Things to do in Bryce Canyon in Winter: The Perfect 1-Day Itinerary

Let me start with this- you have to visit Bryce Canyon in winter. It’s one of the most magical experiences to see the gorgeous red, limestone hoodoos covered in snow. Basically, imagine unique out-of-this-world views (like you’re standing on Mars) and then add snow. And this my friends, is what you get when you visit Bryce Canyon National Park in the winter.

Utah is home to not one, but FIVE national parks. All five parks are full of red rocks and all five parks are more beautiful and unique than the last. However, in my opinion, Bryce Canyon is the best national park in Utah to visit in the winter.

What is Bryce Canyon known for?

Bryce Canyon National Park is known for its enormous limestone spires called hoodoos. The hoodoos are formed from ice and rainwater breaking down rock through different ‘freeze cycles’ over thousands of years. Within the park, you can see hoodoos from viewpoints going on for miles and miles within different basins in the park.

In the winter, you can hike, snowshoe, cross-country ski, stargaze, and more all surrounded by these amazing red rock hoodoos. Below you’ll find how to spend the perfect one day in Bryce Canyon.

When is there snow at Bryce Canyon?

The best part about visiting Bryce Canyon in winter is timing it right to be able to see the red rocks covered in white snow. The park is located at a high elevation of almost 8,000 feet meaning it gets colder and can have more treacherous winter conditions than other Utah national parks.

Snow can fall as early as October, however, the most snowfall occurs December-February. We visited over Valentine’s day and were welcomed with a winter snowstorm and freshly snow-covered hoodoos. Plus this snowstorm means we were very thankful we were familiar with driving in snow (thanks to me being a Utah native) and had great studded, winter tires on our car.

When is the best time to visit Bryce Canyon?

You may not initially think of visiting Bryce Canyon National Park in the winter, however, in my opinion, winter is by far the best time to visit. You’ll find much smaller crowds, plenty of parking, and an amazing magical atmosphere. Nothing quite beats seeing the Bryce Canyon hoodoos covered in snow.

Bryce Canyon vs. Bryce Canyon in snow

Related Post: 27 Amazing Things to do in Utah that Aren’t National Parks

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Winter Bryce Canyon access map

Use this National Park Service map to familiarize yourself with the park. The red road is always open and cleared often, however, the blue dashed road may be closed after snowstorms as they work on clearing the road. When we visited in mid-February, the blue dotted road was closed. However, almost everything I recommend takes place on the red road.

Bryce canyon hikes winter
In the winter, some roads and trails close and some temporarily close following snowstorms. Image: NPS

Bryce Canyon 1-Day Itinerary

  • 8 am: Sign up for ranger-guided snowshoeing tour at the Visitor’s Center
  • Morning: See Thor’s Hammer at Sunset Point Overlook
  • Walk the Rim Trail
  • Hike down among the hoodoos on Navajo Loop Trail (out-and-back trail in the winter)
  • Noon: Picnic lunch in your car to warm up before snowshoeing
  • 1pm: Ranger guided snowshoe tour to Paria Viewpoint
  • Afternoon: Drive to the remaining scenic overlooks in the park
  • If the road is open, see Natural Bridge
  • Evening: Stargaze bundled up with a warm drink (sunset is generally between 5 and 6 pm in the winter)
  • Either coming into town or leaving town, drive through the Red Canyon Arch Tunnel just 20 minutes outside of the park

How to experience Bryce Canyon in the winter:

In greater detail, here is how to experience Bryce Canyon in one day. If you are lucky enough to visit Bryce in winter and you have more than one day, you’ll find more additional wintery things to do at the end of the post.

1. Drive through the Red Canyon Arch

Bryce canyon hikes winter

Unique experiences start before you even enter Bryce Canyon National Park! I recommend taking the Scenic Byway 12 (Highway 12) from Panguitch to Bryce (and vice-versa). You will get the unique experience of driving through Red Canyon Arch that is carved right out of the mountain!

