Wildtree’s Guide to The Best National Parks to Visit in Winter ❄️

Wildtree’s Guide to The Best National Parks to Visit in Winter ❄️

Yosemite National Park in winter time.

Winter transforms America's National Parks into mesmerizing wonderlands where beauty and recreation are abundant and raw. Far different from their summer charm, some would argue winter is the ideal time to visit these natural treasures thanks to fewer crowds, more affordability, and a chance to engage in winter-specific activities.

Visiting these National Parks in winter guarantees a magical time, and from snowshoeing through silent forests to practicing nature photography and catching a glimpse of wildlife against a snowy backdrop, there's endless adventure out there.

This guide showcases some of the best national parks to visit during winter, each offering its own special allure. So, pack your warm gear, snag your National Park Inspired Camera Strap, and toss on the snow tires to start checking these parks off your winter-adventure bucket list!

1. Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone in winter is a spectacle of geothermal wonders against the backdrop of snow-covered landscapes. The park's famous geysers and steaming hot springs create quite the fascinating, colorful contrasts against the icy environment.

Although the bears are (most likely) catching some Zzzs, wildlife sightings, especially those of wolves, elk, and bison, are more common in winter, so make sure your camera is charged and ready.

Seeing Yellowstone transform is entrancing, but it should also be taken seriously. Temperatures often drop below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, accompanied by snowstorms and sketchy driving conditions. So, from diligently checking the weather to packing the right gear, just ensure you plan properly to have a good time, and note that access is limited and certain restrictions (like road closures) are often in place.

1. Yellowstone National Park

  • Snowshoeing and Skiing: Explore Yellowstone's miles of trails, like the Canyon Rim Ski Trail or the Cascade Lake Trail, while cross-country skiing or snowshoeing through fresh snowfall.

  • Snowmobile or Snowcoach: Rent snowmobiles or embark on a snowcoach tour to see the beauty of Yellowstone first-hand, as this is often the only way to get around when roads are closed!

  • Guided Tours: Guided tours are the only way to see Old Faithful in all its glory during this simply gorgeous season.

  • Photography Tour: A Wildtree must-do, Yellowstone photography tours will help you capture the wildlife, nature, and raw beauty of this must-see National Park.

  • Swim in Hot Springs: Need a way to warm up? Hot springs are the ideal winter activity in Yellowstone after a long day meandering the snowy trails.

Need a National Park Calendar to mark the date of your adventure? Click the link and head to our shop to snag one for yourself or as the perfect gift for a nature photographer!

2. Yosemite National Park

Winter in Yosemite National Park is a time of quiet peace and majestic beauty, reminding you of just how small we really are. The legendary granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome (you might know them from Free Solo?) are even more stunning with a dusting of fresh California snow, and during February, the walls appear to light on fire due to the nearby setting sun, a truly priceless sight.

The park offers various winter activities, including skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, and ice skating. The winter atmosphere in Yosemite is quiet and serene yet often not overly harsh, making it a perfect retreat for those looking to escape into nature.

Why Visit Yosemite in Winter:

Yosemite in winter shot from a mountain.

Beautiful Shot of Yosemite by Photo by Patrick T'Kindt

  • Sledding & Tubing: Perfect for the whole fam, Yosemite features free snow play areas and other top-notch places to sled or tube!

  • Winter Sports: Yosemite in the winter presents excellent opportunities for skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. Visit the Badger Pass Ski Area for downhill and cross-country options!

  • Ice Skating: Enjoy classic outdoor ice skating at the Curry Village Ice Rink with a view of Half Dome.

  • Ideal Crowds: Wintertime in Yosemite brings all the beauty without the crowds, curating a much more intimate experience with nature.

  • Star Gazing: Seeing the stars in Yosemite during a cold winter night is a spectacle for the eyes and worthy of a trip in itself!

3. Joshua Tree National Park

We've listed two of the best National Parks to visit in winter due to their classically cold and snowy conditions that make for a unique, beautiful adventure, but what about those that remain enticingly warm?

Unlike the snow-covered landscapes of Yellowstone or Yosemite, Joshua Tree offers a milder, sunnier winter experience, making it perfect for outdoor enthusiasts who need a reprise from their puffy jacket. While the rest of the U.S. shivers, those visiting Joshua Tree can expect enticing winter temperatures ranging from a mild 60°F (15°C) during the day to 40°F (4°C) at night, a quite literal perfect temperature for all the winter activities on tap at Joshua Tree.

Famous for its namesake Joshua trees that stand tall against the clear blue winter skies and the striking rock formations that dot the terrain, this National Park in winter epitomizes accessible beauty and recreation.

Why Visit Joshua Tree in Winter:

Rock formations and joshua trees at Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree Through the Lens of Photo by Jean-Lui Piston

  • Hiking and Rock Climbing: Winter is the prime season for hiking and rock climbing in Joshua Tree. The cooler temperatures make for pleasant days exploring trails like the Hidden Valley Nature Trail or challenging oneself on the park's renowned climbing routes.

  • Stargazing: The park's minimal light pollution and clear winter nights offer some of the best stargazing opportunities. The Milky Way is often visible when standing on the sand of Joshua Tree, a breathtaking nocturnal spectacle.

  • Nature Photography: Capture the unique beauty of the well-known Joshua trees and the park's distinct geology. Winter's softer light is ideal for photography, especially during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset. The weather makes it easy to spend all day shooting, so make sure to bring your camera neck strap for all-day, no-rash comfort.

  • Desert Wildlife Watching: Winter is a great time to spot elusive wildlife, as many critters are more active during the cooler parts of the day. Keep an eye out for birds, sun-tanning lizards, and perhaps even a coyote.

