Looking to experience winter a little differently this year? If you want to explore the outdoors rather than cozy up at home, there are plenty of incredible national parks all over the United States where you can do just that!
Even though nature may not be the first image that pops to mind when you think of a vacation during the colder months, winter just happens to be a great time of the year to visit a few national parks.
Whether you’re yearning for a snow-covered adventure, want to escape the cold, or simply want to get some of the best landscapes the United States has to offer pretty much all to yourself, here’s a list of some of the best national parks to visit in the winter that you need to place on your bucket list!
Best National Parks to Visit in the Winter
1. Bryce Canyon National Park
Home to the largest collections of hoodoos in the entire world, Bryce Canyon in Utah is a mecca when it comes to peculiar scenery.
While summers in Bryce Canyon are known to bring in high temperatures, winters are a great time of the year to visit for those looking to hike through the park. Even though temperatures do drop, trails in Bryce Canyon remain pretty safe to hike through, including the Queen’s Garden to Navajo Loop and the Peek-A-Boo Loop.
Moreover, winters in Bryce Canyon do see snow occasionally, and there’s nothing quite like seeing the contrast of bright reds against the fluffy white snow! For this reason, it’s one of the best national parks to visit in the winter.
2. Sequoia National Park, California
Tucked away in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range in northern California, Sequoia National Park is a dreamland when it comes to fairy-tale-like views.
This gorgeous national park is known for boasting enormous groves of sequoias, which are the biggest trees in the world and can live up to 3000 years! Walking amid an ancient forest made up of enormous trees is an experience you can only have here, and doing so during the winter months means you may very well get to do it with a bit of snow added to the mix.
As a bonus, Sequoia National Park also has plenty more natural wonders to boast about. For one, the park offers gorgeous views of the Great Western Divide, not to mention it also homes the tallest mountain in the continental United States as well as one of the deepest canyons in the entire country (King’s Canyon)!
3. Death Valley National Park, California
With temperatures rising above the hundreds during the summer, seeing the best of Death Valley is best done once the weather cools off a bit.
Despite its uninviting name, Death Valley is actually a wonderland of landscapes, colors, and striking desert magic. The landscape at this incredible national park is like nowhere you’ve seen before!
Even though most people who visit any other time of the year choose to explore from the comfort (and AC) of their car, winter allows for pleasant hikes that will get you to see Death Valley in a much more personal way. Think eerie-looking rock formations, badlands, golden hills, rolling sand dunes, and sparkling hills splashed in every color of the rainbow and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what a visit to this national park during the winter has to offer!
4. Arches National Park, Utah
If desert magic is what you’re after, look no further than Arches for your winter national park trip. Although small, this glorious national park in Utah is home to a whopping two thousand natural rock arches and other quirky formations.
Being here may very well make you feel as though you were transported to Mars, and even though scenic driving is a great way to explore year-round, winter brings in great temperatures to put your hiking shoes on.
Most people avoid visiting Arches National Park during the summer due to scorching temperatures, making spring and fall the most popular times of the year to visit. Even though winters can get a bit chilly, the weather is still pleasant enough to get outside, not to mention you may very well get some of the most important viewpoints and highlights all to yourself!
5. Biscayne National Park, Florida
If you’re on the lookout for a national park where you can escape winter altogether, Biscayne National Park in Florida is the ultimate go-to.
This unique park is made up of 95% percent water, with the remaining 5% consisting of dream-like islands you can spend days on end sunbathing or hiking in. Most of the activities you’ll find at Biscayne National Park happen under the water, with snorkeling and scuba diving being extremely popular for the very few visitors who visit the park every year.
Other things to do at Biscayne National Park include gentle hiking for gorgeous views of the ocean, sunbathing, riding glass-bottom boats to get close and personal with the marine life in the area, and exploring mangroves.
As a note, despite Biscayne’s paradise-like look, this is a rather lesser-known spot in the national parks system. The park is located about 20 miles away from the shores of Miami, and getting there requires hopping on a ferry or riding a seaplane. Still, once you get there, you’ll be in for an adventure of a lifetime!
6. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Even though this park is a treat to visit year-round, Yellowstone National Park is one of the best national parks to visit in the winter for those looking to spend a few days at an authentic winter wonderland!
Once temperatures begin to drop, Yellowstone becomes a mecca for frozen alpine lakes, dreamy forests dusted in snow and geysers that look even more striking as they splash out against a white background.
With that said, however, visiting this national park during the winter does come with its own set of challenges. For one, temperatures require proper clothing, not to mention most roads to get to the park are only accessible using special vehicles. Still, if you plan things right, a winter visit to Yellowstone is guaranteed to be an experience you won’t soon forget.
7. Channel Islands National Park, California
Made up of five islands off the coast of California, Channel Islands National Park is often nicknamed the Galapagos of North America due to the striking wildlife and unusual landscapes you can find here.
Think cliffs jutting out of the ocean, inspiring ocean vistas, and animal and marine sights concentrated in a small area and you’ll be able to get a pretty good picture of what this national park is all about!
Despite its unparalleled nature, Channel Islands National Park isn’t as popular as other national parks in California. This makes it one of the best national parks to visit in winter if a unique experience in a raw and untouched setting is what you’re after. While the islands are great to visit any time of the year, winter brings sights of gray whales as well as pupping seals!
The best way to get to the Channel Islands is by catching a boat or seaplane to Santa Cruz or Anacapa Islands from mainland California. These are the two main islands in the park and have more transportation options available to and fro. Most people visit the islands on a day trip, but there are a few campsites available in case you want to spend the night.
8. Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Set near the city of Tuscon, Arizona, Saguaro National Park is one of the best national parks to visit in the winter for those looking to forget its winter altogether.
While temperatures do drop at this time of the year, days are pretty sunny and bright, giving you the impression you’re at an extremely hot location without having to break a sweat at all, making it a great national park to visit during winter.
What makes this park stand high above the crowds of others in the south is the fact that it is home to gorgeous saguaros and different cacti species that can grow up to 60 feet! While here, you can go on plenty of hikes, drive the scenic Cactus Forest Loop Drive, or learn about Native American history through petroglyphs.
9. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Even though it does get slightly crowded, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park makes for the ideal destination to escape the cold and experience nature in its full splendor. The weather in Hawaii is very warm all year long, so visiting this national park during winter is a great idea.
Home to striking landscapes that range from black sand coasts to jungles and two of the most active volcanoes in the entire world, a visit to this unique national park is guaranteed to make you feel as though you’re in an Indiana Jones setting as you hike through lava tubes and explore volcanic craters.
When visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you may get lucky enough to witness an active volcano spewing lava. Most recently in 2021, the Kīlauea volcano began erupting, giving visitors even more reason to visit this incredible national park.
10. Everglades National Park, Florida
Winters are the dry season in the Everglades, which makes it the ideal time of the year to visit if you want to explore more than just the beginning of this humongous 15-million-acre park.
In order to explore the park and the many different ecosystems it encompasses, you can choose from a range of adventures that go from going on a guided hike by a ranger to snorkeling, scenic driving, and going hiking independently to get to know the unique fauna and flora that reside in the park.
Tourists flock to Everglades National Park every year to see alligators in their natural habitat. You can opt to go on an airboat ride through the swampy water to see these incredible creatures. Since the weather is naturally warmer in Florida during the winter, it makes for an excellent national park to visit during the winter months.