Most people tend to visit the United States National Parks during the spring and summer, but we recommend a visit during the winter. National parks are open year round and in the winter months you’ll find fewer crowds, mild temperatures at some of the southern parks, and scenic drives that look completely different than other times of the year. If you’re planning a winter trip, consider visiting one of these National Parks! Here are the best national parks to visit during the winter months.
The Best National Parks to Visit in Winter
Arches National Park – Utah
Temperatures in Utah can dip below freezing in the winter, but you will be rewarded with truly breathtaking views in Arches during the winter months. There’s nothing quite like seeing a dusting of snow on the red rocks. It will take your breath away!
With over two thousand arches, gigantic plateaus, and out-of-this-world rock formations, a visit to this desert wonderland in Utah feels like exploring Mars.
There can be snow in Arches during the winter, but it’s rarely enough to ruin a trip. The snowfall is just enough to bring out an epically beautiful contrast of white against the red rock landscape arches. There can be ice when there are freezing temperatures, so just be cautious when hiking.
Temperatures in Arches during the winter can range from in the 20s to over 60 degrees Fahrenheit between December and March. As long as you bring appropriate clothing, you’ll be able to explore comfortably.
Biscayne National Park – Florida
If you’re looking to escape the cold and head for the winter sun, Biscayne National Park is just what you’re looking for. It is a great place to combine a beach and nature getaway.
Located in the Florida Keys, this national park sees sun year-round, but what makes it truly special is the fact that it’s 95% underwater.
Yep, this means you’ll need to go below the surface to really get to explore it.
To do this you’ll have two options: Snorkeling or booking an (epic) scuba diving expedition to see the coral reefs and mangrove forests. If you’d rather not get wet, there’s another option, taking a boat. This can be achieved via kayak, canoe, or a glass-bottom boat tour!
Once you’re done exploring underwater, you can check out the 5% of the park that’s actually on land. There are epic little islands you can explore on foot in search of wildlife and unparalleled nature.
Big Bend National Park – Texas
During the summer months, Big Bend can reach over 100 degrees. This makes for awful weather during a hike or an extended camping trip. Instead, visit during the winter months to enjoy daytime temperatures in the 60s or even 70s!
The park is not located near big cities, so fly into Midland and plan on driving a few hours to reach Big Bend. Once there you can enjoy the Lost Mine hike, paddling in Santa Elena canyon, or soaking in the hot springs.
Be sure to set aside some time each night for star gazing, as the park has the least amount of light pollution of any of the national parks in the lower 48 states. If you want to take pictures, be sure to use these astrophotography settings.
Canyonlands National Park – Utah
If you can envision red rock canyons everywhere with sandstone spires reaching towards the sky, you’ll have a good idea about what visiting Canyonlands National Park is all about.
With over 330,000 acres of land to explore, you can easily visit Canyonlands dozens of times and never see the same thing twice. If you’re up for seeing some of this breathtaking desert, the winter season is a great time for an introduction.
While it does get chilly during the evenings, visiting Canyonlands in the winter months means fewer crowds, which basically means you’ll get to experience some of the most epic viewpoints (psst… don’t miss sunrise at Mesa Arch) and have them all to yourself!
Carlsbad Caverns – New Mexico
The winter months are the perfect time to visit the southern National Parks, and thankfully there are plenty to choose from. At Carlsbad Caverns there are 119 caves to explore and they all maintain a constant 56 degrees year round. So escape the winter elements and head inside to see some of nature’s beauty at its finest.
Death Valley National Park – California
Visiting Death Valley National Park during the summer months is not the best idea (it’s frequently the hottest place in the US… we’re talking temperatures of up to 120 degrees!). Winter is an ideal time to visit this epic national park.
Don’t let its name fool you. Death Valley National Park brims with life and there’s no better time in the year to experience the desert magic than winter. Think eerie-looking rock formations, salt flats as far as the eye can see, and rolling hills splashed with colors you never thought belonged in nature!
