ST. GEORGE — Winter in Zion National Park is strikingly beautiful yet can be dangerous. Park officials have seen the number of winter visits increase in recent years and caution the public to be ready for winter conditions.

Snowfall and winter conditions can present unique challenges for hikers on the Pa’Rus Trail, Zion National Park, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

“It’s important to prepare for visits to Zion no matter when you plan to be here, but it’s especially important to be intentionally checking the weather, wearing the right clothing and bringing the appropriate supplies during the winter months,” National Park Service Public Affairs Specialist Jonathan Shafer told St. George News. “With colder temperatures and shorter days, it’s easy to end up on trails that are colder and darker sooner than you might expect.”

Shafer advises visitors not to attempt backpacking, canyoneering or other kinds of recreation far from developed areas without appropriate preparation. Winter weather and other factors can slow or prevent search operations. He said rescue is not guaranteed if one is injured or encounters difficulties that keep one out in the elements longer than planned.

“When you get a permit from wilderness rangers, they will address current conditions with you and remind you that your safety is your responsibility,” Shafer said.

For example, the area known as the switchbacks or Walter’s Wiggles on the Angel’s Landing trail is often icy in winter. Roads and trails in Zion Canyon can be wet, snowy and frozen, making conditions hazardous.

Iris Costar, a Zion National Park ranger, advises visitors to use traction devices like crampons and microspikes on their shoes or boots to improve footing.

“Nearly half of the annual precipitation in Zion Canyon happens in just four months, from December to March,” Costar said. “After winter storms, snow typically disappears within a matter of hours at lower elevations. At higher elevations, it accumulates.

So even if you don’t see snow or ice, where most hikes start at the bottom of the canyon, like near the grotto on the Westrim Trail, at Angel’s Landing, there can still be snow and ice on your hike.”

Zion National Park displays a dusting of snow,  Zion National Park, Utah,  January 2017 | Photo courtesy of Hage Photo, St. George News

Another danger to be aware of in the park is possible falling ice. Costar said icicles form on the rocks and as the sun warms the canyon, it’s common for ice to fall. Situational awareness is critical. She advises not to linger under icy canyon walls.

“You do not want to be admiring the view when it all comes falling down,” Costar said. “Certain trails may be closed due to falling ice and others will require special preparation.”

Additionally, backpacking at high elevations and canyoneering are two of the most hazardous activities in Zion National Park during the winter. Costar said snow and ice, steep and slippery switchbacks and a lack of opportunities to warm up can be deadly for hikers and put rescuers at risk.

“The water, especially in canyons, is very cold during the winter. If you choose to hike the Narrows or Canyonneer, be prepared with appropriate clothing and supplies,” Costar said. “Consider equipment like a dry suit, shoes with grip and a walking stick.”

Costar said winters in Zion are cold and wet, with temperatures ranging from the highs of 50s to 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the day to lows that are well below freezing at night. And in the mornings, the canyon can be very windy, making it feel even colder. She recommends wearing layers like a coat, sweater, hat and warm socks since rain and snow are expected.

Similar to the park’s trails, weather conditions can affect roads. Costar advises that heavy snowfall can close roads. During that time, snowplows take pavement.

“Our staff clear the roads to keep traffic moving but expect delays after large snowstorms. Remember, your safety is your responsibility,” Costar said. “Plan like a park ranger before coming to Zion, especially in the winter so that you can stay cozy in the cold.”

Shafer added that although one can drive a personal vehicle on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, the park actively manages traffic there to prevent gridlock. There are about 300 parking spaces in Zion Canyon and when those become full, the park will actively manage the number of drivers who travel up the road.

“This means you may not be able to drive to every part of the canyon all the time,” Shafer said. “If you get to the park and cannot go all the way up Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, you can visit other parts of Zion and return when traffic clears and parking is available.”

To plan a winter visit, see the park’s website.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2024, all rights reserved.