Canyonlands. photo credit: Meg of Fox in the Forest

12 Stunning US National Parks To Visit In The Winter

The US National Parks protect and showcase some of the most beautiful and unique landscapes of the country. They are all great to visit, no matter the season. However, some of them offer a better experience in the winter. This is the case with most of the parks in Arizona and the US Southwest that I frequent often. To find out about some of the others, in different parts of he US, I asked the opinion of other travel bloggers. Several of their choices are parks I visited myself, others are new to me, and inspired me to plan a trip to see them. Preferably in the winter.

The following are a few great US National Parks to visit in the winter, according to several fellow travel bloggers. Their choices are all based on their personal experiences and preferences.

Canyonlands National Park in Utah

Suggested by Meg ofFox in the Forest

Canyonlands National Park. photo credit: Meg of Fox in he Forest
Canyonlands. photo credit: Meg of Fox in the Forest

Imagine sweeping views of expansive red rock canyons, gigantic sandstone spires piercing through the skies, and drool-worthy desert scenery that will make you feel as though you’re walking on Mars.

Canyonlands National Park is located near Moab in eastern Utah and boasts over 333,000 acres of land to explore. This national park is so vast that it’s actually sectioned into three parts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze (one of the most remote parts of the USA).

While it may be too big to explore in one go, winter is the perfect time to visit and get an introduction to the desert magic of Canyonlands without the crowds. For some of the best and easyhikes in Moaband insanely good views, head to the Island in the Sky district. Here you’ll find the iconic Mesa Arch, the White Rim Overlook, and Grand Viewpoint, which don’t require too much effort to get to and offer a big payout.

While it does get chilly, Canyonlands in winter sees barely any crowds. This basically means you’ll get to have some of the most epic viewpoints in the park all to yourself! Plus, there’s something about the crisp winter air that makes sunrises and sunsets at Canyonlands something truly special.

Arches National Park in Utah

Suggested by Christina ofLive A Wilder Life

Arches National Park in the winter
Arches National Park in winter. photo credit: Christina of Live A Wilder Life

On a cross-country road trip across America, we visited Arches National Park in winter. We were blown away by the desolate red beauty of the natural arches coupled with the soft powder white sand. Located in Moab, Utah, Arches is famous for having over 2000 natural arches, the largest concentration of arches in the world.

Because of its staggering beauty, Arches is one of the most visited National Parks in the US. However, crowds drop significantly in the dead of winter, which makes it the perfect time to visit. You can often have sights and entire hiking trails all to yourself.

The great thing about visitingArches in winteris that even when it gets a light dusting of snow, it’s not an overwhelming amount, and it’s rarely enough to close the park or hinder you from seeing the main sights. In the daytime, the weather varies from a brisk 40-60 degrees. I prefer to hike through Arches in the brisk weather season rather than the insufferable 100 degree temperatures the park often experiences from late spring to early fall.

The main draw of the park is Delicate Arch, the largest freestanding arch in the park. At 46 feet high and 32 feet wide, it’s a stunning piece of natural architecture. The moderate 3-mile hike to it is worth donning some hiking boots and traction cleats to see for yourself.

At Delicate Arch, the crowds are high from spring to summer. You often have to wait in line to get a picture under the arch. The beauty of visiting in winter is you won’t have to get crafty trying to figure out how to get a picture of the arch without 100 other people in your photo.

Zion National Park in Utah

Suggested by Stephanie of The Unknown Enthusiast

Zion National Park. photo credit: Stephanie from the Unknown Enthusiast
View in Zion National Park. photo credit: Stephanie from The Unknown Enthusiast

Zion National Park is a beautiful, red-rock mountainous park in southern Utah, with some famous, and truly epic, hikes – notably Angel’s Landing and the Narrows.

Zion National Park is a fantastic place to visit in the winter because this normally crowded park has far fewer visitors during the colder months. In summer, we have to stand on long lines just to start popular hikes like Angel’s Landing – with a constant press of people going up and down the narrow spine to the summit. During winter, there aresomepeople on the trail, sure, but nothing even close to what summer sees.

And the Narrows! Oh the Narrows is absolutely fantastic in winter. A very popular hike through a stream in a slot canyon, it is always packed with people in summer. In winter, we occasionally shared the canyon with one other group, but often had this magnificent slot canyon with towering red walls all to ourselves. It was incredible.

