National parks in the winter can be a great way to experience “America’s best idea”. In 2017, over 330 million visitors toured the parks. This was just slightly under 2016’s record-breaking number of 331 million recreational visits.
Unfortunately, with so many visitors it can make getting in touch with mother nature a real challenge. One way to avoid the crowds and to get a whole new perspective on these national treasures is to visit the national parks in the off-seasons. Here are some national parks that are great to explore during the winter.
Big Bend National Park
Splendid isolation may be the best way to describe Big Bend National Park. Winter is the perfect time to explore it. Temperatures are cool at the lower elevation desert areas. (Although it may get cold at the middle-to-higher elevations.)
Enjoy the many hiking options, the variety of landscapes and the huge number of activities the park has to offer:
- spectacular stargazing in the dark skies
- breathtaking canyons carved in the ancient limestone by gently flowing rivers
- bird watching the hundreds of bird species take winter in the mountains
- cactus blooming in southwestern sun
The diversity of species is among the best in the country – making Big Bend National Park a magical place.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is one of the hottest places on the planet in the summer. So winter is a great time to visit. During cooler months you’ll experience occasional rainstorms. The mountain is snow-capped. The stargazing at Death Valley is legendary. (The park hosts several astronomical events during the cold months.) Death Valley’s Badwater Basin is the point of the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet (86 m) below sea level.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas consists of seven islands located about 70 miles off the west coast of Florida. It’s accessible only via seaplane or ferry. Crystal clear waters and coral reefs attract diving and snorkeling enthusiasts. History buffs can take guided tours of Fort Jefferson, built to protect several important deep-water ports (including New Orleans). It’s the largest brick masonry structure in the Americas.
Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park is busiest in the winter months. That’s the dry season when you’ll also find sunny skies, 70-degree days, more wildlife and less mosquitoes.
Visit the west side (the Gulf Coast side) of the Everglades to enjoy a canoe trip through some of the most impressive coastal mangroves anywhere and to see impressive sawgrass marshes and pine flatwoods. There’s the world-renowned variety of migrating birds and even manatees in the park. Plus this is the only place on the planet where alligators and crocodiles coexist.
Grand Canyon National Park
Okay, it gets cold at the Grand Canyon during the winter months. But the park is so beautiful and awe-inspiring it’s worth a trip any time of year. The north rim is closed during the winter, but the south rim is open year-round. And the crowds are much smaller in the cool weather, especially if you’re not planning to trek down the canyon walls.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. Winter visitors should be aware that major roads are usually clear. However, secondary ones may be closed. Visitors experience the renowned diversity of plant and animal life while trekking the Appalachian Trail. Bears will be in hibernation, but you are more likely to catch a glimpse of a large variety of wildlife.) This is America’s most visited national park.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park you can be at sea level and enjoy the islands’ tropical weather or experience snow the 13,600 feet summit of Mauna Loa. Experience scenic drives, camping, and over 150 miles of hiking trails. But the real attraction is two of the world’s most active volcanoes belching out molten lava. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of the most impressive sights in this beautiful corner of the world.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is where America’s National Park System began with the protection of this park in March 1872. It remains popular with visitors year-round. The geysers, hot springs, mud pots appear even more colorful and dramatic in the cold winter air, Explore the mountains, forests, and lakes while you observe the wide range of wildlife, including bison, elk, moose, and wolves. For those who can brave the cold Yellowstone has tours by snow-coach, skis, and snowshoes.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is considered one of the most majestic places in the country. While most visitors come to stroll around the valley or hike the many challenging arduous trails in the summer, during winter it becomes a snow-covered winter wonderland. Snowy peaks and icy waterfalls make Yosemite look like a whole new park. Visitors can take part in snow sports ranging from downhill and cross-country skiing to tubing, sledding and ice skating.
Zion National Park
Similar to its nearby neighbors Arches and Bryce National Parks, Zion’s red rock canyons, and massive sandstone cliffs look amazing when covered in white. Winters are relatively warm, reaching 50-60°F during the day. It rains more in the winter (nearly half of Zion’s annual precipitation falls between December and March) and some Zion’s hiking trails are closed due to snow and ice, but the experience of the wilderness in a narrow slot canyon and the dramatic view make this a worthwhile winter trip.