Photo by Morad Abdul-Jabbar

Best National Parks To Visit In The Winter

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Lately, I’ve been thinking more about this winter, where I’ll be, what I’ll be doing, all that good stuff.  I’ve especially been dreaming about the Tetons in the winter.  I love it.  I don’t love winter, but nothing beats the Tetons under eight feet of snow with moose lounging around and an expensive purple juice.  But this post isn’t all about the Tetons, it’s all about the best national parks to visit in the winter.

All parks deserve to be visited in the winter, and in the summer for that matter, but some have more to offer in the winter.  Whether it’s better weather, fewer people, or unique activities, these are some of the best national parks to visit in the winter.

Yellowstone

Why

I love Yellowstone in the summer even though it’s ridiculously busy.  However, there are two reasons you should go in the winter instead.

  1. There will be approximately 2 million fewer people there every day.
  2. It’s even more otherworldly than usual.

By visiting Yellowstone in the winter, you get to enjoy the beauty of the park without the crowds and under a five-foot thick blanket of snow.  Plus, you can see all kinds of wildlife, too.  I mean, a snow-covered bison pretty much is Yellowstone in the winter.

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Photo by Photo Jeepers

What to do

There is less you can do in Yellowstone in the winter, but more at the same time.  You can take a snowmobile tour around the park to spot wildlife, view the thermal features, and watch Old Faithful.  If snowmobiling isn’t your thing, there is also a Snowcoach tour that takes you through the park to some of the main sights.  You can even stay in Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins with the glorious Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin right outside your front door.  This is a different lodge than the Old Faithful Inn which closes in the winter.

If you prefer getting around on foot, you can also snowshoe and cross-country ski your way around the park.  If you’re really brave, you can camp at the Mammoth Springs campground in the winter as well.

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Photo by Photo Jeepers

Important information

The roads are closed to cars in the winter, so the only way to see the park is by snowmobile, Snowcoach, snowshoe, or cross-country skis.  Most facilities in the park are also closed in the winter.  Closures start in early September and go through November.  The only things that remain open are the Old Faithful Lodge and Cabins and the hotel and campground at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Grand Teton

Why

Like Yellowstone an hour north, Grand Teton in the winter is wonderful.  Like, I don’t love winter, but the Tetons in the winter is literally my favorite.  It’s so pretty.  There are no people.  And I finally got to see a moose or 100.  It’s a serene and relaxing experience unless you’re driving down the highway during a whiteout.

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What to do

Like Yellowstone, you can go snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.  Unlike Yellowstone, there aren’t snowmobile tours in the park.  There are in the Bridger Teton National Forest, though.  For the first two, I would recommend either just going wherever in the Gros Ventre area (pronounced grow vahnt) or down the sections of the scenic road that are still open.

While I would definitely do one of these (they can be rented in town) I would also highly recommend either going on a wildlife safari or if you’re on a budget, you can do a DIY wildlife safari.

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Important information

The main scenic drive is mostly closed over the winter.  The first three miles on either end are open, but that’s it.  Part of Moose-Wilson Road is also open.  Antelope Flats and Mormon Row are both closed as well.  The Visitor Center is closed in the winter.

Arches

Why

There are two main reasons I put this on the list, but there’s a third that doesn’t hurt.  I would like to put all the Utah parks on here, but I used a little self-control and only included 3 of 5.

  1. It’s not 1000 degrees out.
  2. There aren’t 4000 people on each trail.
  3. You might get to see it with snow!

Visiting Arches in the winter lets you explore the park without the pressure of crowds and making sure you get there early enough to have a trail to yourself.  Delicate Arch was still busy when we went, but that won’t always be the case.  The temperature is perfect for hiking, but it can get chilly, so prepare for that.

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What to do

Everything that you can do in the summer, just without the people and heat!  If there happens to be a lot of snow, some trails can be hard to follow, like the Devils Garden Primitive Trail, and others might just have some icy spots.  Feel like you’re in an old western movie on Park Avenue, explore Garden of Eden, hike to the icon of Utah – Delicate Arch, and admire Landscape Arch while you still can.

