What's more beautiful than Bryce Canyon National Park in the summer? It's Bryce Canyon in the winter.
Bryce Canyon National Park is open year-round, and winter is a great time to go. Orange hoodoos and green bristlecone pines topped with pristine snow against a bright blue sky… It's absolutely spectacular.
I have visited Bryce Canyon in January and February, in two different years. The first trip was a romantic getaway with my husband. The most recent was a multi-generation trip with my husband and kids, plus my dad and sister. The trips were different in a lot of ways, but Bryce Canyon's scenery never fails.
Here's what you need to know to plan a great Bryce Canyon winter trip.
Winter weather in Bryce Canyon National Park is mostly sunny, with clear air and cold temperatures. Depending on the year, there could be anywhere between a few inches and a few feet of snow. Our first trip was completely dry. Several snow storms blew through Bryce Canyon during our second trip, adding several inches each day to deep snow already on the ground.
Bryce Canyon winter temperatures are usually around freezing (32 F). They could be a little warmer or much colder. I recommend packing head-to-toe winter gear for the whole family so cold weather won't keep you inside.
Waterproof boots with good traction are essential if there is snow and ice on the ground. I had trouble walking across the hotel parking lot without my winter boots.
Need a list? Check out my 8 Winter Clothing Essentials for Families. Just swap the ski helmet and goggles for a warm hat and sunglasses.
The altitude of Bryce Canyon National Park is 8,000+ feet. Some viewpoints are over 9,000 feet. If you're not used to high altitudes, you might feel them here.
My dad lives in Utah and has traveled to Bryce Canyon many times without any problems. However, he visited Los Angeles and Phoenix right before he met us at Bryce Canyon and he suffered from nausea the whole weekend. By our last morning, he was too sick to drive home. I drove his car while my husband drove our van. As soon as we dropped to 6,000 feet, he started feeling better.
Drink lots of water and get plenty of rest to combat altitude sickness. If it doesn't improve, drive to a lower altitude. You won't have to drive far to feel a difference.
Driving to Bryce Canyon in winter takes a little more planning than driving in the summer. Bryce Canyon is located in a remote, mountainous area where driving in a snow storm will be especially scary.
Watch the weather forecast and consider other options and routes if snow might be a problem. I have been driving in Utah's snow for decades and would cancel the trip or change plans rather than drive to Bryce Canyon in a snow storm.
Once you get to Bryce Canyon, snowy roads are less of a problem. The main road and major parking lots in Bryce Canyon are plowed quickly after a storm. They are not as narrow and steep as other local highways. The best time to see Bryce Canyon's winter splendor is right after a snow storm.
Salt Lake City and Las Vegas are the closest cities with major airports. Both are about 4-5 hours drive from Bryce Canyon National Park.
For more details and links to current weather information, visit the official Bryce Canyon National Park website. Visit my post about driving in snow to get tips for safely navigating slippery conditions.
Ruby's Inn and the Bryce Canyon Grand are just about the only Bryce Canyon hotels open in the winter. They are Best Western Plus hotels located right outside the park. Both are owned by the same family, along with all the other hotels, restaurants, activities and services in “Bryce Canyon City.”
I have stayed in both hotels. The Bryce Canyon Grand is newer, and all the rooms and facilities are in one building. Ruby's Inn is bigger and less expensive. Motel-style rooms are spread across several buildings at Ruby's Inn.
We booked a basic double queen room at Ruby's Inn for my family of four on our most recent trip. The queen beds were actually doubles, and the room had little space to spare. It was a tight squeeze for two adults, a teen and a tween. Next time, I would pay more to get a family suite or double king room.
You may find a few other hotels open year round in the neighboring towns of Tropic or Panguitch. However, with winter rates under $100/night at Ruby's Inn, I wouldn't shop around.
Click the button below to get more information about Ruby's Inn and Bryce Canyon Grand on TripAdvisor.com. Then book directly through rubysinn.com, because you'll get free cancellation until 4 PM on the day of check-in. This was a valuable benefit for us as we watched the weather forecast in the days before our most recent winter trip to Bryce Canyon.
There is only one restaurant inside Bryce Canyon National Park and it's closed in the winter. This leaves you with Cowboy's Buffet and Steak Room at Ruby's Inn and a couple other restaurants, like the Pines, farther outside the park. Winter is the off-season and most restaurants near the park will be closed.