  • Camping: For those who enjoy warmer winter camping, many of Joshua Tree's campgrounds remain open in winter and allow visitors to experience the quiet and solitude of the desert under a canopy of stars

  • Birdwatching: This park becomes a haven for birdwatchers in winter as migratory species, especially birds of prey like hawks and eagles, pass through. Bring your binoculars and camera to spot the varied birdlife against the stark desert backdrop!

4. Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park, Maine's only National Park, consists of stunning coastal landscapes offering up a totally different style of cold, coastal winter beauty. The contrast of snow against the rugged coastline, frozen lakes, and barren trees creates a natural beauty only found on this wild New England coastline.

Winter activities like cross-country skiing, hiking, and snowmobiling are popular, and the park's quieter winter atmosphere is perfect for a rejuvenating winter experience with just you and nature.

Why Visit Acadia in Winter:

  • Coastal Winter Scenery: At Acadia, snow meets the sea to create one of the most stunning landscapes on Earth. Visit Sand Beach during winter to walk on the snowy sand and watch the Atlantic Ocean put on a show as huge winter waves crash against the rocky coastline.

  • Snowmobiling: A popular winter activity in Acadia along the picturesque, 27-mile-long Park Loop Road.  

  • Ice Fishing: Book an Ice fishing tour to experience this classic Maine activity first hand.

  • Winter Hiking: Although some trails will close due to conditions, there's plentiful winter hiking in Acadia, and the Carriage Roads offer an easier, more accessible path to walk, run, or cross-country ski. Crampons are highly suggested to deal with icy conditions common in winter!

  • Visit Bar Harbor: When your day in the National Park is done, you can head to the nearby Bar Harbor to discover the local restaurants that stay open year-round and enjoy the warmth of this charming town just outside Acadia.

5. Everglades National Park

Up close shot of an alligator.

A Guranteed Sight when Visiting the Everglades Shot by sterlinglanier Lanier 

Everglades National Park in South Florida starkly contrasts the typical snowy winter landscapes of other National Parks. As the largest tropical wilderness in the U.S., the Everglades present a unique, always-lush winter escape teeming with wildlife and rich ecosystems. Winter, or the dry season, is the best time to visit the Everglades, with pleasant temperatures averaging around 77°F (25°C) during the day and cooler evenings.

The park's vast network of wetlands and mangroves becomes a paradise for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts during winter, with less humidity and fewer mosquitoes being a bonus over other seasons. Winter offers the most comfortable conditions for exploring the Everglades' diverse habitats and one of the warmest, most unique landscapes of any National Park in the U.S. Because of this, it's also highly accessible and a better park to visit in winter if you want to avoid extremes!

Why Visit Everglades in Winter:

  • Wildlife Viewing: Winter in the Everglades is the peak season for wildlife viewing. With lower water levels, animals like alligators, manatees, and many bird species congregate around water sources, making them easier to spot.

  • Birdwatching: The dry season attracts scores of migratory birds, turning the park into a birder's haven. Anhingas, roseate spoonbills, and wood storks are just a few of the 300 bird species you might see!

  • Boat Tours: Explore the park's waterways with guided boat (typically airboat) tours that give you an up-close view of the Everglades' remarkable marine and bird life while cruising through the grassy waters.

  • Hiking and Biking: Take advantage of the cooler, drier weather to hike or bike the park's many trails, like the Anhinga Trail, which offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities in pristine weather conditions.

  • Photography: The Everglades' diverse landscapes, from sawgrass marshes to mangrove forests, provide endless opportunities for photography, especially with the warm winter light casting a magical glow over the scenery.

  • Kayaking and Canoeing: Paddle through the park's tranquil waterways to experience the Everglades' serene beauty and get a closer look at its aquatic ecosystems, a beautiful way to spend a day outside with gorgeous views and light exercise.

6. Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon's famous hoodoos take on a magical appearance in winter, with snow highlighting their odd, intricate shapes. The park's high elevation leads to consistent snowfall, creating a stunning contrast against the red rock formations, perfect to capture from behind your lens.

Thanks to its dark skies, winter nights in Bryce are perfect for stargazing, the winter hiking is plentiful, and annual festivities equate to a winter of outdoor recreation and community fun.

Why Visit Bryce Canyon in Winter:

  • Annual Festivals: Like the Bryce Cannon Winter Festival or the annual Christmas Bird Count make Bryce Canyon a lively national park to visit in winter.

  • Winter Hiking & Backpacking: A unique hiking experience among snow-covered formations is a must-do in winter months. Just be sure to prepare for the weather, and absolutely bring crampons and poles! Backpacking is also viable for the truly experienced hikers, but conditions are gnarly, and permits are required.

  • Full Moon Snowshoeing: This rare ranger-led event only happens when the weather and lunar cycle align, but if you're there when it does, please take advantage of this special opportunity!

  • Astrology: One of the best places for night sky viewing, Bryce Canyon offers educational astrology programs during winter nights.

  • Quiet Trails: Fewer crowds equate to a more personal experience with nature, reason enough to plan your visit in winter over summer.

The Night Sky Camera Strap for all Your Astrology Adventures

With so many incredible National Parks to visit in winter, we can't name them all, and there's no such thing as "best," as so much is based on preference and your experience! That said, these six choices are excellent places to begin discovering the raw beauty of our Earth during the winter season and challenge yourself to get outside in unique conditions.

From warm destinations to snow-covered peaks, who knows where your adventures might take you!

Make sure to tag us on Instagram if you visit any of these National Parks this or next winter, and drop a comment below to share your stories or any other suggestions regarding winter travel, adventure, and photography!

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