family with kids hiking in arches national park

The 10 Best National Parks to Visit in Winter

In need of a wilderness vacation? How about a visit to a national park this winter?

In this post, I’ve focused on 10 parks I think are especially rewarding on a winter visit. But plenty of parks are worth exploring in the off-season! Lack of foliage can bring long views. There are loads of places where you can take advantage of snow to explore via snowshoes or cross-country skis. And busy parks like Yosemite and Rocky Mountain are incredibly peaceful and lovely when covered with snow in the depths of winter.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley was one of our favorite national parks of them all. The reason our visit was so pleasant? We went in January!

A winter visit to this desert gem allows you to take in Badwater Basin, the Devil’s Golf Course and other low-lying areas without getting heat stroke ;). While we were there, the weather was divine. Temperatures hovered in the 70s and things got just a touch nippy at night, just the way we like it. And because the temps were mild, we could enjoy Death Valley’s incredible variety of trails, slot canyons and sand dunes with full days of hiking.

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley in January

Zion National Park

Zion is one of the most-visited parks in the U.S. and since it’s very small, all those visitors tend to be packed in like sardines. Though weather can sometimes be rainy and moderately cold in the winter months, it’s a great time to visit if you want a less crowded experience.

Temperatures are generally mild during the day, which makes for lovely hiking. And while one of Zion’s most popular hikes, the Narrows, involves wading through hip-deep water, you can rent a dry suit in Springdale, just outside the park (it’ll still be very cold—but it is possible to do!)

Zion’s main road is normally closed to vehicles and serviced by a shuttle, but in January, February and parts of December, you can drive your own car all the way through Zion Canyon. 

Find our complete guide to Zion National Park here!

Zion Canyon in winter from Overlook Trail

Arches & Canyonlands National Parks

These buddy parks, both located in Moab, Utah, are a terrific choice for an off-season visit. Arches is an especially busy (and small) park, and visiting during the winter months means far fewer crowds and less traffic. It’s rare to find yourself alone in any of Utah’s national parks, but winter in Canyonlands might just give you a shot!

Moab’s winter weather is generally mild. But if you happen to be there while it’s stormy, take advantage of the gorgeous contrast between red rock and bright white snow! Shorter days also make it easier to enjoy sunrises and sunsets over the gorgeous scenery of either park, especially if you have kids and need to preserve bedtime ;).

Delicate Arch at sunset

Big Bend National Park

One of the U.S.’s hottest parks (at least in terms of temperature), Big Bend is perfect for a winter visit. You can enjoy hikes into the Chisos Mountains, paddles along the Rio Grande, a boat ride into neighboring Boquillas, Mexico, and some of the best star-gazing conditions in the world.

While Big Bend’s high season is in winter—from October to April—this park is remote and doesn’t see a huge number of visitors, so you’ll still find plenty of solitude.

Rio Grande in Big Basin National Park

Biscayne, Everglades & Dry Tortugas National Parks

There’s a reason so many people flock to Florida during the winter months: it’s hard to beat the state’s temperatures. We visited Florida’s three national parks—Everglades, Dry Tortugas, and Biscayne—in December and they became some of our favorites. I’m sure we wouldn’t have had nearly as good an experience in summer. Humidity, heat and mosquitoes are NOT our friends.

But in winter, you can swim, camp on remote islands, paddle with manatees, observe alligators and enjoy the beautiful bird life of Florida without being constantly soaked with sweat. So much winning!

Check out our guide to visiting Dry Tortugas National Park here.

A wading bird in Everglades National Park

Saguaro National Park

Another desert park that feels just right during the winter months? Saguaro! It’s a small park, but there are still plenty of trails, camping and wildlife opportunities to fill out a visit.

And there are even more stunners in the area, from the Sonora Desert Museum to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. If we return to full-time travel, this is one area we’d love to stick around for the whole winter season.

sunset in Saguaro National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yes, it’s frightfully cold during winter and most roads are snowed in. But Yellowstone is absolutely magical in its off-season. With steaming geyser basins, snowy vistas, woolly wildlife and few visitors, you can get a totally different sense of this iconic park during winter.

The only road that remains open year-round is from Mammoth Hot Springs to the northeast entrance. But you can still access most of the rest of the park via snowmobile or snowcoach. Stay at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Mammoth Hotel or Canyon Yurt Camp. Or just take a day trip for a taste of Yellowstone as a winter wonderland.

Concessioners offering guided tours or snowmobile rentals abound. Just be sure to dress as warmly as you ever have! Snowmobiling through Yellowstone is absolutely the coldest experience I’ve ever had. But it was also one of the most beautiful.

You can find our full guide to visiting Yellowstone National Park here.

hot springs in Yellowstone National Park

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