Weather in Canyonlands - When's the Best Time to Visit?
When you get right down to it, there’s isn’t a bad time to visit Canyonlands National Park. Whether hot or cold, crowded or empty, the natural beauty of the park’s Island in the Sky district is always there.
Weather in Canyonlands National Park
There’s a reason it’s called the Island in the Sky. This district of Canyonlands National Park sits at nearly 6,000 feet above sea level. Even the Needles area of the park rests at about 5,000 feet, or nearly a mile in elevation. Combined with its arid climate, this puts the park into what’s called “high” or “cold desert” and means wild temperature fluctuations between seasons and even hours of the day.
Highs during the summer regularly reach 100ºF (37ºC). During the winter, highs can be as low as 30ºF (-1ºC). The park receives an average of 9.2 inches of rainfall a year, or 233 mm. Most of that falls during the monsoon season of July through September. This is when the risk of flash floods is at its highest and visitors need to be aware of the weather and their surroundings. Because of the elevation, the park does receive some snow in winter, usually in the coldest months of December and January, but heavy snowfalls are uncommon.
Summer in Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park may be at a high elevation, which is often associated with cooler temperatures, but it is still a desert. If you’re visiting in the summer, remember to drink plenty of water, use sunscreen, and wear a hat. This is especially true if you plan to do a lot of hiking. Canyonlands is slightly less crowded than its neighbor Arches National Park and receives only about half as many visitors a year, around 733,000. The vast majority of these visits occur March through October, with most of those occurring between June and August. Summer is certainly the peak travel season in the park.
Because of summer break, many families visit the park during the summer, so you’ll contend with both heat and crowds. But, the availability of activities like ranger-led hikes and programs, not to mention adventuring businesses, restaurants, and shops, is at its peak in the summer.
Summer sits right in the middle of the expensive season. When the weather is warm and school is out, there is competition for accommodations, rental vehicles, and more. Be prepared to pay a premium, especially if booking late. Flights into nearby airports like Canyonlands Regional and Grand Junction cost $100-$200 more than they do during winter. Book flights on weekdays rather than weekends to save a little money.
Fall in Canyonlands National Park
by Alactr from Getty Images
September sees temperatures drop from the 90s into the 80s, and then down into the 60s and 50s by November. This shoulder season is still pretty crowded but less so than summer. Hikers and mountain bikers return to the park now that the brutal heat of summer has dissipated. Visitor hours are still extended and rangers continue to offer guided hikes and programs.
Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky is all about enjoying those incredible views from the top of the mesa. This is prime time to enjoy a picnic and take a post-meal stroll along the Grand View trail. As the weather cools, crowds thin and prices in Moab go down. Traveling in the month of November may be a good compromise between fall and winter for some people.
Winter in Canyonlands National Park
by WorldWideImages from Getty Images
Time to trade the sunscreen for a winter jacket. Visiting Canyonlands in the winter is cold, there’s no getting around that. But some people prefer the cold to the crowds. There are other concessions to be made, though. The visitor center for the Island in the Sky district has limited hours from January until early March. And, since the only water source for this area of the park is the visitor center, that limited access to water. The Needles visitor center closes completely from late November until early March. Also, Ranger guided programs and hikes are halted during the winter. Rangers are, however, still on duty if you need them. Some of the businesses and restaurants in nearby Moab shut down for the cold season but there will still be plenty of options for shopping and dining.
Some people choose to visit during winter to save money. A hotel room that might cost $110 in the summer runs for only $35 in the winter. Flights, too, are cheaper, meaning you might be able to fly into nearby Canyonlands Regional Airport instead of Salt Lake City and driving 3 hours to Moab.
Spring in Canyonlands National Park
by Swisshippo from Getty Images
Hiking is the main attraction at Canyonlands in the spring. With miles of trails, you could spend days exploring the park, especially if you check out the longer backpacking trails in the Needles and Maze districts.
If you prefer two wheels underneath you, biking is also a popular activity. You could try mountain biking along the White Rim Trail below the Island in the Sky, or the nearby Slickrock bike trail east of Moab. The mild weather makes these activities not only tolerable but enjoyable.
Canyonland’s plants are also in peak form in the spring, with many wildflowers, cacti, and more in full bloom in May. Spring also means the visitor center hours are extended beyond their winter hibernation. You’ll have more opportunities to interact with the park rangers. If you can get there early enough to beat the line, that is. Remember, with warm weather comes tourists. And with tourists come the price hikes. Spring sees price increases as competition for hotel rooms, camping spots, rental cars, flights, and more also increases. However, if you’re looking to save some money, avoid major crowds and experience the park in warmer months, spring is a better option than summer.
Annual Events in Nearby Moab
Moab and the surrounding area hosts a number of exciting annual events. Nearby events usually mean that hotel and flight rates will shoot up! If you're budgeting or looking to visit the park for an event, here's a list of some annual events in Moab.
- Rock, Gem, and Mineral Show
- Holiday Art & Craft Fair
For a complete list of activities, visit www.moabhappenings.com
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