2. See Thor’s Hammer at Sunset Point Overlook

Bryce canyon hikes winter

Thor’s Hammer is the tallest hoodoo in Bryce Canyon National Park. All of the hoodoos range in height from the height of a human to stories tall. Thor’s Hammer is 150 feet (45 meters) tall- that’s around 15 stories tall! Also, the hoodoo resembles Thor’s Hammer (as the name suggests).

The best place to see Thor’s Hammer is from Sunset Point. There is a parking lot at Sunset Point. It’s only a 450-foot walk from the parking lot to Sunset Point.

Sunset Point offers some of the most famous and breathtaking views in all of Bryce Canyon National Park.

3. Walk the Rim Trail

You can also hop on the stroller/wheelchair-friendly Rim Trail from Sunset Point. The Rim Trail (as the name implies) follows the rim of the main amphitheater.

The Rim Trail is paved from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point (1 mile/ 1.6 km roundtrip). The official Bryce Canyon National Park website says it is stroller/wheelchair accessible even in severe winter weather.

Read more  15 Best Hikes On Oahu For Incredible Views

Bryce canyon hikes winter

The stroller we take on all of our adventures is the Baby Trend Expedition Jogger. I highly recommend it if you are looking for a great, inexpensive, and durable stroller/car seat combo. Ours has logged over 500 miles!

In the winter, you can access Rim Trail from Sunrise Point to Bryce Point. The trail is about 3 miles one way and has several steep elevation changes along the way. However, you can walk and enjoy the view for as long as you want before turning back to the car.

PRO TIP: The section between Sunset Point and Sunrise Point is a pet-friendly section of the Rim Trail. This is great news! Pets are only allowed on paved sections of trail and this is an area with a beautiful paved section.

4. Hike among the Hoodoos on Navajo Trail

Hiking down into the hoodoos is a must when visiting Bryce Canyon National Park. The view from above is amazing, but getting down in the canyon and looking up is a totally different experience. The best trail to do this on is the Navajo Loop Trail.

Bryce canyon hikes winter

To get to this trail you will drive to and park at the Sunset Point parking lot. You will see the trailhead sign there. This is the same parking lot/point that I talked about above.

Bryce canyon hikes winter

Even though the trail name is Navajo Loop Trail, the trail is actually NOT a loop in the wintertime. This means you’ll hike down and hike back the same way you came. When this trail functions as a loop in summer, it is 1.3 miles (2.16 km) long. I think when we hiked in winter, we probably hiked around .5 miles down and .5 miles back (1-mile roundtrip). Even though the distance is not long, remember you will be hiking down and up switchbacks covered in snow making it a little more strenuous.

The Navajo Loop Trail takes you right down into the hoodoos! You’ll pass the famous Thor’s hammer (the tallest hoodoo in the park ), Two Bridges (two sandstone arches/bridges that cover the trail), and to the bottom of Wall Street (the park’s only slot canyon). The Wall Street slot canyon is closed in winter for safety reasons, so you can’t hike through but the trail takes you to it.

Related Post: 27 Amazing Things to do in Utah that Aren’t National Parks

The trail can be very slippery from snow/ice and there are steep drop-offs. Because of this, you may want to stick to the Rim Trail if you are hiking with littles.

Bryce canyon hikes winter

PRO TIP: Shoes with good traction are required if you want to hike down past the rim on the Navajo Loop Trail (or any trail past the rim). When it is especially icy, traction devices may be necessary.

You can buy traction devices at the visitor’s center. However, it would be wise to bring a pair with you in case the visitor’s center doesn’t have any available. You can buy the traction devices here!

Bryce canyon hikes winter

When we hiked, I was wearing hiking boots and my husband was wearing winter boots with good tread. These were sufficient (with a little slipping) because of the recent snowfall.

However, once the snow turns icy, the traction devices would definitely be necessary to get back up the steep Navajo Loop Trail.

5. Participate in a free ranger-guided snowshoe tour

Bryce canyon hikes winter

Taking a ranger-guided snowshoe tour at Bryce Canyon National park is one of my favorite things I have EVER done. And the greatest part is that the tour is free with snowshoes and poles included! The tours are usually 1.5-2 hours long and you’ll snowshoe around 1 mile (1.6 km). The tour included us and about 10 other people and the ranger.

