Utah

10 Incredible Winter Hikes in Utah

by Liz Dengler
Updated October 07, 2021

Best Winter Hiking Trails in Utah
Photo: Stephen Moehle / Shutterstock

The state of endless trails and numerous national parks, Utah is an adventurer’s playground all year — and that certainly includes the winter.

With diverse terrain and environments that run the gamut from the Wasatch Range mountains to desert canyons and arches, you can always find a hike in Utah, even in the winter. And, bonus: winter hiking in Utah usually means less crowded trails.

Remember that winter hiking poses unique challenges. Snow and low sun angles produce conditions that can cause icy spots on trails, even in the desert. Make sure you pack your traction devices or snowshoes (or both, depending on the hike) and expect each hike to take longer than it would were you doing it in the summer. You’ll also need extra water and snacks since you’ll likely be burning more calories in colder weather.

If you’re doing any winter hiking in Utah, you run the risk of entering avalanche terrain. Make sure you’re avy-savvy and check out the Utah Avalanche Center conditions report before going out.

1. Petrified Dunes Trail

Petrified Dunes Trail
Photo: Cindy Larson / Shutterstock

Why you should go: For a stunning introduction to the region’s geology (and a warmer spot to camp in the winter).

  • Nearest town: St. George
  • Distance: 1.4 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet

Snow Canyon State Park is just a bit north of St. George and is one the warmest parts of Utah. With fairly mild winters that get little snowfall, Snow Canyon is great for winter hiking in Utah. There are plenty of trails to choose from, but a good starting one is the easy Petrified Dunes Trail. It’s a good option if you’re looking for a nice intro to the area or a trail to do with the kids. The trail traverses onto slickrock sandstone formed from ancient dunes, so you can do some light, non-technical scrambling off-trail if you want. You can do this as a simple out-and-back if you just want to stroll for a few minutes to stretch your legs.

If you’re looking for something longer, the Petrified Dunes/Lava Loop is a more challenging 4.3-mile loop that hits some of the park’s main highlights. There isn’t much shade, but it’s a great option if you want to be out for a bit longer. It’s more challenging, but still has only 550 feet of elevation gain. The only caveat is that the trail can be a little difficult to follow as it meanders through a dry wash and weaves through some brush on a sandy trail. Just keep your eyes peeled for the trail, and use an app like the Hiking Project mobile app, Gaia, or AllTrails to help keep you on the path.

2. Delicate Arch Trail

Delicate Arch Trail
Photo: Sebastien Burel / Shutterstock

Why you should go: See Arches covered in a dusting of snow — it’s one of the most picturesque sights in Utah.

  • Nearest town: Moab
  • Distance: 3.1 miles
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Elevation gain: 570 feet

Often considered the pinnacle of Utah outdoor experiences, a trip to Moab and into Arches National Park is a must-do if you love natural beauty. The park boasts over 2,000 natural stone arches and hundreds of spires, pinnacles, and fins. Though Arches is in the desert and generally warmer than the mountains, it can get quite cold in the winter and often will have a dusting of snow in the mornings.

A must-do winter hike in Utah is Delicate Arch. It’s not too challenging, but you might want to bring some traction devices for the occasional icy spot hidden in the shadows. This out-and-back trek  leads to a beautiful spot above Delicate Arch.

With the distant snow-capped mountains silhouetting the stunning arch, this spot is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon or watch the sunset. There are a couple of narrow spots near the top of the trail, so watch your footing.

If you head up for sunset, remember it will be quite cold and dark on the hike back out. Pack an extra layer and a headlamp and take your time on the slippery spots.

3. Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch
Photo: Colin D. Young / Shutterstock

Why you should go: Easy, family-friendly hike to a stunning spot with expansive views.

  • Nearest town: Moab
  • Distance: .7 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation gain: 65 feet

Canyonlands National Park is a seemingly endless world of canyons, rivers, buttes, and stunning sandstone. The region is massive, and the park is divided into four districts that take hours to connect. Luckily, the two Utah winter hikes below are near one another and have views into the Canyonlands world.

The first hike is out to Mesa Arch. This easy hike is stunning at any time but is especially beautiful when snow coats the landscape. It’s a loop to a natural arch with expansive views of the canyon and rocky spires along the way to leave you awed and anxious for more. At only .7 miles long and with minimal elevation change, this route is perfect for young kids.

Just down the road is the hike to an overlook of Upheaval Dome, a fascinating geologic feature in the desert. It’s about 1.4 miles round-trip so it’s a little harder, but with just 300 feet of climbing, it’s still good for beginners. And at the top, you’ll see the crater. The erratic sandstone configurations and presence of quartz led scientists to believe a meteorite impact created the huge crater further shaped by erosion in more recent times.

4. Angel’s Landing

Angel's Landing
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: A strenuous but iconic winter hike in southwest Utah.

  • Nearest town: Springdale
  • Distance: 4.4 miles
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet

Zion National Park is game changer. Huge cliff walls, narrow canyons, and beautiful trails are iconic to this park and the landscapes are some of the most defining visions of Utah. Winter is a gorgeous time to visit, thought the main road closes when snowstorms roll through, so try to time your visit accordingly. Expect most winter hiking trails to be snow-covered and packed out. You’ll definitely want your traction devices with you as you head out to explore this park.

If you’re looking for some epic winter hiking in Utah, head straight to Angel’s Landing, the most iconic hike in Zion National Park. But remember: it’s a strenuous hike in the best of conditions and can be downright dangerous in winter. Be prepared and know what you’re doing. Snow and ice can pack the trail and make an already tenuous hike even more dangerous.

However, the views down the canyon from Angle’s Landing make the perilous ascent well-worth the effort.

