A winter vacation exploring Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks offers you breathtaking scenery and activities that are suitable for any fitness level. Hiking, canyoneering, ATV adventures, cross-country skiing and camping are just some of the fun you’ll have exploring two of the nation’s most scenic National Parks. As an added bonus, winter visitation means fewer crowds and empty trails!
While Southwest Utah’s scenery is unsurpassed year-round, a glimpse of its winter splendor is unforgettable after a snowfall. Feast your eyes on the white-capped peaks of Angel’s Landing or indulge in the mesmerizing hoodoos of Bryce Canyon. To help you get started on this bucket list adventure, follow our four-day road trip itinerary.
DAY 1 – ZION NATIONAL PARK
Begin your exploration of Zion National Park by driving the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which begins outside of the park at the intersection of Highway 9 and Interstate 15. You’re in luck because this drive through Zion is only open to private vehicles during the winter months. Plan to spend a few hours on this excursion while you enjoy the scenery and make stops along the 54-mile drive.
Before entering the park, you’ll be passing through several small towns such as Rockville. Visit the ghost town of Grafton, the perfect place to capture photographic memories where the movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was featured.
Once you enter the park, make a detour to the visitor center where you’ll get up-to-date information on winter road conditions and other tips for planning your day. Pick up brochures or maps and watch the film about the park’s history.
Allow additional time to visit the Human History Museum to view exhibits about the area’s pioneering history, landscape and much more. Stretch your legs and snap some photos at the breathtaking vistas and viewpoints along the way. You’ll also enjoy other scenic opportunities such as wildlife viewing. Keep an eye out for mountain lions, desert bighorn sheep and if you’re lucky, American black bears that call the park home.
The end of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive leaves you at Mount Carmel Junction, where you can explore various trails like the unique Belly of the Dragon Trail or head back into the park in time for a sunset hike. The 0.5-mile Canyon Overlook Trail is perfect for watching the landscape turn fiery red.
Where to Eat & Stay Near Zion National Park
Your first two nights will be spent in Springdale, Utah, located just minutes from the entrance to Zion National Park. The town has plenty of chain and boutique hotels to choose from. For a charming stay with breathtaking views, consider booking a room at the Majestic View Lodge or Desert Pearl Inn.
After a day in the park, savor a scrumptious meal at the Stage Coach Grille. Here you’ll find a delicious variety of American cuisine. Enjoy mouthwatering steaks, burgers, or seafood in an old-fashioned saloon.
DAY 2 – ZION NATIONAL PARK
After touring the park by vehicle, you may be ready to explore Zion’s most popular attractions by foot. Prepare for trails that may be covered in ice and snow. Check-in at the visitor center to learn more about current trail conditions.
Angel’s Landing is considered a strenuous hike and encompasses about 2.5 miles one way. The last half mile of the trail requires hikers to hold onto chains as they climb the ridge toward the top. The trail is not recommended for children or people who are afraid of heights. Expect to spend between three and six hours hiking. A new permit system requires all hikers who want to access the final portion of the trail to apply for a permit beforehand.
Pro Tip: With fluctuating temperatures and conditions during winter, make sure to bring plenty of layers and wear proper hiking shoes. The summit of Angel’s Landing can be icy and windy in winter.
For an easier and family-friendly hike, check out the three-mile Emerald Pools Trail. This shorter and less strenuous hike offers equally gorgeous views and an opportunity to see waterfalls.
Zion Park Boulevard
After you’ve worked up an appetite, head back to Springdale to explore Zion Park Boulevard. Grab a table at Whiptail Grill Zion for delicious Mexican fusion cuisine served in a former gas station.
After lunch, consider visiting the numerous shops. Stop in at Springdale Candy Company for hand-dipped chocolate or homemade fudge. You’ll be in cocoa heaven the minute you enter the door and that sweet smell fills your nose. Or, warm up your day with a hot coffee at Perks! Don’t forget to browse the souvenirs at Trailhead Gifts and Gear to remind you of your trip to Zion National Park.
DAY 3 – BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Begin day three of your Southwest Utah road trip bright and early. The drive from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park takes about 1.5 hours.
Bryce Canyon Amphitheater
Start your adventure with a scenic drive that takes you to the must-see sights at Bryce Canyon. No doubt, you’ll discover plenty of picturesque moments worth remembering—a winter visit delivers scenes of glistening white snow, red rocks, blue skies and evergreen trees. You’ll need about three hours to drive to the 13 viewpoints along the park’s 38-mile round-trip scenic drive. In addition, you’ll find hiking trails and picnic areas along the way. Or take the shuttle and sit back and enjoy the ride.
A drive around the Bryce Amphitheater should focus on the first three miles. After your stop at the visitor center, continue for about 1.5 miles until you reach Bryce Point. The road leading to Bryce Point is about two miles long and ends at one of the park’s most popular overlooks. Get your camera ready!
Where to Eat & Stay Near Bryce Canyon National Park
After your day in the park, consider Bryce Canyon Pines Restaurant for dinner. The restaurant is among the top-rated restaurants by visitors to Bryce Canyon, and you can’t go wrong with the elk burger. Looking for a place to stay? Not only does Bryce Canyon Pines offer delectable dishes to satisfy famished hikers, but they also offer cozy accommodations.
DAY 4 – BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Spend your last day at this beautiful National Park by exploring the trails. The Queen’s Garden Trail & Navajo Loop Hike is one of the most popular hikes in Bryce Canyon. From towering rock spires to snow-dusted flora, admire visual delights you’ll never forget.
Park your car at Sunset Point where the beginning of the Queen’s Garden Trail starts. The hike is considered moderately challenging and usually takes about three hours to complete. The total trek is 2.9 miles if you include the 1.5-mile Navajo Loop. Feast your eyes on the geological wonders of the world known as hoodoos. Although these tall, thin rock formations are found all over the world, you’ll find an abundance of them right here in Bryce Canyon.
Top off your visit to Bryce Canyon with an evening under starry skies. Indeed, the winter’s cold, clear skies will make stargazing a spectacular event as you view the Milky Way from the dark depths of Bryce Canyon. Plan to stargaze from Sunset Point or Inspiration Point and revel in the beauty of thousands of stars for your trip’s grand finale!