Bring your sleds and be sure to try sand boarding on the dunes. Both the Mesquite and Saline Valley Dunes allow sand boarding which is an unforgettable experience. You will also enjoy fewer crowds, which can’t be beat!
Denali National Park – Alaska
An Alaskan cruise is a popular summer vacation for families, but why not explore Alaska in winter? Although there are very few hours of daylight, there is still plenty to do. Denali hosts a winter festival as well as many winter sports activities during this time of year!
Grab some cross-country skis and hit the trails, or try winter biking or snowshoeing. If you are looking for an adventurous place to visit during the winter, this is the park you want to visit.
Dry Tortugas National Park – Florida
Dry Tortugas has quite a unique location which makes it difficult to access, but it’s worth the effort. It lies 70 miles west of Key West in the middle of the ocean and is accessible by boat or seaplane. Be sure to plan ahead of time and make reservations for transportation.
Once you arrive at the park you can explore the historic Civil War fort, Fort Jefferson, play in the sand, or snorkel right off the beach. This is one national park that’s perfect to visit year round!
Everglades National Park – Florida
Summer in Everglades National Park can be miserable due to excessive humidity and insects galore. A winter visit allows you to avoid the bugs and stifling heat while seeing the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. Everglades is a UNESCO World Heritage site and an International Biosphere Reserve as well as home to the manatee, American crocodile, and Florida panther.
If the wildlife in this south Florida park makes you uneasy, consider taking a guided tour with one of the rangers. You can try the Shark Valley Tram tour, explore by kayak or canoe, or even take an airboat tour. These are great ways to see the beauty of the park and learn about its natural wonders.
Grand Canyon National Park – Arizona
A visit to the Grand Canyon is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but if you want to avoid crowds and the heat, the best time to visit is during the winter! The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is open year round, but the North Rim (and north entrance) is only open from May 15 through October 15. If you visit during the winter season you’ll have a chance to explore some of the most popular hiking trails without the hoards of visitors everywhere.
If you would rather explore from the comfort of your car, drive the scenic road to Desert View or book a helicopter flight for a birds-eye view of the canyon blanketed in snow. It’s a view you won’t soon forget!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – North Carolina and Tennessee
Spreading from Tennessee to North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains offer picturesque views that are perfect for a winter road trip. However, much of the park has higher elevations meaning cooler temperatures and often icy roads. The weather here can change in an instant, so just be aware before heading into the park for the day.
Consider exploring the park on foot, hiking the Laurel Falls, Andrews Bald, or Porters Creek Trails. Cross country skiing and snowshoe walks are also an option. Outside of the park you’ll find fun winter activities in nearby Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.
Hot Springs National Park – Arkansas
With forty seven natural hot springs that maintain an average temperature of 143° Fahrenheit, Hot Springs National Park is a no brainer for a fun winter vacation. There are several springs that are easily accessible from the main road of the park, so all ages can enjoy a warm soak.
The park has 26 miles of hiking trails, scenic driving routes, and bathhouses dating to the early 20th century. Be sure to plan for a visit to these historic buildings, including the Fordyce Bathhouse which offers a guided tour.
Joshua Tree National Park – California
Joshua Tree is another one of those parks that is scorching hot in the summer, so it makes sense to avoid the high temperatures and visit in the cooler months. In winter you’ll enjoy temperatures in the mid-60s, fewer crowds, and abundant sunshine. What’s not to love about that?
This is an opportunity to explore two different deserts, the Mojave and the Colorado. The area has some of the most extreme weather conditions throughout the year with strong winds and occasional torrential rainfall making unique landforms. Be sure to bring a telescope and learn about the night sky as light pollution is very low.
Olympic National Park – Washington
The Olympic Mountains receive a lot of snow in the winter, but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit. In fact, this is one of the few national parks that has a ski area during the winter months!
