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Winter at Utah National Parks?

by CraigT Online Now Jan 23, 2011 at 7:16 AM

We're heading west to ski and had a couple of extra days. We're considering some of the national parks in southern Utah which appear to be 4-6 hours away from SLC by car. I can't find any clear information as to if the parks are a good idea in the winter (late February). Are the parks open, can you see plenty of sites if you drive through or are they hiking venues. Are the lodges open? Can you suggest if we had a day and a half what we might want to see in Southern Utah. I have interests in photography. Thanks, Craig

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  • goodfish's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by goodfish Online Now Jan 23, 2011 at 7:50 AM

    Sorry - what's SLC ??

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  • goodfish's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by goodfish Online Now Jan 23, 2011 at 8:02 AM

    Just figured it out - Salt Lake city. DOH! :)

    Yours is a complicated question as location and altitudes at the various parks can make visiting a very different experience. The National Parks have very good websites, and note access conditions and things to do at each during the winter. Here are the websites for the tops four: Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce and Zion:

    http://www.nps.gov/arch/index.htm

    http://www.nps.gov/cany/index.htm

    http://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm

    http://www.nps.gov/brca/index.htm

    Zion is the only one with an in-park lodge. The other three have accommodations close by in Moab (Canyonlands and Arches) and small towns around Bryce - such as Tropic. Springdale also has a a good selection of accommodations for Zion.

    For sheer proximity, Arches and Canyonlands are the two closest together - only 20 miles or so between them. Zion and Bryce are a bit father apart but not terrible. All of them are beautiful. Just off the top of my head, I'd say ARches is probably the most accessible in winter but I'd have to double-check. I'm very familiar with navigating the park websites so would be happy to help. Is Arches the one you're most interested in?

    Would like to hear from our Utah locals what they feel would be the most viable for driving to in winter from SLC and suggested route. :)

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  • CraigT's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by CraigT Online Now Jan 23, 2011 at 8:26 AM

    Sorry, Salt Lake City airport is SLC. I've been abbreviating my trip notes at this end. Craig

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  • RoscoeGregg's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by RoscoeGregg Online Now Jan 23, 2011 at 8:30 AM

    I have visited Arches in particular many times in the winter. I can highly recommend it.

    The Park has a very nice paved road that gives you access to most good hikes. It will be much less busy than in summer. If you are lucky enough to have snow the photographic situation will blow you away even more than usual.

    There is a great visitors center in downtown Moab with information about all the area parks. They will have up to date trail and weather information.

    I say give it a shot.

    Now, the downer side of this recommendation. The drive from SLC to the Moab area is over some mountains. If the weather is bad you might want to rethink before driving over Soldiers Summit.

    http://www.udot.utah.gov

    Just a side note. As you pass over the summit you will pass the Castle Gate coal mine. This was the site of one of the largest payroll robberies in the Wild West. It was the Butch Cassidy gang and is where the term the long riders came from. Their getaway was a legendary long ride into the canyons.

    It would be a brutal day trip an over night would be better.

    Have A Great Trip SLC Is Great!!

    Bring a Snorkel For The Powder

    Randy

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  • goodfish's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by goodfish Online Now Jan 23, 2011 at 8:33 AM

    Craig? Just at a quick glance, you shouldn't have any real problem visiting any of these parks with the exception (maybe) of Bryce. That one is highest in elevation so could have some snow issues BUT it also could be just fine. Zion is currently running the warmest in temps but the eastern parks will warm over the next month.

    Late Feb. looks to be fine for the Moab area. Both Canyonlands and Arches have driving roads, although to get the best photos of some (not all) of the Arches involves some hiking. For instance, for those iconic shots of Utah's state symbol - Delicate Arch - you really need to make a hike up slickrock to the closest viewing point. There is a viewing point from down below but it's farther away. I've done both and they provide very different perspectives. Canyonlands is wonderful - very different scenic experience than Arches. Some viewpoints are very close to the road and some are a bit longer hikes (but flat and not difficult) to the edge.

    Daylight will be rather short so you'll want to leave SLC before sunrise.

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  • goodfish's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by goodfish Online Now Jan 23, 2011 at 8:35 AM

    >The drive from SLC to the Moab area is over some mountains.

    That's what I was a bit concerned about Randy but I haven't done it so was hoping for the voice of experience here.

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  • goodfish's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by goodfish Online Now Jan 23, 2011 at 8:41 AM

    One more note and I'll quit! :)

    Here is a link I'd provided someone else for recommended places/time of day for taking great shots at Arches:

    faerealm.com/Reality/Utah/Ar...

