Winter hiking in the Southwest is serene, beautiful, and definitely doable. Snowfall is typically light and there are fewer visitors allowing you to enjoy open trails. The following winter hiking spots are located throughout the Southwest and accessible year-round:
- Fire Wave Trail, Valley of Fire State Park (1.5 miles, easy)
- Zion Canyon Overlook Trail, Zion National Park (1 mile, moderate)
- Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (1 mile, easy)
- Horseshoe Bend State Park (1.3 miles, easy)
- Ken’s Tours, Lower Antelope Canyon Tour (1 mile, easy)
- Rim Trail, Grand Canyon National Park (5 miles, easy)
- Cathedral Rock, Red Rock State Park (1.5 miles, hard)
- Devil’s Bridge, Red Rock State Park (4.5 miles, hard)
A snowstorm followed us to each destination and we soaked in the beauty of the Southwest under an untouched blanket of white snow. The itinerary covers 9 hikes in 6 days across 3 states. We flew into Las Vegas and flew out of Phoenix, giving us plenty of miles and spacious national parks to cover in-between.
Valley of Fire
After a couple of nights exploring Las Vegas, we rented a car and drove less than an hour to the Valley of Fire. The Fire Wave trail was a great start to the trip. It’s a beginner-friendly and pet-friendly hike that can be done in all-weather.
Driving into the valley is breathtaking and I recommend giving yourself an hour and a half to explore Fire Wave Trail. From there we drove to Zion National Park, about 2 hours away.
Zion National Park
We stayed in an Airbnb in the park, but there was plenty of B&Bs in the area. After a quick bite to eat at Park House Café, we set out for a day in the East Zion slot canyons which are fifteen minutes outside of the national park borders. You can book the experience directly through Airbnb. There was only one other couple on the tour which made it an intimate experience. The guide told us that they can have upwards of twenty people during summer tours – another reason hiking in winter is the way to go!
The adventure started with an off-road UTV ride through private land. A quick, thirty-minute hike brought us to the top of the canyon where we spent hours rappelling over 150ft. We had plenty of time to explore the wonders of the canyon on our own.
Day two at Zion National Park included two short hikes, Parus Trail and Overlook Canyon. Parus Trail is on a creek, pet-friendly and has some incredible views, but there are better hikes in the park.
Overlook Canyon is a quick, heavily trafficked hike with spectacular views. It was snowing throughout our hike and we enjoyed every second in the cool, crisp air. The trail includes a small cave and colorful full-valley views.
If you have an extra day in Zion, I highly recommend Angel’s Landing which is a difficult eight-mile trail with steep drop-offs. We chose to do canyoneering instead of Angel’s Landing and do not regret it! It gives us something to look forward to the next time we are in Zion when the trail conditions are safe.
During the drive out of Zion, we stopped at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park which was about 30 minutes into our drive to Page, Arizona. We didn’t plan for this stop but saw the state park sign and went for it! The contrast between the mountains and sand dunes is spectacular and the park is pet-friendly.
Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon
We drove straight to Horseshoe Bend from the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. The trail is easy and pet-friendly. This is a highly trafficked trail and is closed on major holidays. It was packed when we arrived on Christmas Eve, but there is enough room to explore and get away from the crowds.
I could have stayed at Horseshoe Bend for hours! The calm blue water, olive moss-covered cliffs, and bright red canyon are captivating. It was snowing and low-lying clouds made the view even more mystical.
The next morning, we drove to Lower Antelope Canyon for a 10:30am tour with Ken’s Tours. The locals recommended an early-morning tour during the winter months to see purple minerals shining through the canyons low light. Lower Antelope Canyon is known for deep purples and intricate shapes, while Upper Antelope Canyon has spectacular summer sunbeams.
Lower Antelope Canyon is what inspired this trip for me. I have been dreaming of these canyons, shaped over thousands of years by flash floods, for years now. The dynamic colors change from a deep purple to golden orange while you wind through theatrical shapes.
Grand Canyon National Park
The snowstorm followed us 2 hours south to Grand Canyon National Park and covered the canyon in a sparkly white sheet of snow. We were originally going to hike Bright Angel Trail, but it was closed due to the snowstorm. South Rim Trail is an amazing pet-friendly alternative if you are battling bad weather! I recommend arriving early to avoid hours of traffic coming in and out of the park.
One of the highlights of the canyon was staying in an airstream thirty minutes south of the park. The airstream was completely off the grid and we arrived on a moonless night allowing the Milky Way to shine bright. I highly recommend renting a 4×4 if you plan to stay here.
Devil’s Bridge and Cathedral Rock
We drove two hours south to Sedona and immediately felt the vortex of this red rock city pull us in. All the drives throughout the trip took my breath away, but Sedona is a drive I will never forget. Both of our hikes were planned to be sunrise hikes, but the morning snowstorms pushed us to start later in the morning. I still recommend doing these hikes for sunrise or early morning to beat the large crowds.
Devil’s Bridge is a moderate hike with a long, winding road for the first two miles. This road is accessible for 4x4s and UTVs which can be rented in town. We walked the trail and marveled at prickly pear cactus and other southwest foliage along the trail. It was snowing during this hike the trail was extremely muddy. Hiking shoes or old tennis shoes with good traction are recommended.
Once you pass the muddy road, there are natural stairs and steep scrambles to the top of the bridge. The bridge is beautiful and wider than it looks! We explored the top of the trailhead for over thirty minutes before heading back down.
Cathedral Rock is another state park in Sedona that is not to be missed. We started the trail at 8am during a snowstorm and got one of the last parking spots at the trailhead.
This is a popular sunrise hike so arrive early to avoid the crowds and snag parking! The trail is difficult and continues at a steep incline for over a mile.
We explored the saddle further by taking a left at the “trail end” sign and a right when we came to a fork in the trail. There is a small, steep scramble that includes spectacular views of the valley. You could explore the saddle for a few hours. This was a quick, hard and rewarding way to end our holiday!
Winter hiking has drawbacks, but the benefits of cooler, empty trails made it a dream.
What to Pack
- Hiking backpack (we found our Marmot hiking bag at a garage sale for $5)
- Water bladder
- Headlamps for sunrise and sunset hikes
- First aid kit
I recommend buying snacks and meals upon arrival. Along with the hiking supplies, I packed 3 pairs of leggings, 3 shirts, 5 pairs of wool socks, undergarment necessities, and toiletry essentials. I mixed and matched my leggings and shirts, so I didn’t feel like I was wearing the same thing every day.
If you are hiking with your pet like we did, it’s best to buy travel bowls, food and a couple of dog toys upon arrival.
Pro-tips Before You Start Your Journey
Book your Antelope Canyon Tour a few months before your trip. These tours sell out!
Download a hiking mobile app to look up trail conditions in real-time. I recommend All Trails which allows you to download the trail map onto your phone and track your location even when you don’t have service.
You may not have cell phone service for most of the drive. Download songs or podcasts to enjoy on the ride. I use Amazon Music which is free for Amazon Prime members.
State and National Park Fees
The fee to enter each state park is $10. The Annual National Parks Pass is $80 and does not cover state park fees. Single-day national park passes are $30 and up depending on the park. If you plan on driving through national parks more than 3 times it will save you money to buy the Annual National Parks Pass. All passes can be purchased upon arrival at the parks. No need to look these up in advance!
I may have received a bag of coal from my family for Christmas this year, but I’d say the trip was well worth it. Check out my tips for Glacier National Park for more hiking inspiration!