The peak season to visit the many beautiful national parks in the United States is during the summertime, but the parks can be just as beautiful and fun to visit in the wintertime. A fresh layer of snow can make the parks look entirely different and in many cases opens up new and interesting ways in which you can explore the parks.
For instance, I just recently watched the IMAX documentary “National Parks Adventure” narrated by Robert Redford and featuring climbing legend Conrad Anker. In the movie, they visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan. Living just South in Milwaukee, it is an area that I have visited many times during the summer to explore the beautiful lakeshore. However, it isn’t an area that I have ever visited during the wintertime.
I was both surprised and thrilled to see how beautiful Pictured Rocks is with ice and snow covering the landscape. In the movie, they climbed the walls of ice on the shoreline and explored the many seaside caves that looked amazing with icicles dangling from their entrances. It gave me a whole new perspective of a place that I know well and like to visit, and gave me new enthusiasm for returning to Pictured Rocks again during winter.
In this article, I am going to outline for you some of the national parks in the United States that I find most enjoyable in the wintertime. If you have the chance, I would suggest taking the time to visit one of the parks during the winter months. Even if it is a park that you have visited a dozen times before during the summer, you will be surprised at how much different the park looks during winter and how much fun you can have exploring the park in the snow and ice.
10. Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is arguably one of America’s most well-known parks, but when most people picture the Grand Canyon it isn’t with snow covering the canyon rim. In fact, I think most people don’t realize just how high of an elevation the rim of the Grand Canyon is in some places. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon sits at roughly 8,297 feet (or roughly 2,528 meters), which is a higher elevation than Machu Picchu in Peru.
The Grand Canyon is an absolutely gorgeous place with snow covering the trees along the rim, with the red rock of the canyon adding a beautiful contrast to the snow. If you are up for some physical activity, you can try your luck at snowshoeing on some of the parks many trails on the rim. However, before you visit you should check the accessibility of the park as the North Rim is closed for parts of the winter season. Even when the North Rim is closed, the South Rim is open year-round and is beautiful during the wintertime as well.
9. Acadia National Park
Another national park that sees a lot of traffic during the summertime, but takes on a whole new look and feel during the winter is Acadia National Park in Maine. Acadia’s beautiful, rocky coastline, coastal forests and ponds, and miles of hiking and biking paths make Acadia one of the most popular national park in the United States East of the Mississippi River. What many people don’t realize is that these same features make Acadia National Park an absolute blast to visit in the wintertime as well.
The rocky coastline is extremely beautiful covered by snow and ice, which attracts flocks of photographers each winter to capture. The miles of hiking and biking paths also transform into pristine cross-country skiing and snowshoeing paths when the snow starts to fall. If you are not the outdoor activity type, then you can always enjoy a beautiful scenic drive thru the park to enjoy this beautiful landscape in wintertime.
8. Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake National Park in Oregon is a park that I think becomes even more beautiful when the season turns to winter. That is saying something because this park is beautiful year-round. There is something absolutely magical about Wizard Island, which sits in the middle of the park’s deep crater lake, with a blanket of fresh snow covering it. The pictures of Crater Lake in the wintertime are mesmerizing they are so beautiful.
In addition to being incredibly beautiful in the wintertime, Crater Lake is also a great place to go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or other outdoor adventures during the winter as well. The miles of trails that circumvent the lake have some absolutely stunning views of Wizard Island and the lakeside to enjoy as you make your way along the snow-covered trails.
7. Rocky Mountain National Park
As the sixth highest national park in the United States, and third highest park in the continental United States, it should come as no surprise to you that Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is one of America’s most beautiful and enjoyable national parks to visit in the wintertime. There is some amazing wildlife that lives in Rocky Mountain National Park, and during the winter can be the best time to view that wildlife because there is less foliage to obstruct your views.
If you are into outdoor activities, there is no shortage of things to do outside in Rocky Mountain National Park during the wintertime. If you like to sled or go tubing in the snow, then Rocky Mountain’s Hidden Valley is a great place to do that. If snowshoeing and cross-country skiing is your thing, then Rocky Mountain’s miles of trails will keep you busy for days. And for the most adventurous, you can also try your hand at ice climbing within the park during the winter. Just make sure you have the proper safety gear!
6. Mount Rainier National Park
Known as one of the most, if not the most, renown climbing peaks in the continental United States, Mount Rainier National Park in Washington is a popular park in climbing circles. As the fifth-highest park in the United States and the second highest park in the continental United States, Mount Rainier is no stranger to snowy conditions. But if you aren’t afraid of the snow, then Mount Rainier is also one of the most beautiful national parks in America during the wintertime. After all, there are few things more beautiful than a tall mountain with a snow-covered peak, right?
In addition to being one of the most popular climbing peaks in the United States, Mount Rainier National Park also has a plethora of enjoyable winter activities those who aren’t alpine climbers can enjoy. For instance, if you are into nature, then taking a walk thru the park and looking for the many Roosevelt Elk, Deer, and other animals that call Mount Rainier their home is always an adventure. If you are into outdoor activities, then snowshoeing or cross-country skiing on the park’s many miles of trails is both challenging and rewarding. Even if you aren’t into braving the cold temperatures or participating in outdoor activities, the park’s gondola ride and tram are great ways to experience the park’s beauty from the comforts of warmth.
