Winter visitors to beautiful Bryce Canyon National Park find a different place from the one they experience the rest of the year. The vividly colored formations that characterize this forested wonderland at the edge of a dramatically eroded plateau stand in sharp contrast to wintry skies, their shapes etched and outlined in frosty white.
Much of the park remains open , but freezing conditions close the handsome old lodge and most camping areas. However, lodgings and camping can be found just outside the park in nearby Bryce Canyon City and the adjacent Dixie National Forest.
Since Bryce Canyon lies about 250 miles from Las Vegas by the shortest route, you will probably be staying overnight or longer outside the park. Private RV parks and motels are clustered near Ruby’s Inn, the first hostelry used by early park visitors. For accommodations, check the Garfield County Travel Council’s website.
Turn south on state Route 63 at Ruby’s Inn. The park boundary is less than 5 miles from the junction. The Bryce Canyon Visitor Center, just a mile and a half inside the park near the canyon rim and several scenic view points, remains open through March from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Park entry costs $25.
Winter visitors to Bryce Canyon will find plenty of things to do day or night, indoors or outside. The key to enjoying a winter visit to this high, frigid park is being adequately prepared for the conditions. You will need winter gear, including layered warm clothing, head and hand coverings and snow boots or waterproof hiking boots. Take extra mittens and socks and carry warm blankets. Since you won’t find much to eat in the park in winter, plan to tailgate picnic using hearty prepared foods, hot beverages, high-calorie snacks and water.
Stop by the visitor center first to learn about weather, road conditions and what activities are planned during your visit. Take time to view the short film, peruse the exhibits on history, geology, wildlife and stargazing, and browse through books, maps, games and toys in the bookstore.
Winter activities in the park include visiting scenic view points along the rim. Most are accessible except during or just after winter storms. Sidewalks are cleared at viewpoints, but walkways may be icy, so wear boots with heavy treads or traction devices. Cross-country skiers and showshoers will like exploring Fairyland Road and Paria Point Road, both closed to traffic and unplowed. Try a snowshoe hike with a ranger, scheduled for 9 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Snowshoes and poles are provided free of charge for participants. Make reservations for the full-moon snowshoe hikes at 435-834-4747.
Inquire about winter stargazing events. Because of its high altitude and remote location, Bryce Canyon is a premier Dark Sky Park, where night skies are bright with thousands of stars; at least 7,500 are visible on a clear, moonless night.
Bryce Canyon’s annual Winter Festival takes place during Presidents Day weekend, Feb. 13-16. Events will include daily snowshoe hikes, solar astronomy sessions, geology talks, a full-moon snowshoe hike and evening astronomy programs with telescopes. Entry to the park will be free during the holiday weekend, one of six times in 2015 when entrance fees will be waived.
HOW TO GET THERE:
– Head north on I-15 into Southern Utah. A few miles beyond St. George, exit the freeway onto state Route 9 through Hurricane. Stay on state Route 9 through Zion National Park to reach U.S. Highway 89, the approach to Bryce Canyon.
– For an alternate route, you can turn off in Hurricane to follow Utah Route 59 and Arizona Route 389 across the Arizona Strip to reach U.S. 89 at Kanab, Utah, a few miles north of Fredonia, Ariz.
– By either route, follow U.S. 89 north to reach Utah Route 12, a National Scenic Byway. Route 12 leaves a farming valley to climb into Dixie National Forest, following spectacular Red Canyon through an area popular for winter sports such as sledding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.