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  • bocmaxima's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by bocmaxima Online Now Jan 23, 2011 at 2:17 PM

    You're not going to have much time with a day and a half. The closest of these parks to SLC is Arches, but even that's 4 hours one-way. If you like photography, that's where I'd go. You won't have time for the other parks in Southern Utah though.
    Google Maps will route you onto US 6 out of Provo to get between the two, as opposed to the interstates (I-15 & I-70). It's quicker and shorter. I've done both routes in the winter, and both definitely have the potential for snow. But I-70 will cleared earlier. You should be okay on either though. Just watch the weather and road conditions site: http://www.commuterlink.utah.gov/ (click "Statewide" on the left).
    Keep your plans relatively flexible. If you hit a snowstorm, then you don't want it to ruin your vacation. Also, keep in mind that, in the winter with snow, you should add about 20-30% on to your travel time, so you're looking at more like 6 hours.

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  • glabah's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by glabah Online Now Jan 23, 2011 at 9:37 PM

    Are any of these routes mandatory tire chain routes - or even recommended tire chain routes? If so, what is the typical charge for adding tire chains to the car rental contract at the airport?

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  • bocmaxima's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by bocmaxima Online Now Jan 24, 2011 at 5:16 AM

    > Are any of these routes mandatory tire chain routes - or even recommended tire chain routes?
    Maybe when there's a bad storm. Normally, no.

    > If so, what is the typical charge for adding tire chains to the car rental contract at the airport?
    Rental car companies won't provide chains for various reasons. You'd have to buy or rent them (usually the same price) from other vendors, like auto parts stores.

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  • bocmaxima's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by bocmaxima Online Now Jan 24, 2011 at 5:18 AM

    Oh, I should add that rental car companies do often provide snow tires for an extra fee. That would be my personal preference to chains.

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  • FarmerFun's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by FarmerFun Online Now Jan 24, 2011 at 8:00 AM

    I would concur with Arches. It's probably 250 miles from SLC to there. If you are that far try Arches and then Moab and the drive down the Colorado River. There used to be many Petroglyphs to view but your visiting predecessors did too much playing with them. Grand Junction,CO is not far away and Colorado Mounument is a lovely place to drive through and all of the scenery is quite breathtaking. That has to be the bluest sky in the USA. Grand Jct is only about 25 (I-70) miles from the Utah state line. I've driven it all in snow and ice. Once you conquer that feeling of your heart in your throat it is just like driving Northern Indiana. I've done both in really bad weather.

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  • KimberlyAnn's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by KimberlyAnn Online Now Jan 24, 2011 at 12:34 PM

    I have been to all 5 of the Utah national parks in January, and I have also been to Zion in March. We did a lot of hiking in all of these, except for Bryce, as there was a snow storm when we arrived, and the trails were slippery. They did plow the park road, however. You can drive these parks, although, the best way to see the formations in most is to drive, then do at least a few short hikes.

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  • glabah's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by glabah Online Now Jan 24, 2011 at 8:00 PM

    How deep does the snow tend to be this time of year?

    I'm trying to picture someone going hiking in snow 7 feet deep, but from the conversation it doesn't sound like it gets that deep. Or do you use snow shoes?

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  • FarmerFun's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by FarmerFun Online Now Jan 24, 2011 at 10:44 PM

    I've traveled it all in all kinds of weather and I NEVER chained up. I always had studded snow tires. Crews keep the roads very clear of accumulated snow. Denver once received 36" to 1M overnight. Utah does an incredible job of keeping roads clear. Above 10,000' you can get over 400"(10M) of snow in a Winter. Snow shoes and snow caves are fun to experience if one is so inclined. My experience is, "When one sees the elk heading downhill and you are heading up, it is time to reverse course." When your horse is breaking trail in snow up to its chest then it is time to stop or think real hard about your next move. Everyone I knew carried extra warm clothes and a shovel plus unique jack in their vehicle. I've observed avalanches snap 6" trees like matchsticks ahead of me just before it blocked my egress path. It can be bad but usually the warning will far precede the weather dangers. Believe Them! Otherwise the opportunity is worth the risk. You will have tales to share for a lifetime. Just watch for weather warnings.

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  • RoscoeGregg's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by RoscoeGregg Online Now Jan 25, 2011 at 8:14 AM

    I guess I have to chime in again. The concern for the road conditions in Utah during the winter are while understandable they are not as drastic as some might think. I traveled to southern Utah during the winter several times a year over the ten years that I lived in Salt Lake City. I never felt the need for chains.

    Craig you will want to check with UDOT to make sure the roads are passable before leaving Salt Lake. The road to Moab is well maintained and if the UDOT says it is passable I say go for it! If you do this you will have no problems. If the roads are bad punt the ball and consider a day trip to Park City or some other winter option available in Salt Lake.

