The US has some of the finest natural landscapes in the world and for those that love the wild outdoors, visiting just one of their stunning national parks is a must.
US National Parks to Visit in Winter
These parks are the very best the USA has to offer and visiting them in winter has a special appeal, whether it’s the reprieve from the crowds that flock there in summer, to the magical quality a covering of pristine snow gives. If you love to add more adventure, here are some of the best winter hikes in the US!
1. Grand Canyon National Park
If you’re looking for the ideal national park to visit in the winter, then you really can’t go wrong with the Grand Canyon. Arizona’s most iconic landmark is perhaps at its most beautiful when it’s tucked under a blanket of snow and the lack of tourist crowds can give visitors a unique opportunity to enjoy parts of the Canyon all to themselves.
Located about four hours driving north of Phoenix, you can visit the Grand Canyon as a day trip from the Arizona capital or from places like Sedona, Flagstaff or even Las Vegas. However, you will also be able to get a lot out of the national park if you decide to spend more than just one day there. If you want to stay close to the park without paying the high prices of being too close, Flagstaff is located only an hour south and makes for an excellent base.
Grand Canyon National Park is particularly good to visit in winter because this season sees only a fraction of the visitors versus the warmer seasons, meaning that you can get the best views and not have to worry about parking lots being packed. While one of the hot tips to avoid crowds at the Grand Canyon in the warmer months is to head to the North Rim, the winter months see so few visitors on the South Rim that it doesn’t even matter that its northern counterpart is closed from the months of October through May.
Do keep in mind to expect temperatures to be below freezing and be ready to contend with a fair amount of snow and ice. In fact, on some of the more rigorous trails, you will need to have special ice equipment in order to hike them safely.
Despite this, visiting the Grand Canyon in the winter is one of the best US national parks to head to in the colder months of the year!
By The World Was Here First
2. Arches National Park
If you love visiting national parks, you have definitely heard about Arches national park in Utah. Millions of visitors from the US and many other countries visit this park every year.
Although it is open year-round, winter is probably the best time to be in Arches. Not just because it will be less crowded, but the park can get really hot during the day time in the summer. So if you are planning on a winter road trip in the midwest, this is like a perfect destination.
While working in the US, I visited it several times and it only got more charming every time. For starters, Arches has more than 2000 sandstone arches, out of which the delicate arch is the most famous. Visiting it involves a moderate hike of two hours or so and the whole place is stunning during sunrise or sunset. The Landscape arch and the North & South Window are all easy hikes.
Although there are no real “slot canyons” in Arches, canyoneering is popular due to many of its sandstone walls. If you love stargazing, then head over to the panorama point to gaze at one of the darkest skies full of stars.
For a night stay, you can camp in any of the numerous campgrounds in Moab, the gateway town for Arches. There are many motels and cabins with good facilities as well.
By The Visa Project
3. Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park is one of the most fascinating places on Earth, a one-of-a-kind place in the world that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime! It is well-known as the lowest, driest, and hottest place in the US. Even more, it is the hottest place on Earth with a recorded air temperature of an unbelievable 57°C (134 F).
Therefore, Death Valley National Park is one of the top US national parks to visit in winter. While summers here are extremely hot, winters are the best time for visiting the park. In fact, the best months with the most pleasant air temperatures are December and January.
Visit unique Death Valley’s Badwater Basin (the lowest place in North America), see hundreds year-old mineral deposits of Devil’s Golf Course, admire impressive views of Dante’s vista point, stroll out-of-this-world Zabriskie Point, get your shoes sandy in seemingly endless Death Valley’s Mesquite Sand Dunes, have a drive on the Artist’s Drive, get inspired by strikingly colorful Artist Palette, appreciate volcanic Ubehebe crater, try to solve the mystery of sailing stones at Racetrack Playa, hike the Golden Canyon and you will witness some of the most amazing sites on Earth!
The nearest airport is Las Vegas McCarren Airport. Death Valley from Las Vegas Airport is easily reachable in only 2 hours and a half drive. To have the most memorable trip, stop for a night in 5-star ‘The Inn at Death Valley’. A unique stay in a unique place for a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Extraordinariness is granted!
By World Travel Connector
4. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
For a not too chilly National Park experience in the winter, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is the place to visit! This reserve spans 140,000 acres just north of Titusville and boasts views of alligators, rare birds and even the NASA Vehicle Assembly Building. It is the perfect day trip to get a taste of real Florida any time of year, but the ideal time to visit is in the winter because of the cooler weather and less risk of rain.