5. Queens Garden Navajo Loop Trail

Queens Garden Navajo Loop Trail
Photo: Ryan Kelehar / Shutterstock

Why you should go: For a magical experience hiking among snow-covered, red-sandstone hoodoos.

  • Nearest town: Tropic
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Elevation gain: 615 feet

Bryce Canyon National Park is one of those places you could explore top-to-bottom in the winter months. Unfortunately, the park closes many of the roads due to snowfall risks (and for maintenance). Luckily, some areas remain open, so you’ll have no trouble finding something to hike.

A popular loop is the Queens Garden Navajo Loop Trail. The loop drops down from the rim via a relatively moderate slope. However, with the snow, you’ll want traction devices to help keep your footing. The trail can get a bit narrow in places and the climb back out of the canyon can feel long, but the views along the loop are so stunning you probably won’t even notice.

Snow-covered, multi-colored hoodoos line the canyon walls as you descend. As you climb back out, don’t forget to look around on occasion to experience the ever more expansive views as you near the rim.

6. Donut Falls

Donut Falls
Photo: Nick Spinder / Shutterstock

Why you should go: Remote trek to a unique winter waterfall.

  • Nearest town: Solitude
  • Distance: 3.0-mile round trip
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Elevation gain: 615 feet

The road through Big Cottonwood Canyon on the edge of Salt Lake City leads to some of the country’s premier ski resorts. However, it also leads to some of the best hiking in the Wasatch Range. If you’re looking for an adventurous winter hike in Utah for the family (and have appropriate traction devices for all), the hike to Donut Falls will suit.

The trail is popular and will likely be packed snow or packed ice for most of the hike. You’ll wind along the creek before reaching a boulder field that leads up to the falls. Be very careful ascending the last stretch to the falls as it can be very slippery. In fact, many folks like to turn around at the bridge and forgo the push to the falls, which is totally fine.

But the view from the top of the falls is gratifying. Water typically pours through the roof of the cave in the summer, but you can expect icicles near the roof in the winter. If it’s been particularly cold, the falls may be almost completely frozen.

Another amazing option for winter hiking in the canyon is the trek to Lake Blanche. It’s a seven-mile out-and-back hike with 2,600 feet of elevation gain, so it’s a bit more strenuous than the last. However, the grade is fairly consistent, and the views of the massive surrounding peaks from the frozen lake are breathtaking.

7. Silver Lake

Silver Lake
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: You’ll be walking in a winter wonderland.

  • Nearest town: Alpine
  • Distance: 8.9 miles
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Elevation gain: 2,420 feet

Tucked in the mountains, the trail to Silver Lake makes for a beautiful and rewarding hike. As you head up the canyon to reach the trailhead, you’ll slowly be transported into a remote and snowy wonderland. You’ll likely have to hike from the lower parking lot up to the trailhead, making the trip a bit longer than it would be in the summer and fall. The gain and distance above will totally depend on how close you’re able to park.

The trail initially follows the forest road past Silver Lake Flat before reaching the official trail and ascending into the alpine environment. You wind through the mixed forest before reaching a small dam below the lake. Once above the dam, you’ll have views of the Silver Lake ringed by high, snowy peaks. The edge of the frozen lake is a wonderful place to enjoy a picnic before heading back down. It can get pretty cold toward the top, so bring one more layer than you think you’ll need.

8. Little Cottonwood Trail

Little Cottonwood Trail
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: A family-friendly out-and-back on the water for birding or winter wildlife viewing.

  • Nearest town: Sandy
  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation gain: 1,040 feet

Little Cottonwood Trail starts near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon and follows the river. The trail has a very consistent and mellow grade and is perfect for families and all skill levels. You can take the trail out and turn back at any point, but the full hike heads all the way to the campground before heading back.

It’s a lovely spot to spend a little time enjoying the wonders of winter in the canyon and do some wildlife viewing. Though the trail is mellow, traction devices or snowshoes may make for a more sure-footed experience.

9. Diamond Fork (Fifth Water) Hot Springs

Diamond Fork (Fifth Water) Hot Springs
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: A beautiful hike to remote hot springs draped in snow.

  • Nearest town: Mapleton
  • Distance: Up to 13 miles
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Elevation gain: up 1,100 feet

The Diamond Fork Hot Spring pops up on top Utah hiking lists every year, and for good reason. The hike ends at several tiered hot spring pools of varying temperatures, and one even has a waterfall pouring into it. The springs are completely free and one of the nicest spots to spend an afternoon on a snowy winter day in Utah.

That said, come winter, the round-trip hike is over double the distance than in the summer due to a road closure, though the benefit is that the extra distance keeps a lot of folks away. You’ll have to walk along the unplowed road for a bit, so bring your snowshoes.

Once on the trail, it’s a pleasant hike that gently ascends through the woods to the hot spring. There isn’t anything quite as enjoyable as soaking in a hot spring after a long hike on a snowy day.

10. Hellhole Trail

Hellhole Trail
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: Quiet, remote Utah winter hike for when you want to escape the crowds.

  • Nearest town: Saint George
  • Distance: 3.4 miles
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Elevation gain: 265 feet

Near Saint George, where the temperatures are generally milder than in the mountains in the winter, is the western unit of the Red Cliffs Conservation Area. This section of hiking country is often overlooked by its nearby cousin, Snow Canyon State Park.

Luckily, that means that this region will be a lot less crowded, and you should have a quieter hike. The Hellhole Trail is usually especially lonely as it is unmarked and generally follows a sandy, rocky wash most of the way. The trail winds into the canyon and ends at an unassuming waterfall — a beautiful spot to have a picnic lunch.

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