6 Best National Parks to Visit in December

Snow-capped Grand Tetons and snow on the ground with an orange rectangle and white letters that read

December presents a unique opportunity to visit some of the most spectacular national parks in the United States  without the crowds!

Some national parks have already transformed into a full-blown winter wonderland by December, while others will provide you with a sunny escape from the cold.

Whether you’re looking to ski, relax on the beach, or experience some of the most jaw-dropping national parks scenery in the US without summer crowds, here are six of the best national parks to visit in December!

6 National Parks to Visit in December

US Virgin Islands National Park, one of the best national parks to visit in December

1. Virgin Islands National Park

If you’re looking to soak up some winter sun, you can’t go wrong visiting the tropical Virgin Islands National Park in December!

This beautiful Caribbean national park is known for its lush jungles, white-sand beaches, and warm crystal clear waters. The tropical weather is another factor that makes Virgin Islands one of the best national parks to visit in December.

You’ll be treated to clear, sunny skies and tropical seas that hover around 80 degrees year-round.

For the perfect beach day, visit Trunk Bay Beach. It’s pretty as a postcard, has restroom facilities, and is even home to an underwater snorkel trail (one of just a few in the entire world!)!

To explore the jungles, consider hiking the Reef Bay Trail, where you’ll spot natural waterfalls and petroglyphs made by the indigenous Taíno people.

Yosemite Valley at sunrise, with everything covered in a bit of snow

2. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is not only one of the best national parks to visit in December for skiing, but it also completely transforms into a winter wonderland!

In December, the crowds, wildfire risks, and expensive accommodation prices of the summer have all but vanished. The park is quiet and the majestic granite cliffs and pine trees are blanketed in a thick coat of powdery white snow.

At Badger Pass, you can enjoy skiing and snowboarding at the oldest downhill skiing and snowboarding area in California. You can also cross-country ski and snowshoe at Crane Flat and through the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. 

Note that the one catch to visiting Yosemite in the winter is that Tioga and Glacier Point Roads are closed from November-May. You can still get through Highway 140, but you should have snow chains on your tires or a capable four-wheel-drive vehicle.

An alligator peeking above the water in the Everglades, one of the best national parks to visit in December

3. Everglades National Park

If you’re after pleasant weather and the best, unique opportunities for wildlife viewing, south Florida's Everglades is one of the best national parks to visit in December. 

December marks the beginning of the dry season in the Everglades, coming in just after hurricane season and before summer humidity arrives. This time of year also offers a welcome break from the notorious mosquitoes, which get so bad in the summer that many locals refer to them as the state bird!

Plan for mostly sunny days and temperatures between 60 and 78 degrees (excellent for hiking and taking an airboat ride through the swamps!).

The watering holes recede quite a bit in winter's dry season, causing alligators, crocodiles, bobcats, deer, and other wildlife to come out in plain sight! 

Snow-covered Olympic National Park in the winter

4. Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park is utterly enchanting come December — if you like winter, that is. The evergreens and mountain peaks are draped in shimmering snow, the Hoh Rainforest becomes somehow greener than ever, and the moody, stormy waves on the rugged PNW beaches are a sight to behold. 

For epic downhill skiing and snowboarding, be sure to visit Hurricane Ridge, home to one of only three ski lifts in the entire National Parks system!

Hurricane Ridge gets an insane amount of snow and some crazy winter storms. This is excellent news for powder chasers, but can make the drive up rather harrowing, so take extra precautions. Chains are always required in winter for all vehicles, and you should inquire with the Hurricane Ridge Road and Weather hotline to find out current road conditions before beginning your ascent. 

Aside from the slopes, Olympic offers snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and sledding opportunities in the winter. That's why it's one of the best national parks to visit in December!

Joshua trees in front of a snow-capped mountain at sunrise in Joshua Tree, one of the best national parks to visit in December

5. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree is nestled between the vast, rugged Mojave and Colorado deserts. With cooler weather and significantly fewer crowds, it’s one of the best national parks to visit in December. 

During the day, take advantage of the mild temperatures and signiature SoCal sunny skies and hike through the gorgeous desert landscape on the Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail or the Arch Rock Trail. 

At night, you can experience some of the best stargazing in the world, thanks to Joshua Tree’s location in the high desert, far from cities that cause light pollution. Earlier winter nights also mean you won’t have to stay up as late to catch a glimpse of the Milky Way and meteor showers! 

The snowy peaks of the GRand Tetons in the winter

6. Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park features one of the most iconic mountain ranges in the United States (and many would say, the entire world).

In the summer, well over a million visitors flock to the park for its gorgeous lakes, meadows, hiking trails, epic wildlife, and iconic Mormon Row. However, in December, you can enjoy the park and its spectacular scenery with very few crowds.

While access is limited to certain parts of the park, December is a great time to explore the Tetons by snowshoeing or cross-country skiing along the various trails or through the backcountry.

It’s also a great time for wildlife viewing, as you can more easily spot the tracks of big game animals like elk, moose, buffalo, foxes, and deer in the snow. And bonus: bears are hibernating, offering a bit of peace of mind as you explore!

The Grand Tetons themselves are also undeniably beautiful when they’re completely coated in snow. That view and photo op alone, not to mention the lack of crowds, make Grand Teton National Park one of the best national parks to visit in December.

 

Which of these parks have you visited, and have you visited any in December? Which ones should we add to our list? 

Whichever parks you've been to and whichever are still on your bucket list, be sure to get US National Park Tokens from The Wander Club to document your adventures! You can even customize them with a date to remember when you visited!

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