12 Epic National Parks to Visit in Winter

Yearning for a wintery escape? If you love nature and everything outdoors-related, you don’t have to wait until the weather gets warmer to visit some of the most epic national parks in the United States!

Here’s a little secret: Winter just happens to be one of the best seasons to visit some of the most sought-after national parks in the country. Not only will you find fewer crowds to share the views with, but winter also brings in unique landscapes and scenery you’re not bound to find any other time of the year.

With that said, we’ve rounded up a list of some of the most epic national parks in the USA to visit during December to February so you can start planning your next winter getaway!

Epic USA National Parks to Visit in Winter

Death Valley National Park

Location: California/Nevada

Despite its somewhat desolate title, Death Valley National Park is actually home to a ton of lively scenery.

Picture massive salt flats lining the horizon, rock formations that look straight out of this world, colorful mountains dotting the roads, and a wide array of historical and desert goodness and you’ve got yourself a pretty good picture of what a visit to this gem of a national park is like.

Because Death Valley National Park is deemed one of the hottest places in the entire world, visiting during the summer months isn’t exactly recommended for a great experience (we’re talking 120+ degree temperatures!).

Winters, though, bring in cooler temperatures ranging from the mid-60s to the low 70s. Combine that with sunny skies and you’ve got yourself a perfect winter escape in one of the most unique landscapes of California, and the USA!

Entrance fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid 7 days

Arches National Park

Location: Utah

A fiery desert landscape may not be the first thing that pops to mind when you picture a winter trip, but the colder months just happen to be one of the best times of the year to pay Arches National Park a visit.

As its name may have clued you in, this beautiful national park in Utah is home to tons of natural archways (over two thousand of them!). Moreover, the park also boasts expansive mesas, otherworldly-looking rock formations that look as though they pierce the sky, and a vibrant red landscape that will make you feel as though you’re walking on Mars.

USA Utah Places to visit - Arches NP

While temperatures do get chilly during the winter, it doesn’t really get cold enough to ruin the day. Moreover, Arches isn’t exactly popular during the winter months, making crowds at some of its most frequented spots almost non-existent (during summer, the crowds are so heavy a timed entry permit system has been introduced

As if that weren’t reason enough to convince you to visit this epic national park during the winter months, the winter skies and dreamy snow-dusted La Sal Mountains in the distance make for truly magical sunrises and sunsets!

Catch Arches National Park on our 7 Day Southwest Road Trip Itinerary

Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid 7 days (+timed entry permit if visiting in summer)

Biscayne National Park

Location: Florida

If you’d rather avoid the cold altogether and are on the lookout for a tropical escape, look no further than Biscayne National Park in Florida.

Set south of Miami, what makes this park so different from the rest is the fact that 95% of it is set under the water. This means you’ll definitely need to get wet in order to get to see everything, which you can do via a snorkeling or scuba diving adventure depending on your preference.

USA East Coast National Parks - Biscayne National Park

Another way to explore for those who prefer not to swim is by booking a glass-bottom boat tour. This may not give you the chance to get super close to the marine life that calls Biscayne its home, but it’s guaranteed to provide some seriously epic encounters nonetheless.

Once you’re done exploring the ocean, make sure you also check out the remaining 5% of the park, which is set on small islands and islets you can hike (or relax) on while stumbling across unique wildlife and views so good you’ll have to pinch yourself to believe they’re real!

Entrance Fee: Free (though note camping and docking frees apply October to April)

Yellowstone National Park

Location: Idaho/Wyoming/Montana

Yellowstone may be a super popular summer destination, but how about seeing its already striking landscape from a completely different perspective?

During the colder months, Yellowstone becomes a winter wonderland of enchanting snow-dusted forests, frozen lakes, and gorgeous geysers that look straight out of this world. Moreover, you’ll also get to have the scenery at one of the most popular national parks in the entire country all to yourself!

USA Winter National Parks - Yellowstone National Park

Come November, getting to Yellowstone National Park does become a bit tougher as most roads are closed to regular traffic. Still, though, with a little planning ahead, you’ll be guaranteed to be in for a winter adventure of a lifetime!

