Get Out There

The Best National Parks to Enjoy in the Winter

Many of us think of this time of year as being solely for getting cozy by the fire. But now is a great time to get out into the national parks and see beautiful winter sights. Some parks are even better now than they are in the summer months!

Some parks are gorgeous when they are just bursting into bloom in the spring, others are suited for summer camping, and some offer exquisite fall foliage. Others are perfect in winter.

Sometimes it’s not about seeming “wintery.” For instance, Joshua Tree in California is punishingly hot in summer. Most people don’t even try to hike Joshua Tree’s beautiful loop trails when it’s over 100 degrees! In winter, the days are milder, and you can enjoy a pleasant — still warm — day. You can also experience extraordinary stargazing, but it does get below freezing when the sunsets. Everglades is another park that’s best enjoyed in winter for great weather! In the summer, the humidity is oppressive, and the mosquitoes are just too much! In the winter, the mosquitoes vanish, and the thermometer stays in the 50s-70s! We’ll take it. But so will many other tourists: winter is the park’s busy season. Death Valley is another spot to hit during winter. It’s known for its deadly temperature and barren but beautiful landscapes. If you visit in winter, you’ll see snow on the mountains around it, and it’s cool enough that you can actually walk out onto the salt flats!

For beautiful winter scenery, Yellowstone is hard to beat. A bonus is that the crowd is much smaller in winter! You’re more likely to get a great view of Old Faithful with fewer people gathered around it, and it will be surrounded by gorgeous steam in the cold air! You’ll also see bison, wolves, moose, red foxes and eagles in a snowy wonderland. We personally think bison were meant to be seen in the snow! There are snowcoach tours you can book and afternoon snacks served in Old Faithful Snow Lodge’s lobby every afternoon to help visitors warm up!

If you are looking for rock formations dusted with snow, head to the Grand Canyon or Bryce Canyon. While they are both popular year-round, the crowds should be smaller, and the view is different than you’re used to! You can see animals like mule deer and elk if you go hiking in the Grand Canyon in the winter. But we would only suggest that for experienced hikers — the paths will be snowy and harder to pass! Bryce Canyon offers ranger-led options like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing hikes. Be sure to research it before you go to know if you need to book anything or make special plans to participate!

Finally, head to Glacier National Park if you are a kid at heart and want to feel like you might see Santa Claus. You don’t have to go to Iceland or Alaska to see the northern lights. It’s visible for certain places in the park during winter. It’s a designated dark sky park. That means there aren’t many light sources allowed, and the sky is clear at night without light pollution. Even if you don’t see the northern lights, you will be treated to gorgeous winter stars!

These are our top picks. Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you should avoid the national parks. This might be the quietest they’ll be all year for some of them. Others will be busy as folks know the weather is perfect. But, regardless of where you choose to go, there are beautiful sights to be seen!  

Banner image: The Grand Canyon in the snow. Image: Saad Chaudhry via Unsplash

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