Winter in Southern Utah 5-Day Guide

If you’ve visited Southern Utah, you know this is a magical place for the outdoor lover. More than likely you have traveled to Southern Utah in spring, summer or fall. Have you considered winter in Southern Utah? Are you wondering where to stay and dine near Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park? My winter in Southern Utah 5-day guide will show you the ropes of things to see and do without breaking a sweat.

Zion National Park entrance to Court of Patriarchs with dusting of fresh snow, blue sky and white clouds. Winter in Southern Utah.

Winter in Southern Utah 5-Day Guide

My husband and I have explored Southern Utah in the fall and spring, with and without our Labrador Retriever. This winter in Southern Utah, our trip was going to be without the dog. We are both animal lovers, but we’ve found that national parks are best explored without pets, when possible. In fact, most of the parks have restrictions related to pets. This is something to keep in mind when you visit. The wildlife will appreciate this, as well. 

Our 5-day vacation started in Zion National Park in Springdale, Utah. We allowed a day to explore the town of Springdale before our adventure outing. We hiked The Narrows with a guide, within Zion National Park, and then moved on to Bryce Canyon National Park for 3 days. This winter in Southern Utah 5-day guide will give you a day-by-day guide from my perspective as an active adventure baby boomer with two hip replacements.

Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown and her husband, Cory Brown wade through cloudy waters of the Virgin RIver. Along with their guide, they are wearing waders and using wooden trekking poles to check the depth of the high winter waters.

What to expect in Southern Utah in the winter

With massive sandstone cliffs of red and pink rock, Southern Utah is a photographer’s delight any time of year. I confess that fall is one of my favorite times to travel in Southern Utah. I went on a multi-day horseback ride in Bryce Canyon Utah, and it was one of the highlights of my life.

For my 62nd January birthday celebration, I wanted to do something memorable, like wading through ice cold water while walking amongst magnificent slot canyons. With two hip replacements and a husband looking at a knee replacement in his future, we needed our Southern Utah holiday to be age-friendly and accessible. While you may not necessarily need a guide when you hike The Narrows, I found it extremely helpful to have a nimble 30-something friend along to catch me when the current showed its strength. It goes without saying that you should always check the posted signs for safe water flow conditions.

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We carpooled from our Springdale hotel to the Temple of Sinawava parking lot. Our guide had a Zion National Park pass. However, a benefit of turning 62 is that you’ve earned a senior lifetime park pass. I’ll drink to that!

Speaking of drinking, the parking lot will be your last chance at porta potties. As always, remember to leave no trace when you enter Zion National Park. It’s also important to leave the beautiful rocks and driftwood behind for the next visitor to enjoy.

Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown stands on a sand bar at Wall Street, the narrow part of The Narrows, with the Virgin River snaking by. Nancy is wearing waders and canyoneering boots with neoprene socks, as well as waterproof gloves. She carries a wooden walking stick to help her navigate the icy waters during winter in Southern Utah

Hiking The Narrows in winter – what you need to know

We wanted an accessible and age-friendly hike through The Narrows. Our first stop was to Zion Outfitter to be fitted for winter hiking gear. Traversing the slot canyon of Navajo sandstone and sections of the Virgin River in January required a dry suit package. As I am a fly fisherman, I know how important waders and proper footwear are for navigating slippery river rocks. The dry bibs and Adidas Hydro Lace Canyoneering boots, with neoprene socks, kept our feet and bodies warm and dry. The wooden hiking stick was an absolute must for both navigating the depth of the water and locating hidden rocks. The optional waterproof drybag was an added bonus for holding protein snacks, water and a change of clothes.

What to wear for The Narrows

I am a fan of merino wool long underwear and base layers. Leave your jeans and cotton sweatshirts behind. They will do you no good if you get wet. Wool is your friend, as it is lightweight and wicks moisture from your body. You’ll want to bring a waterproof case for your phone. I also brought an additional shirt, socks, pants and gloves in case I took an unexpected tumble. Leave your bulky, expensive camera in the hotel. Bring a HydroFlask with tea or hot chocolate and some protein bars to keep hydrated and fueled in this winter desert.

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Year-round heated swimming pool at Cliffrose Springdale hotel with six blue lounge chairs under a wooden cabana. Snow dusts the peaks of Watchman rock formations behind the pool.

Where to dine and stay in Southern Utah

There are numerous dining options in Southern Utah but do keep in mind that not everything is open during winter. We planned a birthday celebration dinner for that evening. Switchback Grille was recommended for great steaks and seafood. The next evening, we dined at a local’s favorite, Oscar’s Cafe.

Our days of tent camping and sleeping on the ground are over. These days we prefer boutique hotels with plush bedding to sleeping bags. For our winter in Southern Utah trip, we stayed at Cliffrose Lodge in Springdale, Utah. This Curio Collection by Hilton hotel was the ideal location to explore Zion National Park. It also had several outdoor hot tubs with views of Watchman. We’re already planning a return trip to Springdale, as we didn’t have a chance to experience the spa.

Leaving Zion for Bryce National Park

As mentioned, we have visited Bryce Canyon before, but never in the winter. With our Senior Park Pass in hand, we drove to several viewpoints in Bryce Canyon National Park. While there are fewer people visiting Bryce Canyon in Garfield County, the higher elevation of this park means some road closures. Expect roads to Fairyland Point and Paria View to be closed to vehicles for the winter.

With that said, we were staying at the Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel. This is the place to try snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and even ice skating. Besides Ruby’s Inn snowshoe trail and groomed cross-country tracks, Bryce Canyon road closures mean that you may ski in Fairyland at Bryce Canyon National Park.

Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on cross-country skis at Fairyland in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. She is surrounded by snow-covered pine trees and a blanket of fresh snow.

Ruby’s Inn Winter Adventure Center rents all types of outdoor sporting equipment, including the all-important Yak Trax. We refer to these contraptions as tire chains for shoes and boots. They are a vital part of surviving winter if you have hip replacements or knee issues. My husband and I both packed our Yak Trax to go over our footwear for icy or snowy trails or even navigating a parking lot. Safety over fashion is always my motto.

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We have camped in our trailer outside of Bryce National Park and we have stayed at several hotels in Bryce Canyon. No need for a repeat hotel review, you may read my Best Western Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel review here. I also want to note that while both national parks are beautiful, there are more dining options available near Zion National Park in the winter.

Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on snowshoes at sunrise with snow-covered Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

Fly or drive to Southern Utah in winter?

You have your choice of flying or driving to Southern Utah. As Southwest Airlines offers direct flights from Eugene, Oregon to Las Vegas, I opted to fly to Harry Reid International Airport in Nevada. It takes less than 3 hours to drive from Las Vegas, Nevada to Springdale, Utah, our basecamp. You may also fly to Salt Lake City International Airport and drive about 4.5 hours to Southern Utah.

My husband loves a good road trip and opted to drive from Oregon to Utah. However you get there, winter in Southern Utah is a winner.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Visit Utah for this 5 day winter trip in Southern Utah. All opinions and experiences on this Winter in Southern Utah trip are my own. 

2 thoughts on “Winter in Southern Utah 5-Day Guide”

  1. Ava, We enjoyed our stay at Cliffrose in Springdale, Utah. I think you’d enjoy your time at the spa. We look forward to returning to Southern Utah next year.

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