7 Best National Parks to Visit in Winter

From Maine to California, these are the best national parks to visit during the winter for adventure and gorgeous scenery.

A summer vacation to a United States national park has been a rite of passage for generations of Americans — a pilgrimage made each season ever since the country’s best idea became reality over a century ago. Each summer, millions travel in search of the unique blend of natural awe and national pride that our most treasured landscapes inspire. Yet these heat-seeking sightseers are missing what might be the parks’ best-kept secret: winter.

While Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park is typically jam-packed from June through August, visiting during winter allows tourists to experience the same striking scenery and abundant wildlife with far smaller crowds.

From December to March, an Old Faithful eruption seldom attracts more than 15 onlookers, says Park Spokeswoman Sandy Snell-Dobert, compared to the hundreds who gather every hour all summer long. And Yellowstone’s geysers, steam vents, and hot springs are especially spectacular in the frigid winter air, billowing steam up to 1,000 feet high amongst the frosted, frozen surroundings.

“You get these completely white-coated trees,” Snell-Dobert says. “It looks like Christmas gone wild.”

Freezing temperatures yield a fresh take on other familiar — and relatively unfamiliar — park landscapes, from ice-coated coastal cliffs in Maine’s Acadia National Park to the snow-covered forests of Sequoia and Kings Canyon in California. For parks with hotter climates, winter is actually high season: It’s by far the most pleasant time to enjoy the sawgrass marshes of the Florida Everglades and the desert scenes of Arizona’s Saguaro National Park.

Many of the national parks' winter activities are in full swing by mid-December, with plenty of opportunities to hike, ski, or snowshoe through the diverse landscapes the parks have to offer. As always, a good rule of thumb is to check the current park conditions at the location's website before you go. And, of course, be sure you prepare accordingly for the harsh winter temperatures and landscapes you may face. Warm layers, waterproof footwear, gloves, hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, water, and snacks are just a few of the essentials to add to your checklist before hitting a national park in winter.

Don’t wait any longer and get started exploring these winter wonders now. To help, we've rounded up the best national parks to visit in winter.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park Utah Winter Snow
Getty Images

This southern Utah park’s gravity-defying limestone spires — called hoodoos — appear even more delicate when snow dusts the reddish-orange rocks. Join a ranger-led full moon snowshoe hike, where your snowshoes are provided (November through March, snowpack permitting), or time your visit during a new moon phase for world-class stargazing beneath some of the West’s darkest skies.

Everglades National Park, Florida

Everglades National Park Florida
Getty Images/Gallo Images

From November through April, the subtropical dry season spells sunny skies, 70-degree days, and a break from the blood-sucking bugs that plague South Florida’s wetlands throughout the rest of the year. Less rain also concentrates wildlife at watering holes, boosting your odds of spotting the Everglades’ iconic alligators and wading birds like the bright pink roseate spoonbill.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho

Yellowstone National Park Buffalo
Getty Images/Gallo Images

Winter ups the ante of the bizarre and beautiful landscapes of Yellowstone — counted among America’s best winter drives — as scalding geothermal waters meet the single-digit temperature winter air. Stay at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, open December to March, and take a day tour to Old Faithful to spot steam-frosted bison, glimpse the Fountain Paint Pots, and watch the world’s most famous geyser with barely a soul in sight.

Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park Maine Winter Snow
Getty Images

Five feet of snow blanket Acadia’s evergreen forests and rocky headlands in an average year, transforming the park’s scenic loop drive and winding carriage roads into a paradise for cross-country skiers and snowshoers. In the winter months, ambitious early risers can climb Cadillac Mountain to be the first in the country to catch the sunrise.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Saguaro National Park Arizona Winter
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Daytime temperatures average a comfortable 65 degrees from November through March at this gem just north of the Mexican border. Learn about desert-dwelling critters, savor a smoldering Sonoran sunset, or simply marvel at the park’s namesake cacti, which can grow to be more than 45 feet tall and age over 200 years.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

Black Canyon Gunnison National Park Colorado Winter Snow
Getty Images/Photo Researchers RM

Snowfall adds another dimension to the vertigo-inducing depths of this remote, rocky chasm in west-central Colorado. From December through April, ski or snowshoe (when you take a ranger-guided tour, the park provides the shoes; otherwise, they can be rented or purchased locally) the seven-mile South Rim Drive to peer from clifftops to the Gunnison River nearly 3,000 feet below.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Giant Redwoods in winter, Sequoia National Park, California, USA

Digital Vision/Getty Images

Time slows to a primeval pace in a giant sequoia grove, where 275-foot-tall statesmen have watched the seasons come and go for more than 2,000 years. In winter, hike in snow-dampened silence to the General Sherman Tree, among the world’s largest living icons. The park is also great for cross-country skiing or free, ranger-led snowshoe walks — shoes are even provided onsite. Or, try a winter drive through the snowy landscape, though be aware tire chains are often required during this time of year.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles