Believe it or not, December is a great time to plan a US National Park trip.
During December the crowds are fewer, you can enjoy activities with or without snow, and the scenery is breathtaking.
When you visit a US National Park in the winter, you’ll find many offer activities to enjoy the snow like skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.
There are other parks where you can escape the snow and enjoy more moderate temperatures for outdoor fun like hiking and biking.
Here are 5 amazing US National Parks to visit in December.
→ Check out more USA winter vacation ideas!
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What to Wear at National Parks in December
When visiting the best National Parks in December, you are guaranteed cooler temperatures no matter where you choose to visit.
This National Park winter packing list will help prepare you for your visit.
Be sure to check the weather before packing to ensure you bring the right clothes.
We always suggest bringing some warmer clothes, just in case the weather changes while you are there.
Here’s our list of things to pack:
- US National Park Pass → Why the US National Parks Pass is a good deal!
- Hiking shoes → We wear Merrell, Oboz and Solomon waterproof hiking shoes!
- Winter socks → Darn Tough socks are the best – trust us!!
- Fleece jacket → We wear Columbia fleece jackets – and they last forever!
- Rain jacket
- Winter jacket
- Insulated hat
- Winter gloves → We use these winter gloves for photography!
- Day pack
- Healthy Snacks & Food → Here’s our list of easy and portable food and snacks!
- Headlamp → We use a headlamp with a red light when doing night photography.
- Hiking first aid kit
- Camera gear → Here’s our Camera Gear Checklist!
Best National Parks in December to Visit
Yellowstone National Park in December
Yellowstone in the winter, especially December, is an unforgettable experience.
Although Yellowstone National Park will be a cold, it’s absolutely magical this time of year.
While visiting Yellowstone in December you can ski, snowshoe, snowmobile or take a snowcoach through the park. All road are closed to personal vehicles except the one going from Gardiner to Cooke City from the North to the Northeast entrance.
You’ll enjoy seeing and taking pictures of the snowy landscape and wildlife like bison, swans and fox roaming about the park.
Don’t forget about the truly amazing night sky filled with stars for stargazing.
Use this Yellowstone planning guide to help plan your winter wonderland getaway.
Places to stay in West Yellowstone that we recommend:
- Holiday Inn, West Yellowstone
- ClubHouse Inn, West Yellowstone
- Kelly Inn, West Yellowstone
- → CHECK OUT more West Yellowstone hotels!
Places to stay in Gardiner that we recommend:
- Yellowstone Gateway Inn, Gardiner – full kitchen and comfy bed, one of our favorite places to stay!
- Park Hotel Yellowstone, Gardiner – charming place to stay and loved by guests!
- Absaroka Lodge, Gardiner – beautiful location with river views!
- → CHECK OUT more Gardiner hotels!
Places to stay in Cooke City or Silver Gate that we recommend:
- Sunny Log Home on the Creek, Silver Gate (VRBO) – the most AMAZING location with an awesome fireplace and comfy bed!
- Mountain View Cabin, Cooke City – great views and we enjoyed having a washer and dryer!
- High Country Motel and Cabins – local owners who love what they do, and make you feel so welcome!
Arches National Park in December
Arches National Park in the winter is our favorite time to go, especially in December.
While visiting Arches in December you will practically have the park all to yourself!
The photography at Arches this time of year is perfect. The colors are vibrant and the light has the most amazing glow on the rock formations. It is a must-see sight that you don’t want to miss.
While visiting in December the summer heat is gone, so you are able to go on many of the Arches hiking trails without worrying about sweating to death or getting heat exhaustion.
Although the sun is out much of the day in December, it will get cooler in some places and you might even encounter ice and snow.
Be sure to take your warm winter clothes and dress in layers to plan accordingly. Whenever traveling to Arches in December it is best to check the weather conditions before arriving.
While visiting Arches in December you want to stay there after it gets dark to enjoy the best stargazing ever! You will see for yourself why Arches’ slogan is “half the park is after dark.”
Canyonlands National Park in December
While visiting Arches in December, be sure to head to Canyonlands National Park next! Just like Arches, there is hardly anyone visiting in December, making it a great time to really see the park and photograph Canyonlands without waiting hours for the perfect shot.
While visiting in December, you can expect temperatures to be between the high 30s low 50s (Fahrenheit). It is important to bundle up, dress in layers, and bring your winter jacket with you!
If you are lucky enough to be visiting when there’s snow on the ground, you’ll enjoy the most incredible views from the overlooks!
In December you will have to be more self-reliant while visiting because many of the visitor centers are closed or have limited hours.
And don’t forget to stop and visit Dead Horse Point State Park that’s just miles from the entrance to Canyonlands!
Where to Stay Near Arches & Canyonlands:
There are no hotels in Arches so most people stay in the nearby town of Moab. You’ll find restaurants and places to shop which adds to the appeal to find accommodations in Moab.
There are all types of lodging in and near Moab from budget-friendly hotels to higher-prices resorts. You’ll also find vacation rentals, a hostel, campgrounds and RV parks
READ OUR FULL GUIDE: Places to stay near Arches National Park in Moab
- Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Moab – we enjoyed our stay and highly recommend this hotel due to its location close to Arches.
- Purple Sage – our all-time favorite place to stay in Moab – walking distance to shopping, full kitchen, and only 8 units so you don’t feel lost in a large hotel. → Book the Purple Sage via Airbnb
- Red Cliffs Lodge – rooms up to 6 people – located 17 miles from Moab, this lodge is known for its beautiful location, winery and activities like horseback riding, fishing and more!
- Condos south of town – we really like the King size bed in the master, washer and dryer in the unit and a swimming pool/hot tub (just a 5 minute drive south of Moab).
Big Bend National Park
If you are looking to travel to a National Park in December that is a bit warmer, then Big Bend National Park is for you. With over 800,000 acres to explore there is something for everyone to look at and enjoy.
In December you will have mild temperatures in the 70s making it a nice escape from the cold.
While visiting there are hikes to do and hot springs to soak in. You can even cross the border into Mexico on the rowboat ferry.
If you love birds, Big Bend is known as a birder’s paradise. Big bend is the home to over 450 species with 56 species being seen all year long. With multiple habitats, you will see bird hotspots throughout the park making it a birdlover’s dream come true.
Where to Stay Near Big Bend:
Everglades National Park
Another one of the best National Parks in December if you are searching for warmer weather is Everglades National Park.
The Everglades is the third-largest National Park in the continental United States. It is over 2400 square miles! Everglades National Park is located in Florida about an hour outside of Miami.
This park is known for its wetlands filled with all kinds of tropical birds, alligators, and tons of different species of fish.
December is the best time to visit so that you don’t encounter the excessive heat, high humidity, and mosquitoes that you experience throughout the rest of the year.
There is so much to do and see while visiting:
- Bird watching
- Boating, Canoeing, Kayaking
- Ranger-led programs – We highly recommend at every park you visit if they are running while you visit! You learn so much and the kids love doing the activities.
- Slough Sogging – Never heard of this before? It is basically off-trail hiking called slogging. It allows you to get a little closer to some different species at the park.
With so many different activities you are guaranteed that everyone will have a great time exploring the outdoors at Everglades National Park.
Where to Stay Near Everglades NP:
Winter Vacation Ideas
- List of Winter Vacation Ideas
- List of US National Parks in the Winter
- Visiting US National Parks in December
- Visiting US National Parks in January
- Visiting US National Parks in February
- National Park Packing Lists for Winter
- Winter Clothing Guide for Outdoor Travel