US Southwest National Parks in the Winter

There are amazing sites to see and activities to do when visiting the US Southwest National Parks in the winter. Enjoy stunning landscapes during the off-season for most of the parks in the American Southwest!

Check out these US National Park vacation ideas that include guides, tips, activities, and packing checklists to help you plan your winter Southwest vacation.

Winter at US Southwest National Parks

Winter weather and temperatures are pretty moderate this time of year to enjoy outdoor activities during the winter months at some of the National Parks in the US Southwest. There are other parks where it’s cold and snowy where you can enjoy winter activities!

Use our Winter Packing List for National Parks to make sure you have the right clothing and gear for visiting this time of year! Grab your free printable packing checklist by clicking the image below!

National Parks packing list for spring summer fall and winter
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Winter Gear for Southwest National Parks

When planning your winter vacation in the Southwest USA, remember that conditions vary on the location and elevation of each National Park. Be sure to check the specific park website for more detailed information about visiting in the winter!

During the winter, the temperatures are more moderate for hiking in Arizona or New Mexico. You can embrace winter cold and snowshoe around the trails in Bryce Canyon in Utah!

Here’s a list of winter clothing we recommend for most of the Southwest National Parks in the winter:

winter hiking gear

US Southwest National Parks in the Winter

If you’re planning a US National Park vacation, be sure to check out the US National Park Pass: the cost, how it saves money, and where you can buy the pass.

Take advantage of the one fee-free day at US National Parks in the winter: 

  • January 16 – Birthday of Martin Luther King

Be sure to check each National Park website for the services available and operating hours in the winter. Most Visitor Centers will be closed on Christmas Day.

We have teamed with other travelers to provide this list of Southwest National Parks to visit in the fall in these states: Arizona, Southern California, Southern Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah.

Check out the National Parks they recommend you visit during the winter months!

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon in the winter

Arizona National Parks in the Winter

Winter is one of the best times of year to visit the National Parks in Arizona to avoid the crowds and heat! Yes, you may encounter cold or snowy conditions, but if you’re prepared for the weather, you’ll find that winter is a terrific time to go!

Grand Canyon National Park in the Winter

One of the most visited National Parks of the United States and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Grand Canyon National Park is famous for a reason! The beautiful rock formations carved by the Colorado River which are millions of years old!

Though you can visit the Grand Canyon throughout the year, visiting in winter is a whole different charm! While the summer months from May to August are peak seasons, fall and winter are less busy months to beat the crowds!

During winter temperature ranges from mid-20s to mid-40 Fahrenheit and most of the canyon gets covered in snow, making it even more beautiful in the winter! Though the trails in the canyon can be icy and few facilities might be closed but still you can enjoy it by car!

One of the best things to do in the Grand Canyon is rim-to-rim hiking! A few popular hiking trails are Bright Angel Trail and South Kaibab Trail to experience the rim trails! You can also visit famous viewpoints like Mather Point, Yavapai Point, and Grand View Point. If you are visiting the West Rim, Skywalk over the canyon is a must-do activity! Witnessing sunrise and sunset during winter over the canyon is a magical experience.

Some services, lodging, and other amenities within the park may have reduced hours or be closed during the winter. Plan ahead and check for availability and operating hours.

Grand Canyon Lodging & Tours

Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park in the Winter

A trip to Petrified Forest National Park is a beautiful place to visit in the wintertime, with cool, but pleasant weather and non-existent crowds. 

Daytime temperatures are usually in the 40s or 50s, with nighttime temperatures dropping to the 20s. Given the park is only open from 8 AM-6 PM, though, you won’t have to worry about bearing the chilly night time weather anyway! Occasionally, the park is dusted with snow, but it rarely sticks on its colorful hills. 

The best way to explore the park is on any of its short and easy trails. A standout is the Blue Mesa Trail, which takes you below the rim of a mesa and under a series of enormous hills of indigo-hued bentonite clay.

Another must-see is the Crystal Forest Trail, where you’ll see the countless pieces of the park’s namesake, fossilized woods from millions of years ago, scattered across the rolling green hills. Recommended by Jessica, Uprooted Traveler

Lodging & Tours Near Petrified Forest

Cactus Forest Saguaro National Park East
Cactus Forest Saguaro National Park East

Saguaro National Park in the Winter

Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona is perfect for a winter visit as the weather in the Sonoran Desert is sunny and mild with daytime temperatures in the high 60s.

The National Park is divided into two parts, the Tucson Mountain or West district and the Rincon Mountain or East district. The park’s locations bookend the city of Tucson making it perfect for a day trip from town.

