The Best National Parks to Visit for Christmas

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The Christmas season can be stressful if you spend every moment shopping, cleaning, cooking, running frantic errands, and hosting out-of-town guests. Or... the holidays can be a joyful celebration of beauty and peace on earth if you plan an escape to one of America's splendid national parks. This year, make merry memories with your family at one of these picturesque winter wonderlands, or escape to warm islands you might not have even realized are protected by the National Park System.

Yellowstone National Park

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Dreaming of a white Christmas?  Yellowstone , the country’s first national park, is the epitome of a winter wonderland . Your family can enjoy a secluded getaway at  Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins , accessible only by snowcoach. Sit by the fire with hot cocoa and look out at the vast wilderness that surrounds you. Daily hikes and exploration of the park will reveal ghost trees, which form when the steam from Old Faithful freezes on nearby pine needles. Try snowmobiling, photograph bison and other wildlife on a winter photo safari, marvel at starry night skies. Yellowstone sparkles with Christmas beauty and is an unforgettable destination for the holidays.

Rocky Mountain National Park

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If you really want to get away from it all over the holidays, plan a trip to a park less traveled in the winter, where every tree's a Christmas tree decorated by nature.  Rocky Mountain National Park  in Colorado is quiet and uncrowded, but the wildlife is still active, and it's easy to spot tracks in the snow. Seeing an elk or moose in its natural habitat is an experience you won’t forget. The park offers free ranger-led snowshoe tours to view coyote, elk, deer, and snowshoe hares. Sledding, cross-country skiing, and backcountry skiing are also exciting possibilities.

Grand Canyon National Park

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Hiking Grand Canyon National Park  during Christmas vacation may never have crossed your mind, but rest assured, it is amazing. Not only is this popular Arizona destination almost empty, hiking the trails with only the sound of snow crunching under your boots is one of the most stirring experiences you can have in the park.

Grand Canyon also offers a fun holiday experience for families with the  Polar Express . Families can board a train that runs from Williams, Arizona, to the South Rim of the park through early January and enjoy a scenic ride complete with hot chocolate and cookies. When you reach the "North Pole," Santa Claus and his reindeer are waiting with a gift for each child. It's the best way for your kids to see the glory of the Grand Canyon and enjoy the magic of Christmas. It’s also a way to pass on to children the importance of protecting nature and preserving our parks.

Grand Teton National Park

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As the snow drapes a wintry blanket across the Teton Range, this area of Wyoming feels peaceful: a sharp contrast from the busy summer season. While some of  Grand Teton National Park  is closed in winter months, there are ways to enjoy a Christmas season escape. Ranger-led snowshoe tours are a great way to experience Grand Teton in the winter and appreciate Mother Nature's gifts. Cross-country skiing is also a popular activity in the park.

Mount Rainier National Park

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Your kids have never seen a frozen world quite like this. With a summit over 16,000 feet,  Mount Rainier in Washington is actually one of the nation's most stunning active volcanoes. As it grew, 25 major glaciers carved beautiful valleys and formed the largest collection of permanent ice on a single U.S. peak. The park is truly stunning in December, and it offers plenty of outdoor activities. Visitors can cross-country ski, sled, and snowboard. The best way to experience the park over the holidays is on snowshoes, with a ranger guide to teach you about winter ecology.

Virgin Islands National Park

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If snow isn’t your thing, don’t worry. America's national parks also offer great getaways to escape winter. With white, sandy beaches surrounded by turquoise water,  Virgin Islands National Park  provides opportunities for a paradisiacal vacation. In fact, with more than 800 subtropical plants, coral reefs, and mangrove swamps, you will feel like you traveled outside the U.S. to a tropical getaway.

Be sure to visit Trunk Bay, considered one of the world's most beautiful beaches. With a 225-yard-long snorkeling trail, there is no shortage of unique marine life and underwater beauty to explore. Cinnamon Bay is also a prime spot for Christmastime visitors looking for water sports like sailing, scuba diving, and snorkeling.

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12 Best National Parks to Visit in Winter

From Maine to California, these are the best national parks to visit during the winter for adventure and gorgeous scenery.

​​Sarah L. Stewart is a Florida-based freelance magazine writer and editor specializing in travel, recreation, science, and health topics. Her work appears in Travel + Leisure , Outside , Backpacker , The Huffington Post , and other national publications.

Visiting a national park in the summer has been a rite of passage since the country’s "best idea" became reality more than a century ago. Yet heat-seeking sightseers are missing what might be the parks’ best-kept secret: winter.