Moreover, Yellowstone is set close by to some of the best ski resorts in the entire state. Jackson Hole is located nearby, which is a perfect place to stay and enjoy world-class winter sports after adventuring at the park!

Entrance Fee: $35 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days

Canyonlands National Park

Location: Utah

Picture enormous sandstone spires that look as though they reach the clouds, extensive red rock canyons, and whacky-looking rock formations lining the scenery and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what visiting Canyonlands National Park is all about.

Canyonland’s high season is during the spring and fall, but winter brings in picture-perfect sunsets, fewer crowds, and excellent hiking trails ready to be explored in order to take in the area’s desert magic.

USA Utah Places to visit - Canyonlands NP

Keep in mind that snow may make a few of the trails at Canyonlands a bit treacherous, so we recommend sticking to the Island in the Sky section of the park during this time. This is the most popular part of Canyonlands where crowds usually gather any other time of the year, making it an excellent choice to visit in order to get some of the most famous highlights of the park all to yourself!

Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days

Bryce Canyon National Park

Location: Utah

Ever wondered what Mars would look like if it got snowed on? If you haven’t, I bet you’re picturing it now and the landscape at Bryce Canyon National Park during the winter months looks as close as you can get to that!

USA Winter National Parks - Bryce Canyon National Park

If you think Bryce Canyon’s striking red rock hoodoos are pure eye candy, imagine what they’d look like blanketed in white snow! As if that weren’t reason enough to visit, Bryce Canyon’s night skies during the winter are amazing as ever thanks to the cold and dry air, making stargazing here a true treat (make sure you bring a blanket along!).

Moreover, Bryce Canyon hosts an annual winter festival, where visitors can partake in photography classes, dancing activities, snowshoeing adventures, and more!

Learn more about visiting Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks in one epic southern Utah road trip.

Entrance Fee: $35 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days

Mount Rainier National Park

Location: Washington

In search of the ultimate winter wonderland? Being a glaciated peak, Mount Rainier sees an average of over 50 feet of snow during the year, making it a prime spot if fun-in-the-snow activities are what you’re after.

USA Winter National Parks - Mount Rainier National Parks

Moreover, a visit to this incredible Washington national park also provides visitors with the opportunity to experience world-class winter sports, including skiing, sledding, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and more!

Whilst some of the state’s most scenic driving routes through the park are closed in winter (as are many of the wilderness centers), it still makes for an excellent day trip from Seattle without some of the prohibitive crowds of summer.

Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid 7 days

Acadia National Park

Location: Maine

Even though Acadia National Park is mostly renowned for its gorgeous fall foliage, visiting during the winter months provides a totally different experience worthy of being on your bucket list.

The contrast of the snow against the coastal views of the Atlantic creates a truly stunning background perfect for all sorts of winter fun. Whilst scenic drives can be off the cards during winter with the Park Loop Road usually closing from December 1 through until spring, winter hiking is a common activity, but make sure you bring the right gear.

USA East Coast National Parks - Acadia National Park

Winter sports are another highlight of winter in Acadia, with 45 miles of carriage roads for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing available. Snowmobiling is another top activity in Acadia, especially those keen to experience the park’s scenic road from a totally different angle.

Moreover, birding in Acadia during the winter is topnotch, when leafless trees open up the forest for easy viewing. Some of the species you may get to see include snowy owls, black-capped chickadees, and Harlequin ducks.

Entrance fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid 7 days

Grand Canyon National Park

Location: Arizona

What could be better than seeing the most famous natural landmark in the United States and one of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World? Seeing it blanketed in layers of snow!

While the lesser-visited North Rim section of the Grand Canyon closes during the winter, the South Rim (which tends to get super crowded any other time of the year) remains open to visitors, giving you the perfect opportunity to explore the canyon without having to share the views with hoards of people.

USA Winter National Parks - Grand C

If you’d rather stay warm, a great way to explore the park is by driving its scenic road to Desert View. Another must-do activity is booking a flight to get a birds-eye view of the canyon, which looks even more beautiful during the winter when it’s covered by snow!

