Mention skiing in Utah and Park City probably comes to mind. But that’s not the only place to enjoy winter in Utah. Tucked away in southern Utah are more family-friendly resorts with year-round activities. Brian Head Resort is a small, kid-friendly ski resort, and majestic Bryce Canyon National Park offers miles of snowy cross-country and snowshoe trails. In nearby St. George, beautiful red rock canyons beckon hikers of all levels.
Utah in Winter
Utah is wildly popular for its 14 diverse ski resorts, most of which are just a short drive from Salt Lake City. But there’s another fabulous family ski resort – Brian Head, somewhat under the radar because of its rather remote location in southern Utah. To get there, you can fly into Las Vegas and drive about three hours to the resort. From southern California, it’s about a seven hour drive, well worth packing the SUV if you’re toting ski gear and a carload of kids.
Whether you fly or drive, a road trip through scenic southern Utah is spectacular any time of year.
A small group of journalists and I embarked on a five-day road trip through southern Utah’s St. George, Brian Head and Bryce Canyon National Park. From rock climbing and rappelling to skiing and snowmobiling, we packed in five full days of thrilling outdoor adventures. While my three kids didn’t join me on this trip, I know they would have loved all of these exciting, family-friendly activities.
Red Mountain Resort, St. George
About a two-hour drive from the Las Vegas Airport, Red Mountain Resort is a wellness/adventure retreat surrounded by towering red cliffs. The laid-back luxury resort offers spacious suites, delicious (and healthy) meals, a dome-shaped spa, fitness center and guided outdoor excursions. Since it rarely snows (and even then, just a dusting) in St. George, the mild winter weather is ideal for exploring the outdoors.
Among the resort’s excursions is M.E.E.T (Mustang Educational Experiential Teachings) the Mustangs. This was an incredible experience where we learned about and interacted with wild horses (which actually seemed more tame to me than domesticated horses I’ve seen). As we approached the herd of about 20, which were gathered in small groups, one of the honey-colored horses – Hickory – walked right up to me. She was so sweet. Standing off to the side were the Velcro Boys, a group of males that apparently always hang out together.
In the two hours we were there, we learned how to communicate with some of the horses, using body language (including hugs) to interact. We each had an opportunity to lead a horse using arm gestures and connect with him.
The next day’s activity – canyoneering – was more challenging. We climbed and scrambled over steep terrain, often squeezing through narrow crevices (while wearing backpacks). Once at the top, we donned harnesses and gloves to rappel down cliffs. While it was scary to step off backwards down a cliff, it was also exhilarating! Although I can’t say I did it with great style, I was proud of myself for managing four rappels with some dignity and without any injuries.
Back at the resort, we borrowed bikes (complimentary for resort guests) to explore the surrounding area. I cut my ride short to warm up and soothe my muscles at the spa. Meal times and evening soaks in a Jacuzzi were a relaxing way to wind down our active days.
Brian Head Resort
After hearing about Brian Head from friends for a couple of years, it was a delight to finally “meet” the mountain, where I immediately felt comfortable. There’s nothing pretentious about the resort, which has Utah’s highest base elevation (9,600 feet) and more than 650 acres with eight chairlifts and 71 runs. That makes it big enough to not get bored but small enough so families can’t get lost. Older kids can ski on their own and easily find their parents for lunch.
The food, by the way, is really good, especially the weekend barbecues (slow cooked brisket and pork) hand prepared by the resort’s friendly owner who can be found hanging out with guests for après--ski drinks.
The leading-edge ski school features Terrain-Based Learning (TBL) for beginners, and additional classes for those seeking to hone their skills. I skied with Mark Wilder, a veteran instructor who lives in nearby Cedar City, but enjoys the close-knit community of Brian Head (population: about 100). After a day or two skiing in Brian Head it’s easy to be on a first-name basis with the locals.
Besides the great snow and friendly locals, a good reason to ski here are the cheap lift tickets: from $35 adults, $25 kids. Home-base for our stay was Cedar Breaks Lodge, which has modest but comfortable rooms with kitchenettes, fireplaces and Jacuzzi tubs.
In addition to skiing, we also went snow tubing, snowmobiling, and bundled up for a star gazing party (lots of fun facts). On the three-hour Thunder Mountain Snowmobile Tour, we trekked through the back country where we got close-up views of Cedar Breaks National Monument’s red rocks draped in snow.
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Bryce Canyon National Park
For our last stop on our southern Utah road trip, we rented cross-country skis to explore Bryce Canyon National Park, best known for spire-shaped rock formations. Though spectacular any time of year, the park is especially majestic in winter when snow sugars the jagged rocks. Not a skier? There are plenty of beautiful vista points accessible by car.