Cycling and Snowshoeing the High Desert
Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Utah
Winter in canyon country is like stepping into a perpetual golden hour, when the sun lowers, the light softens, and the red rocks are dotted with snow. More important, the flood of hikers, bikers, and rafters dries up, leaving Arches and Canyonlands, on either side of Moab, up for grabs. "In the summer, there's a hundred people trying to shoot Delicate Arch," says photographer Dan Ballard of the iconic rock formation in Arches. "In winter, you may see no one at all." All the area's infamous biking trails are fair game, but the best experience once the snow falls is cross-country skiing in the La Sal Mountains, which loom over the area with views that stretch for hundreds of miles. The Utah highway department plows the 60-mile La Sal Mountain Loop Road in winter, so in the morning you can cruise up to the 9,600-foot parking lot at the Geyser Pass road, where groomed ski trails snake through the meadows. Then, once the sun starts turning the snow to slush, head back toward town for rock climbing at Wall Street, a sandstone cliff along the Colorado River. "It can be 30 degrees in town," says Nate Sydnor, owner of Moab Desert Adventures, which offers climbing trips year-round, "but it'll be 50 degrees and sunny on the wall." Think of Moab as your winter adventure wonderland, sans the cold.
Fly: Moab has limited flights, so head to Grand Junction, two hours east, which has more options and cheaper fares.
Stay: Dining in Moab is mediocre at best, so rent a Village Rim condo with a full kitchen — and a hot tub. [moabcondos.com]