Best National Parks to Visit in the Winter
Who says that national parks are just for summer months? Winter can be a beautiful time to explore, especially since there are usually less crowds in the winter months!
Below I’ve compiled a list of the different national parks that I and several other bloggers have visited in the winter months.
Regardless of season, make sure you’re prepared! If you’re hiking in winter conditions, wear insulated boots with traction devices like microspikes or snowshoes.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon is absolutely magical in the winter months. I went during Thanksgiving weekend and as luck would have it, I got hit by a winter storm on Friday when driving in. So I woke up to a full winter wonderland with powdery snow covering the bright orange hoodoo spirals.
Read my full blog post on exploring Bryce Canyon in the winter months.
Sequoia National Park, California
The Sequoia’s turn into a winter wonderland during the winter months. Most of the roads are closed and left unplowed. They’re great for snowshoeing on, especially as beginner snowshoeing hikes, but unless you are equipped and trained for winter mountaineering, the trails you’ll be able to do in the winter are limited. That being said, you can still have an amazing time!
I went snowshoeing on the unplowed road to Crescent Meadows to the High Sierra Trail trailhead.
Death Valley National Park, California
One of the best National Parks to visit in the winter is Death Valley National Park. Death Valley is one of the hottest places in the world, so the best time to visit this one of a kind national park is in the winter.
A great place to stay at in this national park is The Inn At Death Valley. This cute hotel is filled with palm trees and a beautiful garden. This oasis is located inside the national park in the center of all the activities.
One of the best things to do in this national park is to experience Zabriskie Point during sunrise. So many people flock to this area to catch the colorful views of the first light setting on the unique landscape.
Right after experiencing sunrise I recommend hiking Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch, and the Badlands Loop trails. The trailhead is located right next to Zabriskie Point and the spiderweb-like formations make it feel like the paths are endless. A great viewpoint on the trail is Red Cathedral.
Another great activity is hiking Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes during sunset. The sun setting over the mountains with the ever-changing sand makes it a great spot for photography. Just make sure to bring some water!
Yosemite National Park, California
Visiting Yosemite National Park in California is quite spectacular even with certain parts of the park closed off with winter season. The main attractions on the valley floor of Yosemite is typically open for visitors and the tourist crowd is a lot less crowded so you will have more places to explore with less people to deal with at all the major sites. There’s nothing quite like seeing all the landmarks like El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and Half Dome dusted with white snow and making your images captured here even more special.
The shuttle system throughout the park is also open during the winter season which makes visiting all the main attractions easier and more pleasant to do without parking and driving hassles. Of course many of the hiking trails to the main vantage points are open but the longer trails leading to Glacier point and all the waterfall hikes are limited or off limits, so it is better to do any hiking along the valley floor and in the village area.
For more inspiration to visit this spectacular national park, check out my post on Yosemite’s key attractions and landscapes here for places and monuments worth seeing in the park.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Joshua Tree is one of California’s must-see national parks, and in the winter the desert comes to life. The stunning rock formations seem to glow in the soft light and colorful wildflowers burst from cracks in the rocks. Climbers flock to the park in the winter to scramble on the unique rock formations, but you don’t need to be a rock climber to appreciate the park.
Arch Rock is one of the most iconic rock formations in the park. The trail to Arch Rock is an easy half-mile walk through a field of towering boulders. The Arch Rock Nature Trail starts at the Twin Tanks parking area and crosses the street before leading into the rock formations. If you’re up for a more challenging hike, the trail to Mastodon Peak is a three-mile loop that takes you through a lush palm oasis and past an abandoned mine before reaching the peak and the spectacular view of the Salton Sea and the Coachella Valley.
Joshua Tree has some of the best stargazing in the state and a trip to Joshua Tree isn’t complete without spending a night playing games around the campfire and gazing into the Milky Way. Cottonwood Campground is my favorite campground in Joshua Tree because each site comes with a fire pit and a picnic table, and the bathrooms have running water. But, if you’re not into camping, the artsy, old-west town of Joshua Tree is located just outside of the park’s west entrance station and offers many stylish Airbnb rentals.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
If you’re looking for iconic mountain beauty then you must plan to a trip to visit Rocky Mountain National Park this winter. Magical, snow-capped landscapes and sprawling vistas provide plenty to do. Base yourself in nearby Estes Park for the coziest places to stay. You can spend a weekend exploring the park and the nearby towns. Despite the chilly temps, there is a lot of things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park in winter including hiking, backcountry skiing, ice climbing, and even sledding.
