Utah is an outdoor lover’s paradise year round, with stunning deserts, dramatic mountains, and the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi. But Utah in winter is particularly bucket list-worthy, from its famously killer snow on the ski slopes to its eye-popping five national parks to the south.
Whether you’re looking for a winter wonderland escape or a gorgeous place to enjoy milder temperatures in the colder months, here’s 12 unmissable destinations to enjoy Utah in winter.
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Why should I plan to visit Utah in winter?
Utah in winter is kind of the best of both worlds.
To the north, you’ll get to experience some of the country’s best skiing and snowboarding in the state’s Rocky Mountains, in addition to other fun winter activities, like snowshoeing, snowmobiling, or even exploring an ice castle or two (but more on that later!).
On the other hand, are you looking to escape the snow? The southern portion of the state generally enjoys dry and fairly mild winters. And while you may encounter a bit of ice or a light dusting of snow here or there, you’ll also get the notoriously busy national parks mostly to yourself.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s explore Utah!
Where to visit Utah in winter
1. Park City
If you’re looking for the quintessential destination to visit in Utah in winter, Park City, a stunning ski town in the Rocky Mountains, should absolutely be at the top of your list. The skiing and snowboarding here are so good, in fact, that Park City was actually home to the Winter Olympics in 2002.
While Park City is mostly known for its bougie ski resorts, like Deer Valley, there’s plenty of other things to do in Park City, like taking on the tubing hill at Woodward Park City, snowbiking (a rad lovechild of a snowmobile and motocross bike), or snowshoeing.
This mountain town is perfect for these cold weather adventures. Park City in winter usually blanketed by a powdery layer of snow, with daily highs around 37 degrees F.
If you need a break from the great outdoors, consider a different kind of cardio and go shopping along the city’s main street, where you’ll find a ton of eclectic boutiques and funky art galleries to explore. Alternatively, if you’re visiting Utah in January, Park City plays host to the independent film festival, Sundance. You might even get to spot your celebrity crush roaming the streets!
Whether you need a break from the slopes or catching a new cult classic, The Chateaux Deer Valley is an excellent place to rest your weary head, thanks to its stunning views of the mountains, heated outdoor pool and hot tub, and delicious breakfast every morning.
Recommended by Candice of CS Ginger
Located just 25 minutes south of Park City, Midway is one of the best destinations for winter in Utah, turning into a real life snow globe throughout the colder months.
Much like Park City, Midway is full of outdoor adventures. Take, for example, Soldier Hollow in Wasatch Mountain State Park, which offers the longest tubing lanes (a whopping 1,200 feet!) in the entire state. Just make sure to make your reservations early, especially if you’re visiting Utah in December— lanes book up quickly!
One of the most unique things to do in Midway is stay at the Homestead Resort, a modern and clean hotel that has something pretty wild— a hot spring in its very own crater! In fact, The Homestead Crater is housed in a 55-foot tall beehive-shaped depression in the limestone earth, with water that stays between 90 – 96 degrees F all year round. Whether you want to scuba dive, take a standup paddleboard yoga class, or maybe just splash around, it’s definitely a not-to-be missed activity.
Once you’re done diving in Homestead Resort’s geological wonder, head over to Cafe Galleria, where you can literally dine in an enclosed—and heated—snowglobe. You’ll have jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountains and the woodfired pizzas ain’t nothing to sneeze at either.
But no winter trip to Midway would be complete without a trip to—drumroll, please—Utah’s Ice Castles! This attraction is quite literally exactly what it sounds like— an acre-large series of castles built entirely from ice, that will make you want to run around and belt “Do You Wanna Build a Snowmaaaaan?” at the top of your lungs (No? Just me? Cool, cool.).
Located at the aforementioned Soldier Hollow Nordic Center, the castles feature slides, caverns, tunnels, crawl spaces, thrones and fountains (yup, all carved out of ice!) that are all elegantly illuminated at night with lights that dance and change to the music.
The Ice Castles take about an hour or so to explore— just be sure you’re to bundle up to explore this winter wonderland! With average low temperatures below freezing, Midway can get quite cold, especially once the sun goes down, which is the best time to visit this unique site. Don’t worry though— if you get too chilly, you can grab a hot cocoa or a warm dessert at one of the food trucks and warm up by a fire pit.
