Looking for the best things to do in Utah in Winter?
The temperature has plummeted and the days are growing shorter, winter is upon us and the Beehive State has a plethora of attractions for tourists and locals alike. Utah’s winter season invites many to enjoy an alluring mix of stunning outdoor beauty and bustling urban activity that most destinations simply cannot offer.
Freshly fallen snow paints many parts of the state with a glistening atmosphere- there’s a reason the official license plate boasts the title, “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” The weather during the winter months in Utah perfectly compliments the holiday season, creating a cozy and magical environment to explore.
Utah is certainly a top priority destination for nature lovers, but there are numerous opportunities to escape the cold weather in several major metropolitan areas nestled in the breathtaking mountains throughout the state. Let us explore 19 ‘must visit’ destinations in Utah during those icy months.
19 Things to do in Utah in Winter: Best Winter Activities
1. Attend a Utah Jazz game
While the snowy landscape can prove to be breathtaking, sometimes an indoor escape from the icy cold can be the perfect way to spend a night. No better place than to catch a game of Utah’s most cherished sports team, the Jazz.
Vivint Arena has been the venue for the team’s home games since 1992, where the average attendance throughout the season is around 18,000 strong.
With an arena of large capacity comes a wide array of price options, so there is bound to be one to suit your needs.
The venue is also home to a wide array of food options, ranging from concessions and fast food to higher-end barbeque cuisine Basketball fans will find solid entertainment from one of the higher performing teams of recent years, but on court entertainment provides casual fans with a fun experience as well.
Attending a sporting game in a new city offers a unique way to interact and learn about the culture of that place, not to mention the Jazz will place you in the epicenter of Utah: Salt Lake City.
2. Skiing in Salt Lake City
Ever since Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 winter Olympic Games, it is no secret that Utah is among the most sought after ski destinations in the United States. In fact, the main reason for the busy tourist season during winter months can be attributed to the icy slopes the state has to offer.
In 2021, Utah set all time records for tourism numbers, pulling around 5 million skiers throughout the season.While there are a plethora of places to go skiing in Utah, Salt Lake City is considered the best and most convenient to locals and travelers alike.
Around 12 ski resorts reside within an hour’s drive of the city. The ski season in Utah typically starts towards the end of November, lasting into early spring. The highly regarded snowfall creates optimal conditions for the majestic mountain terrain to transform into a paradise of slopes for the expert and novice skiers.
See more: Best places to see dinosaurs in Utah
3. Visit the Great Salt Lake
The namesake of Utah’s biggest city is one of the most well known geological locations in all of North America. The fascinating lake spans a size bigger than the state of Delaware, and winter is often regarded as the best time to stop by.
With the summer months around the lake being occupied by mosquitos and gnats, the winter offers a respite from these bugs and provides an environment to enjoy the beautiful scenery. With several parks situated on or around the lake, there exists many opportunities for camping and hiking.
4. See the Milky Way
An unfortunate truth of today’s society is that the night sky is largely unseeable, in fact around 80% of Americans are unable to see the Milky Way on any given night.
A trip to Utah can provide one with an opportunity to see one of Mother Nature’s most stunning visual occurrences- our very own vast and sprawling spiraling galaxy. Due to light pollution many major cities drown out the constellations of the night sky. Utah offers 3 National Parks where the effects of light pollution are regulated enough to allow the glow of the galaxy to shine down upon visitors.
Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Cedar Breaks National Monument are registered ‘dark sky locations’ by the International Dark Sky Association. With a view of the cosmos being one of the most fundamental human experiences, current times have fostered a growing disconnection from nature and our night sky. A trip to Utah’s National Parks can cultivate the blissful connection with nature you may have been missing.
5. Natural History Museum of Utah
The Natural History Museum of Utah can provide a respite from the frigid weather. Located in Salt Lake City, the Museum was founded in 1963 and has been garnering an average attendance of over 300,000 people a year. The Museum focuses on the history of the southwest region, uncovering information on native tribes, prehistoric creatures, and geological formations.
The museum features 12 permanent exhibits, with frequent additional exhibits added as well, tallying up to about 3 hours worth of content for guests. The Rio Tinto Center, home to the museum, is nestled into the Wasatch Mountain range, built with modern architecture that perfectly compliments the surrounding landscape.
The mission statement behind the prestigious museum is “ to illuminate the natural world and the place of humans within it.” Anyone with an interest in history and the manifold records of the western United States, should take their afternoon within the warm walls of The Natural History Museum of Utah.
6. Midway Ice Castle
The life-sized Ice Castles of Midway Utah are made possible by a team of about 20 artists who wait patiently for the winter season where they create caves, crevices, tunnels, and frozen waterfalls for guests to explore during the holiday season. Around 12,000 icicles are made daily over the course of two months before the Ice Castles are complete and ready for visitors. Once the weather is optimal, the icicles are placed strategically throughout the space to form walls, tunnels, chairs, fountains and slides.
