Best National Parks in USA to Visit in Winter

Are you ready to embark on a wintertime journey that unveils the natural wonders of America’s national parks? In this article, we will take you through the heart of some of the best national parks to visit across the U.S. during winter. 

When you think of visiting national parks in the winter, you likely think of the warmth of the Southeast and South Central regions of the United States. However, there are some hidden treasures that might have escaped your winter travel plans. These gems, blanketed in a serene covering of snow, present an opportunity to experience the winter season in a whole new way. 

From the snow-capped giants of California to the rugged terrains of Utah and even the lovely coasts of the East, you’ll discover a world transformed by the magic of winter. In this journey, we’ll delve into the splendor of parks like Sequoia, Utah’s national treasures, an East Coast gem, and a few unexpected treasures that shine brightly when covered in snow. Contrary to popular opinion, the winter months can be a great time to visit the parks. 

So, let’s bundle up and venture into a winter wonderland that’s waiting to be explored! Also, I’ll also share my favorite park to visit in winter and why.

Best National Parks in Utah during Winter

When it comes to exploring Utah’s National Parks during the winter, you’re in for a treat that’s truly unmatched. 

Arches National Park in Winter

Delicate Arch rests majestically amongst the snow-covered rocky desert at arches national park n winter
The iconic Delicate Arch rests majestically amongst the snow-covered rocky desert.

This park’s iconic rock formations feature a magnificent snowy cloak in winter, creating a landscape that seems almost otherworldly. As you venture through the trails, the distinction between the red rocks and the white snow is nothing short of breathtaking.

What sets the winter experience apart here are its hiking and photography opportunities. The cooler temperatures make for comfortable hiking conditions, allowing you to explore the park’s wonders without the summer sun’s heat. The crisp winter air sharpens your senses as you navigate the trails, revealing a unique perspective of the park’s famous arches and geological structures.

Photographers will find the winter scenery particularly appealing. The contrast between the icy landscapes and the rich red rock configurations presents a visual spectacle tailor-made for capturing stunning shots. Whether you’re a professional or an amateur with a smartphone, Arches National Park in winter turns every snapshot into a masterpiece.

Bryce Canyon National Park in Winter

Hoodoos draped in snow during winter in Bryce Canyon National Park
Hoodoos draped in snow during winter in Bryce Canyon National Park.

A winter visit to Bryce Canyon National Park lets you uncover a world of unique advantages. The park transforms into a winter paradise with snow-covered hoodoos and striking red rock formations. Just as with Arches NP, the contrast between the pure white snow and the deep red rocks creates a visual spectacle that’s simply mesmerizing.

But that’s not all – the winter trails offer you a chance to experience the park in a totally different light. With the snow on the ground, the park’s hiking trails become a playground for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Imagine gliding along the trails, surrounded by the beauty of nature in its laid-back winter attire. The peacefulness of the landscape, combined with the crunch of snow under your feet, makes for an unforgettable outdoor adventure.

Zion National Park in Winter

Zion National Park during the winter
The Zion National Park during the winter

Zion National Park takes on a tranquil charm during the colder months, offering you a winter landscape that’s unlike any other time of the year. One of the best perks of a winter visit is fewer crowds. With many travelers opting for warmer destinations, you’ll find that Zion National Park is pleasantly quieter during this time. This means you can surround yourself with the park’s natural beauty without the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest parks in the warmer months.

Also worth considering are the hiking opportunities at the park’s lower elevations. The milder climate in these areas means you can explore the trails without facing the extreme cold of higher altitudes. So, whether you’re an avid hiker or just looking to enjoy a leisurely walk, Zion’s lower-elevation trails offer a chance to take in beautiful landscapes. 

Best National Parks in California During Winter

When it comes to experiencing California’s natural beauty in a new light, the winter months open up an exciting opportunity. In Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks, you’ll find yourself in a world of wonders that are uniquely uncovered during this season. The iconic landscapes of these parks take on a whole new feel, offering you a chance to explore and appreciate their beauty in ways you might not have imagined. 

Sequoia National Park in Winter

Sequoia National Park in winter with giant sequoia trees
Sequoia National Park transforms into a mesmerizing landscape in winter, much like something out of a fairytale.

Winter in Sequoia National Park transforms it into a snowy wonderland, where the majestic Giant Sequoia trees stand in a glistening coating of snow. Seeing these towering trees amidst the winter landscape is nothing short of awe-inspiring. 

