There’s no question that summer is the most popular time to visit national parks. However, plenty of U.S. national parks are actually at their most spectacular in the winter, when crowds thin out and there's a noticeable calm (not to mention chill!) in the air.
As we know, not all parks are well-suited to receive winter visitors. To help you make the most of your adventures this year, we've put together a list of the best national parks to visit in winter.
Best National Parks to Visit This Winter
Looking to explore a peaceful winter wonderland over the holidays? Or perhaps a warm tropical destination is more your style. We’ve got both on our list of the best national parks to visit in winter.
1. Bryce Canyon, Utah
There’s something truly magical about fresh snow on the iconic red rocks of the Southwest. Bryce Canyon is a spectacular example of that, making it one of the best national parks to visit in winter.
The park’s signature spires are somehow even more impressive (and more photogenic!) under snow. Thanks to southern Utah’s mild weather, visitors can thoroughly explore them even on the coldest days.
Bryce Canyon knows it’s most impressive in winter and really embraces it, offering visitors several ways to enjoy the park. Participate in one of the winter astronomy programs or go on a guided hike with the park’s “Dark Rangers” under moonlight.
Don’t forget, Zion is very close to Bryce Canyon and Utah’s other three national parks aren’t far, either! Consider road-tripping and hitting all five!
2. Everglades, Florida
Not only is Florida warm and sunny in the winter months, but it’s also dry (dry-ish...this is Florida, after all). December through April is the official dry season, when there are substantially fewer chances of rain and hurricanes.
Thanks to the lower humidity levels, biting insects aren’t quite so aggressive. Less moisture also means the water levels in the park are physically lower, which means you have much better chances of spotting wildlife (like gators and crocodiles — this is the only place on Earth where they coexist!).
Manatees and several bird species also migrate south to warmer waters during the winter, so this is a perfect time to spot those, as well.
To experience firsthand why the Everglades is one of the best national parks to visit in winter, go for a swamp tour or rent kayaks and paddle through the mangroves.
3. Hawaii Volcanoes, Hawaii
It’s hard to beat Hawaii any time of year, but it’s especially appealing during the winter when most of the mainland is dealing with frigid temperatures and wild weather.
Hawaii Volcanoes is unquestionably one of the more unique national parks because it’s comprised of, well, active volcanoes. Here, you can hike across an active lava field and watch molten lava flow into the ocean, literally creating new earth.
One of the aspects of visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park that can be a bit tricky is timing your visit -- you want to visit when lava is actually flowing. Check out the park’s “What’s Going on With the Volcanoes?” page to help in your trip planning.
This is one of the best national parks to visit in winter as it is. However, you can make your trip even more memorable by renting bicycles and biking one of the trails on the way to the lava viewing areas.
4. Joshua Tree, California
Joshua Tree is one of the most popular national parks in the U.S., but very few of its annual visitors come during the winter months. We have no idea why — with average temperatures in the mid-60s and that signature SoCal sunshine on endless supply, it’s actually one of the best national parks to visit in winter.
All the best things to do in Joshua Tree are still available in the winter (and arguably, even better): hiking, wildlife viewing, stargazing, and simply driving around marveling at the park’s natural wonders.
You can also camp, but be aware that overnight low temperatures often drop near freezing.
Unlike many other California national parks, hiking is actually best in the winter in Joshua Tree because of the mild weather. Try the super easy Discovery Trail, the 6.6-mile Panorama Loop, or the 4-mile Lost Horse Mine Trail.
5. Olympic, Washington
There are plenty of reasons to visit Olympic National Park in any season: the beaches, lush rainforest, and soaring mountains, to name just a few.
It’s one of the best national parks to visit in winter specifically, though, because it’s one of the only places you can actually ski inside a national park. If you’re interested, the others are Grand Teton and Yosemite National Park.
Granted, Olympic’s Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area isn’t a massive ski resort, but it does have a ski lift and two tow ropes. Plus, you can go tubing down designated runs!
Need one more reason to visit Olympic National Park this winter? How about the Olympic Hot Springs? These natural treasures are tucked deep in the forest — like a 10-mile hike through the backcountry deep — but there’s nothing more spectacular (or rewarding!) on a cold winter day.
6. Saguaro, Arizona
If perpetual sunshine is more your speed than snow, head to Saguaro National Park in southern Arizona.
As the park’s name implies, saguaro cacti are the stars of the show here (behind the weather, that is!). Fun fact: the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, Mexico, and southern California is the only place in the world where saguaros grow.
The best way to experience the unique cacti up close is to go for a hike. Check out the Bridal Wreath Falls Trail in the East District and Petroglyphs at King Canyon in the West.
And that brings up an interesting point about Saguaro National Park — it’s actually two separate parks on opposite ends of town, East and West. The good news is you can easily visit both in the same trip or even the same day!
Looking for a unique place to stay near Saguaro National Park? Check out White Stallion Guest Ranch!
7. Virgin Islands, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
St. John is best known as a pristine tropical island in the Caribbean, but it’s also home to a national park. In fact, Virgin Islands National Park covers over half the island!
On this undeveloped slice of very literal paradise, you can lounge on untouched beaches, hike through dense forest, or play in the sea. Snorkel through Trunk Bay’s extensive underwater trail, identifying fish and coral in the impossibly blue water.
One of the main reasons why Virgin Islands is one of the best national parks to visit in winter, of course, is the spectacular weather.
Winter is the dry season, though it also tends to bring in stronger tradewinds. While the weather is still overwhelmingly pleasant, it’s important to pay attention to this because the winds affect the surf. Hint: you want to snorkel when the water is calm!
8. Yellowstone, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho
The first national park in the United States is absolutely magical in the winter. Seeing steam coming off geysers in the snow and bison with icicles clinging to their faces is an experience you won’t soon forget.
Much of Yellowstone is closed during the winter due to extreme weather, but that just means you can explore smaller areas of the park more thoroughly. Only the Northeast Entrance (near Mammoth Hot Springs) is open during the winter months, so you’ll need to enter there and plan travel accordingly.
Interestingly, most park roads are still technically open in the winter — just not to vehicle travel. So enter at the Northeast Entrance, then explore via guided SnowCat or snowmobile tours. Many trails are also open to snowshoeing or snowmobiling.
Please note that none of the park’s visitor centers or lodges are open in the winter months, so amenities are extremely limited.
Do you have any plans to visit national parks this winter? Connect with us on social media and let us know!
Safe travels and stay warm out there!