Zion Canyon offers a wonderful escape from winter's cold and snow. It is located at a low elevation where temperatures are relatively mild and snow seldom reaches the canyon floor. Auto touring, hiking and biking are enjoyable year-round in this area.
The low-elevation desert in the park's Coalpits Wash area also offers great opportunities for winter hikes.
The park's backcountry includes mountainous areas at higher elevations, where winter snowfall may be heavy. Some backcountry trails are suitable for snowshoeing and cross country skiing. Many trails cross steep slopes and descend deep canyons and are not recommended for winter recreation.
Zion's trademark slot canyons are virtually impenetrable during winter. A few hardy adventurers wearing wetsuits explore some canyons, on a very limited basis.
Popular Winter Activities
Cross country skiing/snowshoeing
Snowmobiles are not allowed to operate within the national park, but are allowed on excellent trails just outside park boundaries.
Zion Canyon is beautiful year-round and is particularly photogenic just after storms.
US Hwy 9 provides the main access to Zion National Park. In the Zion Canyon area the road almost never has snowpack - any snow that falls usually melts quickly. As the highway transverses the park's eastern section it gains elevation and crosses higher ridges where winter snowfall is common. The highway is plowed in this area and is open year-round, excerpt perhaps for brief periods during and immediately after major storms.
The Kolob Canyons Road is usually open on winter days, but may be closed temporarily by snowstorms. The road provides access to scenic overlooks that are beautiful during winter. There are several trailheads along this road but the trails lead into areas where conditions are very difficult during winter.
The Kolob Terrace Road is closed by heavy snow during the winter. The road crosses through the national park and then extends into an area of private land where there are many cabins. People with cabins in that area are allowed to drive snowmobiles up the road to access their property. Recreational snowmobiling is not allowed on the road or on adjacent national park land.
Excellent winter hiking trails can be found in Zion Canyon and in the nearby Coalpits Wash area. These trails are usually in good condition but may be muddy in spots and you may find snow and/or ice in shady areas, depending on the weather. Good winter trails include:
Lower Emerald Pool Trail
Lower Emerald Pool Trail
Trails that ascend the canyon walls are not good choices. Angels Landing and the Rim trails are often hazardous because of ice.
Weeping Rock is a good choice if you stop before you reach the alcove, well back from the falling water. During the coldest part of winter there may be unstable icicles hanging from the cliff face.
Wildlife is abundant in Zion Park and visitors often see animals as they drive through Zion Canyon and explore the park's trails. Mule deer are seen virtually every winter day on the grounds around Zion Lodge. A wide variety of songbirds stay in the park during winter, along with numerous hawks and a few eagles. Rabbits and other small mammals are also common.
The Zion Park shuttle does not operate during winter. People are allowed to drive their cars into Zion Canyon, seeing the majestic scenery from the comfort of their vehicle or stopping at convenient parking areas and taking short hikes to nearby attractions.
Daytime temperatures are usually very pleasant, even during December and January. On some days many visitors shed jackets and hike in shirtsleeves. Storms occasionally bring clouds and cold winds, but they usually blow by quickly. Hikers should dress in layers so they can adjust for the conditions they find.
Winter nights are chilly but usually not extremely cold. Many people enjoy camping in Zion Park even during the coldest parts of winter. If you have proper equipment, camping can be a fun winter adventure.
Spring comes early in the Zion area. Late February days and nights will be noticeably warmer and wildflowers will start to appear.
Zion is Utah's most visited park. During summer there are crowds everywhere in Zion Canyon. During winter there are relatively few people and it is easy to find solitude.