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The Best National Parks to Visit in Winter

Yellowstone National Park - the Best National Parks to Visit in Winter in the USA

If you want to get out and about this winter and explore some of the USA, National Parks are a great way to enjoy the Great Outdoors.  I asked my fellow travel bloggers to recommend the best National Parks to visit in winter, and they didn’t disappoint!  Which ones are you going to choose this year?  

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Grand Canyon in Winter

If you’re looking for an ideal national park to visit in the winter months, then you really cannot go wrong with heading to the Grand Canyon. As one of the most-visited national parks in the country, the Grand Canyon can get overrun with eager visitors in the high season months in spring and summer, resulting in traffic and a parking nightmare. The same is not true of visiting in winter.

Whether you are looking to spend a few days enjoying the national park or are planning a Grand Canyon day trip from Phoenix or Sedona, there are a few things that are worth keeping in mind if you’re visiting in winter. 

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Tourist crowds will be far fewer than if you were visiting in the warmer months, but do note that, though this is in Arizona, temperatures are regularly below freezing and there will be ice and snow so you need to have proper gear if you’re planning to do any of the more strenuous hiking trails. Also keep in mind that from 15 October – 15 May, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is completely closed, so you’re visiting then the viewing options can be more limited.

All in all, visiting the Grand Canyon in winter is an excellent option to enjoy this beautiful National Park with a fraction of the crowds.

By Maggie, The World Was Here First

Where to Stay at the Grand Canyon

For accommodation at the Grand Canyon, there are some incredible options for truly unique stays such as this cute Tiny House! 
Or check out some more options below:

 

 

Grand Canyon National Park in Winter
Grand Canyon National Park in Winter | Credit: The World Was Here First

Arches National Park

The wide-open spaces of Arches National Park, dotted with over 2,000 naturally formed sandstone arches, are enchanting at any time of the year–but add fewer crowds, cold weather, and a bit of snowfall, and it quickly becomes apparent that Arches National Park is even more magical in winter.

Most of the best hikes in Arches National Park remain open year-round, though some of them–including the popular Delicate Arch trail–do become more technically challenging when snow and ice clog the trail, and it’s best to check current trail conditions before setting off.

The weather in Arches National Park during winter can get quite cold, with average highs during the coldest months (December and January) hovering around 40°F and average lows reaching 18°F. 

For those hoping to avoid the scorching summer temperatures of the desert in summer, though, this is a worthy trade-off, especially considering the lack of crowds and otherworldly beauty of experiencing a desert landscape as stunning as Arches in winter.

By Kate, Our Escape Clause

Where to Stay at Arches National Park

Moab is a popular base for people visiting Arches National Park, and there is a variety of accommodation options here, from glamping in a teardrop trailer to staying in this gorgeous apartment.  Check out all the options for Airbnb at Arches National Park here.

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Arches National Park Utah
Arches National Park Utah | Credit: Our Escape Clause

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The Virgin Islands National Park

Virgin Islands National Park is the perfect escape for a dreamy, yet adventurous winter getaway.  Located on the Caribbean island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the weather hovers between high 70’s to low 80’s degrees Fahrenheit, lending itself to amazing adventures, by land or sea.

High season in Virgin Islands National Park kicks off the week of New Year’s.  You can even find mega yachts docking in some of the bays!  Besides a short lull in January, the island sees a steady stream of visitors from February through April. 

Those who make their way to this paradise will be greeted with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world on the island’s premier North Shore Road.  Those who prefer to stay on land for the day can also enjoy one of the National Park’s upwards of twenty hiking trails, many of which lead past historic Danish plantation ruins or to a beach.

After enjoying a busy day outdoors in Virgin Islands National Park, the next logical step is to head into Cruz Bay for a cocktail at a waterfront bar, such as Beach Bar or High Tide.  Be sure to make it in time for sunset for breath-taking colors over the sea!

By Theresa, Fueled By Wanderlust

 
Virgin Islands National Park in Winter
Virgin Islands National Park in Winter | Credit: Fueled By Wanderlust

Canyonlands National Park

With depths of more than 2,000 feet, carved by the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers, Canyonlands National Park is Utah’s version of the Grand Canyon. Canyonlands takes up more than 337,000 acres on the edge of Moab and is separated into three sections: Island in the Sky, the Needles and the Maze.

The Island in the Sky district is by far the most accessible and sits just 30 minutes outside of downtown Moab and 25 minutes outside its more well-known counterpart, Arches National Park.

The Needles district is about 1.5 hours south of the entrance and the Maze district, which is by far the most remote of the three, is only accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles.

