October through April bring about a downturn in available outdoor activities, but some national parks embrace the colder months and promote activities that showcase their scenic views with a wintery twist. We’ve compiled a list of the most beautiful national parks to visit during the winter months.
Bryce Canyon, Utah
A less crowded off-season gives you the opportunity to better enjoy the deep snow and plateaus of Bryce Canyon that are perfect for cross-country skiing or snowshoe hikes. The winter canyon is stunning with white pillows of snow contrasting with the crimson rock, one of the many reasons to try Bryce Canyon in the winter. Bryce in the winter allows you to experience the beautiful snow that Utah has to offer while also experiencing the beauty of a famous national park. Winter is also the only time to enjoy the Winter Festival as well as Saturday astronomy lessons and nighttime snowshoeing tours.
Death Valley, California
Death Valley National Park is a winter adventurer’s dream. Outdoor activities that are nearly impossible in the summer’s 130-degree weather are accessible and scenic during the winter months. Unlike some other national parks, you can comfortably enjoy Death Valley in the winter with just a light jacket on—you might even want to pack some sunscreen. Winter activities include Full Moon Festivals and Star Parties that are held to showcase the park’s beautiful stargazing. The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are when it’s least crowded, but all winter visitors should plan on making reservations to see the vast peaks dusted with snow sitting just above the sand dunes.
Big Bend, Texas
Big Bend National Park is home to great year-round outdoor activities. The Rio Grande River hosts 100 miles of shoreline in the park, which is perfect for canoeing or river floating, even during the colder months. Other activities include horseback riding, scenic drives and over 200 miles of hikes that are great for the 50-60 degree temperatures. Besides the activities, what really makes Big Bend a treasure is the panoramic horizon views and sky-high mountain peaks—views that make this national park a real winter treat. Big Bend National Park is a must-do during winter because it is a nice contrast for people traveling from snow-covered states, but layers are still recommended during the winter because of cold snaps and fluctuating temperatures.
Because Yosemite’s winters can get severe, there aren’t many options for lodging or travel during the mid-winter months. However, there are great hiking trails available as well as ice skating, year-round fishing, snowshoeing, skiing, and sleigh rides throughout the snow covered park—not to mention perfect lighting and beautiful snowy backdrops for pictures. The Glacier Point/Badger Pass Roads are plowed so skiers and snowboarders can get to Badger Pass ski slopes available only when snow covers the peaks. Yosemite is so beautiful each season that you should really see it twice—once in the full bloom summer and again in the icy winter.
Joshua Tree, California
Joshua Tree National Park is great to visit year-round, but winter is the best time to beat the crowds and get a killer campsite. A winter visit will also ensure you miss the sweltering heat that plagues the park during other seasons. Their winter season, November through March, hosts great stargazing nights, beautiful desert scenery, and amicable temperatures. Activities include miles of hikes, scenic drives, and mountain climbing. If you’re itching for a climbing trip during the cold winter, Joshua Tree is a must-go location to scale rocks without worrying about snow covered boulders.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most famous tourist sites in the United States. A winter visit can satiate everyone’s desire to see parts of the 1,902 square mile canyon. Wintertime is a quieter time to enjoy the scenic drive of Bright Angel Trail, and even with the cooler months and snow, bring your binoculars to catch glimpses of eagles flying above the canyon rims and mule deer running through the snow. The summer provides breathtaking views, but visiting the Grand Canyon in the winter is just as impressive.
Crater Lake, Oregon
Crater Lake National Park is a great winter getaway for weekend adventurers. With nearly 44 feet of snow during the winter months, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities begin as early as mid-October, and the park’s rangers lead weekend hikes during the winter (for free) that you can’t experience during any other month.
Yellowstone, Wyoming and Montana
Also one of the most famous and visited parks, Yellowstone National Park is stunning during the winter months. Most passages are available only via snowshoe, cross-country ski, or snowmobile, so if you’re into snow sports then this is a plus for you. Try a scenic snowmobile tour or snow coach tour to take in the winter wonderland scenery with all the winter wildlife. Twelve and a half feet of snow consistently covers the park, making the geysers, hot springs, and mineral pools part of your “over-snow” activities. Yellowstone in winter is an incredible experience for wildlife, snow-filled activities, and frost-tipped scenery that can’t be found any other time of year.
If you’re not ready to plan your winter retreat, download our ultimate guide to Utah’s best hikes to help you get in the mood for spring.
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