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Day 24: Why You Should Visit Utah in the Winter

Last year I took a nine-day road trip from Seattle through the Mighty Five National Parks in Utah and back home. I had a week off work and wanted to make the most of it. It was one of the most challenging trips I've ever taken, but so rewarding.


This was a solo road trip and I spent the nights curled up in the back of my Prius. Temperatures dropped as low as 6 degrees F -- that's way below freezing. These were the coldest temperatures I had ever experienced!


I researched free campsites all along my route and booked one or two sites through Hipcamp in areas where I wasn't sure if I could dispersed camp. My trip took me from north to south, starting with Canyonlands National Park and ending with Zion.


I admit that while I was driving out to Utah I had serious doubts about my trip. I almost turned around to spend my week off in the safety and warmth of my home. There were some snow storms on the drive that made me nervous about the weather conditions and whether I'd be safe. I'm glad I persevered and went through with it.


Utah is beautiful in all the seasons, but I learned there are several reasons to visit in the winter. Make sure you're a confident driver in the snow and be prepared to witness some of the most beautiful places you've ever seen.



Here are some takeaways I had from visiting Utah in the winter.


  1. There were often deer in the road. Signs along the roads warned drivers to slow down and watch for them. I found that the early mornings were their favorite time to cross and I had several encounters. At one point a small herd was crossing. I parked and admired them.

  2. This also means you need to be careful! My driving instructor said to never out drive your brakes, which means you should always be able to see at least as far as it would take you to come to a complete stop. This was great advice because sometimes I'd round a corner to find a furry creature taking a stroll across the road.

  3. There were virtually no crowds in most of the parks, the exceptions being Zion and Arches. I'm sure the "crowds" I experienced were still nothing compared to what you would see during the peak season. You’ll get stunning viewpoints like the one picture mostly to yourself. I only saw one other person this entire trail.

  4. Finding parking is way easier. This comes with the decreased crowds and makes everything much less stressful. Parking in the tiny lots along the scenic drive in Bryce Canyon was a breeze.

  5. Snow on the hoodoos at Bryce Canyon is pretty much reason enough to visit Utah in the winter. This park is the highest in elevation of the Mighty Five and it shows. This is where I experienced the coldest temperatures, slipperiest roads, and the most snow. Most people evidently weren't willing to tough out the cold conditions, meaning I had so many places to myself. I took the popular Queens Garden trail and only passed a couple people! Wandering down among the hoodoos with snow falling down around me was a magical experience.

  6. Camping is seriously frigid. Proper equipment is a must. Some of the hardest moments on this trip were changing my clothes each morning and night because it was freezing. I slept in the back of my Prius with leggings, (really thick) sherpa sweats, two pairs of socks, many layers on top including a puffy jacket, a beanie, gloves, a 0 degree F rated sleeping bag, and two blankets -- and I was still cold at times! I'd often wake up to my car being frozen inside and out. My breath condensed on the inside of the glass and froze there. Believe me when I say turning on the car's heating was such a pleasure.

  7. It’s much easier to get permits for sites like Angels Landing that can be super competitive at other times. This was an absolute highlight of the trip and grabbing my ticket was easy-peasy! Same with The Narrows hike. Surprisingly, hiking through the water in The Narrows was totally bearable with the rented rubber overalls and boots.

  8. Some sites, trails, and facilities will be closed. There's still more than enough to do over a week-long trip, but keep this in mind if you have your heart set on a specific trail. I also found that many of the restrooms were closed in Bryce Canyon since staff isn't able to easily reach and service them with the snow. Bryce Canyon is definitely the most impacted park since it gets the most snow.


I've never been a cold weather person, but that trip was an unforgettable experience that almost changed my mind. I've been learning to embrace all the seasons and still make the most of the cold and snow. There are some experiences that are even better in the winter.


Just make sure you're prepared with extra layers and plenty of fuel to make hot chocolate :)


Happy adventuring,

A

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