Peering out of the hotel window President’s Day morning I saw light flurries blowing horizontally and a good few inches of fresh stuff on my car. I could either hop back into a warm bed for another hour or two or brave the elements and make the 10 minute drive to Sunrise Point in Bryce Canyon National Park.
Adventure rarely comes to those who get back into bed so I layered up and headed out the door leaving a sleepy curled up puppy and snoring partner. My odds of catching a sunrise beneath the rim of Bryce Canyon seemed close to zero with all those clouds, but you never know if you don’t go.
The gusts hitting the rim were exhilarating to say the least. There were a handful of Asian tourists wrapped in blankets squealing into the wind, major kudos to them for braving the storm. I turned on my headlamp, put on my microspikes and took off below the rim.
The wind was gusting and the snow was stinging my eyes as I thought to myself, “What the heck am I doing down here, in this weather by myself,” but then the clouds magically parted moments before sunrise and now I was the one squealing with delight. The sun lighting up the ominous storm clouds plus fresh white stuff on the fairyland of red rock hoodoos was enough to make me throw up my arms in the air as I ran down the twisting Queen’s Garden Trail.
This is exactly the reason I visit national parks in winter. When’s the last time you’ve had an entire national park to yourself? Bryce Canyon in winter is absolutely stunning and I guarantee I was the only person below the rim at that moment and that made the experience even more glorious.
My luck was short-lived as the clouds rolled back in and settled into the canyon and I soon found myself in near white-out conditions. I found myself back on the rim disoriented with all the blowing snow honestly having no idea which direction my car was. I could barely see my hand in from on my face let alone a white car in a white-out, but thankfully my key fob horn feature led me safely back to my car.
Hiking Bryce Canyon in Winter
Most visitors only gaze into Bryce Canyon from the rim at one of the various overlooks. Although you will have plenty of excellent views of the striking snow-covered, red rock hoodoos below with only venturing a few moments from your warm car, the real sights to be seen involve stepping below the rim.
Trails leading into the canyon are steep and often snow-covered and icy in winter so traction devices for your boots are almost always necessary. The Queen’s Garden Trail from Sunrise Point is a great choice in winter and connects several other trails below the rim. Depending on snow levels, snowshoeing can be an excellent way to see the park and the rangers lead FREE guided snowshoe tours daily. See the Bryce Canyon website for details on winter activities in the park.
Where to Stay in Bryce Canyon in Winter
Bryce Canyon sits at around 8,000 feet so it can be pretty chilly in the winter for even the most hardcore of campers. One loop of the North Campground in Bryce Canyon National Park is open during the winter months and it is first come first serve although there usually isn’t a lot of competition.
Ruby’s Inn is your best (and only) bet if you want to stay close to the park. Ruby’s Inn has several lodging options including some dog friendly rooms and rates can be very reasonable in the winter. Dining options are very limited so bring your camp stove and plenty of groceries if you don’t want to have to be lining up for Ruby’s cowboy buffet each evening.
For all sorts of family fun, visit during the Bryce Canyon Winter Festival. Held annually over President’s weekend, the winter festival features demos, clinics, and activities for all ages including yoga classes, fat bike demos, photography clinics, guided tours, and even an archery clinic and biathlon race.
Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park with Dogs
Unlike the Canadian National Parks, U.S. National Parks are totally unfriendly to dogs. Leashed dogs in Bryce Canyon National Park are only allowed on paved surfaces in the park meaning campgrounds, parking lots, paved viewpoint areas, and the paved trail between Sunset and Sunrise Point.
Luckily Bryce Canyon National Park is surrounded by BLM and National Forest lands where dogs can essentially roam free. Just outside Bryce Canyon National Park, Red Canyon is a perfect place to explore with your dog. I highly recommend the Arch Trail from the Losse Canyon Trailhead, but all Red Canyon trails are lovely – just watch out for bikes!