Our tour took us through the woods and out to Paria Viewpoint. This is a unique experience because the Paria Viewpoint is inaccessible by car during the winter so the only way to get there is via snowshoe or cross-country skis!

Our ranger told us the history of the area and taught us all about the hoodoos. He also showed us a Bristlecone Pine which is one of the oldest living organisms in the world. Bryce Canyon National Park’s oldest Bristlecone Pine is 1,600 years old!

Bryce canyon hikes winter

How to participate in the snowshoe tour:

Reserve a spot (in person) for the tour because space is limited. Signups start at 8 am at the Visitor’s Center on the day of the tour and end once all the spots are full. Unfortunately, there is no way to sign up in advance. These tours also require a sufficient snow-depth and staff level to happen.

I was worried about enough snowfall for us to experience snowshoeing. We were in Bryce Canyon National Park in mid-February and there was a big snowstorm the day before we came. I called the visitor center early in the morning and asked if the tour would be happening. They said yes, so we headed right over to the visitor center to sign up!

There is no age requirement for the tour but you’ll want to think of your kids before reserving a spot. You’ll just want to make sure your kids are in the mood to snowshoe through sometimes deep snow and possibly be a little cold. Or, if they are young enough, that you’ll be able to carry them in a pack the whole way.

Snowshoeing ended up being our favorite thing we did in Bryce and I highly recommend participating if possible.

Bryce canyon hikes winter

PRO TIP : You must bring and wear snow boots or waterproof hiking boots on the ranger-led tour. They will not let you participate if you are wearing tennis shoes or something similar. Your feet would also get pretty wet and cold if that is what you are wearing. If you have any questions about what is acceptable, you can give them a call.

You can also participate in a full-moon snowshoe hike and winter astronomy programs! We did not do these, but they sound like such a great experience! You can find more info here when you scroll towards the bottom of the page.

6. Drive to every viewpoint in the park

Bryce canyon hikes winter

The driving-accessible area of Bryce Canyon National Park is quite manageable. This is great news when you only have one day in Bryce Canyon or a half-day to spend in the park. Here are all of the scenic viewpoints you can visit within the park via a car in the winter:

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  • Sunrise Point
  • Sunset Point
  • Inspiration Point
  • Bryce Point

These viewpoints are on the section of road that may be closed or temporarily closed due to weather:

  • Piracy Point
  • Fairview Poin
  • Rainbow Point
  • Yovimpa Point
Bryce canyon hikes winter

The drive-time from the entrance to the furthest viewpoint (Yovimpa Point) is only 30 minutes, however, the road past the Bryce Amphitheater may be closed due to snow. You can see the Bryce Canyon map located at the top of this post for reference. That extended area was closed for us, but we were still able to see and experience so much from the road that was open.

We visited Sunset, Bryce, Paria (on snowshoes) and Inspiration Point. Sunset Point was by far my favorite and that is also where we started on the Navajo Loop Trail.

PRO TIP: Pets are allowed at these viewpoints as long as they stay on the paved areas.

7. See Natural Bridge (if road is open)

Natural Bridge is one of Bryce Canyon’s arch formations that you can see within the park. There are no trails down to the arch, but there is a great viewing area that can be reached via car. This area of the park may or may not be open depending on if there have been recent snowstorms.

Bryce canyon hikes winter
Photo by Philip Graves on Unsplash

8. Stargaze from Sunrise or Sunset Point

The longer winter nights at Bryce Canyon make for a perfect excuse to enjoy stargazing within the park. You can expect for the sun to set around 5-6 pm. Within the park, you can see the Milky Way spread out across the gorgeous starry sky. If visiting on a Saturday, you may even be able to participate in a stargazing experiencing with a ranger where they point out constellations with a laser pointer.

Bryce canyon hikes winter
Image: Bryce Canyon NPS Flicker

Because of the cold winter weather, you will want to make sure you bundle up with extra layers and stargaze from a viewpoint like Sunset Point where your car will be very close by for when you need to warm up. It is not recommended to travel far from your car to stargaze in the winter.

Additional Things to do in Bryce Canyon

If you are lucky enough to have more than one day when you visit Bryce Canyon in winter, here are some extra additional things to do that you’ll love.

