Winter travel in Utah is amazing adventure. There is nothing like desert scenery with patches of white snow around you and on distant mountain tops and the solitude off-season provides for is a strong part of the experience: you have one of the world’s most beautiful playgrounds all for yourself.
As our short road trip comes to an end, I thought it would be worthwhile to provide several tips for Utah winter travel:
1. You must be lucky with the weather. Try praying, making good deeds prior to your departure, throwing dice or just relying on your luck: traveling in Utah is an outdoors adventure, and there is practically nothing to do if the gods of good weather are against you.
2. Everywhere but in the ski resorts, it’s off season. That means that you don’t need to book hotels in advance and you can negotiate rates on the spot. $80 a night will get you sleeping very comfortably in nice inns and motels along the way (this is as upscale as it gets in some of the small towns).
3. Off season also means that most tourism-related businesses are closed. Expect only very few restaurants open in the towns along the way, and make sure you go dining early – some places close as early as 7pm.
4. Unless it snowed heavily in the days prior to your trip, you’ll do well with a 2WD car in most places you want to visit.
5. As usual, we used the Lonely Planet South USA guide book, and were pleased with the breadth of information provided and the suggested activities.
6. It’s COLD! Bring warm clothes: on a typical day out we had a fleece, wind coat, gloves, scarf and a wool hat. We often had skiing underpants and undershirt on as extra measures of keeping ourselves warm.
7. Hiking. Most trails in the national parks are easily accessible and in very good shape. Although hiking boots look cool and will keep you warm, you will do well with sneakers on almost any trail you decide to do.
8. The best part of traveling in Utah in the winter is that you are ALONE. You practically have the huge national parks all for yourself, and the sense of grandeur and solitude does not get ruined by thousands of tourists. It makes you feel a bit less of a tourist yourself.
9. Another huge advantage is that… it’s cold 🙂 It’s always better to layer up than finding yourself hiking in 40 degrees celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the Utah desert. Plus, the snowy mountain peaks add such an amazing backdrop to the vistas that when you are driving you feel like in real-world Outrun (the 80s video game).
Recommended Itinerary for a 7-10 days trip:
1. Moab. It’s a great base for exploring Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, which are absolutely amazing. Plan on spending a full day in each of the parks. End your Canyonlands day at Dead Horse Point, but don’t try the Thelma and louise maneuver.
There are plenty of other places to see around Moab so you can easily spend an extra day or two in the area. If you are fit and a savvy mountain bike (or motorbike) rider – you will never forget the crazy Slick Rock trail. It has more than 100,000 visitors a year, but guess what, it’s winter and you’ll be there all alone!
- Poison Spider Bicycles are a great mountain bike shop that is open year-round with top-notch gear in perfect condition (bikes are $40 a day)
- If you get tired of American food, Sing Ha Thai Cuisine is a surprisingly good Thai restaurant.
2. Moab -> Bryce Canyon via Highway 12.
Highway 12 is so beautiful you’ll find yourself driving 20 miles an hour while say “Wow”, “Wow”, “Wow” every 30 seconds.
Your first stop should be Goblins Valley State Park (on highway 24, a two hours drive from Moab). This is a funky park with bizarre rock formations that look like the stone version of the Smurf’s village.
After playing around for an hour, head towards Torrey, and enjoy one of the most scenic routes the US has to offer. As you arrive in Torrey, at the highway 12 junction, on your right (next to the gas station and the outdoors gear store) there is a small coffee shop which serves ultra-delicious food and European-style coffee (it’s the best coffee-in-the-middle-of-no-where I ever had).
Once you got your coffee-levels fixed, you are ready to hit highway 12. I recommend staying the night in Boulder. We stayed in the next town, Escalante, where there is absolutely nothing to do after 7pm besides buying candy in the gas station convenience store (don’t get me wrong, there is nothing to do after 7pm in Boulder either, but the setting is much nicer).
3. Bryce Canyon is less than an hour away from Escalante (an hour and a half away from Boulder). It is by far one of the most inspiring (and photogenic) places in the world. Plan on spending at least half a day in the park. If you are lucky with the snow there seem to be in it some excellent cross-country skiing trails.
Leave the park around 3pm to ensure you have enough time to reach Springdale (Zion National Park) in daylight. Once you enter Zion National Park from the East, expect half an hour of the famous Utah “Wow” drive.
- Cable Mountain Lodge is the closest to the park entrance, and a perfect place to stay. Their outside Jacuzzi is a treat, even when the temperatures drop below zero (Celsius).
- No one smiled at us in Cafe Soleil but their food and coffee are really good. Oscar’s Cafe has really good Mexican food and makes for a good dinner place (most other restaurants in town are closed in winter).
4. Zion National Park.
Plan on spending at least two days in the park. There are plenty of hikes to do, from easy two hour strolls to strenuous six-hour climbs. Angel’s landing is a spectacular hike that will get you high above the valley, through a narrow ridge where drop offs to sharp you’ll get dizzy looking down.
That’s about it for the Utah winter trip recommendations. Once you completed it, you are ready to go skiing!
A quick tip about skiing:
Park City is the most famous ski town in Utah, but the mountain itself is not overly exciting. It’s excellent for families and for beginners to intermediate skiers / snowboarders, but if you want real action and excellent slopes, you should head elsewhere:
As always, feel free emailing me with any specific questions.