The attraction can only be open when it’s, well, freezing, so is typically in January and February. So be sure to check their website and purchase in advance before journeying here.
Midway is recommended by Lisa of Planning Away; Ice Castles is recommended by Melissa from Parenthood and Passports
3. Alta and Snowbird
Utah is home to the self-proclaimed “greatest snow on Earth”, so skiing at one of the state’s many world-class resorts is obviously a must for any bucket list. While many tourists and out-of-towners flock to Park City, locals and other skiers-in-the-know head up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta or Snowbird, just 40 minutes from the Salt Lake City International Airport.
Not only do the Utah mountains have the ideal arid climate to get that fluffy, powdery snow of your dreams, but these resorts also get the most snow of any of the other Utah ski resorts (often over 500 inches of snowfall in a single season!).
These two resorts are neighbors, so you can easily get a pass to both. Bad news for snowboarders, though— Alta is one of the few resorts in the country that is still skiers-only!
Both our snowboarder and skier friends are welcome at Snowbird, which also happens to offer more amenities, bigger hotels (like the Cliff Lodge and the Lodge at the Snowbird), and a state-of-the-art tram that takes you over 3,000 feet in elevation up to the mountain’s peak.
For a cozier vibe, though, head on over to Alta and check out the Snowpine Lodge. At this homey inn, you’ll get a private chairlift that provides ski-in-ski-out access. After tearing it up on the slopes all day, you can warm up in the outdoor heated pool overlooking the slopes or the fully stocked game room, called The Nest, for when the whole family just needs a good ol’ fashioned karaoke break.
Recommended by JJ Haglund from The Minivan Bucket List
4. Salt Lake City
With one of the country’s busiest international airports, most folks simply visit Salt Lake City in winter as a quick stopover to the swanky ski resorts around northern Utah. But this eclectic city deserves more than that— with a burgeoning microbrewery scene, some world-class museums, and outdoor winter activities in its own right, SLC is definitely worth a spot on your itinerary.
Salt Lake City was home to the 2002 Winter Olympics and you can still relive parts of these historic games around town. For example, you can catch bobsled, skeleton, or other ice activities at the Joe Quinney Winter Sports Center and even ride along with a professional bobsled pilot! Want to try your hand at ice skating instead? The Olympic Oval is a skating rink home to the “fastest ice in the world”, due to the denser and harder ice from the city’s high altitude.
Salt Lake City is also famously the home of the Latter Day Saint Movement and the world’s largest Mormon temple, in the fittingly named Temple Square. This is a hugely popular site with visitors. In fact, 3 to 5 million people a year flock here (more than the state’s five national parks combined!), to take in the neo-Gothic architecture and grand surrounding buildings.
If you’re visiting Utah in December, Temple Square is particularly spectacular, with over a million Christmas lights dripping from its buildings. Time your visit on a Thursday evening, when you can catch the world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir practice— for free!
The Grand America Hotel is arguably the best place to stay in town, with humongous rooms (many with two balconies!) and incredible amenities, like an onsite spa, sauna, and hot tub (you know how much we love hot tubs around here!).
5. Bonneville Salt Flats
Located about 90 minutes from Salt Lake City, the Bonneville Salt Flats offer visitors incredible adventures all year long.
Stretching on for 46 square miles, these salt flats are famously, well, flat and have become an infamous location for performing land speed records. Throughout the year, people flock here to test out their own vehicles, stroll across the otherworldly landscape and simply gape at the blinding white salt flats. Best of all, visiting Bonneville is almost always free, although there are occasionally racing events with admission charges.
Winter in Utah is a great time to explore the flats— if you visit during a dry period, you can live out your favorite car commercial fantasies and take your car out to zoom across the salt flats.
More likely than not, though, the rainy winter weather will cause the salt flats to flood. This is one of the most epic times to visit Bonneville— the water on top of the salt flats creates a stunning mirror effect, which is absolutely awesome for photos. It’s decidedly not so awesome for driving on, though— the flats become malleable when wet and you may need an expensive tow (sometimes in excess of $1000!) if your car gets stuck out in the mushy flats.
