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14 Best U.S. National Parks to Visit in Winter

America’s national parks receive over 310 million visitors a year, with the vast majority arriving during the warmer months. While many parks are worth battling the crowds, you might want to consider a winter visit for more tranquility to enjoy activities and spectacular sights. Having explored many of them throughout the country, I’ve found this season to be a lot more enjoyable in parks everywhere, from the remote Olympic Peninsula in Washington state to more obvious desert destinations like Joshua Tree in California, the rugged coast of Maine, and the gator-filled wetlands of Florida.

Yosemite National Park, California Yosemite National Park in winter
Credit: Yosemite National Park in winter by © Cmjjack | Dreamstime.com

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite in the winter is incredibly enchanting. It’s the opposite of what you’d find in the summer, with Yosemite Valley and the trails jam-packed with visitors. During this season you can look forward to marvel at snowy peaks and icy waterfalls. When snow covers the hiking trails, snowshoeing can be enjoyed, while ice skating under the shadow of Half Dome is especially unforgettable, with a fire pit to warm up around when it gets too chilly. Glacier Point/Badger Pass Road is plowed so you’ll be able to reach the Badger Pass Ski Area for skiing, boarding, or snow tubing too.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado Rocky Mountain National Park
Credit: Rocky Mountain National Park by © Zach Joing | Dreamstime.com

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Colorado has long been a popular winter destination with many coming to enjoy its epic slopes for skiing and boarding, but Rocky Mountain National Park is the place to go if you want to enjoy a snowy wonderland in a peaceful setting where only the sounds of your feet shuffling through the fluffy powder can be heard. You’ll enjoy scenery that includes the snow on the dramatic, towering peaks and white-blanketed forests with the hiking trails transformed into idyllic trails for snowshoeing, including Cub Lake and the Pool Loop, which can be combined for a six-mile round-trip journey passing frozen waterfalls along the way. If you don’t have your own snowshoes, you might join a ranger-led group tour, which includes them, or rent a pair in Estes Park.

Arches National Park, Utah Arches National Park, Utah
Credit: Arches National Park, Utah by © Jonmanjeot - Dreamstime.com

Arches National Park, Utah

Winter in Arches National Park is stunning with some of the most magnificent scenes in the country enjoyed during this season with the white of the snow contrasting against the fiery red of the rock formations and the often brilliant blue skies. The area averages just nine inches of snow a year, with January and February the peak time to enjoy it. Even if you don’t get snow, it’s a great time to visit as you can enjoy the sights practically all to yourself. Just bring clothing that can be layered along with a warm coat, hat, and gloves as temperatures can dip below freezing, although they’re usually in the 40s. After dark, the stargazing is fantastic with incredibly clear night skies.

Yellowstone National Park, Montana/Wyoming/Idaho Emerald Spring at Norris Geyser Basin trail area, during winter in Yellowstone National Park
Credit: Emerald Spring at Norris Geyser Basin trail area, during winter in Yellowstone National Park by © Atmosphere1 | Dreamstime.com

Yellowstone National Park, Montana/Wyoming/Idaho

Nearly all of Yellowstone’s over three million annual visitors arrive during the summer, with only around 3 percent visiting between November and March, which means winter brings the chance for a much more tranquil setting and iconic landscapes that are blanketed in snow while abundant wildlife like bison, elk, moose, and wolves can be spotted. The geysers, including Old Faithful, will be even more dramatic, and instead of hiking, you can put on a pair of snowshoes or go cross-country skiing on the park’s numerous trails. Ice skating is possible on Yellowstone Lake too. While not all of the park’s accommodations will be open, Old Faithful Snow Lodge is open from mid-December through early March, and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins is open year-round. There are numerous options just outside the park in and around Gardiner, Montana near the north entrance which is the only one open to traffic during the winter.

Zion National Park, Utah Zion National Park in the winter
Credit: Zion National Park in the winter by © Daniel Kirchner - Dreamstime.com

Zion National Park, Utah

Winter in Zion brings the opportunity to enjoy Zion National Park without the mass of tourists who arrive from spring through fall and avoid the sizzling heat of summer. Temperatures are typically in the 50s and the skies are often sunny, making it feel warmer. While it doesn’t snow often, when it does fall, it doesn’t stick around long, and with a light dusting on the rust-colored cliffs that are visible from the Pa’rus Trail, the scene is truly magical. Most trails stay open year-round, including Pa’rus, but there are some that should be avoided due to icy conditions, such as Angels Landing, Emerald Pools, and Weeping Rock. Winter is a great time to watch for wildlife, including bald and golden eagles that soar overhead, wild turkeys, elk, Bighorn sheep, and deer.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah Bryce Canyon National Park
Credit: Bryce Canyon National Park by © Minyun Zhou | Dreamstime.com

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Marveling at Bryce Canyon‘s remarkable hoodos covered in snow is on many travelers’ bucket lists. This is the most likely national park to get some snow in Utah, with the elevation reaching as high as 9,100 feet. Catching a sunrise at Inspiration Point brings the very best views and fabulous light for photo ops. There are all sorts of winter activities available too, including cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. If you can be here in mid-February, enjoy the fun at the three-day annual Bryce Canyon Winter Festival, which includes tours, a family dance night, photography clinics, an Intro to Astronomy class, wildlife tracking, and more.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California winter in Sequoia National Park, California
Credit: winter in Sequoia National Park, California by © Noblige - Dreamstime.com

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks is known for its giant sequoia trees and at elevations ranging from 4,000 to 7,000 feet, there is often a deep blanket of snow in the winter. As it follows through the enormous canopy of trees in the sequoia forest, it’s truly enchanting, providing fabulous photos and the opportunity to access some of the most beautiful areas on skis. The Giant Forest and Grant Grove have ski trails that wind through the sequoia groves, with a map available at any visitor center.

