Article Overview: Best National Parks to Visit in Winter
The thought of national parks in the winter evokes some stunning imagery doesn’t it? The frosty breath of a snowy bison. Brilliant red hoodoos covered in snow. Giant sequoias blanketed in a fluffy layer of white. Yosemite Valley converted into a winter wonderland.
These are just a few of the beautiful scenes that exist in our national parks in winter. But this article isn’t just about the national parks that embrace winter, we’ll also cover the best national parks to escape winter!
Sure it’s nice to bundle up, sip warm hot cider, play in the snow, gather round a fire. But what if we want to go someplace where it is warm and sunny?
It turns out there’s are national parks for that too! We’ve ranked the 15 best national parks for winter.
This list is split up into a few sections:
- 10 Best National Parks in Winter
- 5 Best National Parks to Escape Winter
- 5 Best National Forests in Winter
- Best National Parks in the Snow
Table of Contents: Best National Parks to Visit in Winter
Table of Contents: Best National Parks to Visit in Winter
- National Parks in Winter
- Top 10 Best National Parks to Visit in Winter
- Top 5 Best Winter National Parks
- 5 Best National Parks to Escape Winter
- Best National Forests in Winter
- List of The 15 Best National Parks in Winter 2022
Best National Parks in Winter
Top 10 Best National Parks to Visit in Winter
10. Yellowstone National Park
Visiting Yellowstone National Park in Winter
Yellowstone is an absolutely spectacular and magical national park. A landscape dotted with otherworldly thermal works, bison holdouts from a time when they ruled the prairie, a thriving wolf population, and an encapsulation of the great American west.
In the winter, Yellowstone National Park transforms completely into a veritable winter wonderland complete with snow-coated bison.
Expect freezing temperatures and lots of snow. The reason Yellowstone clocks in no higher than number 10 on our list is because of severely limited access in winter. Getting to the main attractions is very difficult as most of the roads in the park close for the season.
One part of Yellowstone that is open in the winter and very popular is the Lamar Valley where wolves are very active during this time of year.
While access is severely limited in the winter there are few experiences that rival the majesty of Yellowstone in the snow. Just know that getting in to really see the sites requires guides, snowmobiles, and lots of mula.
Interested in visiting Yellowstone National Park? Check out the best things to do: 15 Amazing Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
9. Olympic National Park
Visiting Olympic National Park in Winter
While Olympic is ranked the best national park in the country, that’s largely based on the incredible array of activities available during the warmer summer months. So what about visiting this national park in winter?
A visit to Olympic National Park in winter brings a relatively similar experience to summer in the coastal areas with cool temperatures and lots of the cozy grey (fog).
Most of the park roads remain open through winter with the important exception of the famous Hurricane Ridge Road which closes seasonally through April.
Interested in visiting Olympic National Park? Check out the best things to do: 20 Best Things to Do in Olympic National Park
8. Crater Lake National Park
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Visiting Crater Lake National Park in Winter
The deepest lake in North America is one of the most beautiful places to visit in America during any time of year. Winter adds an extra layer of magic to Crater Lake National Park.
While the crater rim road closes to vehicle traffic during the winter at Crater Lake, all sorts of new recreational opportunities fill the void. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking are a few of the most popular activities during winter in this national park.
Winter is also a great time to catch the northern lights at Crater Lake which is truly spectacular.
7. Bryce Canyon National Park
Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park in Winter
For many a national park aficionado, seeing the gigantic hoodoos of Bryce Canyon covered in snow is bucket list material. There’s just something about the contrasts of the white against the deep orange red rock that makes for a magical experience.
I highly recommend waking up early to catch sunrise at Inspiration Point if you’re at the park for the best views of the hoodoos.
While lots of folks think of Utah and imagine the heat, elevations in Bryce Canyon reach 9,100 feet which makes it the national park in which you’re most likely to see snow in Utah during winter.
6. Zion National Park
Visiting Zion National Park in Winter
Love Zion but hate the crowds? Turns out there’s an easy solution. Visit the national park during the winter!
During the winter, the crowds fade away while the park remains every bit as beautiful. Lucky visitors might even have the opportunity to see the park with a fresh blanket of white!