Whether you are interested in hiking, paddling or just taking a scenic drive, you can experience all this here. I recommend everyone take the 7-mile Black Point Drive loop where you can see a variety of birds and of course alligators. After this, a hike through either the Oak or Palm Trails is enjoyable. Once you have had enough of the reserve, you can head to Canaveral National Seashore for some beach time or to Downtown Titusville for some exploring. Third Culture Kitchen, The Brix Project, and Dixie Crossroads are all excellent spots for a local meal.
If you are feeling up to it, you can spend the night at the new Hyatt Place Titusville or an AirBnb and visit the famed Kennedy Space Center in the morning. Regardless of how you spend your time in the area, visiting the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is one of the best Florida National Parks to visit in the winter.
5. Rocky Mountain National Park
For a true winter wonderland experience, look no further than Rocky Mountain National Park. Nestled high in the Colorado Rockies, this incredible national park is home to plenty of pure mountain beauty. Some of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, such as Dream Lake are still open and safe. However, there are a few (like Sky Pond) that do travel across avalanche terrain, so do your homework before heading out.
Opt to head into the park for sunrise in order to enjoy the magical experience of the alpenglow lighting up the morning sky. Pack a mug of hot coffee and savour the views at the Many Parks Curve Overlook along Trail Ridge Road. Past here, Trail Ridge Road closes for the winter season. However, cross country skiers and snowshoers are welcome to ski or walk the roadway. Sprague Lake is an incredible sunrise spot, as is the Lumpy Ridge area.
Additional activities inside the park during the winter months include sledding at the abandoned ski resort, backcountry skiing, ice climbing, and wildlife viewing. The best times to catch wildlife are in the mornings and evenings.
Even though the summer crowds are long-gone, popular areas such as the Bear Lake Trailhead and Glacier Gorge Trailhead still fill up. There is a bus service available (still going in 2020, masks required) that will take you to these hot spots. Expect parking lots to fill up by 7:30 am on the weekends.
If you still want to enjoy scenic drives, take the Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway in and out of nearby Estes Park. Estes Park is a packed gateway town in the summer months, but during the winter the town transforms into a tranquil, sleepy mountain town. Stay at one of the many hotels or cabins in the area. Snag a delicious breakfast the Notchtop Bakery and Café or Kind Coffee.
Don’t forget to pack plenty of water (you’re high in altitude), cold weather layers, and waterproof footwear to make the most of your winter experience in Rocky Mountain National Park.
By Fox in the Forest
6. Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is located in the California desert, and thus makes for a wonderful winter national park destination. With its huge boulders and fields of Joshua trees, the park features arresting landscapes and a plethora of activities.
One of the top things to do in Joshua Tree National Park is hiking, and winter is the ideal time to hike the park’s more strenuous trails. Try climbing to the top of Ryan Mountain, or make the long trek to Lost Palms Oasis. Winter is also a great time to go rock climbing. If you are a pro, you’ll find a number of vertical walls to scale. Beginners can take a lesson, or enjoy bouldering on their own.
Winter brings migratory birds to the oases in the park. You can also look for birds, and bighorn sheep, at Barker Dam, the reservoir in the park. Enjoy the scenic drive through the two desert systems in the park, noting the difference in the flora as you move from one to the other. At night, enjoy brilliant stars in the sky on moonless nights.
There a number of campgrounds in the park, but no lodging. If you plan to camp, make a reservation well ahead of time. Just outside the park, the towns of Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree offer lodging and dining. You will find the usual chain hotels here, but consider Campbell House, a well-reviewed bed and breakfast, or book an AirBnB.
By Roadtripping California
7. Bryce Canyon National Park
In the heart of southern Utah lies the small, but mighty Bryce Canyon National Park. Known for its unusual hoodoo-filled landscapes and spectacular starry nights, Bryce Canyon offers a one-of-a-kind national park experience for all ages.
The park is open year-round, but as summer draws to a close, the crowds begin to thin and the temperatures drop, making winter a fabulous time to visit. At an elevation of nearly 8,000 feet, Bryce Canyon receives its fair share of snow (which creates the hoodoos), so while Bryce is a perfect winter destination, be prepared for occasional road and trail closures and pack accordingly. Once acclimated, take advantage of these crisp conditions and join in on one of the ranger-guided full moon snowshoe hikes, where you’ll experience the winter sky as you’ve never seen it before.
During the day, whether you’re an avid hiker or just enjoy taking in some incredible views, the easily accessible trails and rim overlooks will keep you in awe of this natural wonder. As with many U.S. national parks, the free shuttle service is on point. Its efficient hop-on/hop-off access allows you full flexibility to view the canyon at your own pace without the hassle of parking your own car at each spot.
