10 National Parks You Can Enjoy In Winter Tranquility
Winter is a great time to pursue an adventure to our majestic national parks and monuments. Not only does the cold season bring out a glistening beauty all its own, but parks see their fewest visitors of the year so you and your family can experience wildness and solitude without crowds of admirers.
National Parks are well-equipped to welcome travelers in the winter-months. Added bonuses are the discounted admission to the parks and bargain pricing that is often available at campgrounds or accommodations in the off-season.
Each park on the NPS.gov website features thorough information and attractions for planning your winter trip, as well as current road conditions and visitor center hours. The site has an interactive map for exploring National Parks near you and suggestions for activities in the frosty months.
Ready to beat the winter blahs with a surprising adventure in an unusual season? Check out these parks in your region and light up the dark months with an invigorating road trip.
• Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
This 14,409-foot volcano near Seattle offers great winter adventure: rugged ice-climbing and trekking as well as family fun on snowshoes, sleds, toboggans, skis and snowboards. Day-trip drives at lower elevations deliver stunning views of the majestic mountain from the warmth of your car.
• Redwoods National Park, Northern California
Take a back road trip through this park, bisected by busy Interstate 101, and slow down on the winding Redwood Highway through some of the tallest, most beautiful trees in the world.
The soothing and serene quiet of the lush groves, the filtered light and water sparkling down from far above are enchanting. Even in rain, the park has hiking trails and easy-access groves with sheltered picnic areas for walks at any energy level.
Many accessible trails are provided and self or staff-guided tours are featured at the visitors center. Camping in the park is more available in winter; the public highway along the Eel River meanders through small hamlets with many restaurants or accommodations to choose from.
• Pinnacles National Park, Central California
A few hours away from the San Francisco Bay Area and close to Monterey Bay, this little visited site is a stunning geologic gem. Memorable trails wander through the other-worldly, towering volcanic rock pillars and caves.
The park actively helps preserve the giant California Condor and is a favorite destination of bird and wildlife enthusiasts. Vivid colors and dark tunnels are a feature of shorter, family-friendly trails to more strenuous hikes. Camping is available year round in the park; excellent hotels and restaurants are within easy distance.
• Death Valley, eastern California and Nevada
Known for its sublime desert views, paintboxes of vivid geologic colors, and high summer heat–winter here has no trace of scorching temperatures.
Explore sparkling, snow-dusted dunes towering over many walking trails. Famed among off-roaders, the park has routes accessible in the bracing cold of winter.
For stargazers, sundown offers an entirely new experience for visitors. There is no closing time at Death Valley; hiking trails are open and stargazing is a popular pastime. From the park, you can follow Highway 190 west from the lowest point in the US to a view of Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48 states.
CENTRAL & SOUTH
• Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Close to the more popular Arches National Park near Moab, this park contrasts deep chasms with the surrounding high mesas of the Colorado River. It offers a seemingly endless vistas of towers, monuments, and pillars against the immense backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.
Dusted with snow like a many-layered cake, the canyons seem steeper, and the distances larger in winter. Canyonlands has the smooth red rocks and arches that its neighbor is known for, but far fewer visitors.
The park has four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers. There are hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails for every level of stamina. The Visitor Center at Island in the Sky is open seven days a week, and it provides touring routes for day trips or long distances.
• Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Hoodoos–thin columns of rock–are common in this park. Their irregular racks and ridges on striated colored cliffs produce dramatic winter visuals.
Bryce Canyon is home to the most hoodoos on earth. They are stunning in winter with a seemingly endless range of snow-dusted pinnacles, The snowy blanket is punctuated by flocks of evergreen trees bifurcated by deep slot-canyons.
The Bryce Amphitheater remains accessible year-round, though some trails and nearby roads close seasonally. The website for the park has suggestions for typical winter visits of 1-3 hours. Routes are clearly laid out. Every generation can enjoy groomed trails for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and winter hiking.
• Big Bend National Park, Texas
Many people think of Texas as vast, rolling plains and are unaware of the spectacular mountain scenery of the Chisos range in this park.
Wide-open spaces meet impressive steep river canyons, pillars of tower-like mountains and lovely blooms of frost-encrusted trees climbing the mesas for a wonderland in winter. Peregrine Falcons soar in the sky, antelope herds cluster in the valleys and hot springs steam naturally from the ground.
Gone are the summer whitewater rafters and climbers. Winter offers a rich wilderness experience with stunning vistas.
• Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Experience the northern lights and stargaze amid stunning lakes, shores and islands crusted over in natural ice sculptures.
Viewing the Aurora Borealis is a popular winter activity in this little-visited park, sheltered from Lake Superior. For the cold season, the site lists resources of private snowmobile tours, winter sports gear suppliers and guides for day trekking.
If you wish to get away from the scenic roadways to enjoy this astoundingly beautiful park, trails abound for novice to expert hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The website has guides for viewing the northern lights, specific trail updates and featured seasonal activities.
• Ozark National Scenic Riverway, Missouri
This park is that beauty and history preserved for the public.
Miles of trails, roadways and rivers feature the unique cultural, historical and natural resources of the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers. The park contains historic frontier communities, water-mills, first nation sites and abundant learning resources that showcase this jewel in the Ozark Mountains.
The park contains a myriad of natural springs, welling up from geological deposits among the oldest rocks in the United States. There is plenty for families to do and see.
• Acadia National Park, Maine
The site’s rugged scenery and accessibility make it among the most visited parks in the nation in summer, yet almost deserted in the winter months.
The park shelters the highest rocky headlands on the Atlantic, and is the historic home of immigrants as far-flung as Louisiana’s Cajuns and first-nation Wabanaki peoples. Explore remnants of historic communities, lighthouses, amazing coast drives and rocky islands crowned with dense caps of trees.
Watch for abundant wildlife and seabirds while observing fishing activity off the Atlantic coast. Trails are groomed for every activity level in the cold months. Camping is available in the park; nearby communities furnish accommodations and dining.
Check conditions if you plan to drive the towering Mount Desert Skyway and meander over scenic routes through the preserve.
• New River Gorge, West Virginia
Be refreshed with plunging views into the forests and steep river canyons. The park contains historic railroads routes, mining sites, pioneer mountain communities and a gorge-spanning iron bridge that was the engineering wonder of its time.
Far vistas give visitors a sense of the primeval forest and unexplored continent that confronted the First Nation peoples and European pioneers. Explore the popular one-mile loop of the Castle Rock Trail with its towering cliffs and exposed coal seams. The breathtaking Grandview Rim route and Turkey Bend Overlook are sometimes closed in freezing conditions.
Historic sites let visitors imagine living in mining and timber towns alongside log cabin pioneers or John Henry, the legendary African-American known as “the steel-driving man.” The park is chock-full of activities, history, learning and fun for everyone.