Even if you’re just passing by, you can simply stop at a rest stop to look out and admire the flats— the best photo opp is at the westbound Bonneville Salt Flats Rest Area along I-80, where the ground is covered with hexagonal cracks.
For the most dramatic photos, arrive at the salt flats for sunrise— not only will you get them to yourself, but the soft pink and golden glow of the light will look spectacular against the flooded salt flats.
If you don’t want to have to set that alarm at 3 AM to catch the first light of day, consider staying nearby in the town of Wendover, Nevada. While nothing fancy, the Best Western is clean, cozy, and has a hot tub to relax in.
Recommended by Anwar of Beyond my Door
6. Meadow Hot Springs
If you’re making the road trip from Salt Lake City to the southern part of the state, you’re likely going to be driving on I-15 right by the tiny town of Meadow. And while this tiny town of 300 folks, two hours south of Salt Lake City, isn’t on most visitors’ radar, it’s home to an incredible hidden gem— the Meadow Hot Springs.
Three hot springs sit in the middle of a private cow pasture, which the owner has graciously opened to the public, with the stunning backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. The first hot spring you’ll come across is the hottest—and thus, the best for visiting in winter— with a year round temperature of 100 degrees and crystal clear water. The other two pools are a bit smaller and cooler, so they may be best saved for an unseasonably warm winter day here.
Come and relax in the hot springs’ steamy waters or even time your visit for sunset so you can stargaze when the light of day fades— due to the limited light pollution, the night sky here is dazzling. Just make sure to clean up after yourself (and others, if they haven’t been so gracious); given the pools are on private property, the owner could close them at any time if they’re being mistreated by the public.
You’re actually allowed to camp on the property (the owner is seriously so kind!), so you can hit the springs bright and early to avoid the crowds. Alternatively, if you’re not into camping in possibly freezing temperatures, the nearby Best Western could use a bit of a facelift, but has comfy beds, friendly service, and free breakfast.
The Escalante area of southern Utah is known for the amazing desert scenery of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a 1.7 million acres of unspoiled and beautiful terrain for hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities.
Offering arches, narrow slot canyons, hoodoos, and rushing waterfalls, the Escalante area has a lot of great hikes and scenic drives. In fact, the slot canyons in this area are arguably some of the best hikes in Utah. The Peekaboo and Spooky slot canyons are like a real life obstacle course that you have to squeeze and navigate through, while the aptly named Zebra Slot Canyon has incredible rock walls with dizzying stripes. For something a bit more family-friendly, check out the hoodoos at Devil’s Garden.
One of the best things about visiting this part of Utah in winter is that it’s a bit more accessible than some of the surrounding national parks, like Bryce Canyon, in the colder months. Due to its lower elevation, Escalante experiences mild temperatures, so if you’re looking for outdoor adventures with juuuust a hint of snow, Escalante will be right up your alley. You may still want to bring along a four wheel drive vehicle, though— the roads can get icy this time of year!
The closest major airport to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas or Salt Lake City airport in Utah, both of which are 5 hour drive to Escalante. During your stay, consider staying at Slot Canyons Inn Bed & Breakfast, a cozy lodge with beautiful views of the surrounding cliffs.
Contributed by David & Intan of The World Travel Guy
8. Zion National Park
If you’re looking to get one of the most popular national parks to yourself, winter is an awesome time to visit Zion National Park, known for its red rock cliffs and the spectacular greenery along its canyon floor. Daily highs are typically in the 50s or even 60s, so, while snow occasionally falls overnight, it almost never sticks in the canyon for long.
Almost all of the trails are open in Zion National Park in winter, although some of the most iconic may be closed or not exactly advisable to hike during cold months. For example, you’d need to wear a literal drysuit to go hiking along the iconic Narrows trail, due to the freezing water of the Virgin River, and the already perilous Angel’s Landing is even more so, due to icy patches right next to steep drop-offs of over 1,000 feet.
That being said, there’s plenty to keep you busy, whether you’re staying two days in Zion or for an entire week, whether you’re hiking to Observation Point, which is actually 612 feet above Angel’s Landing, or exploring the Watchman Trail, one of the best places in Zion to watch sunset.