Winter lodging is available within the park from early November until early January. Lodging is also available year-round right outside the park gates in the town of Bryce Canyon City. The park shuttles even make stops there, so whether you’re inside or outside the park, you’ll have easy access to all Bryce Canyon National Park has to offer.
8. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on the border of NC and TN, is the perfect winter destination for hikers and nature lovers.
The Smokies are the most-visited national park in the U.S. – but in winter, the crowds vanish and you often have the peaks and waterfalls all to yourself. It’s great for hiking, snow-shoeing, and winter camping.
The park ranges in elevation from 1,500 feet to over 6,000. Expect frigid mornings everywhere, but temperatures warm into the 60s at lower elevations and the 40s up high. Winter in Southern Appalachia brings dramatic blue skies and vibrant pink sunsets.
Many of the roads through the Smokies close in winter. You can always access Newfound Gap, Cosby, and Deep Creek for popular hikes like Charlie’s Bunion, Mt. Cammerer and the Deep Creek waterfalls. Or, take the long route to Clingman’s Dome from Newfound Gap – the snow-capped peaks are unforgettable.
Choose from a huge variety of bed and breakfasts or hotels in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg to be at the center of the action, or stay in Bryson City or Cherokee for a quieter experience. Alternatively, do as the locals do, brave the ice-cold temperatures for a night in the backcountry (only if you have proper gear). Icewater Springs Shelter is a good choice – if the wood stays dry enough, you can even have a fire. Even better, camp on Mount Sterling and watch the sunrise over the snowy mountains from the fire tower.
9. Great Sand Dunes National Park
Winter is a great time to explore some of the United States’ incredible ski resorts, but it’s also a great time to visit one of the only National Parks where you can take a board down the mountain – all year long.
During much of the year, Great Sand Dunes National Park transforms from a sandy oasis filled with hikers, off-roaders and those who prefer to get down North America’s tallest sand dunes by the mode of sandboarding or sand sledding. But wintertime brings about the chance to experience the Dunes differently.
Each winter, Great Sand Dunes National Park’s mostly dry desert climate transforms into the weather typically known in Colorado as snow blankets the 30 square miles of sandy dunes set amongst the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
When the rain or snow hits, local companies stop renting out sandboards and sand sleds and the national park transforms into a snowy paradise, where snowboarders and skiers who are willing to snowshoe to the top of the dunes can partake in a fresh powder experience unlike any other in the world.
Even if you decide not to don your snowboard or skis, you can still take breathtakingly beautiful hikes through the dunes. Bring your four-wheel-drive vehicle to the 19.9-mile Medano Pass Primitive Road and experience one of the strangest phenomena of land formations in the country.
However, if you don’t have a comfortable RV or another camping vehicle with heat, getting to and from the park may be a crazy adventure, as the closest non-campground accommodations are either pretty expensive or at least an hour’s drive away.
By Ramble Around the World
10. Zion National Park
Visiting Zion National Park in winter is one of the best times to visit. In winter, it is much cooler with far fewer crowds. Of course you need to balance that with the occasional dumping of snow and closure of hiking trails, but as long as you dress for cold weather you will be fine.
Another plus for visiting Zion in winter is the fact that you can drive around the park. In the summer when the park is most crowded you need to take the public buses to get around which can add time to your day, especially if it is busy and you have to wait for the next bus
One of the most popular hikes in Zion is Angel’s Landing. This hike is a difficult hike involving chains to climb up the rocks to the top but the views are worth it. It is a good idea to check in with the Visitors Center to see if Angel’s Landing (and all hikes) are open. The trail may be temporarily closed or deemed too dangerous during the winter, especially if it has just snowed.
A good alternative would be Canyon Overlook Point if you are looking for great views. Once you get to the top you can really see the beauty of the Park. This hike is moderately easy – the initial part of the hike is a steep incline but then it is a flat trail to the viewpoint.
I recommend staying in Springdale as it is the closest city to Zion and has some amazing cafes and restaurants. Make sure to check out Oscar’s Cafe for great food, especially the burgers!
By Nicole LaBarge
11. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Located on the Lake Superior in northwest Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands archipelago comprises of 22 islands in total, among which 21 are part of National Lakeshore. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, which is always open in winters, also includes 12 miles of mainland wilderness along the northwest shoreline of the Bayfield Peninsula.
Along windswept beaches and sandstone cliffs, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore lets the visitors experience where water meets land and sky, past meets the present, and culture meets culture. National Lakeshore hosts a unique blend of culture and natural resources. Surrounded by sea caves, sandstone cliffs, and sand beaches, each island has its beauty.