The amount of ice used for the project usually winds up totaling 25 million pounds, and the outcome is simply stunning. Shimmering ice is complemented beautifully by LED lights, illuminating the spaces that appear like something out of a fairy tale.
Because of this, the most ideal time to visit is at night where the spaces are essentially glistening as you move through them. The castles stretch over an acre, taking close to 45 minutes to fully traverse- warm clothing is certainly encouraged.
7. Sundance Film Festival
Every year Utah is host to the biggest independent film festival in the United States. Sundance film festival congregates every January to feature the work of independent artists in the form of short films, documentaries, and other films.
Because of the nature of independent films, the style typically tends to be artistic and experimental in nature- an experience not offered by a typical movie theater. Many up and coming directors use the festival as a chance to rise to prominence.
The festival gathers an average of 46,000 attendees who enjoy the weeklong festival. Those looking to stay for an extended time can lodge in the festival’s mountain resort.
Located in Park City, the resort offers ziplining, skiing, fly fishing, and spas on top of the creative films that play throughout the week. Condé Nast Traveler Readers Choice Awards names the mountain resort the second best ski resort in North America.
8. Zion National Park
In any typical discourse regarding Utah, the iconic deep red and orange cliffs are inevitably visualized. Possibly among the most recognizable geological formations in the United States, these red cliffs are a staple aspect of Zion National Park.
In being Utah’s first National Park, there is an air of notoriety surrounding the land. U.S. News and World Report places it as the 5th best park in the United States, and for good reason. Since 1919 nature lovers have been exploring the steep, red canyons formed by the virgin river. Snowfall during the winter creates a beautiful contrast on the red rock, adding to the already stunning scenery.
One of the main attractions is the Narrows hike. The trail winds through the narrowest section of the Zion canyon with walls peering a thousand feet into the air on either side in some areas. With the trail becoming vague at times near the river, there are instances in which one has no choice but to get their feet wet in the virgin river as the continue upon the path.
9. Crystal Hot Spring
Another natural phenomenon offered by the Beehive state can gift the consumer with mental and physical relief. The Crystal Hot Springs of Utah are in many ways, nature’s sauna.
Through the processes of geothermal activity underground, these springs reach temperatures of 120 degrees fahrenheit and contain the highest mineral content of any hot spring on planet earth. This mineral water is often sought after for its relaxing qualities and ability to improve the health of hair, skin and nails.
The indigenous people of Utah have utilized the spring for hundreds of years for its medicinal qualities. The warm, nourishing water of the spring offer guests a unique respite from the frigid atmosphere often seen in Utah.
Additionally, the facility features two copper water slides, heated by the spring water for a more enjoyable ride.For those who love to swim and soak, the Crystal Hot Springs of Utah keep this possibility open through the winter.
11. Festival of the Trees
The holiday season cultivates compassion and love in all those who celebrate. Don’t lose the sense of philanthropy that fills this time of year because you are traveling elsewhere. The people of Utah keep the less fortunate on the forefront of their minds during the season of giving.
Consider stopping by the Festival of Trees, where beautiful holiday decorations are handcrafted and auctioned off to support the children at the Primary Children’s Hospital.Volunteers gather in the Mountain America Exposition Center to create christmas trees, wreaths, gingerbread houses, and many more seasonal ornaments. The festival also includes freshly made food, a children’s corner, and live performances throughout the day.
With the constant exchange of gifts with beloved family and friends, it can be easy to forget the people outside of your immediate circle.
Outside of friends, relatives, parents, and pets are the ones who are not fortunate enough to indulge in a traditional holiday experience. Take the opportunity to embody the Christmas spirit and give to the ones who truly need it this year.
12. Ice Fishing
Find a knowledgeable charter and partake in one of the most unique practices Utah has to offer. Ice fishing, which originated over 2000 years ago by the native people of North America, is still enjoyed by many today. When winter take’s its frigid hands on the state of Utah, the lakes speckled across the land slowly freeze over, creating the perfect conditions for ice fishing.
Strawberry Reservoir is the largest fishing reservoir in the state, and considered the best trout fishery in the Rocky Mountain region. Because of unique geographical conditions, this lake freezes earlier in the season than many others, lengthening the window of time in which ice fishing can be conducted.
There is also Scofield Reservoir, located a convenient 2 hours from Salt Lake City, this lake is home to a prominent crawfish population that feeds the fish of the waters, creating a relatively large bite. Many charters will act as a guide to these lakes as well as an outlet to rent equipment.
13. Ice Skating
Adding to the list of seemingly endless ice-related activities to do in Utah, is perhaps the most accessible to people of any skill level. With skiing, bobsledding, and snowboarding requiring a certain degree of dexterity to execute, many prefer the pleasurable simplicity of ice skating.