If you need a break from the winter chill, consider jumping in the car— one of the coolest things (eh, eh- winter pun!) about visiting Zion National Park in winter is that, unlike summertime visitors, you’re free to drive along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, taking in the walls of the canyon and keeping your eyes peeled for wildlife, which are generally particularly active in the cooler and less busy months.
After a long day on the trails, head back to the town of Springdale, right outside Zion’s gates, which offers several eateries worth checking out, like Zion Brewery. Finally, hit the hay at Cliffrose Springdale. Located just a five minute walk from the park, you’ll get views of Zion’s red canyon walls from the hot tub or your own private balcony or patio.
To get to Zion, fly into Las Vegas’ Mccarran International Airport and make the 2 hour and 40 minute drive to Zion. Along the way, be sure to stop at Valley of Fire State Park, home to incredible rock formations, like the Pink Canyon, along its famed Mouse’s Tank Road.
Located in southern Utah, Kanab enjoys warmer weather, making it the perfect outdoor mecca for winter in Utah. While you may encounter some snow here, it’ll likely be just a light dusting, as opposed to the feet of snow that its northern neighbors, like Midway and Park City, might see.
There are lots of things to do in and around Kanab. For example, check out the Moqui Cave, a unique ancient history museum with Native American artifacts and dinosaur tracks, or stop at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, a 501(c)(3) organization, with up to 1,600 rescued animals at any given time, that’s committed to making all animal shelters no-kill by 2025. Beyond just being able to tour the facility (and maybe get some furry cuddles along the way), they even have an affiliated hotel, the Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile, that’s super pet-friendly, offers an awesome free breakfast, and directly supports the Sanctuary!
Nearby, you can explore the slot canyon, Wire Pass— just be careful of the gnarly potholed road to get there. The trail here is stunning and, given you can just turn around when you’ve had enough slot canyoning, it’s perfect for beginner hikers. Bring a jacket, though— as soon as you step into the slot canyon, it’s noticeably chillier in the shade!
Alternatively, the most coveted thing to do in Kanab is to explore the Wave, a sandstone rock formation with a dizzying array of pink and orange striations. You’ll need to snag a highly competitive permit to get here, which you can either try to win through the lottery system or pick up a walk-in permit two days before your hike.
If you’re, like, REALLY, committed to seeing the Wave, you can book a tour with Dreamland Safaris, who will try to snag a permit on your behalf. Alternatively, the neighboring South Coyotes Buttes has similar formations and is way easier to get a permit for.
Alternatively, if you’re not about that permit life, consider visiting the nearby formations of White Pocket in Arizona. You’ll need a high clearance 4×4 vehicle to get here and to be comfortable driving in soft sand, but the nail-biting drive is worth it once you catch your first glimpses of the unique sherbet and orange formations.
To reach Kanab, you’ll fly into Las Vegas and make the four hour drive northeast. This route is perfect for a road trip to Utah’s national parks. If you want to see allll of the swirly sandstone formations, be sure to carve out time to stop at the aforementioned Valley of Fire State Park to see the Fire Wave, which looks similar to the Wave, but requires no permit! Once you reach Kanab, you’ll have your pick of places to stay, but I’d recommend the Canyons Boutique Hotel, which offers in-room fireplaces and sunken tubs for the ultimate cozy vibes after a long day of exploring.
Recommended by Christine of Live Love Run Travel
10. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is known for its unique pink and orange hoodoos. If you’re not familiar with hoodoos, not to worry (I wasn’t either!)— they’re rock spires created over millennia from water and ice erosion, thanks to Bryce’s high elevation. Similarly, due to its location at over 9,000 feet over sea level, Bryce is the coldest of Utah’s National Parks in winter—while daytime temperatures generally hover just above freezing, the park has seen temperatures drop to as low as -26 degrees F!
Accordingly, you may see ice and snow on roads leading to the park and along its trails. While a handful of these trails close during the winter, due to falling rock hazards associated with the icy conditions, most trails stay open all year, like Queen’s Garden or the Fairyland Loop Trail, unless there’s some, like, seriously nasty snow. Just remember to check the weather before your trip so you can bring along the appropriate winter hiking gear, like microspikes or even snowshoes (my husband, Justin, has these and I have these).