We ate all our dinners at Cowboy's Buffet on both winter trips, and I liked it better the second time than the first. The soup and salad bar seems a lot fresher. A breakfast buffet at Cowboy's Buffet is now complimentary for all guests.
Ruby's Inn also has a small grocery store where you can find a lot of picnic supplies and other provisions. I stop at the supermarket for lunch supplies before I leave home. Ruby's Inn and Bryce Canyon Grand both have in-room refrigerators and microwaves.
There are lots of fun things to do at Bryce Canyon with kids in the winter.
Sightseeing – Many of Bryce Canyon's view points will be open in all weather. My favorites are Sunrise Point, Sunset Point and Inspiration Point. If the Rim Trail is clear, or if you have snowshoes, you can hike between them.
See the sunrise – Sunrise is the time to see and photograph Bryce Canyon in it's best light. In the summer, you have to get up crazy early to see the sunrise. The timing is a lot more reasonable in the winter when the sun rises later.
Snowshoeing – Take a free ranger-led snowshoe hike or explore on your own. Sign up for guided hikes at the Bryce Canyon National Park visitor center starting at 8 AM on the day of the hike. Space is limited and equipment is provided. All the slots were filled by 8:30 AM on our most recent trip, during Winter Fest. We didn't get to go. On most other dates, it shouldn't fill as fast. On our first trip, my husband and I were the only non-park employees on the hike.
Ruby's Inn rents snowshoes. It's currently just $10 per person for a full day or $7 for a half day. We hiked along the canyon rim from Sunset to Sunrise point and only part of the trail was clear. We occasionally sank to our knees in the snow. It would have been a lot easier in snowshoes.
Cross Country Skiing – Some side roads in Bryce Canyon National Park are left unplowed in the winter for cross country skiiers and snowshoers. You can rent skis for the same rate as snowshoes at Ruby's Inn.
Star Gazing – Winter skies are clear and dark at Bryce Canyon National Park. Park rangers set up big telescopes for stargazing on select evenings. My husband and I attended one of these star parties on our first trip, and it was a lot of fun. Dress warm!
Hiking – I love hiking Bryce Canyon in warm weather, but haven't ventured below the rim on our winter trips. You need to be more committed and have specialty gear to hike Bryce Canyon in the winter. Trails below the rim may not be open at all. If they are, you will need extra traction to navigate the ice and mud.
Swimming – Ruby's Inn and the Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel both have indoor swimming pools and hot tubs. It's a fun way to finish wearing out the kids after a morning or afternoon of sightseeing in the park.
Full moon snowshoe hikes, sleigh rides, horseback riding, ice skating and snowmobiling are also offered in or near Bryce Canyon National Park. Contact the ranger desk, Ruby's Inn or a local outfitter to find out what activities will be available during your visit.
Ruby's Inn hosts a Winter Festival over President's Weekend in mid-February. In addition to the activities listed above, there are more guided activities, equipment demos, fitness classes, crafts and more.
After my family finished admiring the views in Bryce Canyon, we returned to Ruby's Inn and spent the afternoon enjoying the activities. My teen daughter and I made pottery. My dad went to the fat tire bike demo. My sister attended a photography lecture. My husband and son headed for the pool. Later, I went to a yoga class with my sister and daughter.
All of these activities were free. I really tried to get my kids to go to the Family Dance in the evening, but they were WAY too cool for that.
Ruby's Inn was busy during the Winter Festival. Room availability was limited when I booked a few weeks in advance, and the atmosphere was bustling for an off-season weekend.
Learn more about the Winter Festival at Ruby's Inn at https://www.rubysinn.com/bryce-canyon-winter-festival/.
Bryce Canyon is a whole different place in the winter. Crowds are light, room rates are cheap and the views are even more spectacular in the snow. Snowshoeing and cross country skiing are popular. Hiking trails may be closed.
Snow storms can limit access and activities during the winter. I recommend that you go with somewhat flexible timing and a backup plan, in case weather affects your plans. Be sure to dress for cold temperatures and snow.
A weekend is probably long enough for most families to appreciate winter at Bryce Canyon National Park. If you have more time, pair your visit to Bryce Canyon with Zion National Park, which is also lovely – and uncrowded! – in the winter. Zion Canyon sits at a much lower altitude, where winter temperatures are usually mild.
Want more tips for visiting Bryce Canyon National Park? Click the arrow below to read about my favorite Bryce Canyon hikes. Or, visit my Garfield County page to read all my posts for this neck of the woods.