Winter Outdoor Activities
NPS photo by Jan Stock
Ranger snowshoeing “China Wall Basin” of Fairyland Loop Trail
Bryce Canyon is even more beautiful in the wintertime! For the causal visitor, hopping in and out of their warm car at the overlooks to see the striking contrast of white snow, red rock, and blue sky might be thrilling enough. However, for the more adventurous winter recreationists, many opportunities beckon. BEFORE setting out on one of the adventures described below, stop at the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center to get up-to-date weather and safety information.
The best time of winter to visit Bryce Canyon is during the Bryce Canyon Winter Festival. This annual event is held over Presidents Day Weekend. This year’s festival will be February 12-15, 2010. Click here for more information.
Beware of Cornices
NPS photo by Ron Warner & Kevin Poe
“Photoshopped” illustration of cornice danger
Skiing, snowboarding, sledding, etc. off of the Bryce Canyon Rim into the canyon is illegal due to the highly dangerous nature of such activities and the damage to the resource they can cause. The annual 200 daily freeze-thaw cycles that form our unique hoodoos also make steep sections of the canyon susceptible to avalanches and even the more dangerous and unpredictable mud-snow slides! Though we’ve never had a fatality from such an event, visitors who ignored this warning and became victims of mud-snow slides, have been injured and badly traumatized by the experience. Avoid these hazards by staying on designated trails and NOT skiing (or sliding) off of the canyon rim!
Traction device for shoes
Shoe traction device for icy trails
After a big snowfall most of the park’s day-hiking trails require snowshoes. However, after a few days of melt, and with continued use, the trails become so well packed and icy that snowshoes are often more of a liability. For much of the winter the most popular trails are so icy that steep sections cannot be safely traversed without some sort of additional traction device for your hiking shoes or boots. While mountaineering crampons work fine, they are heavier and much more expensive than the traction devices pictured at left. The Bryce Canyon Natural History Association’s bookstore at the Visitor Center sells such pairs of such devices for the discounted price of $27.
ranger guiding a snowshoe hike
NPS photo by Kevin Poe
Ranger Patrick Hair leads a snowshoe hike
Snowshoeing is allowed throughout the park. Though snowshoes make it possible to travel through deep powdery snow, snowshoeing is still a highly strenous activity. “Most people can snowshoe about as far as they can swim!” cautions Park Ranger Kevin Poe. “Especially if you haven’t been taught good technique!” adds Poe’s colleague, Park Ranger and Snowshoe Instructor Patrick Hair. These gentleman and other rangers offer snowshoe guided hikes (when snow depth is sufficient) every weekend and sporadically during the week. Designed for beginner snowshowers, but also enjoyed by experts, these outings help you learn or refine your showshoe technique, while also teaching winter ecology and other winter survival skills. High-tech MSR snowshoes are provided for all participants of ranger guided snowshoe activities. Sign up at the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center or make a reservation by calling 435-834-4747. Attendence is free. For an exciting twist join us for Full moon snowshoe hikes.
skiing along canyon rim with hoodoos in the background
photo by Dan Ng & Kevin Poe
Cross-country skiing near Sunset Point
Another great way to explore Bryce Canyon is on cross-country skis. Though it is illegal to ski off of the rim into the canyon, you can enjoy a variety of routes above the rim. These include the rim trail between Bryce Point and Fairyland Point; Bristlecone Loop; Paria Ski Loop; and the unplowed Paria View and Fairyland Point roads.
On rare occasions when the snow depth allows, you can ski into the bottom of the Bryce Amphitheater from the outskirts of the town of Tropic. Another nearby favorite that allows for skiing among hoodoos, is the Red Canyon Bike Path. Also outside of the park, Bryce Canyon City maintains many miles of groomed ski trails. If you don’t have your own skis, cross-country skis as well as snowshoe equipment can be rented in Bryce Canyon City.
backpacker in winter scene
NPS photo by Jan Stock
Backpacker in winter scene
Bryce Canyon’s backcountry is difficult anytime of year but it is especially challenging in the winter. Concerns are not limited to just deep snow and sub-zero temperatures, more importantly following the trail can be extremely challenging when covered in deep snow. Losing the trail makes it difficult to find the key routes back up to the rim and the Rainbow Point Road. For this and other reasons (open fires are prohibited, access road may be closed for several days after a big storm, etc.) winter backcountry permits are issued to only the most experienced and well prepared adventurers. Ski and/or snowshoe equipment is highly recommended. If you don’t have your own equipment snowshoe and cross-country equipment can be rented in Bryce Canyon City. Click here for more information about backcountry camping.
Although sledding is allowed above the canyon rim (sledding off of the canyon rim being strictly prohibited), there are very few suitable places within the boundaries of Bryce Canyon National Park to enjoy sledding. Local residents prefer to do their sledding in nearby Red Canyon.
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Main entrance sign with Interpretation staff
Did You Know?
Bryce Canyon, first designated Bryce Canyon National Monument on June 8, 1923; reached National Park status on September 15, 1928.