Midway Town Hall offers a unique way to experience the classic holiday activity because this ice skating rink is located outdoors with beautiful holiday decor, adding to the magic and novelty already associated with this time of year.
With skating equipment already provided, the only thing to remember to pack is warm clothes for comfort while gliding over the ice.
With a network of trails to explore, Utah is the prime location to rent a snowmobile and traverse the snowy landscape that sprawls in every direction. Rentals, tours, and guides are available to tourists in a plethora of locations throughout the state.
In particular, Park City Peaks provides an absolutely stunning area to traverse. Located in Oakley, 20,000 acres are available for guests to explore with accessible areas of 11,000 feet in elevation. The ranch averages 30 feet of powdery snow annually, making the earth’s surface ideal.
There is a variety of terrain for the varying capabilities of guests. Terrain ranges from steep hill climbing to gentle grade changes of a meadow, making this venture enjoyable for kids and adults alike. With mountains hovering over each horizon, and snow coating every surface, there is not much more to ask for when it comes to snowmobiling.
15. Arches National Park
Through thousands of years of erosion, beautiful red rock structures formed in the eastern portion of Utah, giving the Arches National Park its name. More than 2,000 natural sandstone arches make up the territory of the park.
The Colorado river runs through the southeastern corner of the park, and proposes many outdoor activities for campers. Trails ranging from hundreds of feet to 7 miles long scour the most compelling views the park has to offer. From the rocketing rock pinnacles to the colossus balanced rock configurations, there is always something to see in the Arches National Park.
Camping is available for guests, and there are several hotels within the confines of the park for those who prefer their creature comforts. Scenic drives flow near some of the most famous rock formations, making the park accessible by car as well. Whether taking a detour, or a week to camp, Arches National Park is worth a visit.
16. Temple Square
With the enormous mormon population in Utah ,it would be impossible to leave Temple Square off this list. Whether a religious person or someone who appreciates gothic architecture, Temple Square is a must see landmark in Salt Lake City. Built in 1882, this historical landmark has been a place of gathering for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The castle-like structure stretches 5 city blocks and features sharp roofing that rises high into the sky, piercing the clouds above. The 5 block area contains gardens, museums, monuments and libraries, all dressed in the 18th century neo-gothic style architecture affiliated with iconic structures in Europe.
The visitors of the Temple often reach six figures per year, making it one of the most compelling tourist attractions in the United States. Despite it being a sacred and reverent gathering place, there is no dress code and visitors from all walks of life are welcome.
17. Hot Air Balloon
Hiking, Skiing, and Snowmobiling offer truly stunning views of the Utah winter landscape, but none of these compare to the experience of a hot air balloon ride.
Park City Hot Air Ballooning takes guests 1,000 feet into the air at sunrise, giving views of the snow-covered Wasatch Mountains that are simply unparalleled. A gradual, quiet ride into the atmosphere allows for blissful viewing of the nature around you.
Given at what point of winter you travel, many remark the autumn colors being staggeringly beautiful from the lofty viewpoint. Once the peak is reached the environment is perfect for soundless contemplation, and a unique appreciation of the alluring countryside below.
One can choose to be placed with other riders or pay a fee for a solo trip. All trips are one hour in length, plenty of time to take in what a wonder it is to be a part of such a rich and complex planet.
18. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon offers prime hiking vistas and even more eccentric rock formations. Anyone familiar with the park would undoubtedly recommend hiking at dusk or dawn, for many of the trails traverse lookouts and viewpoints that are perfect for witnessing the sun’s steady climb over- or below- the horizon. 35,000 acres have been entertaining outdoor lovers since the creation of the park in 1928. The park has the world’s largest collection of hoodoos, which are columns of eroded rock.
With these towers surrounding you as you move, it almost resembles a metropolitan area with skyscrapers reaching into the sky. Native Americans believed these pillars were once humans before they were punished by a god, turning them into stone.
The best known of these hoodoos is “Thor’s Hammer”, named after the Norse god. With so many options to experience nature in Utah it may be difficult to choose one, but Bryce Canyon National Park is a choice you will not be disappointed in making.
19. Antelope Island
No better way to take in the Great Salt Lake than to occupy the lake’s biggest island. Antelope Island is 42 square miles of grassy terrain, home to bison, mule, deer, sheep, and of course antelope. Its location on the banks of the salt lake offer kayaking and paddleboarding opportunities.
Horseback riding, sailing, birdwatching, and cycling are among the other popular activities campers take part in on the island. Additionally, there are 36 miles of hiking trails for hikers to trek around the lake. Contrary to popular belief, it is perfectly safe to swim in the Great Salt Lake, however it is commonly recommended to moisturize one’s skin afterwards to protect against the incredibly salty waters.
By visiting ,you are also playing a big part in protecting the natural landscape. The entrance fee helps pay for the park’s necessities and thus assists the bison migratory birds, and other animals who call the island home.