There are also a variety of winter activities for you to enjoy here. Some of these include:

  1. Snowshoeing: Explore the park’s trails on snowshoes, allowing you to venture into areas covered in snow that might not be accessible during other seasons. Guided snowshoe walks are often offered to provide insights into the park’s natural features.
  2. Cross-Country Skiing: Coast through the snowy landscape on cross-country skis, taking in the beauty of the Giant Sequoias and the surrounding wilderness.
  3. Sledding: Many designated areas within the park are perfect for sledding, offering a fun and family-friendly way to enjoy the snow-covered slopes.
  4. Winter Hiking: While some higher elevation trails might be inaccessible due to snow, lower elevation trails remain open for winter hiking. These trails provide a unique perspective on the park’s landscapes in their winter attire.
  5. Snowplay: Build snowmen, have snowball fights, and engage in other snow-related activities in designated snowplay areas.
  6. Photography: The park’s stunning landscapes, covered in snow, offer excellent opportunities for photography. Capture the beauty of Giant Sequoias against the winter background or the intricate details of ice formations.
  7. Wildlife Watching: While some animals hibernate, others are more active during the winter months. Watch for mule deer, squirrels, and other wildlife that might be easier to spot against the snowy backdrop.
  8. Ranger Programs: Join guided ranger programs that offer insights into the park’s natural and cultural history, providing a deeper understanding of the winter ecosystem.
  9. Stargazing: Clear winter nights provide an ideal opportunity for stargazing. The park’s remote location away from city lights makes it a great spot for observing the night sky.

Yosemite National Park in the Winter

yosemite national park in winter
Snowman in Yosemite National Park

When it comes to exploring Yosemite National Park in the winter, you’re in for a treat that’s one-of-a-kind. The park transforms into a snowy paradise, where the towering Giant Sequoia trees wear a delicate snow cover that’s truly impressive. 

During the winter months, there are a variety of activities to enjoy throughout its icy landscapes. Here are 10 top things to do in Yosemite NP:

  1. Snowshoeing: Explore the park’s trails on snowshoes, allowing you to venture into snow-covered areas and experience the serene winter ambiance.
  2. Skiing and Snowboarding: The Badger Pass Ski Area offers downhill skiing and snowboarding opportunities, with trails suitable for various skill levels.
  3. Cross-Country Skiing: Glide through the snowy landscapes on cross-country skis, taking in the phenomenal winter scenery.
  4. Snow Play Areas: Designated areas within the park are perfect for sledding, snowball fights, and building snowmen, offering family-friendly fun.
  5. Winter Hiking: Some lower-elevation trails remain accessible during winter, providing opportunities for peaceful winter hikes through the snowy beauty.
  6. Ice Skating: Enjoy ice skating at the Curry Village Ice Rink, surrounded by stunning views of the park’s landmarks.
  7. Photography: Capture the snow-draped landscapes, icy waterfalls, and winter wildlife with your camera.
  8. Ranger Programs: Join guided ranger programs to learn about the park’s natural history and winter ecology.
  9. Stargazing: Clear winter nights provide an opportunity for stargazing in Yosemite’s dark skies.
  10. Indoor Activities: If you prefer indoor activities, you can explore the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, Ansel Adams Gallery, and the Yosemite Museum.

Yellowstone National Park in the Winter

Yellowstone's Upper Falls rushes amongst the frigid winter landscape
Yellowstone’s Upper Falls rushes amongst the frigid landscape.

Ok, this one is my favorite park in winter! Why? Yellowstone National Park offers an incredible experience in the winter that’s hard to match. The geothermal wonders take on a new level of awe against the winter scenery. The steaming geysers and bubbling hot springs surrounded by a pristine blanket of snow are surreal. It’s a genuinely mesmerizing scene.

Keep in mind that in winter, Yellowstone’s weather gets quite chilly. Daytime temperatures range from 0 to 20°F, while nights can drop to -20 to 0°F. Snow is abundant, with the park getting around 150 inches throughout the season. It’s cold, but if you bundle up well, you can enjoy the unique beauty of the snowy landscapes and the geothermal wonders that make the park special. 

Pro tip: These conditions usually keep visitors away, but they miss out on one of the most unique opportunities to see the park in its most pristine setting, along with seeing wildlife from a different perspective.

Snowcoach & Snowmobile Tours in Yellowstone

When it comes to exploring Yellowstone in winter, snowcoach and snowmobile tours are your ticket to discovery. They’re actually the only way to journey through the park during these months when it’s closed to cars. The snow coach tours let you ride in comfortable vehicles to take in the stunning winter scenery and visit iconic spots. These tours are led by knowledgeable guides who share insights about the park’s wonders.

If you’re up for even more adventure, snowmobile tours offer an exciting way to explore the park. You can ride snowmobiles through the snowy landscapes, guided by experts who show you the best spots and share interesting info about the park. It’s a thrilling way to experience the beauty of Yellowstone in the frosty season.

