6 Best National Parks to Visit in February

The iconic view of El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park at sunrise, with a pink rectangle and the words

Outside of ski resorts, February is widely considered "shoulder season," a quieter period between the busy holidays and spring break. 

While the weather can be a bit dicey in some places, this is a fantastic time to travel and specifically, to explore the great outdoors.

Flights and accommodation tend to be significantly more affordable and there's a noticeable lack of crowds or traffic, allowing you to enjoy even some of the most popular tourist destinations largely to yourself.

Getting even more specific, this late winter/early spring transition is a great time to get out and explore our parks. We've previously covered the best ones to visit during the winter, but now we're honing in on six of the best national parks to visit in February.

Bonus: those confusing and sometimes hard-to-get national park reservations are not in place during the winter!

6 of the Best National Parks to Visit in February

Bryce Canyon National Park covered in snow

Bryce Canyon, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the best national parks to visit in February for a number of reasons. First, the weather is perfect for hiking and exploring the amazing red rock formations. Sitting at an elevation of about 9,000 feet, Bryce Canyon gets cold and does get some snow, but this time of year it's typically minimal.

The crowds are also smaller in February than in peak summer months, so you can enjoy this small park at a more leisurely pace and soak up its natural beauty without having to share the trails with too many other people. 

Third, the night skies are simply incredible, and you can stargaze to your heart's content. Lastly, the prices for lodging and activities are generally lower in February, making it a great time to visit Bryce Canyon on a budget. 

If you still need another reason to visit in February, here it is: the annual Winter Festival is held every February, a fun, active event centered around winter sports. 

Interested in planning a bigger Utah national parks trip? Check out our guide!

Trees seen through the fog in Olympic National Park, one of the best to visit in February

Olympic, Washington

One of the best things about Olympic National Park is its diversity. From the temperate rainforest to its alpine meadows and even Hurricane Ridge Ski Resort (really! Olympic is one of the only national parks that has a ski resort!), the park offers a wide variety of landscapes to explore. So no matter what type of scenery you're craving, you're sure to find it in February.

This is also a great time to see the park's wildlife. Thanks to there being fewer visitors, animals like deer and marmots are active and easy to spot, adding a postcard-worthy element to the already gorgeous scenery.

Whether you're a nature lover or just want to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Olympic National Park is the perfect place to visit - especially if you're a winter sports enthusiast! 

The "firefall" in Yosemite, one of the best national parks to visit in February

Photo credit: Lonely Planet

Yosemite

Hiking and waterfalls are the undisputed stars of Yosemite, but it's actually a fantastic national park to visit in February, during the off-season. It will be cold and likely snowy, but there are countless things to do, plus some very unique, only-in-February experiences.

Yosemite is one of the other two national parks with a skiing area, so that will certainly keep winter sports lovers occupied. In addition to skiing, you can tube or snowboard at this park, and lessons and equipment rentals are available. Visitors can go on guided snowshoeing and cross-country skiing tours, and perhaps best of all, a winter ice skating rink is set up in Yosemite Valley from December through March!

Finally, one of the biggest reasons to visit Yosemite in February is the possibility of witnessing Firefall. This natural phenomenon doesn't always happen, but when it does, it appears to flow bright orange, like a waterfall made of fire! This only happens in the last two weeks of February, and several weather conditions have to line up just right. It's an extremely popular time to visit the park, and several restrictions are put in place to manage crowds. 

One important thing to note is that the Tiago Pass entrance is closed in the winter months, due to heavy snow on the road. The other entrances are generally open year-round.

Multiple people canoeing in Congaree, one of the best national parks to visit in FebruaryPhoto credit: Recreation.gov

Congaree, South Carolina

One of the more underrated national parks, Congaree is very unique, not heavily trafficked, and enjoys mild weather year-round. It's also on the smaller side, so you can easily check off everything you want to see and do here in one day. 

Late winter and early spring temperatures hover in the 50s and there's no sign of the infamous summer humidity, providing ideal weather for hiking the park's extensive boardwalk trails and paddling the waterways in a kayak or canoe.

Congaree is a UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve, specifically protecting the oldest old-growth bottom forest, so you'll definitely want to check it out up-close in a small watercraft! There are several outfitters in Columbia that will even dliver a kayak or canoe right to the launch point!

As a bonus, Columbia and Charleston, South Carolina, both within easy driving distance, host several awesome festivals in February. One highlight is the Southeast Wildlife Exposition in Charleston, a "celebration of the great outdoors."

Wood in Petrified Forest and a vast landscape of hills

Petrified Forest, Arizona

Speaking of underrated national parks...Petrified Forest definitely qualifies! It also happens to be one of the best national parks to visit in February, mostly due to weather. There is zero shade in this park, so it's completely exposed to the brutal Arizona sun and heat. It's definitely not a place you want to visit in the summer months!

Unlike the other national parks and bucket list-worthy sites in Arizona, Petrified Forest doesn't attract a ton of visitors even in peak season. It's in a very, very remote area and there's that whole heat factor. Don't let that deter you, though. Remember, it's a national park for a reason!

Petrified Forest is like the desert meets the badlands, with ancient petrified trees and wood scattered throughout the colorful landscape. There are also petroglyphs, teepees, and other uniquely Southwest sites to explore. 

The inside of Mammoth Cave, one of the best national parks to visit in february

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

The enormous cave system at this unique national park remains 54 degrees all the time, regardless of the weather outside. That means the season you visit doesn't have much of an impact on your experience at the cave itself, so you may as well visit in low season. You guessed it, that just so happens to be February!

One quick thing: when we said "enormous cave system," we actually meant the largest cave system on Earth. It sounds crazy to say, but only 400 miles of it have been surveyed and mapped  and scientists believe there are at least another 200!

In order to actually get down in the cave, all visitors have to book a ranger-guided tour. Options range from 30 minutes to about three hours, and some tours are only offered in the summer. 

 

So there you have it, six of the best national parks to visit in February. Have you been to any of these, or are there some we should have included? Connect with us on social media and let us know!

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