12 Jaw-Dropping National Parks to Visit this Winter

Don’t stay stuck inside this year with this list of the best national parks to visit in winter. In fact, the season of shivers is actually the best time to visit several of Americas National Parks. Why? The crowds are gone and the scenery is EPIC.

So put on your favorite fuzzy hat and zip up your coveted puffy, it’s time to check out the best national parks to visit in winter. Or maybe you’re looking to escape the cold and visit some of the nation’s more tropical locales.

No matter what your flavor, there is a scenic national park to put on your winter bucket list.

As a professional outdoor writer, I have had the privilege of visiting countless national parks across the country. Aside from my top picks, I asked expert-level outdoor bloggers to weigh in on their favorite national parks to visit in winter.

About this Guide to the Best National Parks to Visit in Winter

In this guide, you’ll get expert recommendations for the best national parks to visit in winter. Each segment includes:

  • How to find national parks to visit
  • Why winter is the best time to scope out a national park
  • The hands-down best national parks to visit in winter
  • Quick tips for visiting national parks in winter
  • Additional resources
things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park in winter

How to Find the National Parks to Visit in Winter

Okay, so virtually every national park is open during the winter. So how do you chose which park to visit?

Well, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • A lot of parks close down major roads or don’t offer permits in the winter, so plan accordingly
  • You’ll likely want to book lodging in advance since camping might not be available.
  • Check to make sure this actually isn’t the busy season. Some of the warm-weather national parks get busy in the winter, so advanced planning is recommended.

Why Visit National Parks in Winter?

Alright, I’ll be the first to stand up and say why would anyone want to spend time freezing their butt off in the cold?

Despite living in Colorado for most of the year, I actually don’t like being cold. However, when it comes to visiting national parks in winter, I’ll suck it up.

Here’s why. Typically national parks see a tremendous amount of visitors during the summer months. Winter is the quiet season. That’s absolutely lovely for any national park bucket list.

It means the busiest trails will have fewer people and you’ll get more time in secluded, quiet nature.

Pro Tip: Planning on visiting multiple parks in a 12-month period? Pick up an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass to save some money.

The Best National Parks to Visit in Winter

Okay so let’s dive in! Here’s a look at the best national parks to visit in winter as told by experts. The following list is curated not only from my personal experience but from adventure bloggers across the nation.

1. Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

So Trail Ridge Road closes in the winter, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit Rocky Mountain National Park in winter.

In fact, winter is a beautiful time to check out some of Rocky Mountain National Park’s best hiking trails. Just be sure to pack snowshoes, microspikes, and check the avalanche forecast.

Psst, be sure to hike to Dream Lake and Lake Haiyaha for a truly beautiful frozen wonderland.

Aside from hiking, there are plenty of things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park in winter. Go sledding at an abandoned ski resort, enjoy an epic sunrise at Sprague Lake with a warm beverage, or cross country ski trail ridge road.

rocky mountain national park winter

2. Joshua Tree National Park in California

By Nicole of American SW Obsessed

Visiting Joshua Tree National Park in winter is one of the best times to visit.  In fact, the best time to visit Joshua Tree is from October to May because the temps are a lot less scorching and much more comfortable.

There are a lot of amazing things to do in Joshua Tree, but be sure to check out some of the amazing hiking trails in Joshua Tree National Park. A great hike is the Ryan Mountain Trail. This moderate hike has much more pleasant weather in the winter. 

You will gain 1000 feet in elevation on this hike and the mileage is around 3 miles round-trip. Don’t let the steep trail overwhelm you. Once you get to the top you will have expansive views of the park and the mountains surrounding the area.  Overall, it takes around two hours to complete. 

Joshua Tree is also known as a light pollution-free zone (a designated dark sky area) and you can spend your evenings there stargazing. There are several places to go glamping in Joshua Tree that are perfect for stargazing.  

A trip to Joshua Tree is the perfect weekend getaway. For a unique lodging experience, check out the Castle House Estate.

best national parks to visit in winter
Image courtesy of American SW Obsessed.

3. Arches National Park in Utah

Moab has to be one of the best winter destinations in the USA. Gone are the long lines of traffic and brutal crowds of fall and spring. If you’re looking to hike to Delicate Arch or soak up the desert magic, then head to Arches National Park this winter.

Arches National Park is home to a wide array of easy hikes, some of which are the top hikes in the Moab area. Devils Garden, Double Arch, Balanced Rock, and the famous Delicate Arch are just a few.

Local Tip: Visiting Moab in winter means it’s the low season and if you start at sunrise you’ll have a crowd-free experience along the easiest hikes in Arches.