    I do not want to delude you this will be a fair amount of driving. I would strongly recommend that you try to do it as an overnight and get early starts. We did this exact trip multiple times as a break from grey winter weather in Salt Lake City. I know it can be satisfying. Just keep in mind that it will mean driving.

    I recommend that you focus on the many nice things to see centered on Moab. Arches National Park will be the most accessible. While I do love the drive toward Colorado in my humble opinion it would be better left for a trip that has more time on the log.

    As to your question about Lodges. The parks surrounding Moab do not have lodges they do however have very nice campgrounds. You will find lots of lodging in Moab.

    So, focus, check he UDOT, have an alternate plan if the weather is bad. and be prepared to start early and drive at least 4.5 hours each way.

    This area is a photographers wonderland it would be nice to see it. I warn you now one trip here will not be enough!!

    Happy Trails,

    Randy

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  • goodfish's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by goodfish Online Now Jan 25, 2011 at 8:26 AM

    You know, you'll have an advantage going to Arches in the off season before the hordes descend. You'll be able to see the park in relative peace and actually get some shots without humans in them! :) That one is beastly hot in summer so the cooler temps will make for a more comfortable visit. Snow on the red rock can make for some gorgeous photos, too. I'd give it a shot...

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  • RoscoeGregg's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by RoscoeGregg Online Now Jan 25, 2011 at 8:31 AM

    Right On Kate!! No crowds and cool weather are nice.

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  • KimberlyAnn's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by KimberlyAnn Online Now Jan 25, 2011 at 2:23 PM

    We spent one January hiking in Arches, and about three years ago we drove through the area on our way to California, and both times there was no snow. One January we hiked Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, and Capitol Reef, and there was no snow except really high up, where we did not hike. In March the average high temperature in the area of Arches is 52, and the average low is 28. Their average snowfall for the month of February is .63 of an inch. The last time Arches got more than an inch was in 2003, and it was just a little over an inch. And remember, I am talking about for the entire month of February. It would be unlikely, that you would have a lot of snow in Arches. And as pointed out, it isn't crowded, or HOT---it is often near 100 degrees in summer!!!! Nearby Canyonlands only has a little cooler averages than Arches. When we were in Bryce where it was too snowy to safely hike, some folks used crampon like equipment on their boots, to get down into the hoodoos safely.

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  • Segolily's Profile Photo

    Re: Winter at Utah National Parks?

    by Segolily Online Now Jan 26, 2011 at 12:42 PM

    I'm late to the discussion, but thought I would add my thoughts.
    First, from my home in south SLC it takes us 4 hrs to Arches, Bryce, Zions or Capitol Reef. So time wise it is really sixes. The general trend in the post seems to be Arches/Canyonlands. Not sure why.

    Yes, the parks are all open year round. Years ago there was very little traffic in the winter so they weren't manned well. I've been in Bryce in March when we never saw another person (park personal included). However all that has changed as more and more people have the time and ability to travel in what used to be off season.

    The things you have to look for are road conditions to and from and temperatures. If there is a storm then don't do it, definitely not worth trying to drive in snowy conditions. If the roads are clear (which they all should be about a day after any storm) then the big differences will be temperatures.

    Zion is wonderful in the winter. But there are lots of springs which can freeze and close the trails. But with the amount of time you have that probably wouldn't matter.
    Bryce is stunning in the winter with snow on the hoodoos. Views from the rim should be no problem. Trails which go down the hillside can be snow covered, icy or muddy depending.
    Capitol Reef, a much neglected park, can be seen fairly quickly with many trails open as long as there hasn't been a storm.
    Arches can be great and everything that the others have said I'd second.

    With only a day and a half I'll give you two plans
    Plan A: Leave SLC (and yes we use it that way all the time). Drive to Moab via hwy 6, hopefully arriving in the area around noon. Before arriving in Moab take the turn off to Canyonlands and drive into Dead Horse Point for a great view. Then drive into Arches and take the hike to Delicate Arch. Then settle into your hotel in Moab and enjoy dinner at Moab Brewery.
    Next day head back to Arches and take in the Windows section for an hour before driving back to SLC arriving early afternoon.

    Plan B: Drive from SLC to Bryce arriving around noon. Take a couple hours to see the main amphitheater from Sunrise Sunset and Inspiration points. Then drive to Zion (2hrs drive time) enjoying the drive in through the east entrance and stay in Springdale.
    Next day drive back into Zion and drive up the main canyon for an hour or two. If the trail is open take the Riverside walk or Weeping Rock. Then head back to SLC. arriving early afternoon.

    As you can see the amount of time you'll have will be minimal. But it could be a great break from the skiing.

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