Joshua Tree National Park, California Joshua Tree National Park
Credit: Joshua Tree National Park by © Sborisov | Dreamstime.com

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Located just outside the artsy and somewhat quirky village of Joshua Tree, Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best to visit in winter, with mild weather averaging around 60 degrees and a wealth of outdoor adventures on offer. There are miles and miles of hiking trails, including some that lead to a lush oasis with fan palms creating a canopy over tranquil pools, as well as offering epic climbing and bouldering. After dark, it’s a stargazer’s paradise, designated an International Dark Sky Park with some of the darkest nights in Southern California. If you come in late winter, the desert landscape will be bursting with colorful flowers among the unique desert plants, including the park’s namesake Joshua tree.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona grand canyon
Credit: grand canyon by bigstock.com

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

While it can be chilly in the Grand Canyon during the winter, the typical day experiences fog in the morning, with the sun coming out by afternoon, making it feel warmer. The North Rim is closed, but you’ll find plenty to do around the South Rim, with activities enjoyed minus the crowds. Less than 10 percent of the number of annual visitors arrive during this season, and those who want to backpack can often score last-minute permits for camping at the renowned Bright Angel Campground. The photo ops are spectacular, with the winter sun lower in the sky, cloaking the rocky peaks and crevasses of the canyon in spectacular orange, pink, and purple hues. When the ridges are blessed with snow, it’s even more breathtaking.

Olympic National Park, Washington Elk in Olympic National Park near Elwha river
Credit: Elk in Olympic National Park near Elwha river by © Aquamarine4 - Dreamstime.com

Olympic National Park, Washington

With very diverse landscapes that include everything from wild coastline with dramatic rock formations rising from the Pacific to lush rainforest and snow-covered slopes for skiing, Olympic National Park offers it all during the wintertime without nearly as many others around. On the west side, you’ll find not only some of the state’s most beautiful beaches but also the Hoh Rain Forest, with trails that meander through the trees that will be draped in moss. The park is home to the largest unmanaged herd of Roosevelt elk in the Pacific Northwest, and they stay in the Hoh area throughout the year. If you want to ski, Hurricane Ridge is the place to find a magical winter wonderland and a ski area offering family-friendly skiing at affordable prices.

Death Valley National Park, California Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park, California
Credit: Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park, California by bigstock.com

Death Valley National Park, California

Death Valley, the world’s hottest place, is not a destination you’d want to visit in the summer when temperatures regularly rise over 120 degrees. Winter, on the other hand, sees near-perfect temperatures in the mid-60s to mid-70s, and the mountain peaks are often snow-capped. With the low winter light, the wild landscapes are even more impressive. Most days are sunny, ideal for hiking trails that wind through canyons, across the desert, and atop sand dunes. There are hundreds of miles of backcountry roads to explore by four-wheel drive, and after dark, the stargazing is legendary. The park hosts several astronomical events during the winter, from full moon festivals and star parties to Mars Fest.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona Saguaro and Four Peaks
Credit: Saguaro and Four Peaks by © Ronald Adcock | Dreamstime.com

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Daytime winter temperatures average in the low 60s at Saguaro National Park just outside Tucson not far from the Mexican border. It preserves a giant saguaro cactus forest that stretches across the valley floor with conditions often ideal in the winter for those looking to embark on a long hike or other outdoor activities. January often brings some of the most stunningly clear blue skies you’ll ever see. If you come later in the season, you can expect to see colorful desert wildflowers like lupines, desert marigolds, and poppies that start to emerge by the end of February. Wildlife, including desert tortoises, javelinas, and coyotes can be seen at lower elevations while the park’s upper elevations bring the chance to spot black bears, deer, and spotted owls. There are historic sites and prehistoric petroglyphs to explore all year round.

Acadia National Park, Maine sunrise at Acadia National Park, Maine
Credit: sunrise at Acadia National Park, Maine by © Harry Collins - Dreamstime.com

Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park gets very busy in the summer, but come winter you’ll see an entirely different side. Just driving the famous Park Loop Road is enjoyable with the rugged coast revealing its icy best while inland areas will be blanketed with snow, ideal for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Those who are willing to rise early can hike or drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain to be one of the first in the country to watch the sunrise. For beach and coastal scenery, head to the Great Head Trail which will also bring you to the remains of an old teahouse that dates to 1920. Thrill-seekers can even scale a frozen waterfall with the help of Acadia Mountain Guides.

Everglades National Park, Florida Alligator in the Florida Everglades
Credit: Alligator in the Florida Everglades by © Steve Byland | Dreamstime.com

Everglades National Park, Florida

Winter in the Everglades is part of the subtropical dry season which runs from November through April. This period is characterized by sunny skies and days that are an average of 70 degrees, and you can avoid the blood-sucking insects the wetlands are plagued by during the warmer months. There will be less rain, which means the wildlife will be heading to the watering holes that increase the chances of spotting everything from wading birds like pink roseate spoonbills and egrets to alligators. This is a great place for kayakers and canoers. At Turner River, Flamingo, Halfway Creek, and Florida Bay you can paddle through mangrove swamps. Or head to the Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail where you’ll see everything from manatees and dolphins to gators.

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