Both locations have beautiful views of endless cactus forests. First timers should visit the Rincon Mountain District to experience the scenic Cactus Forest Drive. The park entrance fee is good for both districts for up to seven days.

You’ll find beautiful desert hiking trails, backcountry camping, stargazing nights, and of course, the iconic saguaro cactus here. Sunset hiking at Saguaro National Park is among our favorite activities to do in the winter.

Enjoy a half-day excursion to Saguaro if you’re in town for the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show that takes place each February. Recommended by Yvonne, MPA Project Travels.

Saguaro National Park Lodging & Tours

Cabrillo National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument

California National Parks in the Winter

California’s national parks are some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in the world. Visiting California National Parks in the winter is one of the best times to go!

The winter weather in Southern California can’t be beat! Be sure to add these National Parks and National Monument to your California Bucket List!

Cabrillo National Monument in the Winter

Cabrillo National Monument is a hidden gem in San Diego, California and a great place to visit in winter. Don’t be fooled, you’ll find much more than a monument—some even call it a park.

There is a large statue of the park’s namesake, the Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who discovered the west coast of the United States in 1542. When visiting Cabrillo National Monument you’ll find a visitors center, hiking trails, tide pools, a lighthouse, and gorgeous views – it definitely feels like a park. You can even get your National Parks Passport book stamped here!

The San Diego winter weather is notoriously temperate in the 50s and 60s and dry making it a great time to explore the trails along the Pacific Ocean and the tide pools. The lighthouse is the highest point of the park providing providing views downtown San Diego, Coronado Island, and the stunning coastline.

Pack your camera gear and keep an eye out for seabirds and wildlife, especially in the water. Winter is also whale watching season in San Diego! Recommended by Denise, Chef Denise

Artists Palette in Death Valley
Artists Palette in Death Valley

Death Valley National Park in the Winter

Winter is the ideal time to visit Death Valley National Park, when daytime high temperatures are in the 70s, perfect for wandering outdoors. It does get cold at night, so bring laters for early and late in the day.

Do the scenic drive through the park, stopping at vista points and sights. Pose for a photo by the sign that says “282 feet below sea level” at Badwater Basin, look down upon the valley from Dante’s View, admire the badlands at Zabriskie Point, and play in the sand at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.

Winter is a great time for lower elevation Death Valley hikes. Try the iconic Golden Canyon hike, or the moderate but very interesting Mosaic Canyon hike.

Be sure to observe the night skies: after dark you can see millions of stars twinkling in the skies here when it’s clear, with no moon. Death Valley holds a Dark Sky festival annually in February.

For the best experience, stay inside the park, at one of the hotels or one of the campgrounds. Recommended by Dhara, Roadtripping California

Death Valley Lodging & Tours

Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park in the Winter

Winter is a great time to visit Joshua Tree National Park. Daytime temperatures are cool with highs reaching around 60°F. This makes it a pleasant time to partake in the park’s popular activities like rock climbing, hikes to attractions like Arch Rock and Barker Dam, and watching colorful desert sunsets.

Keep in mind, though, that nighttime temperatures hover around the freezing point in the winter. Bring warm clothes for nighttime activities like stargazing at Joshua Tree National Park. Note that campgrounds are the only form of lodging in the park, so if you’re visiting Joshua Tree for multiple days, be prepared to keep warm at night or secure lodging outside of the park.

Although Joshua Tree National Park doesn’t reach peak season until spring, the park is busy in winter, too. Anticipate long lines to enter the park on weekends and holidays. If you plan to camp, reserve a campsite early (up to 6 months in advance) instead of relying on a first-come first-serve campsite.

Visitors coming to Joshua Tree National Park in the winter can expect all amenities like visitor centers, ranger programs, and campgrounds to remain available in the winter. This includes winter holidays. Recommended by Laura, Amateur Adventure Journal

Joshua Tree National Park Lodging & Tours

Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Colorado National Parks in the Winter

Colorado’s National Parks in the southern part of the state are great destinations in the winter! Enjoy the cooler weather while exploring the parks and participating in outdoor activities.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison in the Winter

For a fantastic experience in a US National Park in the winter, drive through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in southern Colorado. The South Rim Road gives visitors a jaw-dropping view down into the canyon, which contains the highest vertical cliff in the state of Colorado!

This US National Park scenic drive is seven miles long, but with all of the overlooks and short trails it can take half a day or more to enjoy. Parts of the road may be closed during periods of high snowfall in the winter months, making way for cross-country skiers and snowshoers to experience the epic views of the Black Canyon without the crowds normally visiting the national parks.

