12 Must-See US National Parks to Visit in the Winter

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, plan a vacation to a US National Park in the winter.

There are many National Parks that are hard to visit in the summer due to heat, bugs and crowds. You can enjoy the outdoor activities like hiking and biking during the day at many of these National Parks in the winter.

You can also enjoy the National Parks that are covered in snow during the winter. Skiing, snowshoeing, photography and star gazing are wonderful winter activities at many US National Parks.

Steaming hot pool at Yellowstone National Park in the winter

Be prepared and pack for the weather conditions of the National Park you will visit during the winter.

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 12 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
  • Zion National Park

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US NATIONAL PARKS TO VISIT IN THE WINTER

Arches National Park in the Winter

Delicate Arch at sunset at Arches National Park

Winter is our favorite time to visit Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. Winter is the off-season at Arches which means fewer people. Many times we seem to have the park to ourselves!

There are 5 reasons to visit Arches National Park in the winter.

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

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

READ: Why You Should Buy the National Park Pass

 

Bryce Canyon National Park in the Winter

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.

Use this Bryce Canyon winter packing list to be prepared with winter clothing that’s best for outdoor travel.

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

 

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Canyonlands National Park in the Winter

Mesa Arch at sunrise at Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands National Park, near the adventure town of Moab, Utah, is quiet during the winter. There aren’t as many people and you don’t have the scorching temperatures like you do during the summer. 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.

Use our Canyonlands winter packing list to be prepared with winter clothing that’s best for outdoor travel.

Photo and article by Photo Jeepers

 

Death Valley National Park in the Winter

Death Valley National Park sand dunes

Death Valley National Park is located in California and stands as one of the largest and most diverse National Parks in the United States, and should be high on your list of National Parks to visit.

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

 

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Everglades National Park in the Winter

Everglades National Park

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

 

Grand Teton 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. Use our Grand Teton winter packing list to be prepared with winter clothing that’s best for outdoor travel.

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

READ: List of US National Parks to Visit

 

Rocky Mountain National Park in the Winter

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

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

RELATED POSTS: US National Park Guides

 

Valley Forge National Historical Park in the Winter

Statue of George Washington at Valley Forge National Historical Park

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

A bison in the snow at 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!

Use our Yellowstone winter packing list to be prepared with winter clothing that’s best for outdoor travel.

Plan a trip to Yellowstone in the winter. It will be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure!

Photo and article by Photo Jeepers

 

Zion National Park in the Winter

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 winter. You can drive your cars 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. And remember, there are no shuttles. It’s always best to start your day exploring Zion Canyon before it gets to this point.

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.

Plan a trip to Zion National Park in the winter to avoid the crowds and enjoy outdoor activities in more moderate temperatures.

Photo and article by Photo Jeepers

 

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8 comments

I’m not a fan of cold but if that means avoiding crowds, I’m game! I did visit Death Valley, Arches and the Grand Canyon in mid-November one year. There wasn’t any snow and temps were pleasant and there was virtually no crowd. It was so wonderful and peaceful.

Reply

The southern NP are perfect in the winter. It’s one of our favorite times to travel!

Reply

Bryce Canyon looks amazing and so does Rocky Mountain National Park! We visited Banff in Alberta last winter and had a great view of the Rockies from up there.

Reply

Banff in the winter sounds wonderful. We’re planning to go next fall.

Reply

As usual such a great and informative post! I love the idea of doing the Everglades or Big Bend in the winter…I am not a fan of cold temperatures, but those places would be nice and mile without the bugs! February National Park Road Trip…here I come!

Reply

Yes! Hiking in the winter is fabulous in the southern states – less heat and no bugs. A NP road trip to the South is our plan one day!

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