Tailor your time to Utah's natural wonders
If you've never been to Utah, you may not know what you’re missing. From the natural beauty of the landscape in the south, with its red rocks, deserts, mountains and canyons to the alpine scenery of the north, there's enough diversity to leave you breathless. It’s the perfect place to play outside, whether you prefer hiking, biking, boating, skiing or just being out in nature. There’s no wrong time to go to Utah, but what’s the best time?
The best time to visit depends on where you’re heading
Utah has four seasons, but the elevation varies widely, so conditions across the state are quite disparate. In southern Utah, it’s best to avoid the summer unless you enjoy extreme heat. And the national parks are quite crowded during the summer months when the kids are out of school. If you want to ski in northern Utah, it’s best to go outside of school holidays, if possible. Over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, the ski resorts are crowded with tourists.
In summer, consider visiting northern Utah. Many of the ski resorts are open in summer with activities like alpine slides, disc golf, mountain biking, camping and zip lining. If you’re into water sports, check out Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell. A flooded canyon with almost 2,000 miles of shoreline, the lake is a truly unique place. Rent a houseboat, use personal water craft to explore the side canyons or simply fish and swim.
Get a national parks pass before you visit Utah. It will pay for itself with free admission to Utah’s five national parks for everyone in your vehicle where per-vehicle charges apply and free admission for you and three other adults where the charge is per person.
Weather during the seasons
Spring is a great time to explore the state's national parks because the days are moderate, the wildlife is active and wildflowers are in bloom. As with any desert climate, the nights can be pretty chilly: In Bryce Canyon the temperatures have been known to plunge below freezing at night,all the way into May. Summer is crowded and hot, especially in the south, and in some areas it’s also very rainy. In Capitol Reef and Arches national parks, for instance, you can expect monsoons and flash flooding during the summer.
Utah hosts a number of summer festivals all over the state. Hot air balloons, wildflowers, Shakespeare, film, poetry, music – these are just a few of the things you’ll find celebrated at a summertime festival.
In the fall, the weather calms down and becomes temperate and pleasant. Fall foliage is beautiful throughout the state; it’s the perfect time to enjoy a scenic drive or outdoor recreation. Winter is cold and snowy in the north, but the southern part of the state gets very little snow. The national parks are open, so if you don’t mind the cold, it's a good time to explore. Bryce Canyon is a notable exception: With an elevation of 9,000 feet, it gets quite a bit of snow. If you visit, use caution and pay attention to weather reports.
Traffic, crowds and tourist considerations
When the national parks in Utah get crowded, it can be unpleasant. The successful promotion of the “Mighty Five” parks has meant an uptick in tourism. You may want to avoid these parks in the summer. Memorial Day weekend 2015, for example, saw Arches National Park closed due to overwhelming crowds. If you don’t want to stand in long lines for shuttles or deal with traffic jams, hit the parks in spring or fall on weekdays.
The national parks in Utah are highly promoted, but they’re not the only game in town. In fact, Utah has forty-five state parks as well.
The Salt Flats
West of the Great Salt Lake are the Bonneville Salt Flats, an eerily beautiful landscape where low mountains break up the flat countryside and mirages trick the eye. The salt flats are delicate so camping is allowed only in surrounding areas, and cars must stay on designated roads. The temperatures are extreme, reaching 100 F. in the summer and plunging below zero in the winter. The best time to visit is fall.
Arches National Park
The best time to visit Arches depends on the weather, which is not particularly predictable. Spring is typically a great time of year, with warm days and cool nights, but you can also encounter some rain and strong winds. Summer heat is punishing, often getting up as high as 110 F. When the weather cools down in the fall, the rainy season begins. Still, it can be worth the risk of a downpour to experience the beautiful days of clear skies and cool temperatures. Winter can be a great time to visit Arches, because days get up to the 50s or 60s with dry, warm weather, but winter also brings cold and snow. Check the forecast just before you go and bring a variety of clothes to cope with the variable weather conditions.
Utah’s canyons are spectacular, and there’s really no bad time to see them. As with much of the rest of the state, however, spring and fall seem to be the winners due to moderate temperatures and thinner crowds. If you’re a serious hiker, you may prefer Zion in the winter when there’s no spring runoff or summer heat – but even in fall, Zion is congested. Whenever you visit, check weather reports in advance and familiarize yourself with the park by visiting the national parks website.