsh.

I’d recommend a range of lenses, from wide angle (for really getting a sense of vastness to tighter lenses that let you hone in on detail.

Pro Tip: New moons are a great time to hit up Arches National Park for astrophotography.

mesa arch in winter

Explore the La Sals

Crave the snow-capped mountains? Head to the La Sals in winter. Backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, and simply enjoying the mountains are just a few things on offer in the La Sals. Keep in mind that roads can easily become impassible with winter storms and cell service is spotty, so be prepared if you venture into the mountains this time of year.

Quick Tips for Visiting Moab in Winter

Before you visit Moab in winter, there are several things you should know.

First, services in a lot of the parks are limited. Plan on bringing in all of your own water and snacks for the day. There are no food options an any of the parks near Moab and the nearest food is in town and outside of park boundaries (meaning you’ll pay twice).

Pack layers. You’ll want to bring plenty of warm layers to bundle up when it’s cold and quickly shed as you warm up on trails or in the sun.

You’ll still need sunscreen. The sun is harsh in the desert no matter what time of year it is. Keep in mind that the sun’s rays reflect off of snow so cover the bottom of your chin and nose to stay protected.

Cell phone service can be hard to come by outside of town. Load all of your maps, GPS coordinates, and navigation onto your phone before you head out.

Consider getting an America the Beautiful Parks Pass. Good at both Arches and Canyonlands, you’ll want this pass if you plan on visiting the national parks for more than three days. This pass is good for a 12-month period – so if you have a lot of national parks on your bucket list, a pass is worth it.

Be respectful. Rock art, historical artifacts, and a delicate ecosystem make the desert a special place. Do not graffiti rocks, touch any rock art, or take home/destroy any artifacts. Stick to marked trails and tread lightly. Leave the desert better than you found it.

Additional Moab Travel Resources

Planning a trip to Moab? I’ve got you covered with these expert resources.

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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.