Yellowstone Wildlife to See in Winter

grizzly bear in yellowstone national park
A Yellowstone grizzly bear. NPS/Neal Herbert

When you explore Yellowstone in winter, you’ll spot wildlife in a whole new light. The cold season brings animals like bison and elk down to lower elevations, making them easier to see against the snowy landscape. Wolves become more visible, too, as their dark coats stand out. You might also catch glimpses of bald eagles perched out near rivers. Watching these animals against the winter scenery is a unique experience, unlike the busier summer months when they might be higher up.

Here are the wildlife you can expect to see during the winter and where to have the best chances of spotting them (Note: because bear hibernate during winter, you’re not likely to see them):

  1. Bison: These iconic creatures are often seen in the lower elevations, searching for food in the snow.
  2. Elk: Like bison, elk also move to lower elevations during winter, making them more visible against the snowy landscapes.
  3. Wolves: Wolves become more visible in winter due to their dark coats standing out against the snow. If you’re lucky, you might glimpse these elusive predators.
  4. Coyotes: These opportunistic animals can be spotted searching for food in snow-covered areas.
  5. Bighorn Sheep: You might find bighorn sheep on rocky slopes, adapting to the cold weather.
  6. Bald Eagles: Look near rivers for bald eagles, as they might be perched or flying over the water.
  7. River Otters: These playful creatures might be seen in or near open water, swimming and hunting for food.
  8. Red Foxes: Red foxes stand out against the snow and can be seen exploring the winter terrain.
  9. Pronghorn: These unique animals are well adapted to winter conditions and can be spotted in various parts of the park.
  10. Mule Deer: Mule deer are often found in the park’s valleys and meadows, foraging for food.

Best National Parks on the East Coast in Winter 

When exploring the beauty of the East Coast during winter, two national parks stand out: Acadia National Park and Shenandoah National Park. These parks offer a unique beauty that comes alive amongst the winter landscapes. So, let’s take a look at why these are great parks to visit in winter.

Acadia National Park in the Winter

Winter in Acadia National Park
Winter in Acadia National Park.

The coastal beauty in Acadia takes on a serene ambiance during this season, creating a truly unique background.

You’ll also discover a range of fun activities to make the most of the season. So, get ready to lace up your snowshoes and traverse the snowy trails, taking in the astounding beauty of the landscape. Cross-country skiing on the park’s trails lets you glide through the winter scenery. Additionally, the park’s frozen lakes offer opportunities for ice skating.

Some animals you might spot include white-tailed deer, red foxes, snowshoe hares, and various bird species like chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. Additionally, the park’s coastline provides a chance to observe winter waterfowl such as eiders and scoters.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

A frosty sunrise in Shenandoah National Park
A frosty sunrise in Shenandoah National Park as the golden light illuminates the ice-covered forests at the higher elevations of the park.

The scenic Blue Ridge Mountains transform into a winter haven, with their peaks and valleys blanketed in a soft layer of snow. The beauty of this snowy landscape creates a picture-perfect backdrop that’s hard to resist.

Winter hiking in Shenandoah offers a unique experience as the trails take on a quaint charm during the cold season. The forest trails, covered in snow, provide a peaceful escape where you can connect with nature in a whole new way. And don’t forget your camera. The winter scenery offers endless photography opportunities, capturing the magic of the snowy landscapes and the rugged mountains against the clear winter skies.

Denali National Park Northern Lights

The peaceful winter landscapes and untouched wilderness create a truly captivating and tranquil atmosphere. Amidst the quiet beauty of the season, you might even be lucky enough to witness the mesmerizing Northern Lights illuminating the remote skies.

Denali offers the chance to experience winter camping and backcountry exploration if you’re seeking adventure. It’s a unique opportunity to connect with nature more deeply, surrounded by the pristine wilderness.

snow-capped peak of Denali during the winter
The snow-capped peak of Denali during the winter.

If wildlife and sightseeing are on your list, bus tours are available for wildlife watching and soaking in the park’s stunning vistas. These tours let you observe animals like moose, wolves, and more in their natural habitats while enjoying the fabulous scenery.

Final Thoughts

These national parks offer a fantastic winter experience just waiting for you. Each park has its own unique features, from the snowy landscapes of Acadia and Shenandoah to the geothermal wonders of Yellowstone and the majestic redwoods of California. Whether you’re into snowshoeing, viewing wildlife, or simply soaking in the peaceful beauty, these parks have something unique to offer during the colder months. So, bundle up and get ready to explore some of the best national parks in the USA to visit in the winter. It’s a journey you won’t want to miss!

