Visiting Bryce Canyon in December
Learn all about what to expect visiting Bryce Canyon National Park in December (Written by Erin McCarthy)
December marks the beginning of the winter season in Bryce Canyon—the landscape is muted by a blanket of freshly fallen snow. The trails beckon to be explored on snowshoes or cross-country skis. It’s a spectacular time to visit due to the low number of visitors and fun winter activities. The annual Christmas Bird Count is held a few days before Christmas, where you can collect data to help monitor winter bird populations in Bryce Canyon. If you are at the Park on Christmas Day, be advised the Visitor Center and fee booths will be closed. Below is our complete guide to the winter wonderland that is Bryce Canyon in December.
benefits of visiting bryce canyon in December
The biggest advantage to visiting Bryce Canyon in December is the small number of visitors. The Bryce Amphitheater area—by far the most popular section of the Park—can be seen by snowshoes or cross-country skis and without the usual parking lot hassles. The free shuttle runs throughout the Bryce Amphitheater in December too. Be among the few people to see the fins, hoodoos, and slot canyons covered in snow.
drawbacks of visiting in december
The biggest drawback of visiting Bryce Canyon in December is unpredictable road closures. During snowstorms in the Park, the main road will be closed until the snow is cleared, beginning at mile marker 3.
In December, there are seasonal trail closures due to safety concerns. The Wall Street section of the Navajo Loop trail is closed in the winter due to rockfall danger. If you decide to hike, snowshoe, or cross-country ski along the Rim Trail, be advised it is closed in the winter between Inspiration and Bryce Points due to snow cornices. Fewer facilities are available in the winter (restrooms, dining, and lodging); so plan ahead as much as possible.
things to do in december
The small number of visitors in December makes Bryce Canyon a winter wonderland to be explored on foot, snowshoe, cross-country ski, or by vehicle. Here are a few suggestions for December activities.
Christmas Bird Count: This event has taken place every year since 1900. You’ll be collecting data that will protect endangered populations and crucial habitats. There are varying route options so you can participate at any fitness level. An important and fun activity for the whole family!
Cross-Country Skiing: Cross-country skiing trails in Bryce Canyon are groomed beginning in December. The Paria ski loop is 3.5 miles of beautiful, gently sloping solitude. If you have more time and are looking for a shorter ski trail, travel down to the southern tip of the Park at Rainbow Point, and ski the 0.7 miles of the Bristlecone Loop Trail. Venture outside the park to find several miles of groomed cross-country ski trails. If you need to rent skis, check out the nearby Ruby’s Inn in Bryce Canyon City.
Hiking/Snowshoeing: Another fun outdoor activity in the winter is hiking. Hike the Rim Trail with snowshoes, or spikes for hiking shoes. One of the most highly recommended winter activities is a ranger-led full-moon snowshoe hike. Check out the calendar to see if it works for your December visit. Snowshoes are provided free of charge.
Take a Scenic Drive: If you’re not keen on winter sports, you can take a scenic drive through the 18-mile-long Park road (if conditions allow) and effortlessly marvel at the many breathtaking viewpoints.
hiking in december
It is essential to be well-prepared for the conditions when hiking in Bryce Canyon in December. Since Bryce Canyon is at a high elevation, snowfall in December is almost guaranteed. Depending on the amount of snow, you may need different equipment. In the freshly fallen snow, you’ll need snowshoes to explore. If the snow has melted but ice remains on the trail, it is highly recommended to wear waterproof boots with spikes to avoid falling and potential injuries. Bring warm layers, 4 liters of water, and keep in mind that the sun sets early in December. It’s always a good idea to pack a headlamp just in case dusk settles in on you. Enjoy the almost deafening silence and blissful solitude in one of the most iconic areas of southern Utah.
The popular 3-mile Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Trail is a good winter hiking option, but remember the Wall Street section is closed during the winter. This hike will be an out-and-back instead of a loop.
Booking a guided tour allows you to maximize your time in Bryce Canyon. Wildland Trekking offers private guided day hikes and luxurious inn-based tours in the month of January. Let a local, knowledgeable guide teach you the natural and cultural history of Bryce Canyon while you take in the expansive views.
Winter backpacking in the park is permitted, but only the most experienced backpackers should venture out in these conditions. Make sure to purchase a backcountry permit.
weather in December
Expect low temperatures and snow on the trails in December. The average high is 36 and the average low is 15 degrees Fahrenheit (2/-9 degrees Celsius). December snow accumulation is typically 14 inches on average. Be prepared for winter conditions by bringing plenty of water, high-calorie snacks, and warm layers.
join a guided hiking adventure
Booking a trip to Bryce Canyon National Park is the opportunity to experience one of the most scenic hiking vacations in the United States. The biggest advantage to booking a guided tour is that it will allow you to focus your energy entirely on enjoying this iconic area. Permits, local transportation (excluded on some day tours), meals, and gear are all figured out for you on a Wildland Trekking tour.
Wildland Trekking offers several options for guided inn-based and camping tours in the southern Utah area. You’ll have the chance to see magnificent rock formations, learn about the cultural and natural history of the area, and enjoy some solitude all while having the adventure of a lifetime.
BRYCE CANYON ADVENTURE TOURS
- INN-BASED HIKING PACKAGES: these tours are all-inclusive packages with lodging, amazing daily hikes, expert guides, meals, transportation and more!
- BRYCE CAMPING TOURS: camping-based hiking packages provide all-around hiking experiences of Bryce on wonderful outdoor vacations.
- BRYCE DAY HIKE TOURS: maximize your day in Bryce on a fully guided, award-winning hiking tour of one of the Park’s best trails.
- ALL UTAH HIKING TOURS: check out a full list of Utah offerings, which include Bryce Canyon, the North Rim, Arches, Canyonlands and more.
- UTAH BACKPACKING TRIPS: explore options for discovering Utah on an all-inclusive backpacking trip with expert guides and mind-blowing scenery.
About the Author
Erin McCarthy is a freelance writer and former Colgate University Outdoor Education Leader. When Erin isn’t writing, she is exploring the mountains and rivers of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. You can view her complete portfolio at www.erinannmccarthy.com.