5. Yosemite National Park
With its towering rock walls that are infamous in rock climbing circles, Yosemite National Park in California is one of America’s most well known national parks. Ever since John Muir wrote about the park’s beauty over a century ago, people have been flocking to Yosemite to take in its beauty and to challenge themselves on the park’s many miles of hiking paths and rock climbing routes. However, few people seem to realize how breathtakingly beautiful this park can be in the wintertime.
As soon as the snow falls, Yosemite turns for a climber’s playground into a wintery paradise with lots of outdoor activities to enjoy. If you are into cross-country skiing, downhill skiing and snowboarding, or snowshoeing, then Yosemite National Park is right up your alley in the winter. The park and the surrounding areas offer plenty of opportunities to participate in these activities. If you aren’t into skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing, then you may be interested in skating on the park’s outdoor ice rink, which is open to visitors in the winter. And if none of these activities pique your interest, then you can always just take a stroll or a drive thru the park and admire the beautiful scenery and wildlife.
4. Grand Teton National Park
Called the “Alps of America”, the jagged peaks of the Grand Teton range in Wyoming is one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in North America. These pointed peaks are even more breathtaking when they are blanketed by a fresh coat of puffy white snow. Visiting the Grand Teton National Park in wintertime is worth it just to see the beautiful landscape alone. However, in case you are looking for a more active vacation, there are also a lot of outdoor activities available in the park during the wintertime as well.
Arguably the most thrilling of these outdoor activities is downhill skiing. The Grand Teton National Park is located in close proximity to Jackson, Wyoming, which is home to the infamous Jackson Hole ski resort. World renown for its beautiful scenery and challenging slopes, Jackson Hole is one of North America’s premier ski destinations. Even if you aren’t interested in the downhill skiing, I would suggest a visit to the city of Jackson to ride their amazing gondola. From the top of the gondola, you get some of the most amazing views of the Teton range.
You don’t need to be a downhill skier to enjoy the winter around the Grand Teton National Park. There are plenty of other fun winter activities to enjoy both inside the park and in the surrounding areas. These activities include, but are not limited to, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sleigh rides, ice skating, snow tubing, and even dog sledding. There really is something for everyone to enjoy!
3. Yellowstone National Park
The world’s first national park is also one of America’s most popular national parks. Ever since it was established as a national park back in 1872, people have been flocking to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming to check out the park’s geothermal features and other amazing landscapes. Each year, Yellowstone National Park is among the most visited national parks in the United States for this reason. However, as popular as the park is during the summertime, the park is just as fantastic during the winter.
If you can brave the cold temperatures, and man does it get cold at Yellowstone in the winter (so make sure you are prepared), then there are a ton of exciting things to do in the park during the wintertime. One of the most popular winter activities is to take a snowmobile ride thru the park. Yes, you heard me right. Each winter, Yellowstone National Park opens up many of its trails to snowmobile riders to enjoy as they sight-see around the park. Visitors are also able to cross-country ski, snowshoe, and even dog sledding near the park.
For those of you who are into wildlife, the wintertime is the best time to catch a glimpse of the park’s famous wolf packs. If you camp out near the Hayden or Lamar Valleys long enough, you might catch a glimpse of these beautiful and elusive creatures. You can also see the North American Bison parading thru the snowy landscape, looking for any grass they can find beneath the deep snow cover. Many times, you will even find them huddled near the park’s many geothermal features trying to escape the bitterly cold temperatures of winter.
2. Denali National Park
The number two national park in the United States to visit during wintertime on my list is a park that needs little introduction. As the national park with the highest elevation in the United States, it also includes the highest mountain on the continent of North America. Denali National Park in Alaska is a park of epic landscapes. And no part of that landscape is more epic than Mount Denali, which stands at 20,310 feet (or roughly 6,190 meters). It is an absolutely breathtaking mountain.
Tall mountains and beautiful sights aren’t the only things Denali National Park has to offer. If you are into outdoor activities, there are a lot of fun activities you can enjoy in the park as well. These include cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and dog sledding. If you can name me a more epic place to go on a dog sled ride than in Alaska, I would like to hear it. Any trip to Denali National Park is going to be an amazing trip, but a trip to see this park in its winter wonderfulness is going to be a trip of a lifetime.
1. Bryce Canyon National Park
The top-rated national park in the United States to visit in the wintertime for me is, without a doubt, Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. There is just something absolutely magical about a fresh snowfall blanketing the canyon filled with reddish-orange hoodoos that are out-of-this-world beautiful. If you haven’t experienced Bryce Canyon in the winter, then you haven’t experienced the full beauty of the national park system.
Ok, I think I have said enough about the beauty of the park in the wintertime, but it isn’t just the beauty of the park that makes Bryce Canyon such a great park to visit in the winter. The park also offers a wide range of outdoor activities that make it an absolute blast to visit in the wintertime. Whether you are interested in cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, horseback riding, hiking, or any of the other activities you can find in and around Bryce Canyon in the winter, it really does have something for everyone.
But really, no matter which national park you choose to visit this winter, the real winner is going to be you because you will come home with a one-of-a-kind experience that you will never forget. The national parks in the United States are incredibly beautiful and the people who work to preserve them do an amazing job of not only that but also making sure that each and every visitor goes home safely and satisfied. So make sure you give them a big THANK YOU as you buckle those skis or snowshoes and hit the trails!