We are going to share our biggest travel secret with you.
Visit US national parks in the winter.
If you want to avoid the crowds, we recommend a US national park vacation during the offseason.
Many park locationss that are hard to visit in the summer due to the heat, bugs and crowds.
You can enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and biking during the day at many of these national parks in the wintertime.
Many of the parks covered in snow will offer winter activities like skiing, snowshoeing, photography and star gazing.
Each national park has different things to see and do during the winter months of December, January and February.
We have teamed with other travelers to provide this list of must-see national parks to visit in the winter to help you plan your vacation.
- Arches National Park
- Big Bend National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Death Valley National Park
- Everglades National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Saguaro National Park
- Valley Forge National Historical Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks
- Zion National Park
→ CHECK OUT more winter vacation ideas in the US!
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WHAT TO PACK FOR A NATIONAL PARK TRIP IN THE WINTER
1. US National Parks Pass
2. Hiking Gear
- Waterproof hiking boots or shoes – Merrell Moab are our FAVORITE!
- Insulated boots
- Heavy wool socks – we LOVE Darn Tough Socks!
- Walking stick or trekking poles
3. Clothing – Layers
- Wicking and quick-drying base layers
- Fleece or insulated jacket
- Wool, down or heavy-weight insulated jacket
- Waterproof rain jacket
- Insulating hat
- Insulating winter gloves
- Fleece neck gaiter or buff
- WATER – water bottles or hydration backpack
- FOOD – healthy snacks
- Flashlight or headlamp
- National Park maps
- Lip protection with sunscreen
- Polarized sunglasses
- Hand lotion
- Toilet paper (carry out in a bag – do not bury)
- Hand sanitizer
- First aid kit
- Bags to pack out trash
VISIT US NATIONAL PARKS IN THE WINTER
Arches National Park in the Winter
Winter is the off-season at Arches which means fewer people. Many times we seem to have the park to ourselves!
No crowds: We don’t have to wait in line to enter the park or drive around trying to find a parking spots. You can find absolute quiet in the park during the winter. There are trails where you won’t see another person for hours.
Photos without the wait: Taking photographs of the formations and arches in the park requires patience for the majority of the year. You wait at each arch while everyone takes their turn to snap a selfie or photograph.
No scorching heat: In the winter you can enjoy a full day in the park without sweating and heat exhaustion. It’s still important to dress in layers, stay hydrated and wear sunscreen.
Winter photography: Colder air is clearer and creates vibrant, colorful pictures. Sunrise and sunset at Arches National Park is amazing. The soft light creates a spectacular glow on the red rocks that cannot be missed.
Stargazing: Due to its remote location, accessibility, altitude and clear skies, Arches National Park is one of the best places to see the stars in the night sky. The one downfall to visiting Arches in the winter is the Milky Way will not be visible. It’s best viewed from March to October.
Photo and article by Photo Jeepers
Big Bend National Park in the Winter
Big Bend National Park is one the largest national parks in the U.S. At over 800,000 acres, it’s roughly the size of Rhode Island! Its location in the desert at the edge of Texas along the border with Mexico makes it a remote destination.
During the summer, temperatures here often surpass 100°F/38°C. But the winters are much more mild (highs around 70°F/21°C), making Big Bend a great destination to visit during this time.
There are three distinct areas in the park: river, mountains, and desert.
There are many things to see and do at Big Bend in the winter.
In the Rio Grande Village area, you can hike down to the only Wild & Scenic River in the state of Texas. Here you can take a nice soak in the hot springs along the river, admire the Native American petroglyphs, and even cross the border into Mexico via rowboat ferry.
In the heart of the park you’ll find the Chisos, the only mountain range to be completely located within a national park! Many of the most popular hikes and the park lodge are in this area.
Since the elevation is higher, it also gets much colder in this area. You can take the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive through miles of gorgeous desert to Castolon. Here you can see the history of the park and region. And a few more miles down the road, you can hike into Santa Elena Canyon!
I recommend you plan your trip to Big Bend in the winter. It’s a beautiful, pristine desert wilderness. Though it is remote, it’s well worth a trip. Just make sure that trip’s during the cooler months!
Photo and article by Katy – Around the World in Katy Days
Bryce Canyon National Park in the Winter
Bryce Canyon National Park’s peak beauty is during the winter. The park sits at a high elevation in Utah so the tall, orange hoodoos are blanketed with snow and the park becomes a winter wonderland.
Another perk of visiting Bryce Canyon in the winter is the small number of visitors. You constantly can’t believe you have this popular national park practically all to yourself.
There are many activities to do at Bryce Canyon in the winter. The most popular activities include snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, stargazing, and winter hiking.
Winter hiking requires hiking boots or snowshoes to be able to deal with the snow packed trails. But, if you have the right shoes, you can spend all day exploring the hoodoos on your own.
A ranger-led snowshoe program is offered which lends you free snowshoes and poles. It is a fun and unique way to explore the snowy national park.
Skiing is another great option to explore, even though it is illegal to ski off of the trails on the rim and into the canyon.
