7 Utah Winter Festivals Worth Waking from Your Long Winter’s Nap
Nov 13, 2017
By: Adam Hancock
We’re mammals. We’re warm-blooded. We share 80% of our DNA with black bears, so it’s natural we feel like hibernating when the weather turns. But Utah has seven winter festivals that will make you want to embrace the 20%.
Grab the kids and venture out into the snow. Cross-country skiing, hot air balloons, indie movies, yule log wishes, 4X4 trails, a polar bear plunge, a giant mirror ball and more are hiding in all six of Utah’s corners.
Settling down for a long winter’s nap might sound nice, but nothing beats getting out and making memories.
7. Winter 4x4 Jamboree // ST. GEORGE
January 17–29, 2019
$40 registration fee
Nothing says winter like a 4X4 rock crawl, right? For a very different winter experience, take your Jeep/buggy/etc. on a non-competitive trail run in Hurricane, Utah. Professional guides lead you at a leisurely pace on trails that afford views of Zion National Park, Pine Valley Mountain and more. Your $40 registration fee goes to support the Utah Public Lands Alliance, the Utah 4 Wheel Drive Association and Share Trails/Blue Ribbon for the preservation and promotion of public lands. Afterward, enjoy the fairground’s vendor shows, food trucks, raffle, live music and barbecue.
6. Winter Solstice Celebration at Red Butte Garden // SALT LAKE CITY
December 15, 2018, 9:00 a.m. – noon.
$6 adult, $3.50 child (ages 3-17)
After winter solstice, the sun creeps higher in the sky and the days begin to grow longer. Celebrate the return of the light at Red Butte Gardens. There, garden-goers will make head wreaths of laurel, candles of beeswax, and wishes at the Yule log. Known for its profusion of flowers and leafy trees, the gardens in winter transform into a hushed wintry landscape. Warm your hands at fire barrels as you wander the gardens, sip hot chocolate and make holiday crafts.
February 16-18, 2019
Ruby’s Inn, Bryce Canyon, Utah
In winter, Bryce Canyon is a wonderland of red rock topped with frosting. Historic Ruby’s Inn hosts their annual winterfest with an archery biathlon, cross-country ski race, photo contest and fat bikes in the snow. Among the prizes is a two-night stay at Ruby’s Inn, the closest lodging to Bryce Canyon. If you want to participate in one of the races, call in advance to enter.
The non-competitive will enjoy pottery classes, kayaking in an indoor pool and/or snowshoeing in extra-pretty Bryce Canyon.
4. Balloons & Tunes Roundup // KANAB
February 15–17, 2019
Free (buy a T-shirt to vote in the Battle of the Bands)
Witness the colorful spectacle of hot air balloons rising against a red rock backdrop at Vermilion Cliffs, located near Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. Balloons are launched every morning for three days during Presidents’ Day weekend. Stay Friday and Saturday night for a rockin’ good time at the Battle of the Bands on Main Street in Kanab. This winterfest also hosts a street fair with vendor booths. Make a wish and light up the night with a balloon glow and wishing lantern launch on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m.
3. Sundance Film Festival // PARK CITY & SALT LAKE CITY
January 24–February 3, 2019
$20 per ticket
Robert Redford’s filmmaker retreat has become an indie movie lover’s dream. Dozens of independent film screenings come to Park City and other Utah locations. Many of the screenings are followed by a Q&A with directors and cast. If movie music is more your thing, visit the Film Music Showcase and a Film Music Roundtable. There’s also the Filmmaker Lodge, Music Café, Digital Center and Sundance House. Just being in Park City ups your chances of seeing a bona fide celebrity or feeling movie magic. Preorder tickets are available online. If you can’t snag a ticket, most screenings have a wait list line. Dress warm and eat lots of popcorn.
2. Bear Lake Monster Winterfest // BEAR LAKE
January 25–26, 2018
Free (charity donations encouraged)
Have you ever wanted to jump into freezing water in January? While wearing a costume? For charity? Of course you haven’t. It’s preposterous. But… now that we mention it… doesn’t it sound sort of awesome? Of course it does! Okay then. What you’re gonna wanna do is drive up toward the Utah-Idaho border and take the Monster Polar Plunge. Pay $30 for the privilege of cosplaying an ice-dwelling monster and your contribution goes to Common Ground, an organization that helps youth and adults with disabilities participate in outdoor activities.
To add to the bone-chilling fun, stand knee-deep in ice water to try your hand at netting the Bonneville cisco, a finger-length fish. Then enter your catch in the Monster Cisco Tournament, a competition to see who can catch the largest of these tiny guys. Afterward, there’s a fish fry on the beach, several raffles, chili cook-off and an outdoor expo. This event puts the winter in winterfest. And then underlines and circles it. Then it italicizes fest, too.
1. Last Hurrah // SALT LAKE CITY
December 31, 2018
Indoor & outdoor games, drinks that’ll warm you up with live music all the while, punctuated by midnight fireworks. The first installment of Last Hurrah — which replaces EVE as downtown Salt Lake City’s year-end bash — is highlighted by sets from DJ Flash & Flare, Afro-Brazilian drum/fire troupe Samba Fogo, psych-rockers Crook & the Flame and local-turned-national folk hero Joshua James.
So, to recap: Firstly, the last EVE was last year; lastly, the first Last Hurrah starts toward the end of the last day of this year and goes till the first part of next year’s first day. And it’s free.