To hike the Narrows in winter, you’ll 100%, definitely need to rent a drysuit package from either Zion Outfitters or Zion Adventure Company. The water is just a few degrees about freezing, and the drysuit package will keep you warm and protected as you hike.

Temperatures in winter can vary – and it does occasionally snow – but there are regularly days where the highs are in the 50’s. Wear layers, and this weather actually feels really great for hiking – especially compared to the 90-100 degrees days you can get in summer!

Joshua Tree National Park in California

Suggested by MacKenzie of Rainbow Travel Life

Hidden Valley in Joshua Tree National Park. photo credit: MacKenzie of Rainbow Travel Life.
Hidden Valley in Joshua Tree National Park. photo credit: MacKenzie of Rainbow Travel Life

Joshua Tree National Park in the winter is arguably the best time to visit. Given its location in the Mojave and Colorado deserts two hours from Los Angeles, CA, Joshua Tree gets hot during other seasons (think highs in the 100s). However, visiting in the winter provides comfortable weather (more like 60s but feels warmer), fewer visitors, and all the same activities and visual vitality.

Joshua Tree’s main draw for many people is the Joshua tree, a yucca plant that’s not actually a tree. It’s a succulent! Yes, just like those popular tiny succulent plants people have been obsessed with. It’s a must for people to pull over while driving through the park to get a photo or two with the impressive plants. The plants grow at about 0.5-3inches per year, so the bigger the tree, the older the plant.

Some of the other highlights of Joshua Tree National Park for me are Keys Ranch (open in early winter for tours, but be sure to check tour dates first), Ryan Mountain trail, the Ocotillo Patch, and Barker Dam Trail.

Two days in Joshua Tree National Parkis a good amount of time to spend in the park, and it’s an easy trip from LA. I typically recommend camping in the park because it’s an incredible star-gazing spot. But as it may get too cold for some people, staying in one of the nearby towns is also an option.

Redwoods National Park in California

Suggested by Val of Voyages with Val

Redwood National Park in winter. Photo credi: Val from Voyages with Val
Redwood National Park in winter. photo credit: Val from Voyages with Val

The Redwood National and State Parks are fantastic to visit at any time, but it is one of few National Parks that is just as fun to visit in the winter as the summer. To get to the Redwoods you can drive about 300 miles north from San Francisco on the 101, or 320 miles south from Portland.

The Pacific Northwest the Redwoods reside in rarely gets snow or too cold. With temperatures averaging around 40s to 50s, it is a great place to visit in the winter. However, if you plan to hike, be sure to bring your rain jacket. Most winter days in Northern California bring a slight drizzle, but the quiet sounds of rain falling on the trees and ferns can make for a peaceful hiking day in the forest. Fern Canyon and Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail are two great short and easy hikes suitable for most people. Check out both of these trails for a fantasticone day in the Redwoods.

If you don’t feel like hiking you can also see some fantastic views from your car on the Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway, a scenic ten-mile drive. Start your drive near the Visitor Center, where you can often see wild elk grazing. Then take in the massive trees that surround this drive. Big Tree is a 1500-year-old tree along this drive. Corkscrew Tree can also be seen on your scenic drive, which, as the name suggests, is twisted like a corkscrew.

Yosemite National Park in California

Suggested by Olivia of Girl With Blue Sails

Yosemite: Half Dome in Winer. photo credit: Olivia from Girl with Blue Sails
View of Half Dome in winter. photo credit: Olivia from Girl with Blue Sails

Yosemite in is one of the best US National Parks to visit in the winter. Located in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain range, the most visited area of Yosemite is the valley, a majestic landscape surrounded by snow-capped mountains and waterfalls during the winter months.

The mountain giants surrounding the valley will be full of snow, and, if you’re lucky, you’ll see snow on the valley floor. Seeing Yosemite’s sequoia trees blanketed in sparkling white after a fresh snowfall is nothing short of magical. Though Yosemite Falls, full and booming in the summer months, will be reduced in size, it is still breathtaking as it falls gracefully over snow-capped granite.

While the majority of Yosemitehikes aren’t accessible in the winter months due snow in high elevations, there are some wonderful alternative cold-weather activities that make this park come alive in the winter. Shorter, ground floor hikes, sledding, and sitting by the fireplace are some wintertime visitor favorites.

