My first trip to Arches National Park was in the winter during a freak snow storm. And it was gorgeous.
One of the best things about being in Utah is that you can practically throw a stick and hit a national park. There are so many outdoor activities in this beautiful state that we have found something fun to do almost every week we are here! In December we specifically decided to visit Moab, a city known for it’s gorgeous national parks featuring classic desert red rock, because temperatures would be lower.
They ended up being a lot lower.
Turns out we were in Moab, Utah, for the exact days of the freak snow storm of 2017.
We woke up on our first full day in Moab to 6″ of snow on the ground, and snowfall so continuous and strong that we could hardly see a hand in front of us. I’d been most excited to see the famous Arches National Park for the first time, but, unfortunately, it was closed for almost two days due to the weather.
Arches National Park in Winter
After 4 attempts, we finally got into the park on our last afternoon in Moab. We checked their Twitter page for opening updates, which totally paid off! Despite the deep snow, we were still part of a larger crowd after the park had only been open for 30 minutes. They were probably like us- tourists who’d made a special trip to the area and stuck around for days waiting for a chance to see the iconic formations.
At first I didn’t understand why the park had been closed for so long. The roads had been easy to clear once the snow slowed down, and even appeared impeccably dry. Things became clear when approaching our first landmark, Window Arch. It was a gradual uphill climb with no visible path, save for the tracks left by the few people before us. We trusted those steps completely to lead us the right way. With a wrong step you’d be over a foot deep in snow, between rocks, or land on a slick patch of ice underneath the snow. After a few close encounters with a dangerous fall we collectively decided it was worth walking up to the arch single-file through the tenuous path, back-to-back with other trekkers.
At the top of the arch the snow had started to melt, but not completely, as new snow fell. This left a layer of slick ice underneath powdery snow . The obscured safe walking area plus the slick rocks plus the convergence of impatient tourists made the experience pretty scary. We weren’t comfortable staying at the arch’s viewpoint for long; being pushed out of the way so other’s could photograph a clear shot on top of slick ice wasn’t worth the risk for us. This may be the only time I admit something wasn’t worth the risk of getting a picture. Savor it.
A less responsible person could easily slip and fall through the upper window. In fact, we’ll probably hear about one such tourist in the local news later.
While driving through the park I could safely appreciate how gorgeous it all was. With snow mounded perfectly atop each red rock formation, the scene felt intentionally designed by the Disney set crew. Is there a Cars winter special? If so, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Has Gru stolen the real Arches and left almost-real looking styrofoam slabs in their place? I honestly wouldn’t be surprised.
Related: More U.S. National Parks in Winter
At this point I’m not sure if I feel robbed or lucky that we found ourselves at Arches National Park in winter. It was treacherous, cold, uncomfortable (who thinks to bring snow clothes and boots to the desert?), I was unable to photograph the way I’d like, and we didn’t see the classic Arches formations. On the other hand, how often does it snow there? It was an absolutely gorgeous sight and a highly unlikely experience that we feel pretty lucky to have witnessed.
Good thing I’ve always been a half-glass-full sort of person.
While you’re in Moab, Utah, you should also drive UTVs in the snow and take a guided hike through the red rock!
(This is an affiliate link. I will receive a small commision if you choose to purchase this product.)