The gigantic canyons carved by the Colorado and Green Rivers separate the park into three districts due to the fact that bridges will likely never be constructed inside the park. With about 750,000 visitors per year, Canyonlands is often underrated and severely under-visited.

During summers, Canyonlands National Park heats up — by temperature and with visitors. But the winters provide a spectacular array of sights to feast the eyes upon. The canyon gets dusted with snow from time to time and the skies open up with some of the bluest hues you’ve ever seen.

By Jarrod, Ramble Around the World

Where to Stay at Canyonlands National Park

Again, Moab is a great base for visiting Canyonlands National Park, but if you want to really get a wilderness experience then something like this treehouse tent could be perfect for you – although it would get very cold in winter!  Perhaps this town house would be better for the colder months, although you can check all accommodation options for Airbnbs around the National Park here.

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Canyonlands National Park in Winter
Canyonlands National Park in Winter |  Credit: Ramble Around the World

Mount Rainier in Winter  

Mount Rainier is one of the best National Parks to visit in winter because it receives plenty of snow and offers many winter activities. You can go snowshoeing with a ranger and learn how the flora and fauna in Mount Rainier NP adapts to the harsh winter conditions (snowshoes are provided). There are some winter hiking opportunities but be sure to prepare well before setting out on a winter hike and bring the right equipment (such as crampons).  

In a small section of the park (along the Westside Road) snowmobiling is allowed, another fun winter activity in Mount Rainer National Park. For families with kids, the Paradise snow play area is a lot of fun, perfect for an afternoon of sledding, snowball fights, and making snow angels.  

Keep in mind you can only access the park via the Nisqually Entrance and the Carbon River Entrance during the winter season. Within the park many roads are closed as well due to the heavy snowfall, be sure to check the conditions before your visit to know which roads are accessible and bring tire chains (mandatory between November and May).   

By Lotte, Beste voor Kids 

Where to Stay at Mount Rainier National Park

The National Park is a couple of hours’ drive away from Seattle, so you could stay in the city if you were only planning a day trip to Mount Rainier, however, staying closer to the park will give you more time to explore.  This cozy cabin looks like a lovely place to stay just 4 miles away from the park, and this tiny home gets great reviews too.  

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Mount Rainier in winter
Mount Rainier in winter | Credit: Beste voor Kids 

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is located in the heart of the West Texas desert. Winter in this region is mild during the day making it the best time of year to enjoy the incredible hikes in Big Bend.

There are 150 miles of trails to discover here in the mountains, the desert, and along the Rio Grande. And while this is the desert, Big Bend actually houses an entire mountain range within its borders, the Chisos. Some of the most beautiful treks are in these mountains. 

Pack many warm layers as the temperature and weather can change throughout the day, especially when in the mountains. Stay in the park at the Chisos Mountain Lodge or rent unique Big Bend accommodation in the nearby Terlingua Ghost Town, which serves as the gateway to Big Bend.  

By Erin, Sol Salute

 
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park | Credit: Sol Salute

Rocky Mountain National Park

There is little doubt that Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most beautiful in the United States, and the good news is that it’s a fantastic place to visit year round. Go in the spring or summer, and you will have plenty of hiking trails to pick from; visit in the winter and you will find the most powdery snow you can wish for. 

This means that the park is a great destination for winter sports such as snowshoeing and obviously skiing. Snowshoeing can be enjoyed in the area of Bear Lake, where there are various trails, as well as Glacier Gorge and Hidden Valley – where you can also go sledging. 

The best place for skiing is Eldora, at about one hour drive from Estes Park and with nice slopes for all levels. 

For truly unique rock formations head to Lake Haiyaha, which you can reach from Bear Lake via a trail that goes through the forest. Keep in mind that although the trail is open, depending on the amount of snow it may be hard to follow so use your good judgement when going on this hike in the winter. 

The winter is also a great season to spot wildlife such as elk, mule deer, coyotes and other mammals, which usually prefer colder weather. 

The good news about winter in Colorado is that although snowfall is pretty regular, so are the chances of sun. You may well be skiing in your sweater, as when the sun is out the temperatures are actually quite mild. 

Remember that two of the most scenic roads – Upper Beaver Meadows Road and Old Fall River Road – are closed during the winter months.

By Claudia, My Adventures Across The World

 
Lake Haiyaha Rocky Mountain National Park
Lake Haiyaha Rocky Mountain National Park

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Pinnacles National Park

Located just two hours from the Bay Area, California’s newest  – and smallest – National Park makes a great winter weekend getaway. While Pinnacles National Park is notorious for its hot summers, winters here are mild thanks to its Mediterranean climate.

