Check out the best National Parks to Visit in Winter. You’ll experience less crowds and more natural beauty
Looking for the perfect winter escape? For all the outdoor lovers out there, there’s no need to hold off until the warmer months to visit the US’s most breathtaking national parks.
One big perk of visiting national parks in the winter? Way fewer people around. It’s less stressful that way! You get to enjoy the beautiful scenery, spot wildlife up close, and basically have nature almost all to yourself.
Believe it or not, the chillier months often offer the most rewarding outdoor experiences. Without summer crowds to cramp your style, these national parks are a no-brainer for your winter vacation list.
Why Visit National Parks In Winter?
It’s no secret that America’s National Parks are some of the most beautiful places on earth. However, you may not know that many of these parks are just as gorgeous in winter as they are in summer!
In fact, thanks to the lower prices and smaller crowds, winter may be the best time to visit a National Park. If you’re willing to bundle up and explore some of America’s most beautiful landscapes, you’ll be rewarded with uncrowded parks and plenty of activities to choose from.
💡Good To Know: in the winter months, many parks see crowds that are up to 90% lighter! So if you’re looking to avoid the crowds of peak season, winter is definitely the time to visit a National Park.
Are you looking to take a winter warm weather vacation in the US? If so don’t miss THIS article.
What To Know When Visiting US National Parks in Winter
If you’re visiting a national park in winter, there are a few things you should know. For starters, some sections of the parks may be closed during the winter months. These seasonal closures mean that you won’t be able to visit certain areas or take certain hikes.
However, don’t let this stop you from enjoying your trip! There are still plenty of things to do in winter at national parks.
Best National Parks In Winter
Let’s dive on it, are you ready?
1. Arches National Park – One Of The Prettiest National Parks
Nestled in Moab Utah, Arches National Park is a wonderland of red rock formations and contrasting blue skies. Home to over 2,000 natural stone arches, this park offers a spectacular landscape that is something you really need to see in person.
While it does snow in Arches during the winter, it isn’t enough to ruin the experience. In reality, just enough snowfalls to create an extremely striking contrast of white against the red rock terrain that is Arches’ trademark.
If you’re looking for a hike, the Delicate Arch trail (one of the most popular trails) offers a front-row seat to one of the most iconic natural arches.
💡 Good To Know: On our last winter visit to Arches, we hiked the Delicate Arch trail. Although the park doesn’t get heavy snow, there’s occasional snowfall. This can result in icy conditions, particularly in shaded areas. Make sure to wear appropriate footwear and be cautious while hiking.
2. Grand Canyon National Park
Experience the Grand Canyon like never before by taking on a winter hiking trip. Witness this canyon dusted in a blanket of snow for a truly unique adventure in one of America’s most iconic destinations.
The North Rim closes in the winter, but the South Rim (which is usually crowded at any other time of year) remains open, allowing you to explore some of the most famous hiking routes without competing with thousands of other people.
If you’d rather not work up a sweat, you can grab your car keys and take the picturesque route to Desert View (a small settlement). Or for a unique experience consider a Grand Canyon tour or book a flight to receive a birds-eye view of the canyon blanketed in snow, which offers a sight that will last a lifetime!
3. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
If you’re looking for a great winter-friendly national park to visit, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a perfect option.
Visitors can explore the park’s underground wonders, including the renowned Big Room, (the largest single cave chamber by volume in North America) where stunning limestone formations are beautifully illuminated.
The park’s underground temperature remains steady, making it a comfortable and unique winter destination.
If you’re up for a more adventurous experience, guided ranger-led tours offer the chance to delve deeper into the cave system, providing a glimpse into the park’s geological history.
Although the park’s bat flights are less common in winter, observing these creatures emerge from the cave at sunset remains an incredible spectacle.
Above ground, you can hike, explore the desert landscape, or take in the beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert landscape.
4. Acadia National Park
If winter sports get your heart racing, then Acadia National Park is your playground. Whether you’re hiking through fresh snow on snowshoes, cross country skiing on the more than 45 miles of groomed trails, patiently awaiting a catch ice fishing, or feeling the rush as you snowmobile, Acadia’s got the goods.
Not a fan of the chilly outdoors? You can still soak up Acadia’s winter magic without freezing your toes off. Just hop in your car and take a drive along the open sections of Park Loop Road.
💡Good To Know: Beginning December 1st, the Park Loop Road (the road that links many of the popular attractions in Acadia) is closed except for Ocean Drive and Jordan Pond Road.