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Important information

There are no road closures in the winter.  The Visitor Center may have limited hours as well.  The campground is open and it is first-come, first-serve.  There are no ranger-led hikes or campfire talks, either.

Zion

Why

Exactly the same reasons as Arches.  Zion is by far the busiest park in Utah making a summer visit not always particularly enjoyable.  The weather is perfect and you can only see 1-20 other people on a trail versus 500 in the summer.

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What to do

Hike literally everything!  Don’t just go for the big two: Angels Landing and The Narrows.  Hike the Canyon Overlook, Hidden Canyon, Observation Point, and the East Rim Trails.  If you have time, check out Kolob Terrace Road and Kolob Canyon.  Just remember, it’s winter and the narrows might be a little chillier than anticipated.  Even in June last year I was getting cold later in the evening.  If you do hike the Narrows, rent a dry suit, or at least dry pants, and the water shoes and walking stick on offer as well,  in Springfield.  The water is too cold to go in without it.

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Important information

The scenic canyon drive is open to drive on!  This is my favorite part about visiting Zion in the winter.  The shuttle doesn’t run in the winter so you can drive yourself.  And don’t worry, it’s not bumper to bumper traffic and you can still find a place to park.

The Watchman Campground is first-come, first-served in the winter.  When we were there this last winter they were doing construction in Springfield just outside of the park making getting into the park take a little longer.  Hotels and restaurants may also be closed for the season.

Voyageurs

Why

Voyageurs in northern Minnesota is already one of the least visited national parks in the US, but in the winter, it sees even fewer visitors.  The only way to get to the Voyageurs in the winter is by ice road or snowmobile.  Just be prepared for some extreme cold.  This is definitely one to avoid if you really don’t like snow and the cold.

Side note: if you’ve been in the winter and have two pictures I could include, send me an email

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Photo by Globaltrotters 

What to do

Explore the park by snowmobile, snowshoe, or cross-country skis.  There are 110 miles of groomed trails for snowmobiling.  If you like fishing or have always want to try it, you can give ice fishing a shot here.  If you get a little too cold, you can warm up in the Rainy Lake Visitor Center.  There are a few different trails you can use to see the park in the winter.  If you’re bringing your kiddos or are just a kid at heart yourself, they also have a sledding hill, so bring your saucers, definitely the best kind of sled.

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Photo by Globaltrotters 

Important information

The only way into the park is two ice roads.  The routes can vary because ice.  You can drive a vehicle up to 7,000 pounds on the ice road, as well as snowmobiles.  Rainy Lake Visitor Center is open and has snowshoes and cross-country skis available free-of-charge during regular visitor center hours.

Yosemite

Why

Like a few of the aforementioned parks, Yosemite is going to be a lot less crowded in the winter.  Plus, look at it under the snow!  How could you not want to go see that?  And don’t worry, chances are pretty high you’ll still be able to see Yosemite Falls flowing.

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Photo by Morad Abdul-Jabbar

What to do

Along with they typical park activities available in the winter, snowboarding and skiing is also an option.  For that, head down Glacier Point/Badger Pass Road.  You can do downhill and cross-country skiing here.  You can go backpacking in the winter, but options are going to be much more limited.  Most trails will be under snow, but some will still be accessible.

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Photo by Morad Abdul-Jabbar

Important information

Yosemite Valley and Wawona are accessible year-round by car, but Tioga Road, Crane Flat, Tioga Pass are closed.  The Tuolumne Meadow and and the road to Glacier Point are also closed, but you can take Glacier Point/Badger Pass road to the plowed ski/snowboard area.

It is snowy and cold in the winter, but sunny, chilly days do happen.  There can also be smoke and haze in the area from prescribed burns.

Death Valley

Why

This is a pretty obvious one.  In case you’re not sure, it’s great to go to Death Valley in the winter because it’s not 120 during the day.  It’s actually cool and can get pretty chilly at night.  Hiking will be much more enjoyable in the cool weather.

