What are the best national parks to visit in the winter? Whether you’re looking to escape the snow or go on a wintery outdoor adventure, there’s a US national park awaiting you!
Looking for the ultimate winter escape? If you’re a nature lover, you don’t have to wait for summer to explore the most epic national parks in the USA.
In fact, the colder months just happen to be the best time of the year to hit the outdoors. With fewer crowds blocking the views and scenery so unique it’ll get your jaw down to the ground, there’s plenty of reasons to put these epic national parks at the top of your winter bucket list.
10 Best National Parks to Visit in the Winter
Without further ado, let’s dive into the best national parks to visit in winter – whether you’re searching for warm or cold weather!
These parks are listed in no particular order, as I find it challenging to rank them. The landscapes and trails are so diverse and beautiful for each one. You need to experience the beauty of these National Parks firsthand!
1. Death Valley National Park, California
While visiting Death Valley National Park during the summer months is not the best idea (it gets scorching hot… we’re talking temperatures in the 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 its desert magic than winter. Think eerie-looking rock formations, salt flats as far as the eye can see, and hills splashed with colors you never thought belonged in nature!
2. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park is pretty much a gem of a place 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 can become a bit of a trek as most roads are closed to traffic and only accessible via special vehicles. Still, though, with a little planning, you’ll be able to enjoy the epicness of this national park in a truly unique way, including some of the best Yellowstone hikes.
3. Arches National Park, Utah
Boasting over two thousand archways that give the park its name, gigantic mesas, and strange-looking rock formations, a visit to Arches National Park in Utah will make you feel as though you’ve completely left Earth and wandered into Mars.
While it does snow in Arches during the winter, it’s not really enough to ruin the day. In fact, it snows just enough to bring out an epically beautiful contrast of white against the red rock landscape Arches is oh-so-famous for.
Moreover, there’s just something about the winter skies and the dreamy snow-capped La Sal Mountains in the backdrop that make winter sunrises and sunset at Arches something incredibly magical. There’s a reason why it’s considered part of Utah’s Mighty 5, after all.
4. Biscayne National Park, Florida
Feeling more in the mood to completely escape the cold and make the most out of that winter sun? Biscayne National Park is just what you’re after if what you’re looking for is 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. You essentially have two options: Snorkeling or booking an (epic) scuba diving expedition (Biscayne Bay is home to 6 old shipwrecks!) If you’d rather not get wet, there’s a secret third option, which involves a glass-bottom boat tour!
Once you’re done exploring under its waves, you can check out the 5% of the park that’s actually on land and consists of epic little islands that you can explore on foot in search of epic wildlife and unparalleled nature.
5. Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Think red rock canyons plastered all over and sandstone spires piercing the sky to get a pretty good picture of what visiting Canyonlands National Park is all about.
With over 330,000 of land to explore, you can pretty much visit Canyonlands dozens of times and never really get to do the same thing twice. If you’re keen to experience some of its epic desert magic, though, winter is the perfect time to get an excellent introduction.
While it does get chilly during the evenings, visiting Canyonlands during 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 practically all to yourself!
6. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Imagine one of the USA’s most famous views, but dusted in a layer of snow! If you want to get a truly unique experience at one of the most popular spots in the country, a winter escapade to see the Grand Canyon is a must on your travel bucket list.
While the North Rim closes during the winter, the South Rim (which tends to get super crowded any other time of the year) remains open and gives you the chance to explore some of the most popular Grand Canyon hiking trails without the hoards of visitors around.
If you’d rather not break a sweat, you can grab your car keys and drive the scenic road to Desert View or book a flight to get a birds-eye view of the canyon blanketed in snow, which provides for a view you won’t soon forget!
7. Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park is home to some of the best winter hiking in the US for those who are looking for a challenge.
If you love snow, this is the park to visit, whether it’s part of a Maine road trip or the final destination. Acadia is often covered in crisp white snow and becomes a must-visit for cross-country skiers and snowshoers. For those just looking to appreciate the views, you can choose from two sections of the Park Loop Road and the Carriage Road. These remain open for walking, running, and biking.
Note that weather can change quickly, especially on the mountain peaks, so always be prepared and keep an eye on the weather.
8. Joshua Tree National Park, California
Joshua Tree National Park is one of our favorite places to hike in California. Spanning more than 800,000 acres in the California desert, it’s one of the best national parks to visit in winter, due to its mild weather.
Located just two hours from LA and an hour from Palm Springs, Joshua Tree can get quite hot in the summer but stays mild during the winter. It’s the perfect time to visit if you’re looking to take advantage of the many hikes in Joshua Tree National Park, especially the longer ones which might be too much during the hot summer months.
9. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park becomes a haven for snow-based activities in the winter. Many of our favorite Rocky Mountain hikes become the perfect trails for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and even sledding. If you don’t have your own sled, you can rent one from Estes Park, which is perfect for those traveling in.
If outdoor winter adventure isn’t your forte, don’t worry – many of the roads within the park remain open and winter is a great time for wildlife-watching as well.
10. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
Another of the best national parks to visit in winter, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park typically stays mild throughout the winter season. Or, at least, the foothills and valleys do. The average temperature in Gatlinburg, Tennessee is in the 50s while some of the peaks are much colder.
Similarly, the lower elevations may only see a few inches of snow throughout the entire season, while the higher elevations see several feet.
Because of the big range in climate, some areas of the park close seasonally, such as Clingmans Dome Road, but most remain open. Since most people visit the Smoky Mountains in the summer, winter can be a great time to have the trails to yourself. Just be sure to keep a close eye on the weather and take the altitude into consideration.
Best Winter National Parks FAQs
Still have questions about visiting the national parks in the winter? These answers may help you!
Absolutely. Winter is a great time to visit many of the national parks, especially those which are super crowded in the summer. For those who enjoy outdoor adventure, winter is a great time for cross country skiiing and snow shoeing. For those looking to escape the cold, many of the national parks in California and Florida are the perfect getaway.
Yes! Many national parks stay warm in the winter, such as Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park in California and Biscayne National Park in Florida.
Many national parks close certain trails or areas in the winter and may even close down for a few days due to inclement weather but the only national park that closes for the entire season is Isle Royal National Park.
All national parks except for Isle Royal are open during the winter, though certain parts may close down due to the weather.