Ultimate Utah: Fun Winter Activities Your Whole Family Will Enjoy

Sledding down pink sand dunes, discovering ancient forts, and viewing dinosaur prints are just some of the fun winter activities in Utah.
Winter activities in Zion National Park, Utah, USA
Utah winter activities (Photo: Shutterstock)

Home to seven national monuments, five national parks, and more than 40 state parks, Utah is a natural playground for outdoors-loving families. In the winter months, that means everything from sledding or skiing down pink sand dunes to crawling through lava rocks, discovering ancient forts, and viewing petroglyphs and dinosaur prints—sometimes all in the same day. 

If that sounds like your idea of a fun winter vacation, it might be time to consider a family road trip or winter vacation to the Beehive state. Here are some of the best Utah winter activities for families.

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Fun Winter Activities in and around Salt Lake City, Utah

Sunset over Salt Lake City and the mountains (Photo: S. Greenwood)
Sunset over Salt Lake City and the mountains (Photo: S. Greenwood)

The metro area and mountain ranges around Salt Lake City account for two-thirds of Utah’s population. Most people associate Salt Lake in winter with epic skiing, but there are plenty of other winter activities to discover beyond the slopes as well. Among the most walkable cities in the U.S., Salt Lake City is perfect for a winter stroll. Many people choose to visit Temple Square to marvel at the enormous church, enjoy the reflecting ponds, and take in the history of the Mormon religion in the state.

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The Maven District and downtown neighborhoods are a good place to shop or grab a bite to eat. Be sure to visit the Cotopaxi outdoor store. Other popular things to do in Salt Lake City during the winter are a stop at Caputo’s Market and Deli, shopping at the Land of Salt boutique, and taking the must-see downtown mural tour.

Just 25 minutes from Salt Lake City in Park City, Woodward Park City is a 60-acre ski and snowboard area that offers both indoor and outdoor adventures. For a fun, snowy night, try a two-hour tubing session on snow luges that are safe enough for the little ones and fast enough for big kids. On the mountain, you can enjoy Utah winter activities like skiing and snowboarding, as well as lessons, clinics, and camps.

A 45-minute drive from city center, Utah’s Antelope Island State Park has 42 square miles to explore inside the Great Salt Lake itself. Among the largest of the lake’s islands, the jarring cliffs and expanse of salt water call to mind visions of the Dead Sea. In winter and spring, you can enjoy numerous scenic hikes along the spine of the island, and will have the opportunity to spot bison roaming the landscape. Antelope Island is also renowned for its dark skies and stargazing opportunities. And there are campgrounds here if you choose to make an overnight trip out of it. 

St. George and the Greater Zion Area Winter Activities

Winter snow at Bryce Canyon National Park (Photo: NPS)
Winter snow at Bryce Canyon National Park (Photo: NPS)

The southwest corner of Utah has wild weather and an even wilder approach to outdoor adventure. This blossoming mecca of Utah winter activities is a 90-minute drive from the Las Vegas airport and has numerous non-stop flights from the local St. George airport, making it both an ideal fly-to and drive-to destination. And it’s not just attractive to vacationers, either. Over the past two decades, St. George and the greater Zion area has been one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the state. With a climate similar to Las Vegas, the southwest corner of Utah is a stark contrast from other parts of the state. 

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The Greater Zion area is blessed with abundant historical sites and national parks to visit in winter: Zion National Park is an obvious draw, Bryce Canyon National Park is a two-hour drive away, and the Grand Canyon is just 2.5 hours away. Many other parks are within four hours. 

For the ultimate in Utah winter activities, however, don’t skip over the local attractions. With more than 350 miles of mountain bike trails and four state parks, there are a lot of things to do here. Sand Hollow State Park has the Sand Hollow Reservoir (most popular in the warmer months for boating, fishing, and diving, but still quite scenic in the winter months). At Sand Mountain, there’s a red sandstone landscape and a popular off-road vehicle ride among the dunes. Snow Canyon State Park combines lava flows, petrified dune caves, and sandy trails with incredible camping and horseback rides. 

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All this new attention for Utah winter activities in the region has spawned a wave family-focused lodging options, too. Staybridge Suites, which opened in 2020, has kitchenettes that are perfect for families, as well as snack hours, a heated hot tub, and a stunning sport court with basketball, tennis, and more. (There’s also an outdoor swimming pool if you visit when the weather’s nice.) The hotel is also pet-friendly and has an outdoor fire pit and a full-service restaurant.

Utah’s iconic Red Mountain Resort is a bucket-list family vacation spot for the tweens, teens, and college-aged kids in your family. The 55-acre resort for families with kids ages 12 and up is posh and can be either all-inclusive (with food and activity packages) or a la carte. Situated against the red rock cliffs adjacent to Snow Canyon State Park, the resort overlooks black lava gardens in an alpine desert. There are 82 rooms, 24 villa suites (with kitchens), Wi-Fi and flat screen televisions in each room, and options for three healthy meals a day at the onsite restaurant or from the grab-and-go café.

Red Mountain Resort’s adventure concierge handles all bookings, including more than 50 different fitness classes weekly, guided hiking and biking, full-service salon and spa, indoor and seasonal outdoor pool times, whirlpool visits, wellness testing, cooking demonstrations, and maps for the spiral labyrinth and walking trails on property.

The focus of the resort is health, wellness, and adventure. The original National Institute of Fitness, the Red Mountain Resort continues its commitment to outdoor invigoration with non-traditional spa and wellness activities such as energy healing, chakra balancing, intuitive astrology, and oracle readings. It’s also pet-friendly, another perk for families.

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Among the best Utah winter activities for families in the St. George and the Greater Zion region is ATV and Jeep Adventures, the area’s longest-running ATV and Jeep-UTV company. It has access to many historic sites and heritage areas not available to other companies, and can accommodate children as young as three with a car seat provided by the parents (so make sure that’s on your baby packing list).

For families, I recommend the five-hour backcountry tour with lunch and snacks included. It covers 45 miles and visits dinosaur tracks, petroglyphs, an abandoned fort from the Black Hawk war era, and a gypsum mine where the children can “mine” glitter to take home by the bag.  

Kanab, Utah’s Best Kept Secret for Winter Activities 

You’ve probably never heard of Kanab, and that’s because so much of what makes this area a great destination for winter fun in Utah still feels a bit wild. The downtown strip calls to mind the quintessential and iconic American West. The area has been known as “Little Hollywood” for more than 80 years, and there are numerous abandoned films sets close to town that are fun to visit. Kanab is also gaining popularity for road cycling, but it’s the slot canyons like Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Slot—and other permit-only bucket-list-worthy formations such as The Wave and White Pocket—that truly deliver on the area’s promise of wild outdoor adventure. 

Speaking of wild, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is five miles north of city center. The non-profit animal sanctuary is situated on 3,700 acres in Angel Canyon, with an additional lease of 17,000 acres. Here they offer tours and educational and volunteer opportunities. On any given day, the sanctuary is home to about 1,700 rescue animals, mostly dogs and cats, but also horses, burros, birds, rabbits, goats, pigs, and an assortment of other creatures. Make sure to book your tour of the facility in advance. There are numerous options from general tours to animal-specific visits. 

Whether you’re visiting Kanab with a pet, or rescuing a new family member, Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile is the place to stay with your pet. More than pet-friendly, this hotel bills itself as pet-centric. And its extremely modern and chic, too, with special sleeping nooks for dogs and two “cats only” rooms as well. For the humans, there are stunning tiled bathrooms, sliding barn doors, sitting spaces, and even two-floor family bunk suites for the whole crew. Continental breakfast is provided for lodging guests in the Mercantile each morning. But the best part is the dog park and adjacent community fire pit behind the motel. 

