Kolob Canyon, Zion National Park — Photo courtesy of ZionNPS
Utah is home to five national parks. Though the overwhelming majority of visitors come between late spring and early autumn, the other half of the year can actually be a better time to visit. Called the “off season,” these cooler months offer vastly less crowding and greater mobility than the “in season.”
The mandatory shuttle bus of Zion Canyon shuts down November-March, allowing visitors to drive their own vehicles into this most popular portion of the park. If visiting Zion in the winter, try hiking the sunny, low-elevation Watchman Trail.
The highest in elevation of all of Utah’s national parks, Bryce Canyon gets quite chilly in the winter, so dress warmly! If visiting Bryce during the off season, join up with a ranger-guided, full moon snow hike or winter astronomy program. Or consider cross-country skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing or snowmobiling at Ruby’s Inn, just north of the park entrance.
The Gifford Homestead Barn, Capitol Reef — Photo courtesy of hemant.sood
Set in the central portion of southern Utah, this park sees significantly fewer visitors than parks like Zion and Arches. As such, you’ll notice the smallest difference here between the “off” and “on” seasons. Because this area is so remote, you’ll want to prepare yourself for a lack of services by bringing plenty of food, water and fuel.
In the winter, Canyonlands becomes nearly deserted. Especially if you visit the Needles (southernmost) portion of the park, you’ll find yourself almost completely alone except for the occasional ranger. Those seeking solitude should head directly to the Needles, passing through the scenic Indian Creek Canyon en route.
Another of Utah’s most popular parks, Arches can be immensely more pleasant to visit during the off season. Take advantage of reduced crowds with a hike to Delicate Arch, the state’s most iconic - and often mobbed – natural formation.