Photo by Darcy McGuckin
Photo by Darcy McGuckin

What to do

There’s tons of stuff to do in Death Valley.  A few of the things you shouldn’t miss are the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Racetrack Playa, Badwater Salt Flats, Ubehebe Crater Loop, Artist’s Palette, Dante’s View, and Zabriske Point.  Like I said, there are a lot of things to do in Death Valley.  The park is huge, so do a little research before going to help plan a little more if you’re limited on time.

Photo by Darcy McGuckin
Photo by Darcy McGuckin

Important information

Even in the winter you want to stay hydrated.  There are no road closures in the park, but be aware of dirt roads.  Don’t go down anything your car can’t handle.  While it may not be as hot, you still don’t want to be the next Death Valley Germans story.  I would highly recommend reading that.

Make sure you have a full tank of gas, too.  There are limited services in the park.  There are four lodging options in the main area of the park:  Furnace Creek Ranch and Inn, Stovepipe Wells and Panamint Springs.  There are also nine campground in the park.

Big Bend

Why

While even in the summer you may not have to fight the crowds, you would be slogging along the trails suffering in the Texas heat .  Well, fear not!  In the winter, you can avoid that and still explore the park.  You will have pleasant weather for all of your activities, though it is cloudy and freezing occasionally.

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Photo by Bill Mellen

What to do

In the park you can hike in the desert, on mountains, or along rivers.  Devil’s Den (5.6 miles), Chimneys Trail (4.8 miles), and Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail (0.5 miles) are great desert options.  For mountains, try Window View Trail (0.3 miles), Window Trail (5.6 miles), or Emory Peak (10.5 miles) to the highest peak in the park.  Don’t miss the Santa Elena Canyon Trail (1.7 miles) for the iconic Big bend view.  At the end of a long day hiking, or the beginning while it’s cooler, relax in the hot spring.

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Photo by The Wandering Queen

Important information

Be prepared for all temperatures visiting in the winter.  They can range from freezing, especially at night, to the 80’s.  Temperature will also very greatly by elevation changes.  There are three campgrounds that are mostly first-come, first-served, but have some spots you can reserve.  There are no road closures.

The best time to see the park is in the morning to avoid the afternoon heat and the crowds that go with it.

Denali

Why

Visiting the third largest national park in the US with only one road in it in the winter may seem counter intuitive, but it can be an experience that not many other people have.  Now, I have no concrete evidence pointing to a lot less visitors in the winter, but I think it’s a pretty safe guess.  While access to a lot of the park may be limited, there is still plenty to do offering a unique experience.

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Photo by Pete Miller

What to do

Similar to most parks, you can go cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.  This is also a great park for stargazing.  Another great option for something fun to do is to go dog sledding in Denali.  You can also visit the Denali Kennels where the dogs are.  There are some ares in the park that are open to snowmobiling as well.  Keep an eye out for Aurora Borealis at night during your stay as well!

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Photo by Dashin Ash

Important information

The Murie Science and Learning Center is the temporary winter visitor center open every day 9-4:30, except major holidays.  It’s at mile 1.4 on the park road.  You can backcountry camp in the winter and get your permit for that here.  You can also borrow snowshoes and more (their words) here.  The park road usually closes at mile three in the winter.

Lassen Volcanic

Why

Like Yellowstone, Lassen Volcanic National Park has thermal features, which you can still enjoy in the winter.  The park is under snow cover for more than half of the year, so your chances of experiencing it like that are pretty good.  There’s nothing like admiring a good thermal feature surrounded by snow, at least I like to think there isn’t.

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Photo by Tosh Ciahng 

What to do

You can find all of the typical winter activities here: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding.  Just be careful sledding.  icy snow can be a recipe for disaster and sledding is actually the number one cause of visitor injury in the park in the winter.

Ranger-led snowshoe walks are offered on the weekends.  While you’re here you can’t miss the main feature of the park, the hydrothermal areas!  They are still visible in the winter because of the high temperatures at the steam vents.  Just don’t get too close as that has resulted in plenty of previous injuries to visitors.

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Photo by Daveynin 

Important information

The park highway is closed in the winter, but the Manzanita Lake Areas are open year-round, as is the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center.  Pets are not permitted on trails or snow covered routes, so keep them at home if you can or they’ll have to wait in the car.  The southwest walk-in campground is open year-round and you can camp in your car in the adjacent parking area for the same fee.