All of the main national park roads remain open in the winter. However, hiking the narrows will likely be too frigid for most of the winter months, and Angels Landing is probably not the best idea in the snow.
Top 5 Best Winter National Parks
5. Yosemite National Park
Visiting Yosemite National Park in Winter
John Muir’s “Grandest Temple of them all” is every bit as grand during the colder months of the year. Yosemite National Park in Winter can only be described as magical.
Well, not only. The roads can get pretty nasty during this time of year.
In fact, I recall entering the park during a winter storm and being told by the ranger at the entrance that there had already been 7 accidents on the icy road into the valley in the past 2 hours and that most had yet to be reached by the tow truck.
While that case is fairly rare the note of caution is worth keeping in mind. For those who do make it into the park after a fresh coat the scene is otherworldly. Clouds gliding through the snow-covered valley as the sun hits the ice crystals making for dazzling displays of outdoor majesty.
Note that many national park roads including Glacier Point and Tioga Pass close seasonally for the Winter making several of the top attractions inaccessible by car.
4. Grand Teton National Park
Visiting Grand Teton National Park in Winter
Grand Teton is one of those national parks that has seen a major influx in visitors over the past few years (haven’t they all!). In 2021 Grand Teton was the 7th most visited national park in the US seeing 600,000 more people than the previous year.
If that sounds daunting to you, fear not. Most of the folks visiting Grand Teton do so in months other than Winter. One of the reasons for this is the temperatures can be somewhat brutal with January highs in the 20s and lows in the single digits.
However, the scenery is spectacular and you’ll have it practically to yourself (compared to summer anyway). Popular activities during winter in Grand Teton National Park include cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and wildlife viewing.
3. Rocky Mountain National Park
Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter
Rocky Mountain is one of the growing number of national parks that have instituted a necessary albeit somewhat loathsome permit & timed entry system. If you’re one of the many that find this an effective deterrent to visiting the park we’ve got great news.
During the winter, the timed entry system at Rocky Mountain is not in effect meaning you can visit anytime without prior reservations.
While the famed Trail Ridge Road (one of the best national parks road trip destinations) is closed during winter, the Bear Lake Road remains open making for some incredible recreational opportunities.
2. Sequoia National Park
Visiting Sequoia National Park in Winter
There is no place in the world like Sequoia National Park in Winter. The sound of the snow softly falling through enormous tree canopies of the sequoia forest is truly enchanting.
The contrasts of bright whites against the deep reds and dark greens of the sequoia trees makes for great photo opportunities and breathtaking scenery.
The world’s largest tree can still easily be accessed during the winter months as well as a plethora of stunning hiking trails. I highly recommend the Congress Trail as the top trail in the national park during winter.
If the scenery isn’t enough for you, the park is home to some lovely lodges complete with dining facilities and fireplaces to serve as a great back drop for the park.
1. Mount Rainier National Park
Visiting Mount Rainier National Park in Winter
I know what you’re thinking. “How can the place with the best displays of wildflowers on the planet also be the best national park to visit in winter?”
Let’s start with the simple fact that Mount Rainier is one of the places that sees the most snow in the contiguous US every year. Add in that the Mount Rainier is among the tallest in the entire Cascade range, the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous US, and home to some of the best night sky viewing in the Pacific Northwest.
Here’s the kicker. While most of the most popular national parks close off their top attractions in the winter due to amount of snowfall, the national park service plows the road up to Paradise year round.
Winter recreational opportunities abound here with incredible snow shoe trails, skiing, and sledding opportunities.
The air is crisp and the views are absolutely breathtaking.
5 Best National Parks to Escape Winter
Now that we’ve covered the best national parks for those looking to embrace the winter elements. Lets move on to the best national parks to escape the cold and snow. We’re talking hot, beachy, and tropical national parks.
5. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Warm temperatures with less humidity than Summer, long nights, beautiful sunsets, and fiery volcanic beauty comprise this stunning park.
Visitors to Hawai’i Volcanoes should read up on how the park has changed since the 2018 eruption. Activities include exploring Thurston Lava Tube, seeing the Kilauea Crater, driving the Chain of Craters Road and more!