Catch a sunrise at Sprague Lake or go for an early morning hike to Dream Lake, one of the most famous landmarks in the park. Although the famous Trail Ridge Road closes in the winter, you can still drive to the Many Parks Overlook and enjoy the expansive scenery. Backcountry an cross country skiers can ski Trail Ridge Road in the winter. Alternatively, pack your sled and visit the Hidden Valley Ski Area. This abandoned ski resort is an excellent place to go sledding or learn how to backcountry ski.
Don’t forget to stop by the Gem Lake Trailhead, a free trailhead in the park, just behind the famous Stanley Hotel, that features beautiful rock formations and views of the iconic Long’s Peak. After you’ve had your fun in the park, head to nearby Estes Park and grab some food at the cozy Notchtop Bakery and Café. Take the scenic route via the Many Peaks Skyway for epic mountain views.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Wondering if visiting the Grand Canyon in winter is a good idea? Its always a good idea to visit the Grand Canyon – just ask the 6 million visitors that go each year!
I visited the Grand Canyon in January and there are pros and cons for visiting in the winter.
First, there will be a lot less crowds which makes it enjoyable to be viewing the Grand Canyon with a lot less people.
You will need to confirm the weather conditions at the visitors center and decide whether or not you will be able to drive along the South Rim. If not, there is a shuttle that takes you from viewpoint to viewpoint along the South Rim. You can also do the Rim Trail from the visitors center which is a nice walk along a paved path on the rim.
Also note, the North Rim is closed during winter but the South Rim is open every day.
If you are visiting the Grand Canyon in winter, you will also see a lot more wildlife. Mule deer and elk can be seen throughout the canyon in winter.
I recommend staying in Tusayan which is 6 miles from the entrance of the Grand Canyon. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express as it is centrally located and you can walk to the shops.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Big Bend National Park is the PERFECT National Park to visit in the wintertime. Why? Because the weather will be great, the park will not be crowded, and the sites will be absolutely beautiful!
Big Bend is located in West Texas, a place known for being extremely hot. However, in Winter, temperatures in Big Bend are gorgeous, with highs in the mid-70s, which makes for perfect hiking weather! As a bonus, the park will be less crowded with visitors and vacationers in the Winter, so you’ll be able to explore all of the best hikes and take all sorts of pictures without having to work through crowds.
The hiking in Big Bend is what makes this place so special. The South Rim, Window Trail, and Lost Mine Trail are some of the most beautiful sites in the entire United States, and they are all waiting for you at Big Bend! On top of the hiking, you can take a dip in the Big Bend Hot Springs, which will be extra cozy if you happen to have any cold-weather days during your stay. Big Bend National Park is one of the best parks in the entire world, and Winter is the perfect time to plan a visit and see what makes this place so special.
Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
One of the best National Parks to visit in the wintertime is Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. Visiting Hot Springs National Park during the winter can seem a little out of the ordinary as it can get pretty cold in Arkansas during wintertime. Although, Hot Springs is a bit of a unique National Park as it is less about spending time exploring nature and hiking on trails and is more about visiting the historic bathhouses the park as to offer. This is a perfect winter activity as the bathhouses are built over natural hot springs. The water from the hot springs is pumped into the bathhouses at 136 degrees so you can enjoy a nice toasty soak in a mineral enriched pool. There are a couple of different Hot Springs Arkansas bathhouses to choose from when visiting, so make sure you choose the right one for you and what you are looking for. Besides warming up in the thermal temperature bathhouse waters, make sure to check out the rest of what Hot Springs National Park has to offer. Hot Springs is the only national park in the United States that has a brewery on its’ land. The beer brewed at the brewery is also made from the hot springs water! There are also a couple of different hiking trails to choose from in the area if you would like to get out into the cold for a bit. When picking a place to stay, we recommend checking out the Arlington Resort and Spa. The Arlington was built at the same time as the bathhouses back in the early 1900s and is a great way to learn about and experience more of the historical significance Hot Springs has to offer.