We help you with finding the closest airport to the Grand Canyon here to start your southwest road trip, or follow along with our Utah + Arizona Road Trip Itinerary for Serious Desert Magic

Entrance Fee: $35 per private vehicle, valid 7 days

Saguaro National Park

Location: Arizona

Located less than an hour from Tucson, Arizona, Saguaro National Park still remains a bit of a hidden gem in the national parks system and a perfect go-to during the colder months!

This arid wonderland sits right in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, and its allure comes from the fact that it is home to the country’s largest cacti and saguaros, some of which can grow up to 60 feet tall!

USA Winter National Parks - Saguaro National Park

During your visit, you can explore the park on foot by going on a hike (the Desert Discovery Nature Trail is a great way to learn about the flora in the area), take a scenic drive amidst saguaros (the 8-mile Cactus Forest Loop Drive is a must!), or go in search of ancient petroglyphs.

While snowstorms are not that common, they do happen, so you may get lucky and get to see a scene of cacti coated in white snow! It’s certainly one of the more unique places to visit in Arizona.

Entrance Fee: $25 per private vehicle, valid 7 days

Denali National Park

Location: Alaska

Alaska in winter?! If you don’t mind freezing temperatures, Denali National Park is a true treat during the winter months, even if snowfall actually starts as early as August!

Days are short in Denali during the winter, but that brings in opportunities to get glimpses of the northern lights, all while getting the landscape during the day pretty much all to yourself.

USA Winter National Parks - Denali N

Moreover, if you happen to be visiting in February, you’ll be in for a real treat at the park’s annual Winterfest, where you’ll get to catch snow block sculpting competitions, guided walks, dog-sledding adventures, and so much more!

Note that once snow falls, the roads may frequently close at Mile 3, Park Headquarters. From late February/March ploughing begins and travelers may be able to make it as far as Mile 13, Mountain Vista Rest Area but it is weather dependent.

Entrance Fee: $15 per person (over 15 years) 7 day permit

Note that due to their remote nature, most national parks in Alaska are completely in accessible in winter. Denali is an exception due to its geographic location.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Location: Hawai’i

If you’d much rather see sunshine than snow, a visit to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is guaranteed to please.

Popular with snowbirds, this national park’s high season takes place during the winter, so if you don’t mind the crowds, it makes for a perfect destination to escape the cold.

As you explore the park, you’ll get to see black sandy beaches, rainforests with flora so huge you’ll feel as though you’re in a Jurassic Park setting and get to see two of the world’s most active volcanoes – Kīlauea and Mauna Loa.

USA Winter National Parks - Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hiking is the best way to explore the park, with some trails being so unique you won’t find anything like them anywhere else in the world, including some through lava tubes and up to craters.

Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle

Everglades National Park

Location: Florida

Winters don’t really exist in Everglades. Instead, they’re usually considered the “dry” season which is when exploring is done best!

Home to a whopping 15 million acres of pure wilderness, the park is home to a vast array of ecosystems, including marine, mangroves, swamps, and pinelands, making it a prime destination for wildlife spotting (fun fact: Everglades is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles co-exist!).

USA East Coast National Parks - Everglades National Park

Among the adventures to have during the dry season at Everglades, you’ll find ranger-led hikes crafted in order for visitors to get well-acquainted with the fauna and flora in the park, night treks, independent hiking, snorkeling, scenic driving, and more!

Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle

Driving in wintery conditions? Don’t miss our winter driving tips and advice for a safe family road trip

More Tips Before Setting Off On Your Family Road Trip

  • Heading off earlier in the year? You may also want to catch these US national parks that shine at their best in the fall
  • Got a 4th Grader in the family? Don’t forget you may be eligible for a FREE national parks pass as part of the Every Kid Outdoors campaign
  • Head further east, and you’ll come across even more US treasurers, including the Mighty 5 in Utah, or complete the Grand Circle for one of the most epic US Road Trip experiences

We hope this list of the best national parks to visit during the winter-inspired you to book your next escape. If you’re into quieter experiences out in nature and would much rather get views all to yourself, winter is by far the best season to get out and explore the outdoors!

What are some other amazing national parks that are even better during the winter months?

© Family Road Trip

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