It is that time of year again. The holidays are over, the new year is ahead. Time to start thinking about what family trips to plan in the next few months. With winter breaks it always seems like there are only two options…ski trips or beach resorts. But what about those of us that like to escape the cold but want to be active? I don’t know about you but I’ve had the Big 5 National Parks on my bucket list for a while, but I always wonder what it would be like in places like Zion National Park in winter.
We always bring up the Utah National Parks when picking a March break destination but I can never quite decide if it will be too cold to enjoy the outdoors. At the same time, we know we don’t want to be there when the parks are like a furnace in the summer with temps soaring over 90 degrees. A quick check shows that it is currently 52 degrees Fahrenheit in Zion (unlike the 12 degrees at home!) March shows average highs of 66 and lows of 38. I can handle that. Actually, mid-60s sounds pretty nice for hiking and other adventures. Add in smaller crowds and I’m sold it is a good idea — time to start planning.
This post is written in partnership with Visit St. George, Utah.
Things to do in St. George, Utah in Winter
Located in southern Utah, St. George is an outdoor adventure destination and a jumping off point for exploring Zion National Park. Located just 90 minutes from Las Vegas, it is easy (and affordable) to get to from many U.S. cities. St. George is ideal for adventurous families and outdoor enthusiasts with activities like hiking, horseback riding, off-roading, jeep tours, ziplining, bouldering, canyoneering, and of course golfing on St. George’s championship courses.
When we go, I know rock climbing, canyoneering in slot canyons, and star gazing would be at the top of our list. My friend Karilyn also put together this list of epic things to do near Zion National Park.
In addition to Zion National Park, the St. George area is also home to four state parks. One thing I’ve found in our travels is that state parks are often just as beautiful as National Parks — but without the overwhelming crowds.
- Snow Canyon State Park – nine miles north of St. George, Snow Canyon State Park is known for its unique geological features including volcanic cones, sand dunes, deep red sandstone cliffs and twisted layers of rock. No wonder it is often used as a backdrop to Hollywood movies! There are plenty of hikes, but you can also bike through the park and all the way down to St. George.
- Quail Creek State Park — fourteen miles north of St. George, Quail Creek State Park’s main attraction is the reservoir, making a perfect spot for fishing. Its 120-foot depths are stocked with rainbow trout, bullhead catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, and bluegill.
- Sand Hollow State Park — 15 miles east of St. George you will find what locals call “Little Lake Powell.” The Sand Hallow Reservoir is a pretty swathe of blue against the red sandstone cliffs and orange sand beaches. Resting mostly on BLM land, it is one of the most visited of Utah’s State Parks and a paradise for ATV enthusiasts, who enjoy its 15,000 acres of perfectly sculpted sand dunes.
- Gunlock State Park — Located 15 miles northwest of St. George in scenic red rock country, Gunlock State Park has a mild winter climate to make it a year-round destination. It is surrounded by rustic red rock and extinct black lava cinder cones, the reservoir attracts bass and catfish fishermen and women, as well as boaters.
Of course, winters in Southern Utah can also be wet, so it is good to scope out some indoor activities as well.
- Dinosaur Discovery Site — Paleontologists call this Dinosaur Museum “one of the ten best dinosaur track sites in the world” with thousands of fossilized dinosaur footprints. This site preserves a 200 million year old lake ecosystem that includes dinosaurs, fishes, plants, sedimentary structures, and other animals. Perfect for budding scientists!
- St. George Children’s Museum — Located in the historic Dixie Academy Building in downtown St. George, the St. George Children’s Museum is a perfect indoor activity for families with kids under the age of 12. The museum features themed-rooms with different hands-on activities including a farm room, castle room, science discovery room, theater room and more.
- Aquatic Center — If you want to swim in the winter, the Washington City Community Center, the largest indoor aquatic center in Southern Utah. It features an eight-lane 25-yard competition pool, a 10,174 square foot beach entry leisure pool with a lazy river, three-story hydro tube slide, play sets for all ages, splash pad, and a 317-gallon dump bucket.
- Ninja Warrior Gym — If it isn’t nice to get your energy out climbing cliffs, you can certainly burn it off inside at The Grip Fitness. Here you can book a class with a Ninja Warrior instructor.
- Ghost Towns — Not entirely inside, there are several ghost towns not far from St. George including Grafton, Silver Reef, and Old Irontown. Grafton is located near the Springdale entrance to Zion National Park and is recognizable as a setting of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Silver Reef features a museum in an old Wells Fargo building, and Old Irontown is a protected site where you can find beehive shaped kilns and ruins with interpretive signage.
Zion National Park in Winter
With a low elevation, Zion Canyon is relatively mild and snow seldom reaches the canyon floor, making visiting Zion enjoyable year-round. You will want to spend at least one day in Zion and while popular trails like Angels Landing may be even more challenging and precarious in the winter, but there are still plenty of hikes and biking that you can enjoy. Another nice thing about visiting in the winter is that the Zion Park Shuttle isn’t in operation, so you can drive your private vehicle into Zion Canyon and stop where you like to take short hikes or just enjoy the scenery with a Zion Canyon scenic drive.
Top of my wish list is:
- Hiking the Narrows — During the off-season you can hike into the Narrows. This is a full day hike (eight hours round trip) and you will hike a few miles up the Virgin River between towering rock walls that close in around you for an amazing experience. You will need a dry suit to keep the cold water out but these are available for rent. The top down hike is not advised in winter and high water levels may prevent access.
- Emerald Pool Trail — Open in the winter, the Lower Emerald Pool trail is easy with only minor drop-offs but leads you to waterfalls and only takes about an hour round trip.
- Weeping Rock Trail — Weeping Rock Trail is short (only ½ hour round trip) but steep. Sections may be closed in the winter, but it ends at a rock alcove with dripping springs.
- Observation Point via the East Rim Trail — if you are looking for another full-day hike (six hours round trip), the climb through Echo Canyon to the observation point is beautiful. But keep in mind that there are steep drop offs so not for little kids or those afraid of heights.
Learn more about what is open and accessible at Zion National Park in winter.
Whichever of the many activities you choose from, leave time for relaxation at the spa or the many resorts around St. George including:
So what do you think, are you planning on visiting Zion National Park this winter?
Note: This post was written as part of a paid partnership with Visit St. George and Travel Mindset, all opinions are my own. This post also contains affiliate links. If you click a link and make a purchase, I may make a small commission.