If you need to warm up a bit, hop in the car, crank up your trusty butt warmer, and drive along the Southern Scenic Drive, stopping at some of the overlooks for epic views of the Bryce Canyon amphitheater below.
To get here, Bryce Canyon is equidistant from Las Vegas or Salt Lake City. However, I’d recommend flying into Vegas, so that you can hit up Zion along the way (plus—it’s Vegas, baby!). Once you reach the park, stay at the nearby Bryce Canyon Log Cabins, where you’ll fittingly get your very own log cabin, with your own little balcony to sip your morning coffee on or, alternatively, to gaze up at some of the most brilliant night skies on the planet.
11. Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park is Utah’s least visited national park, which is really a shame, because it’s freakin’ AWESOME! The park is one of the most unique in the United States, thanks to its location along a 100-mile waterpocket fold (i.e., a literal wrinkle in the earth’s crust), which, over millennia, has eroded away to form colorful “reefs” that jut out of the earth.
You can explore these unique formations along dozens of trails in the park, like the Cassidy Arch Trail, where you can hike up to—and walk over—a natural arch over 600 feet above the desert floor. Alternatively, the Hickman Bridge Trail takes you under a natural archway, stretching 300 feet overhead.
Located three and a half hours south of Salt Lake City, Capitol Reef in winter enjoys mild temperatures, with daily highs in the 40s and usually, just a light dusting of snow here or there. But even on particularly chilly days, there’s plenty to explore in the park, whether you’re driving the 8-mile Scenic Drive past some of the most colorful rock formations on the planet or checking out the historic settlement of Fruita. This historic town, from the 1800s, has a variety of buildings to explore, including the Gifford Homestead, which is famous for its homemade cinnamon rolls and pies.
Cougar Ridge, in the nearby town of Torrey, is a cozy place to stay, with staff that goes above and beyond and spacious casitas, with your very own deck (including a grill!).
No matter what time of year you’re visiting, Moab, known for its red rock canyons and stunning sandstone formations, should be at the top of your Utah bucket list. With not one, but a whopping TWO national parks right outside its borders, Moab in winter is an incredible place to have outdoor adventures, without battling the usual heat and crowds that flock here, come summer.
Better yet, it doesn’t get too awfully chilly in this part of Utah in winter— daily highs are generally in the 40s to even low 50s during the coldest months. While you may find snowy or icy patches along the trails here, serious snowfall is pretty rare and doesn’t stick around for too long.
Exploring Arches National Park is the most popular thing to do in Moab and for good reason— you can see literally hundreds of natural arches, in addition to sandstone fins, monoliths, and other jaw-dropping formations. You can explore any of the best hikes in Arches National Park in winter— for example, along the Delicate Arch Trail, where you can hike to the base of the world’s most famous sandstone arch (it’s on Utah’s license plate, y’all!), soaring almost 50 feet overhead. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a lot of bang for your buck, consider tackling the Devil’s Garden hike, with seven arches packed into a trail that’s less than eight miles in length.
Canyonlands National Park is absolutely worth a visit as well— there’s lots of short trails, like the Mesa Arch and the Grand View Point Trail. On particularly cold days, consider cruising along the 34-mile Scenic Drive of the Island in the Sky district, where you’ll have incredible views from the mesa’s cliffs, which stand thousand-plus feet over the desert floor below.
Be sure to carve out some time to visit the town itself, when you’re visiting Moab in winter. There’s plenty of eclectic boutiques and cute coffee shops to duck into to warm up— I love Moab Garage Co., a quirky little cafe in an old automotive store, and Moab Made, for some locally crafted artworks.
To get to this funky little town, you’ll fly into the Salt Lake City International Airport and drive about four hours southeast. Once you’re here, the Hoodoo Moab is a sleek and modern hotel, with Western touches, to call your homebase while you’re here, with stunning views of Moab’s surrounding red rock canyons and with awesome amenities, like a year round heated outdoor pool.
I hope you’re as jazzed for a trip to Utah in winter as I am. Do you have any wintertime hidden gems in Utah that I missed? Let me know in the comments below!