One of the bestthings to do in Yosemiteduring the winter is to go ice skating at Curry Village. Every winter the park sets up an ice rink with skates available for renting. Nothing beats skating under those winter stars, drinking hot chocolate, and breathing in that cold, pine-scented air. Seeing Yosemite during winter will leave you with memories you will never forget.

Biscayne National Park in Florida

Suggested by Candice Candice of CS Ginger

Biscayne National Park. photo credit: Candice of CS Ginger
Biscayne National Park. photo credit: Candice of CS Ginger

Biscayne National Park is one of the most unique national parks in the United States. Consisting of 95% water, it is home to the third-largest offshore reef in the world. You’ll find it in southern Florida, about an hour from downtown Miami.

Winter (along with early spring) is the best time to visit this park. The water is usually calmer during this time of year and there is less rainfall. You will also avoid hurricane season in the winter.

The best and really only way to explore Biscayne National Park is by boat. If you do not have your own boat, a great way to explore the park is on a boat tour with Biscayne National Park Institute. These tours are some of the bestthings to do in Biscayne National Park. They offer a variety of tours ranging from heritage and snorkeling to paddling tours.

The Heritage of Biscayne Cruise is a great tour option if you are traveling with young kids who aren’t old enough to paddle or snorkel or if you don’t want to get in the water. The tour will take you by some of the keys in the park and then you can explore the Boca Chita key for about an hour.

Snorkeling in Biscayne National Park is one of the best places to go in the United States. The water is crystal clear and the coral reef in the area is very healthy. Because of this, you’ll see a lot of wildlife under water, including parrotfish, angelfish, blue tangs, lobsters, and coral.

One of he great things about the park is that its waters are always open. However, if you want to stop at the Visitor Center, you need to visit between 9 AM and 5 PM. Overnight camping is allowed on Elliott Key and Boca Chita Key.”

Big Bend National Park in Texas

Suggested by Michelle of The Wandering Queen

Big Bend 8 of 13
Big Bend National Park. Photo credit: Michelle from The Wandering Queen

One of the best national parks to visit in the winter isBig Bend National Park. This park is highly underrated, and it is best to see in the winter. The summer gets excruciatingly hot to the point where they close certain visitors centers down. Winters have fantastic weather, and it is the best time to enjoy the park to the fullest. The hikes are stunning but still hot in the winter, so bring some water and sunscreen.

One of the best things to do is to experience the Hot Springs trail. It is only O.5 miles round trip, and the hot spring is located right next to the Rio Grande. It is recommended to visit for sunrise to avoid the crowds and the heat. The most popular trail in the park is the Santa Elena trail, located on the west side of the park. The trail is only 1.7 miles round trip and has fantastic views of the Rio Grande. You can even spot people canoeing down the Rio Grande. Another great thing to do is to experience the Lost Mine Trail for sunset. The 360-degree views are incredible in this area.

Big Bend National Park is a great place to visit in the winter if you want to stay away from the snowy cold national parks.

Congaree National Park in South Carolina

Suggested by Rachel ofMeans to Explore

Congaree National Park Means to
Congaree National Park. photo credit: Rachel from Means to Explore

“Congaree National Park is South Carolina’s one and only national park, just 30 minutes from downtown Columbia. It’s also a convenient day trip from Charleston, SC or Charlotte, NC for all the national park enthusiasts looking to check this box when in the area.

South Carolina’s summers are hot and humid, and the riverside habitat that makes up Congaree National Park is a favorite spot for mosquitoes. Visit in the cooler months, generally November to April, for mild temperatures and minimal mosquito levels.

Bug spray is a good idea, regardless of when you visit!

Hiking is the main activity in Congaree National Park. Withhiking trails for all ages, abilities, and skill levels, you can explore the bottomland hardwood forest, watch wildlife play in Cedar Creek, or hike out to the namesake Congaree River on the park’s southern boundary.

The easiest hike is the Boardwalk Loop Trail. Pick up a free guide from the visitor center and walk counterclockwise to learn more about Congaree and its history.

Learn about cypress tree knees. Stand at the base of one of the tallest trees in the state. Watch turtles play in Wise Lake. Catch a glimpse of a rusting piece of history.