Due to the fact that the canyon rim sits at over 8,000 feet of elevation, winter can be chilly and windy. But because of the location in the southwest part of the US, temperatures are typically in the upper 30’s and 40’s all winter long with basically no humidity.

Plus, visiting in winter means you will miss the rainy season of summer and can enjoy blue skies on your journey. Another bonus, entrance is free to the Black Canyon National Park in the winter months! Recommended by Erin, The Simple Salty Life

View from Mesa Top Loop Road
View from Mesa Top Loop Road

Mesa Verde National Park in the Winter

Mesa Verde National Park is open year-round, and there’s something magical about seeing its ancient cliff dwellings dusted with snow. However, visiting in the winter months is very different from other times of year. 

The most important thing to know is that the park doesn’t offer ANY cliff dwelling tours during the winter. Generally, they run between mid-May and late October. That doesn’t mean you should skip a winter visit, though — on the contrary, there are plenty of reasons to head to Mesa Verde in the off-season.

Visitors can drive 6-mile Mesa Top Loop Road, with easy access to 12 archaeological sites and spectacular viewpoints of world-famous Cliff Palace and other cliff dwellings. 

And while Cliff Palace Loop Road and the park’s Far View sites are closed to vehicle traffic, you can snowshoe, hike, or cross-country ski on the road. Several shops in nearby Colorado mountain towns, including Cortez and Durango, rent snowshoes and cross-country skis.

In January and February, the park even hosts free moonlight snowshoe & ski events at Morefield Campground. These events include a community bonfire and hot chocolate, and park rangers set up telescopes for stargazing. Recommended by Taryn, Chasing Trail

Mesa Verde Lodging

Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns

New Mexico National Parks in the Winter

There’s one fun National Park in New Mexico you should add to your Southwest USA Road Trip itinerary. It’s a terrific winter destination!

Carlsbad Caverns in the Winter

Since the main attraction of Carlsbad Caverns National Park is the cave itself, it is a great place to visit in the winter months. The cave stays around 56 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Stop in the visitor center to get your tickets, check out the exhibits, and watch the short park film. 

For a special experience, take the natural entrance trail into the cave instead of the elevator. The trail leads you down 750 feet to reach the main attractions of the cavern. Once at the bottom, you can walk along the Big Room Trail to see the most impressive cave formations. The vastness and beauty of the underground space is mind-boggling. 

You will need to plan ahead and make a reservation for timed entry or book a ranger-guided tour to access the cave. Recommended by Caitlin, Twin Family Travels

Where to Stay Near Carlsbad Caverns

White Sands National Park
White Sands National Park

White Sands National Park in the Winter

White Sands National Park is one of the most fun US southwest national parks to visit in the winter. White Sands is home to the world’s largest gypsum dune field. This landscape is a wonder to behold and so much fun to play in.  

Entry into the park requires a per vehicle fee. During the winter months temperatures typically range from low 20s to high 50s in Fahrenheit. Though the weather is brisk, given the park’s desert ecosystem, winter is the best time to visit this particular southwest national park.  

There are so many things to do in White Sands National Park. Sledding down the dunes is one of the most popular activities to enjoy. Alkali Flats is the best pace in the park to enjoy sledding. A scenic drive or hike down the Playa Trail, Dune Life Nature Trail, or the Interdune Boardwalk Trail are also great ways to explore the park. 

Take advantage of the beautiful winter weather and enjoy some fun in the dunes at White Sands National Park! Recommended by Candice, GS Ginger

Where to Stay Near White Sands National Park

Big Bend rafting
Big Bend rafting

Texas National Parks in the Winter

You’ll love visiting Texas in the winter with cooler temperatures to explore the beautiful scenery found at the National Parks here! Even in the winter you can still enjoy some water activities as long as you avoid cold weather or storms that might roll in.

Big Bend National Park in the Winter

If you’re looking for one of the best national parks to visit in the American Southwest in the winter then look no further than Big Bend. This is one of the best national parks in Texas that extends across the Chisos Mountain range and even includes parts of the Chihuahuan Desert.

When visiting Big Bend National Park in the winter, the crowds and the heat of the summer will be gone. So, enjoy mild daily highs of 70F and evening lows of 35F. Skies are also clear at this time of year.

You can easily take part in tons of fun outdoor activities like hiking, biking, stargazing, and white water rafting on the Rio Grande. Just avoid rafting if there is a cold spell since the area can, and does, get snow. 

