BRYCE CANYON CITY - Question: What do you do when winter seems to be dragging on forever and you have a holiday weekend coming up? Answer: You embrace the beauty of the season and head to Bryce Canyon Winter Festival.
Hosted by Ruby’s Inn at the gateway to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, Winter Festival is an annual celebration held on President’s Day weekend that allows guests to truly embrace the magic of winter.
With activities ranging from archery clinics, snowshoe walks, fat bike demos, yoga, line dancing, magic shows and a host of other indoor and outdoor adventures, the three-day (Saturday-Monday) Winter Festival has something for everyone.
Gifted with a three-day weekend, the kids and I packed our car to the brim with feather blankets, coats, gloves, snow pants, boots and several changes of warm socks and headed up to party in the snow.
We arrived midway through the first day of the festival and watched with glee as a host of people gathered at the archery range to test their skills with a bow and arrow.
Ready to start participating in all the fun, we quickly headed to the Ruby’s Inn Winter Adventure Center located at Ebenezer’s Barn and Grill to rent some ice skates and try our desert legs (we’re from Southern Utah where it rarely snows) on a winter playground.
What followed next was a series of adventures and misadventures on the ice as my three kids - ages 12, 10, and 7 - navigated the slippery surface while pop music played on a loudspeaker and the sun set over a field of white
After having our fill of ice skating we returned our skates just as Ebenezer’s was filling up with people for a line dancing clinic.
Never one to waste a chance to dance - or to warm up - I jumped in line and started scuffing, stomping and grapevining my “Achy Breaky Heart” with the crowd.
Day one was topped off with Pizza, hot tubbing at our hotel (The Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel) and watching a movie while we plotted our day two agenda.
When guests arrive at Winter Festival they are given a three-day schedule of activities available during the event with instructions on how, where, and when to sign up or show up.
Most of the events are free but a few require a participation fee. All fees are listed up front so there are no surprises.
Most events take place in or near Ruby’s Inn and event registration is located in the Ruby’s Inn lobby. Some events take place in Bryce Canyon National Park (park fees apply), and a few are located on Dixie National Forest land. All outdoor events are dependent upon weather conditions.
The kids and I awoke on day two to find it snowing - A LOT - and were thrilled at the prospect of heading out to play.
We originally wanted to join a guided snowshoe walk in the Dixie National Forest but when we got to registration the 25 person cap had already been reached and an overflow list had been started.
Rather than take our chances on the waiting list, we returned to the Winter Adventure Center, rented snowshoes, and headed to Bryce Canyon National Park.
The rangers at the park kindly suggested we snowshoe to Fairyland Point on a family-friendly trail with extraordinary views.
I am not going to lie, with three kids and only one adult, the two mile round-trip trek was not easy. The kids could not understand why their legs felt so heavy marching in the snow at 7,700 feet elevation. BUT! The views of Bryce Canyon’s famous hoodoos all covered in snow were worth every step!
Following our snowshoe adventure we took a short break and then joined a fat bike demo. This was largely an adult activity mainly due to the fact that they didn’t have bikes small enough for my younger kids but they were quite content to sit in the saddle and get pushed around a bit.
For me, the fat bike demo was a highlight of the festival. There is just something so smile-inducing about riding a bike on a snow covered trail.
Admittedly we were pretty exhausted after snowshoeing and fat biking so we took a break and caught a magic and puppet show in Ruby’s Inn. The show was geared toward the younger crowd but still managed to entertain all my kids and gave us the opportunity to warm up and rest our legs.
We finished out our day at the Hot Air Balloon Glow. Due to heavy snowfall, the pilots were unable to unfurl their balloons but they still set up their baskets and fuel and put on a show with huge flames shooting into the sky.The combination of the falling snow and shooting flames - fire and ice - was very primal.
The balloon glow was very family-friendly and several of the balloon pilots allowed children to climb into their baskets and experience the glow from an up close perspective.
Day two ended with more pizza and hot tubbing. Because ... why not?! On day three, though the festival continued into Monday, we decided we were exhausted so we got some hot chocolate at the Ruby’s Inn General Store and headed down the stunning Highway 12 through Red Canyon and onto home.
In between all that, we had rambunctious snowball fights, played with giant icicles, walked what seemed like a million miles on snow covered paths and created memories that we will forever cherish.
Though we packed our days full of adventure we barely scratched the surface of what was available to us as far as activities, which is great, because we plan to make Bryce Canyon Winter Festival a family tradition for years to come.