The loop will deliver you back to the visitor center right where you started.

Pro Tip:Check the river gaugesand the weather before you go. This bottomland forest floods several times a year, a necessary occurrence to keep the soils nutrient-rich and able to support the forest ecosystem.”

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii (Big Island)

Suggested by Francesca of Homeroom Travel

Hawaii Volcanoes 2
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. photo credit: Francesca from Homeroom Travel

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of the best US National Parks to visit in the winter. It is located on the Big Island of Hawaii. The weather in Hawaii never really gets too cold, lows are in the 60s, thus making it a great place to visit in the wintertime. You may experience a slight drizzle when visiting the park in winter, but the weather will be perfect for hiking.

The best hike in the park is the Kilauea Iki hike. This is one of the most popular hikes in the park. It is a moderate to strenuous 3.3 mile loop train that descends into a crater of an inactive volcano.

Another must visit stop is the Chain of Crater road. This is an 18.8 mile road with a ton of picturesque stops. This area once had lava flowing through it, thus making it have a very distinct landscape.

Other awesome parts of the park include the Devastation trail, the Sulphur Banks, the Steam Vents, and the Thurston Lava Tube. There is even a restaurant you can eat at that overlooks the active volcanoes. Make sure to head to the Volcano House to view the glow of the volcanoes in the evening.”

Haleakala National Park in Hawaii (Maui)

Suggested by Chantelle of Flannels or Flip Flops

Haleakala National Park. photo credit Chantelle

Haleakala National Parkis a great National Park to visit during the winter! With average temperatures in the high 70’s, you’ll love exploring this special National Park. As a bonus, there will likely be less traffic and visitors during the winter too!

Haleakala National Park is divided into two districts. You should definitely visit both, but due to their distance from one another, this should be done on two separate days.

The Summit District is beautiful in an otherworldly way. When you gaze upon the crater and all the colors and plants, you’ll be amazed. Add this to the fact that you’ll be above the clouds and you’ll feel as if you’ve landed on another planet. The Summit District is great for watching sunrise and sunset. Be warned though that the summit is over 10,000 feet in elevation, and even on the warmest days can be very cold as the sun comes up. Bring warm clothes and blankets if you plan on watching the sunrise.

At this elevation, the Summit District makes its own weather even in the summer. So, while driving up the mountain you may see rain, fog, and sun, and different parts of the mountain. Don’t let the weather scare you. Just head to the top, the weather can be totally different up there than it is on the way up.

The Kipahulu District is coastal and located at the end of the Road To Hana. In this district, you can expect the winter temperatures to be more consistent with the rest of Maui and less unpredictable than the Summit District. Here, you can spend the day hiking the famous Pipiwai Trail, visiting the 7 sacred pools, or enjoying cultural exhibits teaching you the history of the area.

Pinnacles National Park in California

Suggested by Mikaela of Voyageur Tripper

pinnacles np

Pinnacles National Park is perhaps California’s most underrated national park. It may not have the grandeur of Yosemite NP or the desolation of Death Valley NP, but Pinnacles still packs a punch – especially in the winter.

Pinnacles is a small national park, spanning just 41 square miles. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in variety. The landscape features shaded, oak woodlands and exposed chaparral (a particular shrubby fauna common in California). There are canyon bottoms and talus caves you hike inside, leaving the other side at the foot of tall rock spires.

You’ll find 15 different hiking options in the park, depending on what trailhead you choose to start from. If you’re interested in checking out the caves (which you should be!), start at Chapparal (West Pinnacles) and take either the Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop (easy), the Juniper Canyon Loop (hard) or the High Peaks to Balconies Cave Loop (hard). Try not to be intimidated by the difficult hikes, as they present the most incredible sights. They are my favorites.

You can have an excellent time at Pinnacles any time of year, though winter is one of the best times to visit it.

From late spring to mid-autumn, this region can be very hot, making longer hikes difficult. The temperatures are much more pleasant in late autumn, through winter and to early spring (45-50 F or so).

What makes winter such a special time to visit, however, is that you get a slight dust of snowfall at higher elevations. If you’ll be doing any of the long hikes in the winter, ensure you’re prepared with a headlamp, layers and review winter hiking best practices before you head out.

US National Parks to visit in the winter
Scroll to Top