  • Winter Festival at Bryce Canyon: Each February, Ruby’s Inn holds the annual Bryce Canyon Winter Festival including guided cross country ski and snowshoe tours, ice skating, art classes and more! Keep in mind Bryce Canyon will be busier during the winter festival than other times of the winter season, but it may be worth it to participate in the extra activities.
  • Hike Mossy Cave Trail: A short 1-mile trail to a small rock overhang that may have large icices hanging in the winter
  • Take a horse-drawn sleigh ride to the rim of Bryce Canyon: Looking for a cozy and romantic (but also family-friendly) things to do in Bryce in winter? Book a magical 20-30 minute horse-drawn sleigh ride to look out over the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon.
  • Rent snowshoes or cross-country skis from Ruby’s Inn: Just outside the park, you can rent snowshoe or cross country ski gear to use within Bryce Canyon or in other nearby areas. Use the designated areas for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing to Fairland Point or the Paria Ski Loop.
  • Participate in the annual Christmas Bird Count: For a unique activity in Bryce Canyon, participate in the annual bird count put on by the Audobon society
  • Participate in a ranger-guided full moon snowshoe hike: If you are lucky enough to be visiting Bryce in the winter AND during a full moon, be sure to take advantage of the special ranger-guided full moon snowshoe hike. Signups take place at the Visitor’s Center.

Related Post: 11 Best Utah State Parks You’ve Got to Visit

Tips for experiencing a Bryce Canyon winter

Bryce canyon hikes winter
  1. Check weather conditions frequently. Download the UDOT traffic app to keep an eye on current weather and road conditions. Be sure to heed warnings to steer clear of certain roads/areas if needed. And if you are not comfortable with driving in the snow, take extra caution.
  2. Rent a car with good winter tires and/or 4-wheel drive. We drove our sedan with studded winter tires and it did great during a snow storm. You may end up not needing it, but if you run into a storm, you will be so glad you have it.
  3. Dress appropriately and be prepared for inclement weather. During the winter in Bryce Canyon National Park, temperatures can hover around freezing and dip below freezing in the early morning and evening. Be sure to bring layers and large coats, gloves, hats etc. to keep warm. We visited on a particularly chilly day in February. I was wearing a long sleeve, a sweater and a large coat along with a hat, gloves and warm socks.
  4. Bring slip-on traction devices if you plan on hiking. Some Bryce Canyon winter hikes require traction devices. This is because the trails can be steep and when the snow gets packed, they become very slippery and almost impossible to climb back up and dangerously slipper on the way down. You may laugh at this, but it definitely can be necessary! If needed, the Visitor Center usually has these for sale.
  5. Pack plenty of water. You may be tempted to not bring as much water as you would if you were visiting Bryce Canyon during another time of year. However, staying hydrated is just as important in the winter and dehydration tends to sneak up on you. Plus, hydration is crucial if you are not used to the high altitude of Bryce Canyon and it the water can help you adjust.
  6. Bring in a picnic lunch or lots of snacks. Most if not all food options within the park are closed during the winter season. To make the most of your time within the park, pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a warm lunch in your car inbetween activities, or if it’s not too cold, at one of the scenic overlooks.
  7. Bring extra clothes in the car with you. Nothing feels better after getting wet and cold in the snow than being able to switch out to some warm, dry clothes. Socks and sweaters are specially easy to keep extra in the car in case you need a switch halfway through the day.
  8. Be aware of the sunset time. In the winter you can expect the sun to set around 5-6 pm. Be sure to plan accordingly.
  9. Pets are only allowed on paved surfaces within the park. This means campgrounds, parking lots, viewpoints (all except one unpaved viewpoint), and the paved section of the Rim Trail between Sunset Point and Sunrise Point. Also, pets are not allowed to be left within your vehicle while you hike (plus, the weather is so cold you probalby wouldn’t want to do that anyway). If you’re looking for hikes among hoodoos where your dog is allowed, check out nearby Red Canyon which is enroute to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Read more  Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Bryce canyon hikes winter

Where to Stay in Bryce Canyon

Another great thing about visiting Bryce Canyon National Park in the winter is that accommodations are less expensive and often have plenty of availability. Most accommodations are located in Bryce Canyon City which is literally right outside the entrance of the park (an 8-minute drive to the Visitor Center).

