Best National Parks Worth a Visit in the Winter

You might think that dropping temperatures and snowfall would be a detriment to visiting our amazing national park system, but one look at some of these vistas in winter will have you thinking otherwise. If you're looking for some of North America's most breathtaking scenery, then winter is the time of year, and these parks offer it in droves. Whether you are searching for mountainous regions or want to see some of America's incredible wildlife up close, wintertime is the right time. You may even be looking to hike or take part in some of the best camping they have to offer, but one thing is for sure: You won't be disappointed.

For those who crave the outdoors and are not deterred by the cold, some of our national parks offer winter festivals, stargazing, frozen streams, and a plethora of wildlife to satisfy anyone. For others, a warm cabin and a fireplace might be just what they are looking for, and there is plenty enough for them. The fact is that winter just might be the best time to visit our national parks. You can go east or you can go west, but there is something out there for everyone willing to get outside and leave the summer crowds in the dust.

Joshua Tree National Park

national parks in winter

This Southern California destination might be straddled by the desert, but winter is one of the best times of the year to see it in all its glory. Since Joshua Tree can be sweltering in the summer, you might like to know that temperatures in the winter hover right around the 60-degree mark, depending on what part of the park you visit. You may or may not get to see snow, but it is one of the most beautiful and vast regions in the U.S. to catch stunning views of the night sky.

Shenandoah National Park

This Virginia landmark of Shenandoah National Park has everything you may want, with its diverse elevations and open skies. This is not far from parts of the fabled Appalachian Trail, if you're interested in hiking, or just want to see some of the many spectacular frozen waterfalls the park has to offer. Visitors should understand ahead of time that the beautiful Skyline Drive can be closed at a moment's notice due to inclement weather, but many other trails are easily accessible from the park's boundary.

Acadia National Park

national parks in winter

Acadia National Park is not only one of the finest in the lower 48 states but is also designated as a marine park as well. Acadia, which is located in Maine, offers a stunning view of the fall foliage and some of the most amazing winter scenery in the nation. If scenic drives or hiking are not your thing, consider that the park also offers visitors ice fishing as well.

Zion National Park

national parks in winter

This Utah-based national park is another one that offers more tolerable temperatures in the winter, but that doesn't mean it's not beautiful or any less spectacular. Since Zion National Park gets most of its precipitation between December and March, your chances of seeing some kind of snow are greater in the winter. Some features such as the Lava Point Road, overlook, and campground may close during the winter months, making them off limits, but visitors can still enjoy backpacking and birdwatching.

Rocky Mountain National Park

national parks in winter

As a winter destination, Colorado may have no equal. Some of the best views in all of the national park system belong to Rocky Mountain National Park, and they can be seen via regular hiking or snowshoeing depending on what you like. As with most of the national parks, winter is a great time to beat the crowds and find yourself alone with the mountain range. If cross-country skiing  is your thing, you can find many groomed trails or just grab your favorite sled and wander over to the nearest sledding hill.

Yellowstone National Park

national parks in winter

Found in parts of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, Yellowstone National Park is one of the most famous parks in the nation—and, in fact, the world. If wildlife watching is your thing, you won't be disappointed by opportunities to see packs of wolves, bison, elk, and even moose. And then there are the incredible geysers, such as the amazing Old Faithful. While most of their campgrounds close for the winter season, you can find lodging whether in the park or nearby communities.

Yosemite National Park

national parks in winter

This California-based park is second only to Yellowstone in fame. Visitors should know that while Yosemite Valley and Wawona remain accessible by car all year, the Tioga Road will be closed, and you may be required to use tire chains to access the open areas. Many trails remain open for snowshoers, and the Merced River has year-round fishing for anglers who like to see some ice while they cast. The entire park is basically covered in snow during the winter months, but some trails are open in the Yosemite Valley for hiking.

Olympic National Park

national parks in winter

From the snow-blanketed Washington state mountains to the Pacific rim, Olympic National Park offers everything from snow-capped peaks to the winter wet season of its majestic rain forest. Winter recreation opportunities abound with such possibilities as cross-country and downhill skiing to tubing and snowboarding. The lower elevations remain relatively mild if you want to take in the strong winds, stronger tides, and big waves of the Pacific coast.

Glacier National Park

national parks in winter

Montana is the backdrop for this insanely beautiful park. Food and lodging are available, but only outside of the park. However, Glacier National offers both regular and backcountry camping for the serious camper in you. As it is, if you wish to sightsee the park's amazing glacier formations, you will have to either ski or snowshoe in. Owing to the park's unpredictable weather, visitors should expect to enter the park properly outfitted in winter gear. This is a park where safety, such as during avalanche conditions, is of the utmost importance, and travelers should remain in pairs.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

national parks in winter

Bordering on North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most beautiful and scenic parks in the nation, summer or winter. A true winter wonderland, the park also offers hikes on the Appalachian Trail where accessible. Once you've seen the barren trees now covered in snow that was traveling sideways, you'll never forget it. Many of the park's roads are seasonal, so you will want to check its seasonal schedule to see if they are open to travel.

Please check out my book "The Hunter's Way" from HarperCollins. Be sure to follow my webpage, or on Facebook and YouTube.