Utah is one of my favorite states to visit due to its high number of National, and State Parks, all in close proximity to one another. The hikes and the views are breathtaking. The problem is I am not the only person who feels this way. This means that visiting during high season (spring & summer) is very crowded & stressful. On weekends especially the parks are extremely busy & finding places to park becomes near impossible, and camping spots even more scarce. So I prefer to visit these parks in their offseason. Sure it can be a bit chilly to downright freezing but having the parks to yourself, makes it completely worthwhile. And, contrast the snow onto the red rocks and you will find yourself to be camping among the most stunning landscapes on this planet. I know many find it intimidating to camp when the temperatures are expected to be in the single digits overnight, but if done properly, it can be a safe, comfortable, & enjoyable experience. That being said here is my guide to surviving Bryce Canyon in the middle of winter.
STEP 1. Packing
When preparing for winter camping and hiking in the desert there are obvious things you need to pack.
- Sleeping bags that are made to withstand zero degrees Fahrenheit or below.
- Sleeping pads to keep you off the ground and a little warmer.
- A large tarp to both place under and over your tent in order to stay dry from the snow.
- Blankets, blankets, and more blankets. We used blankets to both line and place on top of our sleeping bags to stay warm.
- Plenty of firewood. If you think that you are going to need five bundles grab 10. It is always better to be overprepared than not.
Here is a photo of our campsite. Notice the tarp that is at the bottom, that is large enough to unfold and cover our tent. And trust me we needed that tarp when a snowstorm hit unexpectedly during the night.
Clothes to Sleep In (Temperatures reach the single digits at night)
- Underlayers. I wore two Under Armour brand pairs of leggings, underlayer socks, and one underlayer long sleeve top.
- More Layers. Over the Under Armour, I also wore a pair of fuzzy pajama bottoms, with a pair of ski pants to top it off.
- A buff for my face, and a beanie for the top of my head. (Spoiler alert! Even for me, who is always cold, this was too many layers)
We were able to sit by the fire, enjoy a glass of wine and sleep comfortably in our layers. But I did overdo it and ended up removing my coat in the middle of the night so that I wouldn't sweat and lose my body heat.
- Crampons (Spikes that help you hike on ice and snow) This is my go-to favorite winter hiking necessity!
- Waterproof hiking boots
- Buff (Keeps neck warm, can be pulled over face to keep face warm)
- Layers including a light T-shirt for when it warms up.
- Lightweight waterproof pants ( You don't want to get so warm you sweat)
Step 2: Finding a campsite.
If you are like me you don't like to pay for camping. Using my favorite free crowdsourced app Campendium, we found a free campground nearby. Georges Gift campground, located in the Dixie National Forest was right across from the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park. If you haven't ever used Campendium, I highly recommend that you download it asap. You can find campgrounds nearby or search for them by a location that you enter. Information will be available regarding cost if any, and what amenities may be available, as well as what cell service works in the area.Remember to contribute to the community by leaving a review for others on this app whenever you go camping.
Step 3: Post Packing: Where to buy food, booze, and forgotten supplies.
The answer to any of these questions is Ruby's Inn, located in the Best Western directly outside of the Bryce Canyon entrance.
Ruby's has both a grocery store and a restaurant. We were there in January 2018 and the restaurant was open from 6:30 AM to 8:00 PM. The perk of offseason is that the prices are much lower than their high season menu.
Beer and Liquor
For those of you not familiar with Utah's liquor laws, liquor and beer are sold in separate locations. You will only find 3.2% alcohol beer sold in grocery stores. If you wish to obtain higher than 3.2% beer or wine or liquor then you will have to visit a state liquor store. There is one located in the lobby of the hotel, but unfortunately, this one does not have the higher alcohol content beer, and the selection of liquor is extremely limited. FYI it is cash only.
If you forgot something or need to re-up any of your camping supplies, such as firewood, gas for your stove, etc., there is a camping supply store located behind the souvenir shop in the grocery store.
Step 4: Where to Hike
In the winter time, remember your crampons. And that you are going to need to check in at the Visitor Center to see if there are any trails that might be closed. The visitor center closes at 4:30 pm so plan accordingly. You can pick up a map of the park trails at the Visitor Center, and use that to determine where to hike. However, I prefer using the REI National Parks App. This is another great crowdsourced app that with a click of a button will show you which trails are the Best Hikes in each National Park, along with trail information such as length, difficulty level, ascents and descents on the trail, restrictions, etc. The app is free and has proven to be useful to me on numerous occasions. We chose Fairyland Loop from the app and then confirmed with the visitor center that the trail was open. It is an 8.1-mile hike that follows part of the Rim Trail and brings you down into the hoodoos. We had to start from the Sunrise Point as the Fairyland point entrance was closed. In spite of this, we were still able to hike the complete trail.
Photos from the Fairyland Loop Trail in Bryce Canyon January 2018
If you are looking for a shorter hike, I highly recommend any portion of the Rim Trail. This trail follows the rim of the canyon and allows for many breathtaking views.
Queens Garden Trail
One of the easier, but still extremely beautiful hikes of Bryce Canyon is Queens Garden Trail. This trail allows you to view many Hoodoos along the way.
Step 5: Warm Up After The Cold
After Camping in below freezing temperatures, and spending all day in the hiking in the cold temperatures, my friend and I decided to take a short drive to Mystic Hot Springs in order to warm up in the natural Hot Springs.
Mystic Hot Springs is open 24/7 so no matter what time you want to soak you can. It was $16 a person to soak, and you can also camp there, either in a tent or in one of their many hippie buses.
I hope this guide and photos inspire you to find your way to Bryce Canyon this winter. Here are some of the items that we love and use from Amazon:
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Have you ever tent camped in the winter? If so, how do you prepare? Let us know in the comments below!