With few visitors and spectacular sunsets this time of year, late afternoons in January are often a great time to hike to Arches National Park's Double O Arch. The National Park Service is waiving entrance fees at Arches and other national parks and monuments on Monday, Jan. 16, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. [Photo by Kait Thomas / Courtesy of the National Park Service]

The winter season is an excellent time for local residents to visit Arches and Canyonlands national parks. Traffic is light and there are no crowds.

People can even visit for free when entrance fees are waived on Monday, Jan. 16, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

The National Park Service’s Southeast Utah Group, which also includes Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments, will join national parks nationwide in waiving entrance fees for several days in 2017 as a way to encourage people to get outdoors and spend time in the national parks.

“Delicate Arch, The Windows or Grand View Point are great in the wintertime when you can possibly have those areas to yourself,” NPS interpretive specialist Karen Garthwait said. “It’s wonderful for the locals. I think the views are even better in the wintertime,” due to the drier air, and clearer viewshed.

Garthwait called the view at Grand View Point Overlook in the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands particularly “breathtaking” this time of year.

“In the winter when the Henry Mountains are covered with snow, they pop out on the horizon,” she said.

Garthwait offered a tip for people who visit the parks this time of the year to watch for the possibility of ice.

“During the winter a lot of places are hidden behind rock and not getting sunlight,” she said. “There can be a surprise patch of ice on an otherwise dry trail.”

She recommends wearing a traction device – micro spikes that slip onto the bottom of shoes. Sold at outdoor gear stores, the traction devices are also typically available at the Arches Visitor Center bookstore.

On the way to Delicate Arch, park guide and interpreter Glenn Reynolds recommends first checking out the Wolfe Ranch cabin and a petroglyph panel of a Ute Indian hunting scene.

“Kids love that a lot,” Reynolds said.

At the northern end of Arches National Park is Little Sand Dune Arch – which is only a third of a mile round trip.

“You go through a crack – there’s a small arch inside,” Reynolds said. “The sand is deep. Children for sure, enjoy that.”

Reynolds also mentioned the mile-and-a-half trail to Landscape Arch, as a rolling, easy hike, although one that tends to get icy in the winter.

A hike toward Balanced Rock, on the way to the Windows section, is a short walk that gets families out of the car and to a closer look at the Rock, Reynolds said.

Or, stop by the park’s visitor center, Reynolds said, and “we can help customize your tour for the day.”

The Arches Visitor Center is open year-round, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

However, visitor centers at both the Needles and Island in the Sky sections of Canyonlands are closed for the winter. Thus, people are encouraged to research the area via the park’s website, or bring a map.

Additional 2017 free entrance days at all national parks will be Feb. 20 for Presidents’ Day; April 15 and 16, and April 22 and 23 – weekends of National Park Week; the National Park Service’s birthday on Aug. 25; National Public Lands Day on Sept. 30; and Veterans Day weekend on Nov. 11 and 12.

National parks host fee-free day on Jan. 16

“Delicate Arch, The Windows or Grand View Point are great in the wintertime when you can possibly have those areas to yourself … It’s wonderful for the locals.”

When: Monday, Jan. 16

Where: Arches and Canyonlands national parks; Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments

Information: www.nps.gov/arch, www.nps.gov/cany, www.nps.gov/hove and www.nps.gov/nabr