The mainland unit of the park features the sea caves that can be experienced by kayaking and boat charter in summers. But visiting here in winters is always better because the sea caves turn into the celebrated ice caves that can be viewed from the trail above. Visitors can also enter the cave when the ice becomes solid enough.
The National Lakeshore offers a bunch of adventurous activities that visitors can enjoy. To experience the jewels of Lake Superior, visitors can hike, paddle, sail, and cruise. The clear water also offers scuba diving opportunities, while camping is another fun activity to do on Lakeshore’s Islands. Visitors can have a long holiday to explore beauty while staying in Cove Point Lodge, which is known as one of the best luxury resorts in Wisconsin.
By Paulina on the Road
12. Great Basin National Park
Great Basin National Park is usually more secluded than most national parks, and in the winter, you will find solitude and snow that make for a truly special experience. While some amenities are lacking at this time of year and some attractions are closed or more difficult to access, the winter activities available in Great Basin more than make up for the challenge of the cold weather.
During the winter, Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive and Baker Creek Road are closed to vehicles, but that means that they are wide open to cross-country skiers and snowshoers (and snowshoes are available for rent). Many of the best hiking trails in Great Basin National Park are also open for snowshoeing in the winter, including Bald Mountain and Wheeler Peak. Plus, ranger-guided tours of the stunning limestone Lehmann Caves are also still available in the winter.
You can stay at Lower Lehman Campground which is open all year round, or backcountry camp if you want to do a longer backpacking trip. While water is available at the Lehmann Caves Visitor Center, food services are not operating in the park in the winter, so you will need to bring your own supplies. But if you plan ahead and prepare for the lack of amenities, you can have a great time exploring the winter wonderland of Great Basin National Park.
By She Dreams of Alpine
13. Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is often thought of to be just a summer destination since most of the roads going through the park are closed in the winter, including the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road. However, where cars can’t go, people still can, and crowd-free Glacier National Park in the winter is a snowy wonderland to behold.
A popular winter adventure to do is to put on your cross-country skis and glide down the snow-covered Going-to-the-Sun Road until you read the Avalanche Lake trailhead. Then you can continue on the trail to the lake or keep making your way up the Going-to-the-Sun Road. There are many other cross country ski paths located all over the park, including up to Polebridge and from St. Mary Campground on the east side of the park. Many of these trails are also perfect for snowshoeing.
While you can’t stay in the lodges located right in the park during the winter since they are all closed for the season, there are plenty of places nearby where you can stay. In Columbia Falls, Cedar Creek Lodge is a lodge run by the park service that is open year-round and has a rustic, cozy vibe with well-appointed rooms. It is just a 20-minute drive from the west entrance to the park. Backcountry camping permits are also available in the winter for Glacier National Park and are free of charge during the winter.
By Travel Montana Now
14. Dry Tortugas National Park
The gorgeous Dry Tortugas National Park is located approximately 70 miles from the city of Key West, the last of the Florida Keys. The park consists of a series of islands, but the only one open to visitors is Garden Key.
The magical thing about Dry Tortugas is that it is always sunny and warm, even in winter! It truly feels like paradise. January and February are great months to visit the park, but it is important to remember to book the ferry at least three months ahead because it always sells out.
Some of the best things to do at Dry Tortugas include exploring Fort Jefferson, camping, enjoying the sun at the beach and of course, snorkeling! The park is one of the best snorkeling spots in the world for a reason: the water is amazingly clear and there is just so much marine life. Keep your eyes open for turtles!
There are two ways to visit Dry Tortugas: by ferry or by seaplane (the more expensive option). They both depart from Key West, so spending at least two days in the city is advised. Some amazing hotels to stay in Key West include Casa Marina and the Ocean Key Resort & Spa.
By Travel Cami
15. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is California’s oldest downhill skiing spot. The National Park is an excellent year-round destination and is popular for its waterfalls, rock climbing, hiking, and scenic vistas.
The Tioga and Glacier Point Roads are closed to motorized vehicles during the winter period; however, the famous Glacier Point is always accessible. The route is open for cross-country snowshoers and skiers, and you can make the 21-mile trip in a day. And if you want to break it up, you can just camp in the snow or book a night at the wonderful Glacier Point Ski Hut.
Yosemite National Park offers many outdoor activities during winter, with snow sports ranging from cross-country skiing and downhill to tubing, snowshoeing, ice skating, and sledding.
Outfitters will also take you snowmobiling – and regardless of your chosen diversion, you’ll face far less crowds during winter than in the warm-weather months.