Sequoia

Why

What better time to see the most majestic trees in existence?  I mean, can you imagine these giants with a light blanket of fresh snow?  That could be hard to beat.  A bison with a snow covered face might be close, though.  Snowshoeing among the giants sounds so peaceful I just might have to go myself!

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Photo by She Dreams of Alpine

What to do

I don’t even know where to start!  There are a surprising number of things to do in Sequoia in the winter.  Like most, you can snowshoe and cross-country ski your way through the Giant Forest and Grant Grove.  Pack up your saucer again and head over to the sledding hills at Wolverton.  Grant Grove is another place to enjoy just playing in the snow.  If it’s too cold, there are still winter drives and scenic views to enjoy.  They also offer ranger programs year-round.

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Important information

Kings Canyon Visitor Center, Giant Forest Museum, or Foothills Visitor Center are all open year-round, so stop in before heading out to get any trail or weather information.  You may need tire chains for driving in the park, so check ahead of time and make sure you have them.

Great Smoky Mountains

Why

Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park in the US.  However, visiting in the winter will significantly lower your chances of not being able to find a parking spot.  Without leaves on the trees you’ll be able to see more of the landscape and the weather will be nice and chilly.

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Photo by Bill Fletcher

What to do

Like most of the parks, you can enjoy some relative solitude on the trails while doing some hiking.  Andrews Bald, Charlies Bunion, and Porter Creek are good options.  Admire the usual flowing waterfalls as their frozen versions over the winter.  There are tons of other winter activities in the area worth checking out, too.

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Photo by Jojo Zink

Important information

Primary roads are open year-round in the park, weather permitting.  You can find a lit of all the specific road closures (there are a lot) on this page.  There are often temporary road closures during winter storms.  The visitor centers are open every day but Christmas.

Temperatures can range from the 20’s up to 65 in the winter and snow typically melts within a couple hours of being on the ground.  However, in the higher elevations, it is a lot cooler and a lot snowier.

Badlands

Why

Becuase it is an otherworldly frozen wasteland and I mean that in the best way possible.  Visiting Badlands in the winter is not for the faint of heart.  The day we went it was -30 degrees with the windchill, so we weren’t really able to do anything other than drive and stop at the stops, then run to take a picture and back before we froze.  Totally worth it.

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What to do

You can hike in the Badlands in the winter, just check trail conditions at the Visiotr Center before heading out.  if it’s dangerously cold like when I went, skip hiking and just drive though the park admiring the views.  You can snowshoe in the park, too, but you would need to bring your own.  Keep an eye out for wildlife as your drive through the park as well.  Ask a ranger about trail information before you plan to head out, just to be safe.

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Important information

The White River Visitor Center is closed in the winter, but you can still visit the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, but the gift shop there is closed.  There are no road or trail closures unless the weather is really terrible and you can find that out at the Visitor Center.  You can camp in the winter.  The campgrounds remain open.  The road to Sage Creek Campground may close after storms.

Bryce Canyon

Why

I almost didn’t include this one, but I thought about it and decided it’s actually probably the coolest Utah park to visit in the winter because you can see the hoodoos covered in snow.  I still haven’t been in the winter, which is ridiculous, but it looks so serene and just plain awesome.  Plus, you probably won’t be competing for the trails and views with tons of other people.

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Photo by Wayfaring Views

What to do

Rent snowshoes and head to the lookouts.  You’ll most likely have them to yourself.  If trails get too packed down, they can be too slippery for snowshoes, so you may need Yaktraks or something similar to help you get along.  You can also cross-country ski throughout the park and go sledding!  While you can sled above the rim, you can’t over the rim for good reasons.  They occasionally offer winter astronomy programs as well.  Ask about trail conditions at the visitor center before doing anything, though.

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Photo by Wayfaring Views

Important information

Fairyland Road and Paria Point Roads are closed in the winter and left unplowed so they can be used for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.  The higher elevation roads may not be plowed right after storms, or even overnight, but the roads to Bryce, Inspiration, Sunrise, and Sunset Points are plowed immediately.  Trails are closed to anyone not wearing snow boots or waterproof boots of some sort.  The Wall Street hike near Navajo Loop is closed and the Peekaboo Loop Connector is also usually closed.