4. Saguaro National Park
If there’s one thing two things that southern Arizona has in abundance it’s sunshine and cacti, none more famous than the Saguaro whose namesake park (Saguaro National Park) is an excellent place to escape winter.
Sunsets here are worth the trip alone, seemingly lasting hours and filling up the sky with magnificent yellow, orange, and deep purple hues.
In the winter months, average high temperatures range in the mid 60s and sunshine is no stranger!
3. Haleakala National Park
Location: Maui, Hawaii
In the remote reaches of the island of Maui in the heart of the Pacific Ocean you will find this tropical paradise.
Here you can journey to the house of the sun and discover ancient volcanoes steeped in legend, rugged mountains, dense rainforests, hidden beaches, and the last wild home to spectacular wildlife.
The park is a feast for the eyes from the coast to the summit and is bound to leave you breathless (quite literally at the summit area).
2. Death Valley National Park
Choosing between the top two best parks to escape winter was a really difficult task for us and could have gone either way but we decided to drop Death Valley at the number two spot this year.
Situated in the Mojave Desert, Death Valley National Park is the hottest place on earth in Summer soaring to temperatures in the 130s! But winter in Death Valley is a different story altogether.
Average winter high temperatures are in the 70s in Death Valley National Park which makes for incredible adventure weather. Despite the morbid name this park has an unbelievable amount of things to see and do as the largest national park in the contiguous united states.
1. Virgin Islands National Park
Location: St. John, US Virgin Islands
Nothing quite says forget all your troubles (including cold weather) and relax like the island paradise that is Virgin Islands National Park. With average high temperatures in the 80s in the winter months, it’s nearly impossible to beat this park for a winter escape.
Beautiful white sand beaches, turquoise water, sea turtles, palm trees, abandoned ruins to explore, and more makes Virgin Islands National Park the best to escape winter.
Best National Forests in Winter
4. Bridger-Teton National Forest
Located adjacent to Grand Teton National Park and boasting an awe-inspiring array of pristine wilderness, glacial lakes, winding rivers, diverse wildlife, and with a backdrop of the magnificent Teton Range, the Bridger Teton National Forest is a site to behold.
In winter, Bridger-Teton takes on a whole new life with the scenery getting a thick coat of white snow. The amount of trails you can easily traverse might be limited but the amount of incredible activities is insane.
3. Ashley National Forest
The Ashley National Forest is tucked away into the top right corner of Utah and is one of the lesser-visited pieces of public lands in the state. But don’t let that stop you from visiting this incredible place.
In the Ashley visitors can explore stunning gorges, incredible valleys, sprawling forests, red deserts, and beautiful meadows in this remote and beautiful landscape.
In winter, the red rock landscape is coated with white making for a stunning contrast. With the few amount of people who visit you’ll feel like you’ve got it all to yourself.
2. Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest
Massive mountains, beautiful valleys, lush forests, deep canyons, and pristine meadows make up the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. This place is home to some of north America’s most treasured animals and landscapes.
In the winter, the UWC is a mecca for skiers who travel from all over the world to experience the epic slopes of the canyons here.
1. Deschutes National Forest
Our Favorite Resources: Guide
The Deschutes National Forest is possibly the most diverse in the entire system (of 155!).
Travel to a land sculpted by ancient volcanoes, where crystal blue rivers carve their way through primeval forests, towering mountains give way to lush valleys and pristine lakes, and deep below the surface lie vast networks of cavernous wonders.
In the winter the Deschutes is one of America’s most breathtaking playgrounds with every winter activity imaginable available here.
List of The 15 Best National Parks in Winter 2022
- Mount Rainier National Park
- Sequoia National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Yosemite National Park
- Zion National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Crater Lake National Park
- Olympic National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Virgin Islands National Park
- Death Valley National Park
- Haleakala National Park
- Saguaro National Park
- Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Map of the Best National Parks to Visit in Winter
Best National Parks in Winter: Our Conclusion
That’s a wrap folks! Hopefully you feel like you’ve got a good handle on your next trip to to the national parks in winter. Please leave me a comment below and let me know if you have any questions or comments.
Hope to see you on the trails sometime soon!
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