The winter sun rises on a cold January morning at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. Image credit Colin D. Young via Shutterstock

8 Bucket-List Winter Attractions in Utah

There is no limit to the imagination and no adventure too grand when it comes to wintering in the Beehive State. From hiking through National Parks and skiing to soaking in hot springs and taking in the stunning Zoo Lights, Utah has all your bucket-list activities. This ultimate list of attractions will suit any group and style of pursuit during the holiday season, or after the crowds have died down.

Mesa Arch at Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah. Image credit Dan Breckwoldt via Shutterstock

The Island in the Sky mesa along sheer sandstone cliffs at 1,000 feet dominates the spectacular winter-scape around. It is the easiest district of the park to visit, with many pullouts for day trips to explore the Canyonlands from different perspectives. Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park "easily" takes top amongst Utah’s magnificent natural spots with hikes attainable even in the cold months. The park is open 24 hours a day, year-round, with an entrance fee of $30.00 per vehicle. You can enjoy the scenery from the paved road to the Mesa Arch 1.1-km loop trail hike, near the town of La Sal.

The ascent to the arch, perched at the edge of a cliff, is not tiresome and especially picturesque with unique wintertime views. Sometimes, harsh weather requires bundling up at the top, so it is best to wear layers. Mesa Arch at Canyonlands National Park is perfect for a sunrise hike while watching the world awaken on the way to the jaw-dropping payoff under the glowing snow cover. In the winter the parking lot is less busy, leaving time to linger to soak in the sights and take all the postcard-worthy pictures, sans crowds marring the shot.

Sundance Film Festival

Sundance Film Festival sign
Sundance Film Festival sign. Image credit Travis Wise via Creative Commons

Utah is "the spot to spot" celebs and mingle among A-listers while enjoying an affordable cultural event! The Sundance Film Festival's epicenter is Park City with more venues at Salt Lake City, Ogden, and Sundance Mountain Resort for a vibrant blend of culture and wintertime pursuits. Some of Hollywood’s hottest stars roam Salt Lake City's streets during the nation-renowned Film Festival with various activities on the grounds.

Among all the stars, the Sundance Film Festival shines brightest from late January to early February, going strong for over forty years. Filmmakers and audiences praise the festival for some of the world's best visual storytelling of everything new, innovative, and international in the cinematic universe. One of the most in-demand national events of the year is easily attainable with ticket prices from $20 to $25, and packages for varying experiences up to $750. Salt Lake City is also home to many independent theaters to visit in between the festivities.

Skiing at Park City's Resorts

Enjoying skiing downhill at Park City Canyons Ski Area in Utah
Downhill skiing at Park City Canyons Ski Area in Utah. Image credit via Shutterstock

Skiing is the obvious but the most bucket-worthy attraction in the Beehive State, home to one of the nation's best-known towns for skiing, Park City. The stunning ski town in the Rocky Mountains is a must-visit with a range of experiences for a memorable vacation.

There is the popular Deer Valley ski resort and the iconic downhill skiing destination in the Utah Valley at Sundance resort. The latter offers 42 incredible runs with over 450 acres of groomed and varied terrain, along with luxury-level amenities. The city looks stunning covered in powdery snow with temperatures around 34 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and chilly evenings for pursuits out-on-town.

Utah Olympic Park, Park City

the spectator seating and jumps for the ski jumping competitions at the Utah Olympic Park during the 2002 Winter Olympics
Spectator seating and jumps for the ski jumping competitions at the Utah Olympic Park during the 2002 Winter Olympics. Image credit Mangoman88 via Creative Commons

Park City offers the best skiing and snowboarding in the state, attested by the Winter Olympics in 2002. For a break from the slopes, there are free-to-watch Olympic Park’s official bobsled and skeleton events, along with the Olympic legacy-given Alf Engen Ski Museum and George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles 2002 Olympic Winter Games Museums, open free to the public.

Following a day at the park, one can head for the film festival events in town or for a relaxing stroll down the atmospheric main street. There are myriad places for a full sit-down meal, or to grab a hot drink and continue exploring all the boutique-shopping opportunities and eclectic art galleries.