Everglades

Why

Summer in Florida is hot, humid, and really buggy.  By visiting the Everglades in the winter, you can avoid most of those things and experience the park when the temperatures are in the 70’s during the day and 50’s at night.  Hiking in this weather will be much more comfortable as well.  This may be the more popular time to visit, but don’t let that stop you.

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Photo by Keo the Younger

What to do

The possibilities are never ending!  Just a quick glance shows bird watching, biking, boating, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, and ranger programs.  For biking, check Shark Valley, Snake Bright Trail near Flamingo, and Long Pine Key Nature Trail.  Bird watching can be done anywhere in the park and is very rewarding.

The best way to see the park is by boat, canoe, or kayak as most of the park is only accessible by water.  There are canoe and kayak trail you can follow.  You can rent a boat if you feel comfortable driving one, if not there are boat tours you can take.  There are short and long hiking trails available.  If you want to make the trails a little more exciting, Geocache along the way!

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Photo by Kerry Loggins 

Important information

There are three entrances to the park, but they DO NOT connect, so plan accordingly for that.  The park is open all day every day, though.  The wet season is April to October and dry season is November to March.  The Chekika area is closed until further notice.

General Winter Travel Tips:

  • While it may be cold and you might feel like you don’t have to drink much water, you do still need to hydrate!  Even when it’s 12 degrees I still like icy cold water and my HydroFlask goes with me everywhere.  They also have coffee travel mugs so you can bring a warm beverage, too!
  • The majority of these parks are pretty cold in the winter, and a great way to help stay a little warmer when you’re out snowshoeing is to use hand and toe warmers!  My feet are always cold and get extremely cold very quickly so I love using these when I’m out in the cold for a while.
  • It can get really warm when you’re out snowshoeing, even if it’s really cold, so dress in layers when you go out.  Don’t forget a hat, gloves, and scarf!  Here are some awesome warm socks, too.
  • Keep an extra blanket and maybe an extra jacket, hat, gloves, socks, or scarf, too.  Just in case!
  • Remember, there’s a lot less daylight in the winter, so plan accordingly when you go out snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.
  • Depending on where you are, be aware of avalanche likelihood.  Ask around at your hotel before going out.
  • Not all, but some of the parks will have very limited food and lodging options around them in the winter.  Research this ahead of time to help prepare more.
  • You most likely won’t have cell phone service in any of the parks.  If you do, it will be spotty.
  • If you plan to visit more than three national parks in the year, consider getting the America the Beautiful pass.  It’s $80 and gets you into pretty much all the NPS sites.  It pays for itself after like, three parks.
  • If you are snowshoeing, don’t walk in the ski tracks.  Walk in separate tracks to prevent injury.
  • Make sure you have plenty of gas before entering the parks.  Most don’t have gas available and you don’t want to be stranded in the cold.

Have you been to any of these parks in the winter?  Which ones?  Do you like visiting the parks in the winter or do you prefer summer?  What is your favorite park to visit in the winter?

10 thoughts on “Best National Parks To Visit In The Winter

  1. I’m not a huge winter person, but the thought of staying at the lodge in Yellowstone with Old Faithful right outside is pretty tempting. Especially if there are fireplaces to sit in front of and read books in the evenings.

  2. Lol I was actually laughing out loud when I read your descriptions of why to go in winter: “It won’t be a 1000 degrees out.” It sounds like something I would say! And thanks for the wonderful advice! I’d never considered visiting the national parks in the winter time, because I struggle with snow, but if that means I get to see wild animals, I’m all about it!

  3. Totally agree – we went to Yellowstone in the winter last year, and it was amazing! The scenery was incredible in the snow, and we practically had the park to ourselves.

  4. I always prefer visiting National Parks in winter! No crowds and better weather for the desert parks. It blows my mind that they are visited more in summer, when it is 100+ outside. No thank you! Haha! Yellowstone and the Tetons are on my list for winter! They are both just so gorgeous!

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