Feeling the need for sand and sun? Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is only a 20-minute drive from city center, yet it’s like something from another planet: dunes of pink sand formed formed by winds rushing through red canyons. It’s a haven for off-road adventurists and non-traditional sports. You can rent sandboards or sand sleds at the front entrance to the park. Hike up the dunes as many times as you want, and have a fun ride down. You can bring your own equipment, too—think skis, sleds, or a fat bike. 

Adventure Tour Company offers a number of family-friendly tour packages that include visits to an abandoned movie set or a longhorn cattle ranch. For families, my pick is the evening campfire in the spring—it’s warm, cozy and located at a fort that’s been used to film everything from the Disney classic The Apple Dumpling Gang to the HBO show Westworld. Think hot dogs and sausages over the fire, some cowboy tales, and one heck of a sunset. Definitely Hollywood-worthy! 

Alternative Lodging Options for Your Family’s Utah Winter Activities

Utah has one of the greatest newly constructed hotel selections in the United States, but the lodging options don’t stop there. From yurts to canvas tents, you can find plenty of exciting and unusual lodging alternatives for families, too. 

Escalante Yurts 

Named for its location in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Escalante Yurts are easily among the most luxurious family glamping yurts you’ll ever encounter. A quick turn off from Scenic Byway 12 between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks—not to mention just a short drive from Calf Creek Falls, Spooky and Peeka-Boo Slot Canyons, Devil’s Garden, and Hell’s Backbone Bridge—their scenic location only adds to these glamping yurts’ appeal. 

Open year-round, Escalante Yurts are ideally situated and come with outdoor grills, giant swings, and an appealingly landscaped natural enclave. The spacious yurts are available in two sizes:

1) The 450-square-foot yurts that sleep up to four guests and come with a king-sized canopy bed, a pull-out sofa sleeper, gas grill, games, microwave, a coffee/tea maker, mini fridge, Wi-Fi, heater and air conditioner (think Utah desert extremes), and a large-screen TV.

2) The 900-square-feet yurts that come with the same amenities and sleep up to seven guests comfortably. The larger yurts also have a kitchenette and loft. All yurt guests receive breakfast each morning, and there’s also a community fire pit. 

Stargazing opportunities abound after dark. Simply lay back in the plush beds and look up through the glass top of your yurt, or step outside to see spectacular skies. The solitude, hospitality, and attention creature comforts are remarkable. 

Under Canvas

The Under Canvas lodging concept has exploded in popularity since launching a few years ago adjacent to many of America’s iconic national parks, including several in Utah. Here you can stay in safari-style canvas tents with optional en suite bathrooms, king-size beds, and wood-burning stoves. Nightly s’mores by the campfire, complimentary camp activities, and adventure bookings that can be made directly from the main tent at each location are all part of the Under Canvas experience. Firewood is delivered to each tent and a tutorial on heating/cooling is included. There are also onsite restaurants and small “adventure stores” at each camp selling sundry items. 

Canvas tent options include a Deluxe tent with king-size bed, a private en suite bathroom with shower, sink and flushing toilet, and wood-burning stove. The Stargazer is the same as the Deluxe with the bonus of a viewing window above the king bed. The Suite tent has all the same amenities as the Deluxe, but also has an added lounge area with a queen-size sofa bed. The Safari is also similar to the Deluxe, except there’s a bathhouse instead of en suite facilities.

And, a huge family bonus in Utah, is the Beehive tent. This is a kids’ tent that can be added to any other safari tent. The kids’ tent includes two twin beds, luxurious linens, and a side table with a lantern and fan. The Beehive tent is positioned directly adjacent to the adults’ tent. 

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Julie Bielenberg
Julie Bielenberg is an award-winning journalist and photographer based in Colorado. She is a national leader in agritourism and publishes more than 50 editorial assignments annually for over a dozen outlets.