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When you look at the pic below how could you not want to visit Bryce Canyon in December! Ok, I get it, snow may not be your thing, but snow covered hoodoos are a site to behold.
Preparation is key when visiting Bryce Canyon National Park in the winter. Keep reading for all my best tips to ensure your December trip to Bryce Canyon is safe, comfortable, and fun!
Tips for Your December Visit to Bryce Canyon National Park
Get Your National Parks Pass
Before you go, make sure to have your America the Beautiful Pass. If you purchase your pass via that link to REI, they will donate 10% of the proceeds to the National Forest Foundation, National Park Foundation, and the US Endowment for Forestry & Community – at no extra cost.
If you are an Active Duty Military member or Veteran like I am, you can save yourself – and family members in the same vehicle – $80 and get in for free! Soon – sometime in late 2022 – you will even be able to get a free LIFETIME pass which will make visiting National Parks, National Monuments, Forests, and more that much easier.
For now, make sure to have your military id, Veteran status on a state-issued id, or America the Beautiful Military Pass ready to show at the gates.
Don’t have one of those passes? You can still visit Bryce Canyon if you pay at the gates, where the fee is $35 per vehicle and is valid for seven days.
Now that we have that technicality out of the way, it’s time to highlight some fantastic things to do in Bryce Canyon during your December visit.
The visitor’s center opens at 8 am MT, but if you plan on hiking, I would get to the park before that and just plan on stopping in the visitor’s center before you leave that day.
Plus, whether it is winter or any other time of year, it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on the park service’s current conditions page for Bryce Canyon. “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
Bryce Canyon National Park Winter Facility Closures
Typically with winter, comes seasonal closures. Here are a few Bryce Canyon National Park facilities that will be closed from November to April.
- The Lodge at Bryce Canyon and dining room
- The General Store at Sunrise Point
- Restrooms at Inspiration Point, the Peekaboo Loop, and the General Store close in winter (Restrooms remain available at Rainbow Point, Farview Point, Sunset Point, the Visitor Center and North Campground)
- The North Campground RV Dump Station
- Sunset Campground
- Private and guided horseback riding
What to Wear in Bryce Canyon During December
When packing for a winter trip, it’s essential to layer your clothing, especially when you are going to experience frequent elevation changes and temperature fluctuations. For example, you will gain over 1,200 feet in elevation when you leave the visitor center and head up the scenic drive to Rainbow Point.
So with that in mind, start off with a Merino wool top and bottom base layer. When people first think of wool, they think of itchy material, but Merino wool is less likely to irritate your skin and is great for regulating your body temperature.
Since the December high temps barely make it past freezing, if you are planning to be outside for an extended period of time (ie: hiking) wear winter hiking pants, a fleece pullover, and an insulated jacket.
Sure, as you hike, you will warm up, but this is where layers come into play and you can start removing them one at a time. Many insulated jackets these days are packable and can be stuffed in a small pouch that barely takes up any space in your backpack.
If the forecast calls for a windy day, I would highly suggest a windproof/resistant softshell jacket to help your torso stay as warm as possible and a neck gaiter that you can pull over your nose and mouth. A pair of waterproof winter hiking boots is also a must, whether there is snow on the ground or not.
My go-to cold weather accessories are mittens, a comfy beanie, and Merino wool crew hiking socks. I also like to bring hand warmers to keep in my mittens or jacket pockets because my hands are always cold!
Things to Do in Bryce Canyon in December
Bryce Canyon National Park’s night sky is so dark you can see thousands of stars on a moonless night. Not only that, the Milky Way is easily visible! When park staffing allows, check out the Winter Astronomy programs, where you can learn about the life cycles of stars, space missions, and more.
Just an FYI, programs can be canceled for safety reasons when the air temperature or wind chill drop below 10F (-12C).
A cool way to explore Bryce Canyon National Park is by cross-country skiing sections of the Rim Trail along the edge of the Main Amphitheater, Bristlecone Loop trail, Paria Ski Loop, and the unplowed Paria View and Fairyland Point roads.
Bryce Canyon City also grooms miles of ski trails outside of the park. If you do not have your own skis, you can rent some in town at Ruby’s Inn Winter Activity Center.
If you feel like you don’t have the skills for cross-country skiing, try out snowshoeing. Snowshoeing is allowed on all trails inside Bryce Canyon but tends to be better suited on the Rim Trail, Bristlecone Loop, Paria Rd. and Fairyland Rd.