Tubing in Utah

Young woman and child sliding down in inflatable snow tube
People snow tubing with snow-covered trees in the background. Image credit Microgen via Shutterstock

Unlike skiing with the risk of twisting strapped legs in a bad fall for a real "winter break," there is little skill required to tube. One can hop on a giant donut and let physics do the rest to achieve the speedy rush at many locations in Utah. Prices range from around 10 dollars to 35 depending on desired longevity, like at Park City with many fancy lift-served tubing parks in-season into March.

There is also snowy bliss at the newly expanded and rebranded Woodward Park in Salt Lake City or the Wasatch Parc in Eden with French-style banked turns. However, many people head straight to Soldier Hollow in Midway to careen down the 1,200-foot slope, the longest tubing lanes in Utah.

Utah's Hot Springs

Winter at Diamond fork hot springs, Utah
Winter at Diamond Fork (Fifth Water Hot Springs) hot springs, Utah. Image credit CreekCG via Shutterstock

Following all the winter adventure activities with chilly air on the face, you may be ready for some warmth. For the ultimate de-stressing attraction, Utah's bountiful hot springs offer relaxation while soaking and snowy views at the same time. There are many wonderful outdoor locations such as Saratoga Springs for a one-on-one with nature, or the Meadow Hot Springs near Fillmore with three bubbling pools in a remote setting. There is also the Crystal Hot Springs in Honeyville with soaking pools and a waterslide for families, and the eclectic Mystic Hot Springs in Monroe. Outdoor explorers will enjoy the rewarding experience of hiking a few miles to the Fifth Water Hot Springs at the Spanish Fork Canyon with great views on the way.

Midway's Homestead Resort also has a hot spring within a 55-foot tall beehive-shaped crater in limestone earth, with year-round 90 to 96 degrees Fahrenheit waters, scuba diving, and paddle-board yoga class. Now, three serene hot springs amidst a private cow pasture that sounds like a dream, is totally-real at the Meadow Hot Springs. The owners graciously welcome visitors for a respite at the stunning backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. It is an "only in Utah" experience with crystal clear waters, located near the tiny town of Meadow, right-off I-15, about two hours south of Salt Lake City.

Ice Castles, Midway

Midway ice castle tower at night
Midway ice castle tower at night. Image credit Quinn Calder via Shutterstock

Midway's Ice Castles will make all Disney fantasies come true without going to Orlando. The acre-large series of icy forts are open from 4 pm Monday through Thursday and from 12 pm on Saturdays at the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center. Families will love an evening full of fun bonding time and marveling at all of the castles around. There's much to explore including slides, caverns, tunnels, crawl spaces, thrones, and fountains carved out of ice, along with a fire pit to warm up and share the impressions.

The whole scene takes about an hour to get through on a leisurely stroll with a cup of hot cocoa from one of the food trucks and warming up by a fire pit. The best time to visit for the most jaw-dropping experience and adventures are evenings in below-zero January and February. There are also ice castles at the divine Homestead Resort’s Cafe Galleria. One can even dine on wood-fired pizzas within a heated snow-globe geological wonder. The sights extend through the glass walls to the surrounding mountains, for a once-of-a-lifetime experience.

Zoo Lights at Hogle Zoo, Salt Lake City

Zebra at night illuminated by holiday lights
Zebra at the Zoo Lights. Image credit M Outdoors via Shutterstock

Salt Lake City's Hogle Zoo is one of the nation's best, open year-round across the street from This Is the Place Heritage Park. It is especially-lovely to visit in wintertime for the Zoo Lights illuminating the snowy glow around with their own bright and festive colors. There are also fewer people in winter, while some animals are more active during the colder months.

Following an afternoon meet-and-greet with the animals, it is time to grab a hot cocoa for a magical stroll through the evening show display of lights. The traditional family event is great for bonding and giving the animals some love during the holidays. It takes place every night in December from 5:30 to 9:00 pm, with tickets at $10 for adults, and $8 for children.

Utah is full of attractions exclusive to the holiday season, and just as many year-round experiences without crowds during the winter months. The state-wide spread makes it easy to pick the closest, or hit a few on a thematic road trip.


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