5. Yellowstone National Park- Best National Park In December
Visiting Yellowstone in winter offers a different perspective of the park. The snow-covered landscapes turn into a winter wonderland filled with snow-capped mountains, frozen lakes, geysers, and with fewer tourists around it makes it easier to spot wildlife like bison, elk and wolves.
Getting into Yellowstone during winter is an adventure all its own. Most entrances shut down, so you’ve got to plan a bit more.
Your best bet is the North Entrance, open all year, or if you’re up for it, hop on a snowmobile or a snowcoach at other entrances.
If you’re looking for winter activities, there’s plenty to do. The park’s unplowed roads are open for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, offering a unique way to explore the park during the winter months.
6. Canyonlands National Park In Winter
Canyonlands in winter offers a different experience from the hot summer months. The cooler temperatures make hiking more enjoyable, and you can explore the unique districts like Island in the Sky and Needles with fewer crowds.
The Maze district, known for its rugged terrain, calls for adventurers. Plus, the clear desert skies are perfect for stargazing.
A short hike to Mesa Arch is a must for its iconic sunrise views, even in winter when it can get crowded. The sight of the sun peeking through the arch and illuminating the landscape is remarkable. If you’re an early riser, sunrise here is a must-see especially if you won’t be hiking any of the nearby trails in Arches National Park.
🥾 Are you new to winter hiking and looking to get out and explore one the best national parks for winter? Be sure to check out our winter hiking guide to get you ready for your adventure.
7. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon National Park in winter is a whole different experience. The crowds are way smaller, and seeing the famous red, orange, and white sandstone pinnacles (hoodoos) covered in snow are something special to see.
At elevations reaching 9,100 feet and an average winter snow accumulation close to 100 inches, Bryce Canyon and the surrounding area truly embrace the adventures of winter.
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in Bryce offer opportunities to both appreciate the landscape and enjoy nature. Many snowshoers opt for hikes along the Rim Trail, Bristlecone Loop, Fairyland Road, and Paria Road.
💡Good To Know: During winter, the first 3 miles are typically plowed, with the remainder subject to weather conditions. Fortunately, the initial 3 miles offer plenty to explore.
The most accessible scenic overlooks include:
- Sunset Point
- Inspiration Point
- Bryce Point
8. Rocky Mountain National Park A Backcountry Skiing Adventure
Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter is one of the best places to visit in Colorado it’s like stepping into a quieter, more serene world.
The summer crowds are long gone, leaving the snow-blanketed mountains views and frozen lakes to the few who dare the chill. The park’s unique winter landscape comes to life with frozen waterfalls, wildlife tracks in the snow, and maybe even the sight of an elk herd in the meadows.
Just remember to check road closures and pack extra layers; the beauty of this winter wonderland comes with chilly temperatures!
In winter, snowshoeing, cross-country, and backcountry skiing are popular activities in the park. The go-to spots for alpine touring here include Hidden Valley and the northern face of Flattop Mountain.
9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Peaks, Drives, And Wilderness All In One)
If you’ve been to Smoky Mountain during spring or summer months, you’re well aware of the crowds. That’s where winter steps in, providing a quieter and more peaceful alternative for hiking and exploring.
While most people associate this park with its lush spring greens or vibrant fall foliage, winter brings its own experience.
The colder months strip away the dense foliage, giving visitors clearer views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Due to variations in elevation, different areas of the Great Smoky Mountains receive different levels of snowfall each winter. But be ready – the higher elevations can get some serious snowfall, and some roads might be closed.
Hiking in the winter offers frozen waterfalls and snow-capped views, with trails for all levels. If cross-country skiing is more your speed, Clingmans Dome Road, closed to vehicles, offers an ideal trail to Tennessee’s tallest peak.
10. Grand Teton National Park
Snowmobiling is a great option in Grand Teton National Park due to limited vehicle access in winter. The park comes to life with wildlife like moose, elk, bison, and wolves displaying intriguing behavior in the colder months.
Summer hikers can swap their boots for nordic or cross-country skis, or snowshoes, to venture into the snow-covered Grand Teton National Park. Additionally, the park’s lakes, ideal for boating in the summer, offer excellent ice fishing opportunities during the winter.
For a unique winter wildlife experience, visit the National Elk Refuge, a key habitat for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wildlife. Here, you can book a sleigh ride to get up close with the elk and learn about this Wyoming herd.
Whether you’re skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, fat biking, or snowmobiling there’s plenty of winter fun to be had.
11. Mount Rainier National Park- Snowiest National Park With Back Country Skiing
Mount Rainier National Park an easy day trip from Seattle takes winter seriously. It’s a paradise for snowshoers and cross-country skiers, with trails that offer everything from peaceful woodlands to challenging ascents.