Additionally, you can also hop on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and visit the ruins of the Sam Nail Ranch, before checking out Langford Hot Springs near the border with Mexico. Just don’t leave without seeing the pictographs here too. Recommended by Victoria of Texas Travel 365

Where to Stay Near Big Bend:

El Capitan at Guadalupe Mountains National Park
El Capitan

Guadalupe Mountains National Park in the Winter

Already one of the least visited National Parks, winter brings solitude to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. In contrast to the hot desert summer, winter conditions are mild with temperatures in the 50s during the day and a cool 30 at night. Winter is also the windy season so tent camping can be a challenge with 30 mph gusts.

A stunning view of el Capitan, perhaps the most photographed site in the park, greets you as you approach the park. Many find the cooler weather the perfect time to hike in this desert park, avoiding the scorching hot summer trails.

In the winter the hiking trails are dry, with only light snow in the highest elevations. This is a great time to tackle the difficult hike to Guadalupe Peak, the highest peak in Texas. There are several spectacular day hikes, including McKittrick Canyon and the Smith Spring Trail, that we highly recommend. You’ll also find Carlsbad Caverns National Park, only 45 minutes away, worth making part of your West Texas road trip.

Guadalupe Mountains is where you need to dress in layers as the winter temps can vary 60 degrees throughout the day. It’s also far from everything, including gas and food, so fill up your tank and cooler at least an hour away. Recommended by Ladona, Walking The Parks

Canyonlands in the winter

Utah National Parks in the Winter

The best thing about winter at Utah National Parks is the solitude and serenity you’ll experience as you explore the parks.

It’s the off-season which means more affordable lodging at the Utah National Parks and surrounding towns!

In the winter you can expect highs to be in the mid-40s and lows in the mid-20s degrees Fahrenheit at Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion. It’s quite different at Bryce Canyon that sits at 8,000 feet elevation! Expect winter weather conditions and temperatures with highs in the mid-30s and lows in the teens!

Definitely add all 5 National Parks to your Utah bucket list

Skyline Arch in the snow
Skyline Arch in the snow at Arches

Arches and Canyonlands in the Winter

If you’ve ever been to Arches or Canyonlands during the busy season, you know both parks gets crowded. In the winter, it’s a completely different experience. Many times you have the parking lot to yourself!

There are quite a few things to do at both parks in the winter:

Usually Arches and Canyonlands doesn’t see large amounts of snow. But it’s common to get a dusting of snow, or even a few inches of snow, when storms roll through the area. The snow is a terrific contrast with the red rocks to create wonderful scenes to photograph! Recommended by Dave & Jamie, Photo Jeepers

Where to Stay Near Arches National Park

Bryce Canyon with snow

Bryce Canyon National Park in the Winter

Even though it’s a cold and snowy time of year to visit, you’ll find many Bryce Canyon winter activities to enjoy like scenic drives, hiking, snowshoeing, photography, and even a Winter Festival in February!

You’ll definitely want to pack and wear your winter gear when visiting Bryce this time of year!

When a snow storm hits the area, there may be temporary road closures. Road(s) will stay closed until plowing is completed and conditions are safe for visitor traffic. 

The Lodge at Bryce Canyon “might” have some units open in during the winter months, but we recommend you always check in advance. Bryce Canyon winter camping can be found at the North Campground as it’s open year-round and it’s first-come, first-served. The Sunset Campground is closed November through March. Recommended by Dave & Jamie, Photo Jeepers

Where to Stay Near Bryce Canyon

Zion National Park
Zion in the winter

Zion National Park in the Winter

Zion is a beautiful place to visit in the winter, with fewer crowds and crisp, clear days. If you’re lucky to visit after a snowfall, you’ll be treated to stunning snow-capped red cliffs, making for a truly spectacular site.

During the winter months, the average daytime temperatures range from 50-60°F, with nights dipping below freezing. Note that some Zion winter activities and hiking trails may be closed due to snow or ice, so it’s always best to check the official website or visitor center for the latest information. If the upper trails are closed, there are still plenty of beautiful walks you can do in the valley.

One of the best things about Zion in the winter, besides the fewer crowds, is that Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is open to vehicles. The drive through the valley is an absolutely beautiful experience and is a must-do on your winter trip! Access to the road also means that you won’t need to mess around with the shuttle buses and is extremely easy to access the trailheads.

In summer, Zion is an extremely popular national park, so accommodation can be expensive, and bookings are competitive. In winter, there is a much greater chance of getting a booking at the beautiful Zion National Park Lodge. The Lodge is located right in the center of the National Park and has such a cozy vibe in winter. Recommended by Danni, The Solo Plan

Where to Stay Near Zion


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