Moab is busiest in the summer when kids are out of school and can join families on visits to national parks, and when activities like whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and extreme sports like skydiving are at their most appealing. In winter, things slow down. There are fewer visitors and events in town, and some hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions close for a few weeks.
But the winter season has its own charms: the trails are less crowded, and the occasional snowfall highlights the dramatic colors and contours of the landscape.
“We typically close for December and January,” said Megan Fryer, owner of Rustic Inn in downtown Moab, adding that she and her staff take advantage of the time off and the reduced crowds to visit the national parks.
Visitors wishing to avoid high-season crowds will often book at Rustic Inn in late November or February. That timeframe is also appealing for travelers on a budget. Room rates are lower during those times of year, Fryer said. (She encourages people to book directly with the hotel for a discount and to avoid paying fees to an intermediary booking site.) Many repeat guests enjoy the slower pace and the unique aesthetic of Moab in the winter.
“The skies really do glow here in December,” Fryer said. Photographers often visit in late fall and early winter to catch the most dramatic sunrises. Winter’s cooler temperatures may also be friendlier to travelers who want to hike with their dogs.
Brian Hunnings, general manager of Red Cliffs Lodge outside Moab, said some visitors prefer the winter season because of the abundant opportunities to see wildlife. Hunnings himself saw a mountain lion near the lodge in mid-November. It was late at night and he was taking his dogs out — “they have the smallest bladders in the world,” he joked — and he saw the lion’s green eyes glowing in the light of his headlamp. Hunnings backed respectfully away from the area, ending the encounter without drama.
Red Cliffs Lodge sits along the Colorado River outside of Moab, and the river corridor attracts birds and animals. Hunnings said bald eagles are a frequent winter sighting. Some of Red Cliff Lodge’s most loyal repeat guests are bird watchers and animal enthusiasts who come to observe nature in the serenity of winter.
Red Cliffs Lodge also offers activities for guests both on- and off-site year-round, including in winter.
“We have tons of stuff you can do,” Hunnings said. Many tours and activities lend themselves more to the warmer seasons, but there are special winter activities open both to guests (usually complementary with a stay) and the public (usually for a fee).
On Saturdays in December, the lodge hosts craft sessions, such as candle-making or wreath-making, with lunch included. There’s also a breakfast with Santa Claus, where children can meet the man in red and receive a small gift — if they’re on the nice list, of course.
“Our holiday elves make that happen,” Hunnings said.
The lodge restaurant, The Cowboy Grill, has special holiday meals: a Thanksgiving buffet and a Christmas brunch. And on New Year’s Eve, Red Cliffs hosts a party that includes fireworks at midnight.
Other activities available year-round include yoga, sound baths, and various art and craft classes. There’s an on-site film museum tracing the rich history of movie-making in the Moab area. The lodge also arranges tours like hiking and horseback riding. Some are best suited to the high season, but some, such as drives with the on-site Bronco Off-Roadeo, are good options to get out and see the landscape in winter. Motorized tours take visitors to many iconic views and features around Moab.
Parks near Moab — Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Dead Horse Point State Park — are open in winter and usually see fewer visitors in the cooler months. There are fewer interpretive programs, and visitor center hours may be shortened. Also, road and trail conditions might be perilous if there’s ice or snow. But, as the Arches National Park website says, winter “is a peaceful time, without the crowds or scorching heat that can plague summertime visits.”
Feature Image courtesy of Red Cliffs Lodge.