Only 200,000 people visited the park in 2018, making it a great place to avoid crowds while exploring 30 miles of hiking trails and fascinating geology. Take note that there’s no driving route from the western to eastern entrances but it’s easy enough to hike across the park in a single day.

You can customize your route using the interconnected trails to explore towering cliffs, caves caused by moving tectonic plates, or both. Hike the High Peaks trail for a rare chance to see California condors in the wild. Don’t forget to pack your binoculars for birdwatching – and a headlamp if you want to check out the talus caves, which are also home to 14 species of bats!

By Sarah, The Wandering Road Blog

 
Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles National Park | Credit: The Wandering Road Blog

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is one of the most extreme and unique national parks in the US. Given the fact that Death Valley is home to the hottest temperature ever recorded (134 degrees F), it is one of the best national parks in the US to visit during winter, when temperatures are mild.

There are so many awesome things to do in Death Valley. Spend a weekend here sliding down the Mesquite Sand Dunes, admiring the sweeping views at Zabriskie Point, and checking out the colorful rocks of Artist’s Point.

One of the most iconic spots in the park is Badwater Basin which is famous for being the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere – at 282 feet below sea level! If you have a vehicle with 4WD, you can also visit the Racetrack Playa and see the mysterious rocks that move across the sand.

Death Valley National Park is located about 2 hours from Las Vegas, or 4 hours from Los Angeles. 

By Lauren, Ready, Set PTO

 
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park | Credit: Ready, Set PTO

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Olympic National Park

With its location on a peninsula of north-eastern Washington state jutting out into the Pacific Ocean, Olympic National Park is somewhat insulated from the bitter cold that blankets much of the United States during wintertime. Instead, you’ll get fairytale rainforests lightly dusted with snow and moody pebble beaches, just waiting to be explored- but without the summer crowds!

Although some of the trails leading up and through the impressive Olympic Mountains may be closed due to snow, you’ll find plenty of open ones within the park’s impressive 1,442 square mile footprint, from the Hoh Rainforest to the famous Hurricane Hill, which offers jaw-dropping panoramic views of the Bailey Mountain Range.  Hurricane Hill is the perfect location for trying your hand at snowshoeing from December through March, although the road here is only open on weekends and Monday holidays.

Not feeling like tramping through the snow? The coastal beaches, like Ruby or Rialto Beach, generally stay snow free throughout the colder months, instead offering massive winter swells. Visit the beaches during low tide to do some tidepooling and see some of the fascinating creatures that call this part of the Pacific Ocean home.

Whether you want to explore mountaintops, craggy beaches, or rainforests, Olympic National Park is absolutely worth a visit during wintertime.

By Jessica, Uprooted Traveler

 
Sol Duc Falls Trail - Olympic National Park
Sol Duc Falls Trail – Olympic National Park | Credit: Uprooted Traveler

Everglades

Winter is the best time of the year to visit the sunshine state. It’s dry and warm, making it perfect for outdoor activities! When heading to Florida, most people focus on the beaches (which, to be fair, are amazing!) but visiting the Everglades National Park is a must-do too!

Located in the Southern part of Florida, the Everglades are one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet. It’s the only place where you can find both alligators and crocodiles. But that’s not all! The wildlife is incredible. If you love bird watching, you are in for a treat.

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A popular activity in the Everglades is going on an airboat ride. There are loads of companies offering tours in Shark Valley. The tour lasts between 30 and 60 minutes, during which you will explore the mangroves, the wetlands and see loads of alligators.

If you like walking, you will also find a lot of trails near the visitors centres in Flamingo and Shark Valley. Anhinga Trail and Pa-Hay-Okee Boardwalk are particularly remarkable.

Finally, make sure to go on a ranger-led activity. To do that, stop at one of the visitor centres and ask them what they have on. You will get to go on a tour (walking or biking) with a ranger who will explain everything you need to know about the Everglades.

By Pauline, Beeloved City

 
Everglades National Park Florida
Everglades National Park Florida | Credit: Beeloved City

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is famous for its incredible summer offerings, but during winter, a whole new level of beauty shines through as it shows an even wilder side. Snow starts to fall in the park from mid-October and Yellowstone is quickly covered in a thick blanket of snow, which is only broken up by the hot springs dotted throughout the mountains. 

While winter in Yellowstone causes most of the park to be completely inaccessible, it is still possible to enjoy the raw beauty of the US National Park via snow coach and snowmobile tours. These tours will take you out into the wilderness where you will get to see the beauty of the hot springs bubbling in the cold, or some of the incredible wildlife that calls the park home. 