There are over 90 miles of marked trails for cross-country snowshoeing or skiing. For a memorable winter experience, you can cross-country ski a 10.5 mile trail to Glacier Point, which overlooks Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Valley, and Half Dome.
Interestingly, you can pretty easily find lodging in and around Yosemite park in winter. You can find comfortable digs in Yosemite’s grand Majestic Lodge, or you can bed down at one of the four campgrounds open year-round if you’re into roughing it.
The Ahwahnee Hotel is also open all year round, as is the Yosemite Valley Lodge. It’s worth noting that Half Dome Village is open on restricted days, so it’s essential to check their schedule before arrival.
By Camper Front
16. The Everglades National Park
The National Park of Everglades in Florida is an epic destination for outdoor adventure lovers and an incredible opportunity to experience the natural beauty that encompasses this very unique area. It is the only subtropical preserve in North America and there are plenty of reasons to visit it such as go on boat tours, hiking, camping, bike trails, and much more. One of the highlights of the Everglades is to visit the Ten Thousand Islands Nature Wildlife Refuge, because the wildlife is incredible in this area.
The Everglades National Park is a perfect destination during winter, because the temperatures are mild and it is not as humid, while you spend your whole day doing outdoor activities. Even though Florida is notoriously known for its warmer weather, the temperatures are definitely more pleasant during wintertime and the wildlife is out and about. This is the time that manatees migrate to the Everglades, also the water levels drop during the dry season and a large number of animals congregate around the water holes, making the wildlife viewing an easy endeavor. For bird lovers, it is also the best time of the year, as many species migrate to South Florida to enjoy the warmth of this region.
If you are planning to visit the Everglades for a few days, the best option for accommodation is Everglades City. In this little charming fishing village, you can find shops, restaurants, accommodations, and places to rent a canoe, kayak, bicycle, and also, you can take boat and airboat tours.
By Paula Pins the Planet
17. Mesa Verde National Park
Many people don’t think to visit Mesa Verde National Park in the winter, but unbeknownst to many, it is a 4-season destination. The park is quieter in the winter compared to other seasons, so you can visit the impressive ruins which the park is famous for without the crowds.
Mesa Verde National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which contains over 600 dwelling remains of the Ancestral Pueblo people. They offer fascinating insights into American history. You can explore them on foot but the most impressive views can be seen from one of the lookout points along the Mesa Verde Loop.
This short 6-mile drive has a series of lookout points which are suitable for people with limited mobility. Don’t miss Sun Point, Sun Temple, or Cliff Palace lookout points. It is the perfect way to see the park’s crown jewels if you don’t want to be out in the cold too long.
However, if you do feel like bundling up and exploring the park with your own two feet there are a few ways to get around. Hiking, snow shoeing, and cross country skiing are all popular activities during the snowiest months of the year.
To learn more about the Ancestral Pueblo people, head to the park’s museum. It is located just beside the visitor centre and has lots of interactive exhibits and an insightful 45-minute documentary detailing the history of the park and its former inhabitants. We visited during our Colorado road trip and were blown away by this hidden gem.
By Drink Tea & Travel
18. Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is one of the most beautiful winter getaway destinations. Whether you want to explore and adventure in the backcountry of the park, or get cozy by a fire the Tetons has it all.
The Tetons are located in north-west Wyoming, near Yellowstone and are home to so much wildlife, hiking trails, ski slopes, and small towns to visit. Winter is a great time to explore Grand Teton because the tourist season is over, and it’s a lot less crowded. The majority of the Teton Park Road is closed to vehicles but is open to hikers and skiers.
The most common reason to visit the Teton range is to ski and snowboard in the winter. Grand Teton and Jackson Hole is world famous for its gorgeous skiing and spectacular winter views. The most famous ski areas in the region are Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Grand Targhee Resort and the Snow King Resort.
If you aren’t a skier, Jackson Wyoming has a lot more to offer! A lot of the wildlife really starts to come out during the beginning and end of winter as there are a lot less tourists. Located in the Teton range are bears, bison, moose, elk and plenty of other smaller animals. You will almost be guaranteed to see some bison or moose during your visit. You can even opt for a wildlife tour if you want to have a better chance of seeing wildlife.
One of the first things that any visitor of the Tetons does is capture a stunning photograph of the national park. The park really shines during the winter and looks incredible with its snow-capped peaks. Consider driving to coordinates (43.763782, -110.553818) to get one of the best possible views of the park!
I recommend staying in Jackson Hole Wyoming, which is one of the coolest winter towns in the United States. There are so many amazing shops, restaurants and cool places to stay. Even if you just want to relax for a day, Jackson Hole has plenty of things to do in town to keep you occupied.
By James from Wanderus Living