National Parks List, Map, and Complete Guide (All 63 Parks + Downloadable List & Map)

Want a FREE complete list and recap of all our US National Parks as well as downloadable maps and other great resources? Check out our US National Parks List and Map guide!

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Visit our complete National Parks Guide for FREE Downloadable National Parks List & Map (multiple versions)

FAQs

Is it good to visit national parks in winter?

Yes. Visiting national parks in winter can offer unique experiences, such as undisturbed landscapes, fewer crowds, and opportunities for winter activities.

Which national parks are open in winter?

Many national parks remain open in winter, with varying degrees of accessibility and available activities. Some parks, like Yellowstone and Yosemite, offer winter-specific activities.

Are any national parks warm in the winter?

Some national parks in warmer regions, such as Everglades and Big Bend, offer milder temperatures in the winter compared to other parts of the country.

What national parks close in the winter?

Certain parks in northern and high-elevation areas, like Rocky Mountain and Glacier, might have limited accessibility or closures during the winter due to snow and safety concerns.

Is Arches National Park open during the winter?

Yes, Arches National Park is open year-round, including the winter months.

Is Arches National Park good in winter?

Yes. Arches National Park can be enjoyable in winter, with cooler temperatures making outdoor activities more pleasant.

What is Moab like in the winter?

Moab in winter offers cooler temperatures and fewer crowds, making it a more peaceful time to visit the area and nearby parks.

How busy is Arches National Park in December?

Arches National Park tends to be less crowded in December compared to peak tourist seasons.

Is December a good time to visit Arches National Park?

Yes, December can be an excellent time to visit Arches National Park, as the weather is cooler and the park is less crowded.

Can you go to Zion National Park in the winter?

Yes. You can visit Zion National Park in winter. However, some higher-elevation areas might have limited accessibility due to snow.

Is Zion too cold in December?

Zion can be chilly in December, especially in higher elevations, so be prepared for cold temperatures.

Do you need snow chains for Zion in winter?

Snow chains might be necessary for certain roads in Zion National Park during winter if snow accumulates.

How many days should you spend in Zion National Park in winter?

Spending 2-3 days here during winter allows you to explore its main attractions and enjoy winter activities.

Is Sequoia National Park open in winter?

Yes, Sequoia National Park remains open in winter, but certain roads and facilities might be closed due to snow.

Is it worth visiting Sequoia National Park in winter?

Yes! Visiting Sequoia National Park in winter lets you see giant sequoias covered in snow and enjoy a quieter experience.

Is it safe to drive to Sequoia National Park in the winter?

Driving to Sequoia National Park in winter can be safe. Still, road conditions can change, so be prepared for winter driving and check road conditions beforehand.

Is Yosemite worth visiting in winter?

Yes. Yosemite National Park offers unique winter landscapes, frozen waterfalls, and the possibility of snow activities.

Is it too cold to visit Yosemite in December?

Yosemite can be cold in December, especially at higher elevations, so dressing warm is essential.

Are waterfalls frozen in Yosemite in winter?

Yes. Some of Yosemite’s waterfalls freeze or have icy formations in winter, creating a stunning sight.

Is it worth going to Yellowstone in winter?

Yes. Visiting Yellowstone National Park in winter offers a unique chance to see geothermal features against snowy landscapes and view wildlife in a different setting.

Is Yellowstone National Park open in winter?

Yes. Parts of Yellowstone National Park are open in winter, with opportunities for snow activities and wildlife viewing.

Is it too cold to visit Yellowstone in December?

Yellowstone can be very cold in December, especially at higher elevations, so be prepared for cold temperatures.

Is Acadia worth visiting in winter?

Yes. Acadia National Park is worth visiting in winter for its coastal beauty, serene landscapes, and winter activities.

Can you drive through Acadia National Park in the winter?

Some roads in Acadia National Park might be closed in winter due to snow, so driving might be limited.

Can you hike Cadillac Mountain in winter?

Hiking Cadillac Mountain in winter can be challenging due to snow and ice, so be prepared with proper gear and knowledge.

Does Shenandoah National Park close in winter?

Shenandoah National Park remains open in winter, but some portions of Skyline Drive might be closed due to weather conditions.

What is the best time of year to visit Shenandoah National Park?

Due to milder weather and colorful foliage, spring and fall are popular times to visit Shenandoah National Park.

Does Shenandoah National Park get snow?

Yes. Shenandoah National Park can receive snow in the winter, creating a picturesque winter landscape.

About Me

My husband and I have three precious daughters and live in the Kansas City, KS area. One of our favorite things to do is travel across the country visiting our extraordinary US National Parks!

Let us know what you think about our content and if you have any questions, suggestions, or have any favorite memories or tips you would like to share. We would love to hear from you!

Happy Travels! Sandy

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