Due to the park’s remoteness, stargazing at Bryce Canyon is another popular activity all year round. On average you can see about 7,500 stars in the dark night. Occasionally, the park rangers host a winter astronomy program which includes viewing the stars with a telescope.
Bryce Canyon National Park has a unique beauty which is not replicated anywhere else. During the winter the views of Bryce Canyon are stunning with the white snow contrasted against the colorful landscape.
Bryce Canyon is a very popular destination that ordinarily becomes too packed to enjoy. Visiting Bryce in the winter provides the beauty minus the claustrophobic crowds.
Photo and article by Michelle – The Wandering Queen
Canyonlands in the Winter
But visitor services are reduced at Canyonlands in the winter. Winter temperatures in Canyonlands are cold, with highs averaging 30 to 50 F (-1 to 10 C), and lows averaging 0 to 20 F (-17 to -6 C). Large snowfalls are uncommon, but even small amounts of snow or ice can make local trails and roads impassable.
You will need to know what to expect and be more self-reliant when visiting Canyonlands during the winter months of December, January and February.
There are many things to see, do and photograph in Canyonlands Island in the Sky and Canyonlands Needles during the winter.
And be sure to take a side trip to visit and photograph the views from Dead Horse Point State Park. It’s a short distance from the Island in the Sky entrance and worth the quick side trip.
Photo and article by Photo Jeepers
Death Valley National Park in the Winter
The desert wonderland at Death Valley comes alive in the winter months, and there is a little bit of everything here for every kind of explorer. You could spend a weekend in Death Valley seeing all of its major highlights, or stay for weeks and go a bit off the beaten path.
There are many things to do at Death Valley in the winter. Drive along the established park roads and make stops at Death Valley’s popular sites such as the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, or visit the lowest elevation point in the United States at Badwater Basin.
Rent a four-wheel drive vehicle in the valley and explore Death Valley’s off road trails such as “The Racetrack” where rocks are said to mysteriously move across a giant dry lake bed and leave only a path to tell their tale.
For an extra-special view of Death Valley, hike the tallest peak, Telescope Peak, and look out West to view the valley floor and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. From sand dunes to mountain tops, there is so much to do and experience in this park.
Death Valley National Park during November, December, January and February are the prime times to visit. The weather is cool, the campgrounds are bustling, and the desert comes to life.
Photo and article by Allison – She Dreams of Alpine
Everglades National Park in the Winter
Everglades National Park is located a little under an hour away from the hustle and bustle of Miami and Naples in Florida. But it provides a nice getaway from the busy cities.
This natural wonderland is a huge wetland filled with tropical birds, alligators, manatees, and hundreds of species of fish.
However, due to its location in the southern part of Florida, the best time to visit Everglades National Park is in the winter. Visiting any other time would result in excessive heat, a high level of humidity and an onslaught of mosquitos.
When we visited Everglades in January, we took a tour of the Miccosukee Indian Village, biked around Shark Valley and rode an airboat through the peaceful wetlands.
Alligators are everywhere in this area, so always keep an eye out! If you are planning a trip down to Naples or Miami during the winter months, plan to visit Everglades National Park. You will enjoy a unique, natural, and serene getaway.
Photo and article by Margie – DQ Family Travel
Glacier National Park in the Winter
Grand Teton National Park in the Winter
Grand Teton National Park is located near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This area has long, cold winters. The first heavy snows fall by November 1 and continue through April; snow and frost are possible during any month.
Taking photos of Grand Teton National Park with the snow-covered mountains and landscape is one of our favorite things. The white snow also helps the wildlife stand out. We’ve seen moose, bison, elk and even wolves!
It’s best if your vehicle is four-wheel drive, all-wheel drive or has all-weather tires recommended for winter travel. Some roads in Grand Teton are closed for the winter, and others may be icy or may even close during blizzards.
Be aware of wildlife, speed limits and road conditions as you drive through the park during the winter. Carry a winter safety kit in your car.
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are two of the best winter activities to explore the Grand Teton National Park.
Plan a trip to Grand Teton National Park if you enjoy seeing and photographing stunning winter landscapes and participating in outdoor winter activities.
Photo and article by Photo Jeepers
Rocky Mountain National Park in the Winter
For those iconic Rocky Mountain views of Colorado, consider visiting Rocky Mountain National Park during the winter. Sure, the temperatures are colder, but that means there’s plenty of park to explore, with half the crowds!
There are many things to do at Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter. Strap on your snowshoes and hike to the stunning Lake Haiyaha at sunrise for unbeatable views.
Easily accessible from the car, Sprague Lake and Bear Lake are the perfect spots to explore the winter wonderland of Rocky Mountain National Park if you aren’t too keen on winter hiking.
If you like to ski in the backcountry, head to Hidden Valley. This old ski resort offers plenty of swift skins and mellow turns for all abilities. Please note that Trail Ridge Road, connecting the east and west ends of the park, is usually closed in the winter.
When in doubt, call the park’s ranger station for the most up-to-date conditions. As always, enjoy the outdoors responsibly.