Stay in nearby Moab and check out all of the sites. There is an endless list of things to do in Moab including visiting Arches National Park in one day, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park. All of which offer up unbelievable opportunities to soak in the incredible desert views.

weekend road trips from denver
Image by skeeze from Pixabay

4. Grand Teton National Park

By Megan J. of Red Around the World

Grand Teton National Park in winter is a magical experience.  While the park is amazing in the summer, it’s even more amazing to see it (at least the parts that are open) blanketed in fresh snow. 

The Tetons themselves are perfectly snow-covered making them that much better. In fact, this is what makes Grand Teton one of the Best National Parks to visit in winter.

The main road in the park and some of the side roads will be closed, but you can still enjoy plenty of the park. In fact, you can cross country ski, snowshoe, or even fat bike the main road in the park.

Snowshoeing in the Moose-Wilson area and Gros Ventre area is a great way to get out and see a little more of the park than just from the road, but still offering great mountain views. 

One of the best things to do is drive around and look for wildlife. If you don’t want to drive, opt to go on a winter wilderness safari where you travel in a large snowcat. You can spot bison, moose, coyotes, and if you’re lucky, maybe even a wolf. 

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to see the iconic barns on Mormon Row in the winter, but you could get to Cunningham Cabin, which is great around sunrise. 

If you want to visit a lesser-known area, the Two Ocean Lake and Flagg Ranch area are also really great for snowshoeing and cross country skiing.

best national parks in winter

5. Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona

For a real winter treat, take a trip to Grand Canyon National Park this winter. If you time it just right, you might see the entire Grand Canyon dusted in a layer of snow. Even in the winter, there is still plenty of things to do in the Grand Canyon.

This serene landscape will put. Your. Jaw. On. The. Dirt. Seriously.

I flew over the Grand Canyon at sunset while it was dusted in snow. One of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. I was so dumbfounded I didn’t even think to photograph it. Shame.

The park actually has two sides: the north rim and the south rim. The south rim remains open year-round and hosts an epic array of scenic Grand Canyon viewpoints.

The north side sits over 1,000 vertical feet higher. Here you’ll find a lot of solitude, but you’ll need to hike or cross country ski several miles of paved road to get there. It’s an intrepid journey, but worth it for the avid adventurer.

best views of the grand canyon north rim

6. Haleakala National Park in Maui

By Jordan W. of The Homebody Tourist

If you are looking to escape the cold weather (umm…yes please) and explore the great outdoors, start planning your trip to Haleakala National Park! Located on the BEAUTIFUL island of Maui, Haleakala National park is an outdoor-lovers dream!

Start your vacation by heading out on the Road to Hana. Here you will drive through a magical lush forest, pass roadside waterfalls, and end with the coolest hike in Haleakala National park. Pipiwai Trail is a 3.4-mile moderate hike that will lead you through a bamboo forest and to a massive waterfall. 

After a good night’s rest, head to central Maui to check out the Haleakala Crater. Rising over 10,000 feet (38 miles) above the sea, it is an extremely popular place to watch the sunrise.

In fact, I still remember watching a marriage proposal here when I was just 13 years old. It’s literally that beautiful. Oh, she said yes!

If you plan to come for sunrise, be sure to make a reservation! If you are hoping to avoid (some of) the crowds, sunset is equally as beautiful and you do not need a reservation. While at the summit, be sure to explore the hiking trails and hike a bit into the crater. 

Haleakala National Park will make you will feel as though you are no longer on planet Earth with such diverse landscapes. These incredible spots make Haleakala one of the best national parks in winter. From the greenest waterfalls to bamboo forests, to shield volcanos… you will not be disappointed! 

best national parks to visit in winter

7. Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park certainly tops the list of the best national parks to visit in Winter. In fact, some might argue that winter is the best time to visit Bryce Canyon. This small, but mighty national park features an incredible amphitheater of rock pinnacles or hoodoos.

Even in winter, you can check out most of Bryce Canyon in a day, however, plan on visiting for two full nights to get the most of your time.

For such a small national park, there are plenty of hiking trails in Bryce Canyon that are worth checking out. Don’t forget to hike the Queen’s Garden Trail. Keep in mind, if it’s too snowy or icy, the famous Navajo Loop will close.

Don’t forget to get up and catch the sunrise at Sunrise Point and scope out iconic views like Thors Hammer. Just be sure to pack plenty of warm clothing. Despite the desert appeal, this park sits at 8,000 feet above sea level!

queens garden trail bryce canyon national park
Winter is a magical time in Bryce Canyon, but sometimes the icy conditions close the hiking trails.

8. Everglades National Park in Florida

By Stephanie W. of Explore More Clean Less

Everglades National Park in southern Florida is a great winter destination. During winter, visitors can see wildlife and explore the trails while avoiding bugs and brutal heat that the rest of the year often sees.

The Everglades is a great place to explore for outdoorsy travelers who need a break from the beach. The park has a few different regions to pick and choose from.

When it comes to visiting the park, you’ll want to be armed with plenty of tips for visiting Everglades National Park. One big tip is to stay a while!

