Winter can be a really good time to visit Utah national parks!
Utah national parks are open in the winter.
And it can also be a perfect time to go to Grand Canyon National Park as a part of that national park road trip in winter!
There is always a risk with winter visits to Utah and the Grand Canyon because of weather.
But it’s also very possible for it to work out well!
This is a PACKED national parks winter itinerary that includes Arizona and Utah in the great American Southwest!
It’s also on the heavy side with hiking.
And 3 national parks means lots of driving too!
If you’re not so much into the hiking, it’ll be pretty easy to adapt this itinerary to make it a little less active one while still getting in some amazing views.
It can generally work out pretty well even if you just removed the longer hikes, or make them into shorter hikes, and kept everything else.
I started this road trip from Phoenix, but I also think you can adapt this itinerary a little bit to start this road trip from Las Vegas too.
It can give you some winter vacation ideas anyway!
I also did this in winter (December), but you can make the basic trip plan work for any time of the year.
11+ amazing things to do in Arizona and Utah national parks in winter in 5 days
Grand Canyon to Zion to Bryce Canyon!
The pictures below were taken in December, in the days before Christmas. As you will see, some places had snow, some did not, even though it’s winter!
1. South Kaibab Trail (Grand Canyon)
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2. Rim Trail viewpoints (Grand Canyon)
3. Drive through Zion National Park
4. Canyon Overlook Trail (Zion)
5. Trail to Scout’s Lookout (Zion)
Or to Angels Landing if you dare
6. West Rim Trail (Zion)
7. Queens Garden + Navajo Loop Trail (Bryce Canyon)
8. Park ranger-led snowshoe hike (Bryce Canyon)
9. Mossy Cave (Bryce Canyon)
10. Fairyland Loop Trail (Bryce Canyon)
11. Rim Trail viewpoints (Bryce Canyon)
12. Drive to Bryce Canyon National Park viewpoints
This isn’t a national park, but a national recreation area to visit along the way…
Horseshoe Bend (Glen Canyon National Recreation Area)
Go straight to the more detailed planning:
- Top 3 ways to do the best day hike in the Grand Canyon
- How to spend one day in Zion National Park
- How to spend one day in Bryce Canyon National Park
- How to spend 2 days hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park
- Hiking to Horseshoe Bend overlook and beyond in Glen Canyon
Or keep reading below for more specifics on the 5 day plan!
5 days of exploring some southwest national parks in Arizona and Utah!
The thing about winter in these national parks… It may not always go as planned! (Even more so than summer travel!)
That SNOW can make a difference in what you can do and what you can’t do! (And how pretty the scenery looks!)
Check for current winter weather alerts at individual national parks
As it gets closer to your travel dates, it can be a good idea to check in on the official websites of each of the parks to get current conditions and updates of any trail closures and road closures.
Here are the official pages for the main national parks in Arizona and Utah:
- Grand Canyon alerts
- Zion alerts
- Bryce Canyon alerts
- Capitol Reef alerts
- Arches alerts
- Canyonlands alerts
You can go to the NPS (National Park Service) page for any of these parks and the alerts will be at the top.
Cost of visiting Arizona and Utah national parks
The cost of entry to visit an Arizona national park or Utah national park is usually around $30 per national park for a 7-day pass. This is per car, and it covers everyone in your car. (There is no one-day pass.)
But, know that if you’ll be making it a national park road trip with visits to many national parks, there is also an annual national park pass available!
And generally speaking, if you will be visiting at least 3 national parks, then it will be worth it to buy the America the Beautiful national park pass!
You can buy the national park pass at the entry station when you visit your first national park.
More below about the Arizona Utah national park road trip!
But first… side note!
More for a future national park vacation NOT in winter:
- Things to do in Yellowstone National Park
- Things to do in Grand Teton National Park
- Things to do in Craters of the Moon National Monument
- Things to do in Devils Tower National Monument
- Things to do in Badlands National Park
- Things to do in Haleakala National Park
- Things to do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- Best places to visit in Wyoming
- Best places to visit in South Dakota
Southwest U.S. road trip itinerary: How to spend 5 days in Arizona and Utah national parks in winter
This is as I did it middle to end of December in 2019! (Flying out of Phoenix airport PHX on Christmas day.)
Again, these were mostly FULL days of activities with most of the driving done after sunset and/or starting before sunrise.
While I flew into and out of Phoenix, you might also consider searching for flights into Las Vegas airport LAS, as Las Vegas is known for having lots of cheap flights.
Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon loop in 5 days:
Day 0: Phoenix Airport + Drive to Grand Canyon
- Drive from Phoenix Airport to hotel near Grand Canyon (around 3.5 hours)
- Where to stay tonight: Near Grand Canyon
- Along the way from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon is also Sedona aka Red Rock Country if you want to make time for it
Day 1: Grand Canyon National Park
- South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point
- Rim Trail
- Part of Bright Angel Trail
- Drive to Page AZ (around 2 hours from Grand Canyon to Page)
- Where to stay tonight: Page AZ
Day 2: Zion National Park
- Drive to Zion (around 2 hours from Page to Zion)
- Canyon Overlook Trail
- Riverside walk to Narrows start
- Trail to Scouts Lookout (same trail to Angels Landing) + part of West Rim Trail
- Drive to hotel near Bryce Canyon (around 1.5 hours from Zion to Bryce Canyon)
- Where to stay tonight: Near Bryce Canyon
Day 3: Bryce Canyon National Park
- Queens Garden + Navajo Trail + part of Peekaboo Loop
- Park ranger snowshoe hike
- Mossy Cave Trail
- Where to stay tonight: Near Bryce Canyon
Day 4: Bryce Canyon National Park
- Fairyland Loop Trail
- Rim Trail from Fairyland Point to Inspiration Point
- Drive to Page AZ (around 2.5 hours from Bryce Canyon to Page)
- Where to stay tonight: Page AZ
Day 5: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area + Drive to Phoenix
- Trail to Horseshoe Bend overlook and beyond (Glen Canyon National Recreation Area)
- Antelope Canyon (not a part of the National Park Service. I didn’t do this but this is a popular attraction and here would be a perfect time to add it)
- Drive to Phoenix (around 4.5 hours from Page to Phoenix)
- Where to stay tonight: Phoenix
Map of Arizona and Utah together
To get a visual for the basic route of American Southwest itinerary, see the map below or explore it further on Google Maps.
What is winter weather like at these southwest national parks?
And when is there snow?
It all depends on your timing! Monitor the weather as your time in the parks gets closer, and continue to monitor the weather forecast when you are on the road!
But in general…
Grand Canyon National Park in winter
At Grand Canyon National Park, as per the National Park Service:
Dramatic winter storms, bringing several inches of snow, are contrasted with sunny days, perfect for walking along the rim or into the canyon.
Winter conditions on the South Rim can be extreme.
Winter weather typically begins by November and becomes well entrenched by December and January, with frequent light to moderate snows and increasingly colder weather.
Low temperatures are generally in the teens along the Rim; however afternoon high temperatures still average in the 40s F (4-9 C), due to the amount of sunshine the area receives.
Snow continues to be possible at the higher elevations through April.
When I was in the Grand Canyon in December, there was some snow visible when higher up, the level you’ll be when you are looking at the canyon from above.
The further down you go into the canyon, the temperatures were warmer, and there was no snow.
At higher elevation, I found the Bright Angel Trail (pictured above) to have more snow than the South Kaibab Trail.
See more pictures of this national park in winter: Grand Canyon in December
Also see how much snow there is right now by checking the webcams at the Grand Canyon!
Zion National Park in winter
At Zion National Park, as per the National Park Service:
Winters in Zion National Park are cold and often wet.
Temperatures can range from highs of 50-60°F during the day to lows well below freezing at night.
Nearly half of the annual precipitation in Zion Canyon falls between the months of December and March.
After winter storms, snow typically disappears within a matter of hours at lower elevations.
At higher elevations, the snow accumulates.
When I was in Zion in December, there was minimal snow on the ground.
Driving through the park, there was sometimes a little bit of snow left on the side of the road that hadn’t melted.
Overall, there was minimal snow to be seen in Zion.
See more pictures of this national park in winter: Zion in December
At Bryce Canyon National Park, as per the National Park Service:
Snowstorms in October are not unusual, yet there are also many sunny and pleasant autumn days during the month.
From October to May temperatures fall below freezing nearly every night.
The park typically experiences its coldest and snowiest periods from December through February.
Spring storms in March and April can still produce heavy snowfall that may impact travel in the region.
When I was in Bryce Canyon in December, in short, there was SNOW!
Bryce Canyon seems like a GREAT national park to go to if you want a high chance of seeing a good amount of snow any time during winter.
See more pictures of this national park in winter: Bryce Canyon in December
Also check the weather forecast often, including during your winter national parks trip!
It can be good to start looking at the weather forecast more closely once you start getting 1 to 2 weeks out.
It will be important to be flexible with your plans in case there are any blizzards, snowstorms, or otherwise bad weather that could impact driving conditions and activities.
Be sure to check during your trip too.
Weather forecasts can change, and if there’s snowfall predicted for a few hours, then you might want to plan it so you’re off the road, or at least on the road less, so you don’t have to drive as much in unsafe driving conditions!
Be prepared to make changes to your plans in the case that there’s an impending snowstorm coming so you can get out of there before it hits!
And that’s a bit about exploring some national parks in the Southwest!
More details to plan your national park vacation:
- Top 3 ways to hike the Grand Canyon’s popular trail
- How to spend one day in Zion
- How to spend one day in Bryce Canyon
- Best winter hikes in Bryce Canyon to see the hoodoos!
HAPPY NATIONAL PARKS WINTER ROAD TRIP IN ARIZONA AND UTAH!
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