While many families wait until at least the Easter break to head to southern Utah, a growing number have learned not to wait that long. A trip to Bryce Canyon City on Presidents Day weekend for the Bryce Canyon Winter Festival has become a winter tradition.
Now in its 24th year, the 2011 version is being held Feb. 19-21 at Ruby's Inn, just outside Bryce Canyon National Park.
"It started as a way to promote business in the winter and it has just taken off," said Jean Seiler, with Ruby's Inn. "We have seen a real surge in the past few years of people bringing groups of friends. They just have a lot of fun."
From kayak demos in the indoor pool to archery clinics to Western dance instruction, there is plenty to keep a family busy the entire weekend. The main events include an archery/cross-country skiing biathlon on Sunday and cross-country ski races for all ages on Presidents Day.
Bryce Canyon may not seem like a skiing destination, but there is usually plenty of snow on Presidents weekend. Bryce Canyon National Park is Utah's highest-elevation park, after all. And even on those odd years when there isn't enough snow, the main events are turned into running races and there are still plenty of other options.
Ruby's Inn grooms 30 kilometers of Nordic track and rents skis. Visitors are also allowed to ski in the Bryce Canyon National Park as long as they follow simple rules.
Speaking of the park, rangers provide a special list of activities for the holiday weekend recognizing that there is an influx of visitors due largely to the Winter Festival. National Park rangers will host daily geology talks and snowshoe hikes Feb. 17-21. Timing this year allows for a special full-moon snowshoe hike on Feb. 17 and 18.
Bryce is one of the best places in the world to stargaze. There will be a full-moon viewing event with telescopes on Feb. 17 and solar astronomy events Feb. 18-20. A stunning multimedia astronomy show, followed by stargazing with telescopes, will be held on Feb. 19 and 20.
"We think the full-moon hikes will be very popular," Seiler said. "The park has been great a great partner in the winter festival. The astronomy programs are some of the best in the world."
The featured guest speaker this year is Bruce Tremper, director of the Utah Avalanche Center. Tremper's talk on the basics of avalanche safety will take place on the evening of Feb. 20. He includes information all winter adventurers in the mountains should know.
Skiing in Bryce Canyon National Park
See a video of cross-country skiing in Bryce Canyon National Park • www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EU_3RBAkjQ
Bryce Canyon WInter Festival
The 24th annual Bryce Canyon Winter Festival is Feb. 19-21 at Ruby's Inn just outside the park in Bryce Canyon City. The family-friendly festival features cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and kayaking clinics as well as watercolor classes and an archery biathlon. Bruce Tremper, director of the Utah Avalanche Center, is a guest speaker. Additionally, officials in Bryce Canyon National Park have created a number of special activities just for the holiday weekend. Visit rubysinn.com/winter.html#festival for details.