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Utah is home to some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in the United States, and there’s a reason outdoor enthusiasts are so invested in the otherworldly terrain. Simply put: it’s stunning. Biblical billion-plus year-old rock formations line the highways. Hoodoos rise out of the desert canyons like ancient abstract sculptures. And mountains loom over the horizon like holograms throughout the state. Plus, there’s world-class skiing, great food and one of the coolest animal rescue centers in the entire country.
And the secret’s out: In 2016, tourists spent $8.4 billion dollars in the Beehive State, creating 85,000 direct travel and tourism jobs. All those guests are great for business, but they can certainly infringe on the whole communing with nature experience. Whether you’re looking for deals or just want to avoid the masses, here are six reasons to visit Utah during the wintertime.
1. The Mighty Five Are (Relatively) Empty
The Mighty Five national parks (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef) saw a 20% increase in visitors from 2015, topping 10-million nature fans. Nearly 6 million guests visited Utah’s national monuments such as the Natural Bridges and Grand Staircase-Escalante, up 18% from 2015. Skip the hoards by going now. Zion, for example, received nearly half the amount of visitors in March as it did in July last year. In Arches, there were 65,000 fewer visitors in March than July.
2. The Powder is Top-Notch
Utah claims to have the “greatest snow on earth.” It’s light and fluffy, like tiny cotton balls, thanks to the frequent snowstorms that churn over the Wasatch Mountains. Like the rest of the west, the state’s ski season got off to a rough start this year with some of the thinnest snow in more than 30 years, but ski resorts have filled in nicely as winter has taken hold. While the skiing and snowboarding is definitely top notch, what really makes Utah’s resorts more attractive than ski destinations in other states is their proximity to the Salt Lake City airport. Within 45 minutes of stepping out of the terminal, powder hounds can be waist-deep in Park City, Solitude, Alta and a bunch of other resorts.
3. You Can Speed Down a Bobsled Run…
There are only two bobsleigh, luge and skeleton tracks in the entire United States. One is in Lake Placid, New York. The other: Park City’s Utah Olympic Park built for the 2002 winter games. From late December through early April, riders over the age of 16 who weigh more than 100 pounds can jump on the Comet Bobsled with the pros. Pseudo Olympians fly down a tube of ice at 80-plus miles-per-hour with four to five times the force of gravity. Obviously, you’ll want to rewatch Cool Runnings before you go.
4. …Or Cross-Country Ski at a National Park
Cross-country skiing is hard work. It pretty much uses every muscle in the body. For those just starting out, it’s easier (or at least more enjoyable) if there’s something cool to look at. Bryce Canyon National Park is the perfect place to begin. For just $10 a day, visitors can rent a whole cross-country ski kit from Ruby’s Inn right outside the entrance. The area offers more than 30-miles of groomed trails that wind through Ponderosa Pine forests, and pass by jaw-dropping overlooks of the red canyon walls.
5. The Hot Chocolate Game is on Point
One likely wouldn’t think it, but Utah is home to some of the best bean-to-bar chocolate makers in the country. Local Mormons have taken a huge interest in adopting a discerning culinary experience through chocolate. In Salt Lake City, Hatch Family Chocolates, which took a turn in the national spotlight on TLC’s Little Chocolatiers, offers a fully-customizable drink, with choice of milk or dark chocolate and a dairy or vegan base. Ritual Chocolate in Park City serves several hot and cold chocolate-based drinks, including a simple hot chocolate and sipping chocolates from single-origin beans from Ecuador, Belize, Madagascar and Peru.
6. Skip the Lines at the Best Animal Sanctuary
Dogs? Check. Cats? Yep. Bunnies? You bet. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary houses 1,600 rescue animals ranging from puppies and kittens to horses, pigs and goats on the sprawling 3,700-acre facility. To get on one of the peak season (May through September) Grand Sanctuary tours, the Best Friends teams suggests booking six months in advance. Those two-hour excursions bring guests inside one cat and one dog building, then pass by the other rescue facilities that are dotted throughout Angel Canyon. In the winter and shoulder-season, it’s easier to rock up the same day for one of the four scheduled tours. Plus, the nearby Kanab hotels are significantly cheaper October through March.
Featured photo of Sandstone Peaks In Winter, Zion National Park, Utah by DougLemke/Getty Images
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