And the views? You’ll see Mount Rainier in a new light, its peak a stunning contrast against the clear winter sky. For a real treat, try a moonlit snowshoe walk.
Is Back country skiing your thing? If so, there’s nothing better than having bragging rights to skiing on an actual volcano.
Take the 4.5-mile trail up to Camp Muir. Not only will you catch killer views from spots like Panorama Point, but once you’re at 10,080-feet elevation, you’ve got a thrilling ski or board ride down the Muir snowfields.
Are you planning to winter camp at one of the best national parks in winter? If so, be sure to check out our camping guide to prep you for your adventure.
12. Zion National Park, Utah
Zion National Park in the winter? While most people are reminiscing about their summer hikes, you can be exploring Zion’s iconic canyons and cliffs with way fewer crowds.
The snow-draped landscapes give the park an almost magical touch. And the best part? Those crisp winter mornings where the park feels like it’s all yours.
Thanks to the canyon’s low elevation, popular trails stay pretty accessible, even when winter does its thing. Sure, you might encounter some ice, but closures? They’re rare.
Here’s why you should experience winter in Zion National Park. You can see the parks famous red rocks on a scenic drive through Kolob Canyon (check for partially closed sections in winter) or along the Zion Mt. Carmel Highway. And yes, hiking Angels Landing is still on the cards in the winter.
💡Good To Know: The highest level of precipitation is December to March, but the snow doesn’t last long on the valley floor. Ice and snow remain in higher elevations (Angels Landing), making some hikes more challenging during winter.
Warm National Parks In Winter
Warm National Parks in winter offer a welcome escape from the cold, providing beautiful and temperate destinations to explore during the chillier months.
13. Dry Tortuga National Park
Winter at Dry Tortugas is a stark contrast to many other national parks since you won’t find any snow or icy trails here.
Instead, this remote park, located about 70 miles west of Key West, offers a warm refuge with its clear, turquoise waters and historic fort.
The cooler months bring perfect conditions for snorkeling and exploring vibrant coral reefs, teeming with diverse marine life.
Plus, birdwatchers are in for a treat as winter is prime time for spotting rare migratory birds. With fewer visitors, you can enjoy a more peaceful experience, whether you’re soaking up some sun on pristine beaches or delving into the history of the massive Fort Jefferson.
14. Joshua Tree National Park
Nestled in Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park is a desert haven that offers a unique blend of natural wonders and outdoor adventures. This park is renowned for its iconic Joshua trees, and bizarre and ancient yucca plants.
Hikers can explore trails that meander through the desert, leading to unique geological features like Arch Rock and Wonderland of Rocks. Be sure to fuel up during your hike with some of our favorite hiking lunch ideas that are perfect for eating on the go.
Climbing enthusiasts are drawn to the park’s challenging routes on legendary rock formations, making Joshua Tree a world-renowned climbing destination.
Additionally, Joshua Tree is designated as a Dark Sky Park, making it a premier spot for stargazing under clear desert skies.
15. Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park a bucket list destination in Arizona located in the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona is approximately 1.5 hours from downtown Phoenix. The park is divided into the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District. The Tucson Mountain District is open all year, while the Rincon Mountain District is open from Feb to end of October.
The park gets its name from the saguaro cactus, which is native to the Sonoran Desert and grows only in Arizona, California, and Mexico.
Saguaro National Park has more than 165 miles of trails that wind through desert washes, foothills, and mountains. There are also picnic areas, campgrounds, and a visitor center in each district.
In winter, temperatures at Saguaro National Park range from the mid-60s to the low 70s during the day. This makes it a great time to visit because it’s not too hot and not too cold!
16. Everglades National Park, Florida
Visiting Everglades National Park in the winter offers a break from the intense heat and mosquitoes that often define the summer experience.
The milder temperatures make it an ideal time for outdoor activities like hiking and birdwatching, as the park’s diverse ecosystems are still bustling with wildlife.
You can explore the park’s trails and boardwalks without the sweltering heat, and it’s prime time for bird enthusiasts, as migratory birds make their winter home here.
Spotting alligators at Everglades National Park is an exciting experience that draws visitors from around the world. These prehistoric creatures are one of the park’s iconic symbols.
The best way to see alligators is by exploring the park’s waterways, like the Shark Valley Tram Road or the Anhinga Trail, where you can often find them basking in the sun or gliding through the water.