If you don’t have your own snowshoes, you can either rent them at Ruby’s Inn Winter Activity Center or partake in a ranger-led snowshoe hike for all levels. When you sign up for a ranger program, the snowshoes and poles are free as long as the staff is available and the snow is deep enough.
Hike the Rim Trail
The Rim Trail in Bryce Canyon runs from Fairyland Point to Inspiration Point in the winter, which is around 4-miles one way and includes a nice leg workout with a few steep elevation gains.
If you are looking for something that is short and relatively flat, Sunset Point to Sunrise point is paved and a mile walk roundtrip. Also, this is the only part of the trail that allows leashed dogs.
The park requires you to wear snowshoes if there was a recent heavy snow, but after a few days when the snow becomes more compact and slick, we recommend wearing a pair of MICROspikes to keep from hitting any slick spots.
Take a Scenic Drive
Bryce Canyon National Park’s scenic drive starts at the visitor center and ends at Rainbow Point – 18 miles long one-way. Remember that when you reach the top and get out to view Rainbow Point, you are 1,200 feet higher than at the visitor center, and chances are the temperatures will be lower, so don’t forget to grab your jacket.
Taking the scenic drive is an excellent option on those super cold days when you want to view the sites but don’t want to be in the frigid weather for very long. Although we recommend stopping at all nine overlooks, a few of our favorites are Rainbow Point, the Natural Bridge, and Inspiration Point.
When it snows in Bryce Canyon, the main road usually closes at mile 3 to clear the roadway to make it safe and passable for visitors. That being said, this can take some time, creating a much smaller area for everyone to be at once, with limited parking and traffic congestion.
Christmas Bird Counting
Whether you are getting into birding, are a diehard bird watcher, or just love the outdoors, everyone has the opportunity to participate in the world’s longest running citizen bird census (122 years and counting).
Because of this event, ninety species of birds have been recorded in the 15-mile radius surrounding the Bryce Canyon National Park! The bird counting event typically is held on the 3rd weekend of December, but contact the visitor center or visit this page for the most up-to-date information.
Ice Skate at Ruby’s Ice Rink
Even though Ruby’s ice skating rink is outside of the park, I just had to suggest this as a fun option since I figure skated for 18 years of my life! Not far from Bryce Canyon’s entrance gates, a 5-minute drive is Ruby’s Inn Winter Activity Center, where you’ll find the ‘ice ribbon’ rink.
Ruby’s even has a webcam that lets you watch your family and friends skate while you stay warm inside!
Where to Stay in Bryce Canyon in December
If you want to stay IN Bryce Canyon National Park, you have one option, but you better have a backup plan if there isn’t a spot available.
For the more rugged approach, North Campground in Bryce Canyon is open year-round, so if you want a winter camping experience, here’s your chance!
Of course, RVing is probably the more popular choice in December, but if you are considering tent camping, I would recommend contacting the campground ahead of time to make sure what loops are open.
When we went to Bryce Canyon in the winter months, at least two loops were closed, so we couldn’t find a spot to set up. The North Campground is close to the Visitor Center and Fairyland Loop/Rim Trail (the General Store is close as well but closed during the winter).
A more traditional way to spend your stay in Bryce would be at the Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel that is only a few minutes drive to the park’s entrance gate.
Bryce View Lodge is a budget-friendly choice that is only a half-mile drive to Bryce Canyon National Park. The lodge also offers a park shuttle stop on property.
The Blueberry Inn is a bed and breakfast located in Tropic, Utah, which is about 12 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park’s visitor center. There is nothing like waking up to a warm, fresh breakfast each morning before you head out to explore the beautiful terrain.
Last but not least, check out the Stone Canyon Treehouse in Tropic, Utah, for a more unique place to stay. Tropic is a little over a 15-minute drive to the Bryce Canyon entrance.
If you are looking for views, look no further. You can sit on the deck above the trees and look out to Bryce Canyon. The Treehouse is our splurge option, but sometimes you have to go big or go home!
Wrapping It Up…
Visiting Bryce Canyon in December is a memorable experience minus the crowds. Of course, you and the entire family will wish you had done this sooner. But the best part is that you didn’t put it off any longer!
Even if you only venture onto the Bryce Canyon National Park Scenic Drive and get out at the lookouts, you’ll leave this part of Southwest Utah with a newfound appreciation for the nature that surrounds us.