Other fun activities include snowshoeing, tubing, and cross country skiing. Roads can be dangerous so chains are required in many areas and four-wheel-drive is recommended.
Rocky Mountain National Park – Colorado
Colorado is made for winter fun! Rocky Mountain National Park in winter has opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and so many other fun activities! Those looking for a unique experience can try ice fishing, ski biking, and visit one of the area’s winter festivals. There are plenty of things to do in Estes Park which is just 10 minutes from the Beavers Meadow Visitors Center and the entrance to the park.
Saguaro National Park – Arizona
Saguaro National Park is one of the most unique National Parks in the US. The park is divided into two districts, east and west, and the city of Tucson sits in the middle. Saguaro National Park West is the easiest to reach from downtown and the most crowded.
The main attraction of this park is the saguaro cacti which cover the landscape as far as the eye can see. If you don’t want to explore some of the park’s 200 miles of hiking trails, there’s a 5 mile loop drive. Don’t miss the Signal Hill Petroglyphs and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This indoor-outdoor museum is a combination of a zoo, aquarium and science center and kids are sure to love it.
Shenandoah National Park – Virginia
Skyline Drive is one of the most scenic drives in the country, winding through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Very few think to drive along this ridge of the mountains during the winter, so the roads are clear and the view is amazing.
The mountains of Shenandoah National Park can have cold temperatures during the winter, but they don’t always have snow. There are over 500 miles of hiking trails, but be sure to check the weather before heading out and consider one of the shorter trails like Frazier Discovery Trail where you can get spectacular views without too much work.
White Sands National Park – New Mexico
It’s hard to describe the feeling you get as your feet walk across the white gypsum sands in White Sands National Park. It’s not like typical sand because your feet don’t sink, they just walk smoothly along the surface. The park is perfect to explore with all ages and abilities due to its Interdune Boardwalk that runs between the dunes.
Stop at the gift shop when you arrive and rent a sled (there’s a refundable deposit upon its return). Then head out on the Dunes Drive loop and find a spot to try sand sledding. Everyone can join in the fun and the temperatures are always pleasant this time of the year.
Yellowstone National Park – Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park is spectacular year-round, but during the colder months, the entire national park becomes a winter paradise of snow-capped forests, frozen lakes, and alluring geysers that look out of this world.
Starting in early November, getting to Yellowstone in winter can become a bit of a trek as most roads are closed to traffic and only accessible with special vehicles. However, with a little planning, you’ll be able to enjoy the national park by snowmobile or snowcoach. How’s that for a unique way to explore the park?
The park is just under two hours from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where you can ski, snowshoe, take a sleigh ride, try dog sledding, and more!
Yosemite National Park – California
Who says all the National Parks in California are deserts? In Yosemite, it’s all about the mountains. There is an excellent area for skiing and snowboarding, and it’s the oldest downhill skiing area in California! You’ll have snow-capped mountain peaks, frosted trees, and icy waters all reflected in a crystal blue sky. Other fun activities include ice skating, stargazing, and snow tubing.
While Yosemite Valley is accessible by car year round, the Tioga Road usually closes around November. Yosemite is perhaps the quintessential winter drive location and should absolutely not be missed.
Zion National Park – Utah
Located in Southern Utah, Zion experiences some unusually mild winter weather. Daytime temperatures are typically in the 50s and 60s, with nighttime temps dropping below freezing. Zion in winter averages 2.5 days of snow, so as long as you don’t visit on one of those days, you should be fine. If it does snow during your visit, expect muddy trails and some slick ice in parts.
If you want to avoid the trails, take the Mount Carmel Highway that will take you through epic scenery with plenty of photo stops along the way.
Visiting America’s national parks during the winter pretty much guarantees an epic trip. While some of these places can get quite cold, it is well worth it to visit these beautiful national parks in the winter. In case fewer crowds weren’t enough to get you out there, many of them have unique sites and activities that can only be enjoyed during the winter months!