While some areas may be wet due to seasonal rains, the overall comfortable climate and decreased humidity create a more enjoyable and accessible adventure in this unique subtropical wilderness.
For a more immersive experience, consider taking an airboat tour through the swamps and marshes where you’re likely to encounter alligators and other wildlife that call the Everglades home.
17. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
The Petrified Forest National Park located in northeastern Arizona is open year around and is a great day trip from Phoenix.
The park gets its name from the large deposits of petrified wood that are found there. The park also contains archaeological sites, including the ruins of an ancient pueblo.
The Petrified Forest National Park is a beautiful place to visit any time of year, but it’s especially worth seeing in December when the temperatures are milder than in summer. During December, you’ll be able to see clear skies, which will allow you to see for miles into the distance!
While the park doesn’t typically receive heavy snowfall, the crisp winter air provides comfortable conditions for hiking and sightseeing.
Popular attractions like the Blue Mesa and Crystal Forest are less crowded, offering a more personal encounter with the petrified wood and vibrant badlands. It’s also an excellent time for stargazing, as the cold, dry air creates crystal-clear night skies.
18. Death Valley National Park, California
Although summertime trips to Death Valley National Park are not recommended (because it is hot… we’re talking temperatures in the 120-degree range!) Winter is a wonderful time to go to this magnificent park.
Don’t be fooled by its name. The region surrounding Death Valley National Park is vibrant with life, and there’s no better time of year to witness its desert magic than winter. The park’s popular dark skies make it a top spot for stargazing, and the crisp winter air enhances visibility.
Death Valley is one of the best US National Parks to visit in March because you’re not dealing with the scorching heat of the summer months.
19. Biscayne National Park, Florida
Do you want to feel warmer and more energetic? If you’re searching for a beach and a natural experience, Biscayne National Park is the place to go.
This national park is located in the Florida Keys, where it sees sunshine all year round, but it’s really unique because it’s 95% underwater.
Yep, this means you’ll need to go beneath the surface of the to really get a good look at it. You can choose between snorkeling or taking part in an (epic) scuba diving excursion. If you don’t want to get wet, a third choice involves taking a boat tour of the parks clear water beaches.
After you’ve had your fill of looking under its waves, you can walk around the rest of the park in search of animals and natural beauty.
How To Prepare For a Trip to a National Park in Winter
If you’re like me, the idea of visiting a National Park in winter is both thrilling and chilling. The thought of bundling up and braving the cold for a chance to see some of nature’s most beautiful landscapes is definitely appealing, but I also don’t want to be miserable while I’m there! Here are a few tips on how to prepare for your trip:
- Check the weather conditions and dress appropriately. Layers are always key – you can always take them off if you get too hot, but you’ll be sorry if you’re chilly!
- Make sure you have all the necessary gear. This includes things like hats, gloves, boots, coats, sunscreen, sunglasses, and water bottles.
- Plan your route in advance. You’ll want to make sure you know where all the visitor centers are located so you can warm up when necessary.
- Be prepared for any type of weather condition. Most National Parks are open year-round, so the chances are good that you’ll experience at least one type of extreme weather during your visit.
How to Get Around a National Park in Winter
The best way to get around a national park in winter is by car. You can drive to different parts of the park and take trails from there. If you’re visiting a park with mountains, be prepared for snow and icy conditions. Many parks will have plows on staff to clear the roads, but it’s always good to check ahead of time.
If you’re not comfortable driving in snowy conditions, consider hiring a guide or taking a tour. Most parks offer ranger-led tours during winter that provide information about the history and wildlife of the area. You can also find private companies that offer guided tours of national parks.
What to Pack For a Trip to a National Park in Winter
When packing for a trip to a National Park in winter, it’s important to prepare for warm and cold weather. You’ll want to pack clothes that will keep you warm when the temperature drops at night, but you’ll also need clothes that will allow you to stay cool in the sun.
Some items that are essential for any winter National Park trip include:
-A coat or jacket -A hat, gloves, and scarf -Warm pants and boots -Sunscreen and sunglasses -A water bottle
Get Out and Explore The Best National Parks in the Winter
During the winter, visiting these national parks in the United States is almost certainly an unforgettable experience.
If you adore peaceful outdoor activities and would want to enjoy the views alone, this is without a doubt your number one motivation to travel this season.
What are some other epic national parks to visit during the winter? Let us know in the comments section down below what your favorites are!
FAQ About Best Winter National Parks
Should I get the America the Beautiful Pass?
The America the Beautiful Pass is a great way to save money on day-use fees at many of the country’s national parks. The price for an America the Beautiful pass is only $80.