  1. Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel: We stayed at the Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel and it is one of my favorite hotels we have ever stayed in.

The entrance looks like a big winter lodge and feels amazing with a big fireplace and cozy couches. Our room was super clean and had everything we needed. The best part was the amazing, complimentary breakfast buffet. The buffet had eggs, bacon, pancakes, and all sorts of yummy things. Honestly, we still talk about it to this day😅. The warm breakfast was a perfect way to start our day of adventuring out in the snow.

The best part is, when we stayed in February, we only paid around $75 per night! So yes, I highly recommend this hotel.

2. Ruby’s Inn: One of the most common hotels in Bryce Canyon you will hear about is Ruby’s Inn.

Two different hotels make up Ruby’s Inn: The Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn and the Bryce View Lodge at Ruby’s Inn. The Bryce View Lodge is not as nice and much older than the Best Western Plus.

We opted against staying at either of these since the above-mentioned Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel was newer and nicer and only slightly more expensive each night. However, both of these hotels look like great options. I’d recommend Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn over the Bryce View Lodge at Ruby’s Inn.

Ruby’s Inn holds a winter festival each February that looks like a lot of fun! However, you do not need to stay at Ruby’s Inn to participate in the winter festival.

3. Bryce Canyon Lodge: If you are looking for lodging options within Bryce Canyon, Bryce Canyon Lodge is perfect for you. Although Bryce Canyon Lodge is not open the entire winter, it is open until January meaning you could stay here for your Christmas trip to Bryce Canyon. During the winter, the area of Bryce Canyon Lodge which is open is the Sunset Lodge. These rooms are furnished with cozy oak and hickory furniture custom-designed for the lodge. Plus, to keep with the park’s tranquil setting, the rooms do not have TVs or WIFI.

4. Camping at North Campground Within Bryce Canyon: Although most of the campgrounds at Bryce Canyon close in the winter, North Campground is available year-round. This is perfect if you love winter camping and want to stay within the park. North Campground is home to the outdoor amphitheater where some ranger programs take place in the winter.

Bryce Canyon from Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City is one of two airports you can fly into to visit Bryce Canyon. The drive from Salt Lake City to Bryce Canyon covers 260 miles and is about 4 hours as long as the weather and traffic are good. We drove to Bryce Canyon from Salt Lake City in the evening, spent the night, and explored Bryce Canyon the following day. A snowstorm hit the evening we arrived. Because of that, snow remained on the roads and we were happy we had studded snow tires.

The drive would have been quite difficult if we had not had such great winter tires. We actually saw a truck get stuck in the snow when they got off the road a little too far😬.

If you are renting a car you will want to inquire about winter tires/4 wheel drive options.

Bryce Canyon from Las Vegas

The drive from Las Vegas to Bryce Canyon is almost identical in length as the drive from Salt Lake City covering 260 miles and taking about 4 hours. Again, if you are visiting in winter flying into Las Vegas, you will want to inquire about winter tires/4 wheel drive options on your rental car.

If driving in this way, you may want to look into taking a detour to the Grand Canyon or Zion National Park on the way to Bryce.

Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park

The drive from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon is 75 miles taking about 1.5 hours. Since it’s such a short drive, these two parks are great options to visit together on a Utah road trip. Zion is at a lower elevation than Bryce, so if you are visiting in the winter, you will want to check the weather at Bryce Canyon before you leave to make sure you won’t be getting stuck in a snowstorm.

Check out these other posts, I know you’ll love them:

  • 11 Best Utah State Parks You’ve Got to Visit
  • 27 Amazing Things to do in Utah that Aren’t National Parks
  • How to Spend One Perfect Day in Island in the Sky: Canyonlands National Park
  • Yellowstone with Kids: The Ultimate 2 Day Itinerary

Those are my top things to do in Bryce Canyon National Park in winter. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments about Bryce Canyon and I’ll be sure to answer! I’m a real person who loves to talk travel 🙂

Bryce canyon hikes winter

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