Winter is one of the best times to see wolves in Yellowstone since the snow drives them down from the mountains into the lowlands where they are forced to live in a more restricted space. Alternatively, you can head out into the wilderness on cross-country skis or snowshoes, really taking in the nature and enjoying the pure tranquility of the park without the summer crowds. 

By Megan, Megan Starr

 
Yellowstone National Park in the Winter
Yellowstone National Park in the Winter | Credit: Megan Starr

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park in winter is a magical experience.  You’ll be able to admire the Tetons covered in snow, which you can never go wrong with.  While you’re there, you can do some snowshoeing or cross country skiing in the Moose-Wilson area or the Gros Ventre area. 

If you want a more relaxing day, either DIY a wildlife safari or sign up for one if you’d rather have someone else drive and take you to the good spots.  You’ll probably be able to see moose, bison, maybe coyotes, and a wolf or two if you’re lucky!  You won’t be able to get to the Mormon Row barns, but you could get to Cunningham Cabinalong the main highway through the park. 

If you want a break from the cold, head into town and browse all the shops and galleries.  Just make sure you bring those hand and toe warmers so you don’t freeze too much while you’re there!

By Megan, Red Around the World

 
Grand Teton National Park in Winter
Grand Teton National Park in Winter | Credit: Red Around the World

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Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park is a wonderful place to experience winter. Sequoia National Park is the only place in the world to see the magnificent sequoia trees, which are the tallest trees in the world.

 Inside the park, you can drive around and soak in the views, or go snowshoeing! Make sure to dress appropriately and wear waterproof shoes with gaiters to keep your feet dry while snowshoeing and snow hiking.

If you’re looking to experience snow, the best time to visit is in January through March. If you’re planning to go right after a snowstorm, make sure to carry chains with you.

There are a couple of lodges in the park, but they book up really quickly! An alternative is to stay in Three Rivers which is about a 45-minute drive into the park.

By Jenny, Campsite Vibes

 
Sequoia National Park in Winter
Sequoia National Park in Winter | Credit: Campsite Vibes

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park is one of the most spectacular parks in the nation and great to visit in the winter when the park is quieter. It is a World Heritage Site which contains the dwelling remains of the Ancestral Pueblo people. Over 600 still stand.

There are winter trails available at the park. Depending on the time of year, you can go snowshoeing, cross country skiing or winter hiking. However, if you would prefer something less arduous then check out the Mesa Verde Loop. This 6-mile drive has a series of lookout points which provide some of the best views of the remains in the park. Don’t miss Sun Point lookout, Sun Temple, and Cliff Palace.

To gain insight into the history of the park stop by the museum which is located beside the Visitor Centre. It has interactive exhibits and there is a great 45-minute documentary which serves as an introduction to the history of the park.

By Oksana & Max, Drink Tea & Travel.

Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park | Credit: Drink Tea & Travel.

Joshua Tree National Park in Winter

Joshua Tree, in Southern California, is one of the best US National Parks to visit in winter time. Winter is my favorite time to visit the park. Chilly temperatures keep many visitors away, so you will have the park for yourself!

Sometimes snow does fall within the park and you can see the Joshua trees in white. Besides, sunsets are especially beautiful during winter, with the pink sky and the snow over the trees.

Give yourself two or three days in the area to explore the park. Bouldering and rock climbing are some of the best things to do in Joshua Tree in winter. Hiking is also great during this time. One of the famous trails takes you to the Ryan Mountain summit, and it’s only 3 miles. The Cholla Cactus Garden is a must as well, and don’t forget to visit the town of Joshua Tree while there.

If you want to know where to stay in Joshua Tree National Park, there are some great glamping options you’ll love. My favorite is The Castle House, with traditional “Yurt” style tents and heaters for chilly nights (it’s so cozy in winter!).

By Sara, Mindful Travel

Joshua Tree National Park in Winter
Joshua Tree National Park in Winter | Credit: Mindful Travel

Wow, I had no idea there were so many incredible National Parks in the United States!  These have to be the best National Parks to visit in winter, but have they missed any of your favourites?  Let me know in the comments below!   

If you’re looking for travel insurance for your trip to these National Parks in the USA, get a quote now from World Nomads.

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The Best USA National Parks in the Winter

The Best National Parks to Visit in Winter

Just to let you know, this post may contain paid or affiliate links, which help to maintain Tales of a Backpacker and give me the chance to keep travelling, and to keep creating awesome content for you!  I only recommend goods and services I believe are useful and reliable.

Last updated: October 10, 2020

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