You can comfortably see most of the park in 5 days but many visitors choose to focus on one section and visit as a day trip. Stay at the Quality Inn Florida City near the visitor center for a mid-budget lodging option.

Top highlights include walking, taking a tram, or renting bikes to explore the paved Shark Valley path that’s flanked by alligators, birds, turtles, and snakes. At the end of the 15-mile path is a tall observation tower from which one can survey the diverse habitat.

The Flamingo visitor center has boat tours that give visitors easy access to observe crocodiles and manatees and has a few short, boardwalk trails to hike showcasing unique trees and plants.

The Ten Thousand Islands area is a great place to rent a canoe or kayak and explore between the mangrove trees or take a boat tour.

national parks to visit in winter
Image courtesy of Explore More Clean Less.

9. Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is absolutely huge and it still has plenty to offer in the winter. In fact, as one of the most beautiful national parks in the US, you can’t miss this desert gem.

The Maze District, one of the most remote parts of the lower 48 states, is largely closed in the wintertime (roads become impassible), but the Island in the Sky and Needles District still has a lot to offer.

For some of the best views near Moab and sweeping vistas, head to the Island in the Sky district. Here you’ll find the famous Mesa Arch, White Rim Overlook, and Grand Viewpoint. These stops are easy to access and don’t require much effort for a big payout. While the famous White Rim Trail delivers a multi-day offroad driving experience you won’t forget.

Avid hikers will want to head to the Needles District. Located an hour and a half south of Moab, this southern district holds amazing wonders. Hike or backpack in the Needles District to truly experience the magic of this landscape.

Hoodoos and canyons will delight both expert and newbie hikers. Be sure to check out the Chesler Park Loop, Elephant Canyon, Druid Arch, and Big Spring/Squaw Canyon Loop.

Seriously, photos do not do this place justice so check out the Needles District. Canyonlands National Park in winter is one of the most beautiful national parks for epic scenery.

best national parks to visit in winter

10. Death Valley National Park in California

By Dhara of Roadtripping California

Death Valley National Park in Southern California makes for a fabulous winter destination. In fact, winter is the ideal time to visit this hottest and driest park in the country!

You can visit it on its own, or combine it with other desert parks in the region for one of the best California road trips you can do in the cooler months.

In Death Valley National Park, take advantage of the balmy daytime temperatures to get out of your car and explore the colorful rocky landscape. 

There’s plenty of amazing things to do in Death Valley and winter is prime time to explore!

Hike the otherworldly badlands around Zabriskie Point, or venture into one of the many colorful canyons in the park. The Golden Canyon hike features colorful badlands, and the Mosaic Canyon hike showcases natural canyon walls of marble and mosaic. 

For a unique Death Valley experience, hit the trails with some of the best hikes in Death Valley.

Walk the salt flats at Badwater Basin, play in the golden sand at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, gawk at Artist’s Drive or walk the rim of the mighty Ubehebe Crater. Winter is the perfect time to enjoy these special Death Valley experiences. 

Staying in the park is the most efficient option. Pick The Inn at Death Valley for a luxury option and The Ranch at Death Valley for a more budget-friendly yet comfortable stay. 

While you can see the major sights at Death Valley in a day, plan on spending 2-3 days to really take in the beauty of the park and do some hikes. If you are considering a desert road trip, allow for 6-8 days.

best national parks for winter
Image courtesy of Roadtripping California.

11. Monument Valley in Utah

Okay, so this technically isn’t a national park, it’s actually a tribal park, meaning it’s owned by the Navajo Nation. However, it’s still one of the best parks to visit in winter so it makes the list!

By Megan of Bobo & Chichi

One of the best winter escapes in the USA is Monument Valley in Utah.

Most people who are unfamiliar with the US Southwest. One thing, they do not realize that this region actually turns into a winter wonderland! In fact, a dusting of snow in the desert creates a stunning landscape.

Drive through Monument Valley on your Southwest road trip. After a dusting of powdery snow, you’ll be treated to enchanting views. Better yet, you can enjoy the beauty of the area with little to no crowds, unlike other seasons!

While everything isn’t quite open in the winter, you can still enjoy many of the attractions in the area. Some notable things to do are hike around the Navajo National Monument on your way to or from Monument Valley.

The famous 17-mile scenic loop is only open if road conditions are safe. You will need to be driving a 4WD or AWD vehicle to even attempt visiting. There are plenty of scenic drives and trails around the area that require 4WD to access.

Don’t miss driving down the famous scenic road that many know as the “Forest Gump Road.” Lastly, make sure to stop at the town of Mexican Hat where you can see more unique rock formations!

national parks to visit in december
Image courtesy of Bobo & Chichi.

More National Park Resources

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Meg aka Fox is a 30-something who's born to explore. Her mission is to get you out on your greatest adventure. She'd rather be dirty than done up.