When you visit Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter, come prepared for cold temperatures, only travel in dangerous terrain with proper experience and training, and remember to leave it better than you found it.
Photo and article by Meg – Fox in the Forest
SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK IN THE WINTER
Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona, is a great National Park to visit in the winter. Cool nights and warm days also make winter the best time to visit Saguaro National Park!
There are actually two areas to the park separated by the city of Tucson. I recommend visiting both of them as they each offer unique desert landscapes and fun hikes.
The Rincon Mountain District, on the east side of Tucson, has a lovely loop drive that is perfect for sunset photos. There’s also a visitor’s center, gift shop, and miles of hiking trails, including seasonal waterfalls if you’re lucky!
The Tucson Mountain District on the west side of Tucson also has a scenic loop drive and many hiking trails, including some with petroglyphs at Signal Mountain.
The drive to the Tucson Mountain District over Gates Pass is stunning, and the nearby Arizona Sonora Desert Museum is a must for anyone visiting Tucson.
Plan your trip to Saguaro National Park in late winter to see the start of the desert bloom, beginning with the ocotillo in late February. If you love stargazing, the Sonoran desert has some of the darkest skies in the country!
Photo and article by Leigh – Campfires & Concierges
Valley Forge National Historical Park in the Winter
With 3500 acres of gently rolling meadows and wooded fields, Valley Forge National Historical Park is captivating year round.
But to really capture the essence of the history that occurred here, you have to visit Valley Forge National Historical Park in the winter.
From December 1777 to June 1778, the Continental Army were encamped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, just west of Philadelphia. 12000 troops, including General George Washington, spent a cold, hard winter. Their challenges were many and as they fought to survive, they also trained.
By the time spring rolled around and they left Valley Forge, the ragtag bunch were transformed and shortly thereafter the American Revolutionary War began to take a turn in favor of the colonists.
When you visit Valley Forge, you can tour the various encampment sites, explore recreated log cabins or see General Washington’s headquarters. There are also miles of trails to walk, run, bike or even ride your horse.
You can explore history or simply be in history. Plan a trip to Valley Forge during the winter to get a real taste of just what the soldiers experienced all those years ago.
Photo and article by Corinne – Reverberations
Yellowstone National Park in the Winter
If you want a unique experience, plan to visit Yellowstone National Park in the winter. Winter in Yellowstone means fewer crowds, extremely cold temperatures, steaming geyser basins, and watching wildlife.
Skis, snowshoes, snowcoaches, and snowmobiles are the only modes of transportation on all the roads in Yellowstone in the winter (except the road from Mammoth to the northeast entrance through Lamar Valley).
The only way to visit Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and other parts of the park during winter is by guided snowmobile or snowcoach.
There is nothing like the quiet and serenity of Yellowstone National Park in the winter. It’s a stark contrast to visiting the park during the other seasons.
We had a rewarding day of seeing and photographing a winter wonderland of steaming geysers, snowy landscapes, rushing waterfalls and beautiful wildlife!
Photo and article by Photo Jeepers
Yosemite and Sequoia in the Winter
Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks are a couple of the most visited national parks in the United States. While they’re packed in the summer, crowds taper off during the winter and crisp white snow turns these two parks into an enchanting winter wonderland.
It’s amazing to experience the glittering snowflakes covering some of the largest trees in the world in Sequoia; the ice glistening along the majestic waterfalls of Yosemite’ and the shimmering mountains and rolling hills of both national parks.
There are a few things to know before you head to these parks in the winter. You should know how cold it truly gets, things to do, what animals to be aware of (because it’s not just bears!), and how to prepare to have the best trip of your life.
If you’re a bit hesitant to visit Yosemite and Sequoia in the winter, don’t be! You’ll be blown away at how beautiful these two national parks are when under a blanket of sparkling snow.
Article by Sophie – The Wanderful Me
Zion National Park in the Winter
Zion National Park in southern Utah is a great way to escape the winter cold and snow. It’s located at a low elevation where temperatures are relatively mild and snow seldom reaches the canyon floor.
During the winter, you should dress in layers in order to adjust for conditions. Winter storms can bring clouds and cold winds, and sometimes a dusting of snow.
Scenic drives, hiking and biking are enjoyable year-round in this area. The Zion Park shuttle doesn’t operate during the winter, except during the Christmas to New Year’s holiday.
You can drive your car into Zion Canyon. This alone is the reason we only visit Zion National Park during the winter. We like the flexibility to drive along the road and stop to take photos or hike at our leisure.
It’s important to note that during the holidays at the end of December and early January, Zion Canyon can get crowded. The rangers will close access to the road to all cars when there are no parking spots in the canyon. At this time your only option is the shuttle. It’s always best to start your day exploring Zion Canyon before it gets too crowded.
We recommend driving Highway 9 and Kolob Terrace Road when you visit Zion in the winter. Kolob Terrace is accessed in Virgin outside the park boundaries, and rises to elevations of 8,000 where you may encounter snow.
Photo and article by Photo Jeepers
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