Best National Parks in the United States to Visit During the Winter
Winter is not usually the season associated with hiking and camping adventures, but that doesn’t mean you should stay away from visiting America’s National Parks. During the winter, the crowds that pack the park roads and iconic viewpoints during the summer are gone. Hiking trails remain open and those that do shut down to hikers often can be explored on skis or snowshoes. Snowfalls of varying amounts drastically change the landscape of these beautiful national parks, offering incredible photographic opportunities. So if you don’t have time for a warm-weather island getaway, consider visiting one of these national parks during the winter for an unforgettable experience.
Bryce Canyon National Park; Utah
Looking for a bit of solitude while hiking through one of the most beautiful national parks in the United States? During the winter, the red rock hoodoos of Bryce Canyon are covered with a dusting of snow, giving off a magical feel. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular activities and there is even a Winter Festival held every year over President’s Day weekend. Ranger-led astronomy programs provide visitors an opportunity to learn about the constellations of the night sky. However, be aware that Bryce Canyon receives a significant amount of snowfall and dangers are present. Be sure to prepare properly and check in with the park service for up-to-date information.
Get ready for winter hiking with our 9 Winter Hiking Tips for Your Next Cold Weather Adventure.
Grand Canyon National Park; Arizona
One of America’s most distinguishable landmarks, the Grand Canyon is a natural wonder you must see to believe. Grand Canyon National Park stretches 277 miles (445 kilometers) from end to end. Its rocky walls descend more than a mile to the canyon’s floor, where the wild Colorado River traces a swift course southwest. The layered bands of colorful rock, revealing millions of years of geologic history, are occasionally covered with snow on the rims during the winter creating a photographic jackpot. Temperatures in the winter are ideal for hiking with no blazing heat to sap your energy. Plus you are unlikely to encounter more than a handful of people on the hiking trails. Challenge yourself by hiking the Rim to Rim Trail in both directions!
Another added benefit of visiting during the winter is accommodation prices are much lower than in the summer months. You don’t need to book months in advance allowing flexibility for last minute getaways. Before you head to Grand Canyon National Park, be sure to read our Visitor Guide to Grand Canyon National Park.
Additional Reading: Top Reasons to Visit Grand Canyon National Park
Arches National Park; Utah
You’ll escape the crowds with a visit to Arches National Park during the winter. Daytime temperatures drop significantly during the winter months making hiking a pleasant activity. Snowfall occurs frequently but rarely in large amounts and typically only sticks around for 2-3 days. The snow layering on top of the red rock formations creates incredible landscapes for photographers. Opting to spend the night camping offers some amazing stargazing opportunities.
Further Reading: Top Hikes in Arches
Yosemite National Park; California
Yosemite National Park covers nearly 1,200 square miles of wilderness in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. The park features towering waterfalls, prominent cliff faces, giant sequoia groves, and picturesque views. Some of the best scenic views in the United States can be found in Yosemite. The natural beauty of Yosemite becomes even more surreal during the winter months when snow covers the peaks and waterfalls freeze over. Visitors can also enjoy the ice skating rink at Curry Village nestled under the backdrop of Half Dome.
Can’t visit Yosemite during the winter. No worries. Hiking and camping adventures can be found year-round. Learn more by reading our Visitor Guide to Yosemite National Park.
Rocky Mountain National Park; Colorado
Colorado itself is one of the most sought-after winter destinations in America, so of course, Rocky Mountain National Park would be considered a top national park to visit during the winter. This park, spanning the Continental Divide, truly is a winter wonderland. Besides snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling, visitors will find plenty of other winter activities inside the park. Popular with both kids and adults, sledding at Hidden Valley always brings excitement to the day. If you're nervous about driving on the road, join a winter bus tour with the Rocky Mountain Conservancy.
For those interested in hiking, the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park doesn’t receive as much snow as the west side of the park, so it is much easier to hike without using snowshoes or cross-country skis.
Need of a new pair of hiking boots? Read our guide Hiking Boots Guide to help you find that perfect hiking boot.
Yellowstone National Park; Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho
Imagine touring on a snow-coach through a snow-covered valley with herds of bison in every direction. Picture yourself hiking along boardwalks perched aside geothermal pools and spouting geysers. Head deep into the backcountry on a cross-country ski adventure and follow the tracks of moose and elk. Wintertime in Yellowstone is full of amazing recreational activities suited for all levels of adventurers.
Before visiting Yellowstone National Park be sure to read our Visitor Guide to Yellowstone National Park.
Acadia National Park; Maine
Often referred to as the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast”, Acadia National Park provides stunning landscapes around every corner, spectacular views, and rich cultural history.
During the winter months, visitor numbers drop drastically as the freezing temperatures move into Acadia National Park. Many of the hiking trails and sections of the Park Loop Road are closed but there are still plenty of recreational activities such as ice fishing and dog sledding. Carriage roads that intersect the park remain open for cross-country skiing and several trails can be accessed for snowshoeing as well. Perhaps the most unique experience on hand is ice climbing. Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School will teach you the basic techniques of waterfall climbing.
Acadia National Park is home to some of the most scenic vistas on the northeastern coastline. Check out our Visitor Guide to Acadia National Park to plan your trip.
Zion National Park; Utah
Another one of Utah’s epic national parks, Zion National Park is a spectacular network of colorful canyons, forested mesas, and striking deserts. Hiking trails follow the same paths of the ancient native people while slot canyons form an exquisite labyrinth of wilderness areas to explore. Visiting Zion during the winter offers quieter hikes, beautiful wintry scenic drives, and unique wildlife viewing opportunities.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park; North Carolina
During the winter months, Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be noticeably less crowded. You may find yourself with popular hiking trails and visitor sites all to yourself. The park does not see a significant amount of snow during most years, except in the highest elevations. Ice is the main concern on hiking trails and while driving around the park. However, the ice can also make for great scenery as waterfalls and creeks freeze and the park takes on a unique wintertime look.
Smoky Mountain National Park is a great winter hiking destination but one stand-out winter hike is Mount Cammerer. This low-elevation summit is usually tree-covered but gives you expansive views when the leaves fall in the winter months. Plus, this popular mountain is much quieter under snow cover.
Further Reading: Top Hikes in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Most people head to Jackson Hole during the winter to hit the ski slopes. Though if you are heading to this ski destination, then you should check out Grand Teton National Park as well. Inside the park you can cross-country ski or snowshoe across snow-covered roads and trails, spotting moose and elk along the way. Local outfitters offer guided photography tours and workshops, providing opportunities to frame Grand Tetons’ jaw-dropping scenery. The Grand Tetons are also home to some of the best backcountry skiing in the United States.
Additional Reading: Top Hikes in Grand Teton National Park
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Steep mountains and cliffs, rocky terrain, the Rio Grande, and vistas that span as far as the eye can see, Big Bend National Park is the highlight attraction of Far West Texas. The 800,000-acre national park contains three basic habitats: river, desert, and mountains. Hiking trails extend for miles over a variety of terrains. One of the best hikes in the park is the South Rim Trail, a compilation of several trails that winds along the south rim of the Chisos Mountains and offers views into Mexico. Visitors will find miles of paved roads within the park offering a variety of scenic drives to take in the park’s landscape and marvel at the geologic splendor. And don’t worry, it’s basically an absolute that you will not encounter any snow at Big Bend National Park.
More hiking and camping articles from Under30Experiences:
- Must-visit Hiking Destinations in the United States
- Sleeping Bag Guide - How to Choose the Best One for Camping
- Tent Buying Guide: How to Choose Your First Camping Tent
- Top 20 USA Camping Destinations for your First Trip
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