If you want to visit national parks in winter, you have lots of choices. While the glaciers and mountains of Alaska might be challenging, there are plenty of parks that are open and beautiful in winter. The parks of the southwest are mostly at a high altitude, so can get snow, but this can make a pleasant contrast from the grueling that of summer, and the red rocks are especially summer when contrasted with dustings of white powder. Others, like those in Florida and the south are actually at their peak in the cooler winter months. Here are our picks for the best national parks to visit in winter in the USA.
1. Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is the hottest place in earth. Summer temperatures are regularly well above 100°F and being outside in the middle of the day is well nigh impossible. Winter, however, is a different story, and this is the perfect time to visit. January temperatures are typically around 70°F/ 20°C in the day, so you can comfortably get out and explore the dunes, flats, slot canyons and other trails. There is even snow on the peaks surrounding the valley, which makes a lovely backdrop for the desert beauty. The winter skies are usually clear, making this a great place for star gazing too.
INSIDER TIP: Because this is one of the best national parks in winter, it is also the busiest time to visit Death Valley National Park, so book accommodations ahead.
READ MORE: Guide to Death Valley National Park
2. Arches National Park
Arches National Park is an easy choice as one of the best national parks to visit in the winter. The park is stunning, but there is only one road through it, which can be clogged with traffic in summer. The park also sees summer temperatures soar well into the 90’s and beyond. In winter, you will often have the park to yourself, and the red arches and fins covered in snow make for especially beautiful photos, especially framed against a bright blue sky. Although trails may be closed if it snows, the weather is often mild and many of the trails are quite easy, so this is also one of the best national parks to hike in the winter.
INSIDER TIP: Be mindful that the road can be closed temporarily for clearing after snow, so check the weather and call ahead to check.
READ MORE: Guide to Arches National Park
3. Yellowstone National Park
Wyoming, Montana, Idaho
Although many of the roads are closed in winter and snow can come as early as September, Yellowstone makes the shortlist as the best national park for winter activities and wildlife viewing. Brightly colored pools surrounded by white and spouting geysers rising from snowy fields are especially dramatic. Winter is a great time to see wildlife such as wolves, bighorn sheep, elk, bison and moose. Yellowstone is also a prime place to head for winter activities such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
INSIDER TIP: The only road open throughout the winter months is the road from the northeast entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs, but many of the other sights such as Old Faithful and the lodges there can be accessed by snow coach or snow mobile.
READ MORE: Guide to Yellowstone National Park
4. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon is famous for the orange hoodoos (spires) crowded into Bryce Amphitheater. Seeing them surrounded by and contrasted with the white of fresh snowfall is stunning. If you are willing to brave the cold, you will be rewarded with jaw dropping views and frequent clear skies. It’s one of the best national parks for winter hiking, though you will need appropriate boots and traction. Many of the trails are groomed for cross country skiing. If you don’t fancy that, you can easily enjoy the views from the rim.
INSIDER TIP: Check weather updates to make sure the park is not temporarily closed for winter weather when you plan to visit.
READ MORE: Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park
5. Everglades National Park
This is one of the best warm national parks in winter. Summer sees crazy heat, humidity and mosquitoes. In winter, temperatures are in the high 70’s, humidity is low and the bugs are gone. Lower water levels also make seeing wildlife such as alligators, manatees and water birds easier. Consequently, winter is actually the busy season in the Everglades.
INSIDER TIP: You can visit the park on a kayak tour or by taking an airboat around the waterways.
6. Zion National Park
Zion National Park is another of the best Utah national parks in winter. The park is fairly small and incredibly popular, so it can get very crowded in summer. In winter, there are fewer people and the scenery is just as stunning. In fact, the canyon walls and red rocks are even more dramatic dusted in snow. In addition, the main road through the canyon is closed to car traffic for most of the year, but is open for January, February and part of December. Although it can be cold, you can still hike the Narrows (the famous river hike) by renting a dry suit from one of the operators in nearby Springdale.
INSIDER TIP: Winter is the wettest season, so check for road and/ or trail closures before heading out.
READ MORE: Guide to Zion National Park
7. Dry Tortugas National Park
One of the warmest national parks in winter, Dry Tortugas National Park is a perfect escape from the northern chills. The park consists of seven small islands in 100 square miles of open water, about 70 miles (113 km) off the coast from Key West. The incredible Fort Jefferson is a highlight, but the main reason to visit is the snorkeling and diving. The waters are crystal clear and bright blue, the colorful coral reefs are amazing, the marine life stunning, and the winter weather just about as perfect as you can get.
INSIDER TIP: Boat trips out to Dry Tortugas National Park leave from Key West.
8. Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best California national parks in winter. The highlights of the park are the awesome evergreen Joshua trees that give the park its name. But they are desert trees and do not provide shade. Summer can be scorching and with little relief from the heat, it can be a bit much. The park is much cooler in winter but, although it can snow at the higher altitudes, this is rare lower down.
INSIDER TIP: Clear skies make this one of the best places in the country for great star gazing at night, so make sure you schedule a night visit when the skies are clear.
READ MORE: Guide to Joshua Tree National Park
9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Tennessee, North Carolina
America’s most visited park is wonderful at any time of year and definitely one of the best national parks in the winter. After snowfall, when the trees are covered in snow, it becomes a veritable winter wonderland. You can also discover remnants of previous occupancy such as stone walls and foundations that are hidden in leafier months.
INSIDER TIP: As with all of the snow winter parks, check for weather warnings and temporary road closures after snowfall.
READ MORE: Great Smoky Mountains National Park Guide
10. Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon is not only one of seven natural wonders of the world, it is also one of the best national parks during winter. With only 10% of annual visitors there during winter, you won’t have to deal with crowds and the wildlife tends to be more active with fewer people around to disturb them. Plus, a dusting of snow on the upper reaches of the canyon makes the colors pop.
The north rim, which is a higher altitude, is closed in winter, but the south rim is open year-round. You can hike the Bright Angel Trail and once you get below the rim, the temperatures warm up and hiking is much more pleasant than during the heat of summer.
INSIDER TIP: While afternoons are sunny, it can be foggy in the morning, so plan you day around the weather.
READ MORE: Guide to Grand Canyon National Park
Do you have another national park you love in winter? Comment below and tell me why.
Read about other great U.S. national parks:
- The 12 Best US National Parks
- The Best US National Parks to Visit in Spring
- The Best US National Parks to Visit in Summer
- The Best US National Parks to Visit in Fall
- The Best Lodges in US National Parks
- The Most Scenic Drives in US Parks
- The Best National Parks Beaches
- The Best Parks to See Fall Foliage
- The Complete List of all 63 US National Parks
James Ian has traveled to 82 countries and all 7 continents. He has visited all of the main national parks in the United States, as well as many national monuments and state parks.
He has rafted through the Grand Canyon; rappelled down slot canyons near Zion and Arches; hiked among the hoodoos in Bryce and the enormous trees in Sequoia; admired the waterfalls in Yosemite and the colored hot springs in Yellowstone; seen moose in Grand Tetons and seals in the Channel Islands, and much more.