Freezing temperatures yield a fresh take on park landscapes, from ice-coated coastal cliffs in Maine’s Acadia National Park to the snow-covered forests of Sequoia and Kings Canyon in California. Exploring them on foot, skis, or snowshoes is a special way to see the parks outside of the high season.

For other parks, winter is the high season. It's definitely the best time to enjoy the sawgrass marshes of the Florida Everglades, for example, and the desert scenes of Arizona’s Saguaro National Park. So, whether you're craving snowy scenery or a warm escape, here are the best national parks to visit in winter.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

This park’s gravity-defying limestone spires — called hoodoos — appear even more delicate when snow dusts the reddish-orange rocks. November through March, snowpack permitting, join a ranger-led full moon hike on snowshoes provided by the National Park Service. Or time your visit during a new moon phase for world-class stargazing beneath some of the West’s darkest skies.

Death Valley National Park, California

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In the winter, Death Valley National Park gets a break from brutal heat often exceeding 100 degrees. Daily highs from December through February average in the 60- and 70-degree range, with overnight lows occasionally getting down to freezing. The mild temperatures make hiking on dusty trails, rolling dunes, and salt flats comfortable. Plus, you get to see the sites without the crowds, as Death Valley's tourist season ramps up in the spring.

Everglades National Park, Florida

From November through April, the subtropical dry season spells sunny skies, 70-degree days, and a break from the blood-sucking bugs that plague South Florida’s wetlands throughout the rest of the year. Less rain also concentrates wildlife at watering holes, boosting your odds of spotting the Everglades’ iconic alligators and wading birds like the bright-pink roseate spoonbill.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

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Big Bend National Park is an International Dark Sky Park , and winter is arguably the best time to see stars. Clear nights mean great views of celestial phenomena; however, they can also bring freezing temperatures to the desert, so don't let the southwest Texas location fool you into thinking it's always hot. Cool days are conducive to ticking off some of the more challenging hikes, like the 6.5-mile Mariscal Canyon Rim Trail, which can actually be dangerous to attempt in the warmer months.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho

Although the park is typically jam-packed in the summer, visiting Yellowstone during winter allows tourists to experience the same striking scenery and abundant wildlife with far smaller crowds. Plus, the famed geysers, steam vents, and hot springs are especially impressive when the scalding geothermal waters meet the frigid air. Stay at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel , open December to March, and take a guided day tour to Old Faithful to spot steam-frosted bison, glimpse the Fountain Paint Pots, and watch the famous geyser erupt with barely a soul in sight.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

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The Grand Canyon is an awe-inspiring sight on its own. Now imagine seeing the fiery sandstone and surrounding evergreen trees with a layer of fresh snow. The winter scenery at this Natural Wonder of the World is absolutely magical. Visiting the South Rim in the off-season means popular hikes like the Bright Angel Trail are blissfully quiet and much more comfortable than in the summer, thanks to cool temperatures. Grand Canyon National Park 's free shuttles run fewer routes in the winter, but there are still plenty that stop at the different trailheads and Grand Canyon Village viewpoints.

Acadia National Park, Maine

An average of five feet of snow falls on Acadia ’s evergreen forests and rocky headlands over the course of a year, transforming the park’s scenic loop drive and winding carriage roads into a paradise for cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Ambitious early risers can climb Cadillac Mountain to catch the sunrise. From October to March, the summit is the first place to see the sunrise in the U.S.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

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This boulder- and bush-dotted park straddling the Colorado and Mojave deserts is a serene winter escape from bustling Los Angeles (130 miles away) and Las Vegas (217 miles away). Winter in Joshua Tree National Park is a mecca for rock climbers, who take advantage of bouldering while the granite is cool. Keep this in mind when you're trying to snag one of the first-come, first-served campsites. If you're able to spend the night in the park, you'll get access to some of the best stargazing the West Coast has to offer.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Daytime temperatures average a comfortable 65 degrees from November through March at this gem just north of the Mexican border, but nights are cold, and snow is possible. Here, you can learn about desert-dwelling critters, savor a smoldering Sonoran sunset, or simply marvel at the park’s namesake cacti, which can grow as tall as 50 feet and live for 200 years or more.

Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii

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Winter is one of Maui's busiest tourist seasons. People from colder climates flock to the tropics of Hawaii to get a dose of vitamin D, and many of them who vacation on Maui will spend some time soaking in the volcanic beauty of Haleakalā National Park . Daily highs in the 60s are favorable for hiking into the crater (bundle up, though, because the higher you go, the colder it gets). Disclaimer: Winter is Maui's rainy season, but that doesn't stop the masses from trekking to the summit for sunrise. Seeing first light from the top of Haleakalā is a must-have experience in any season.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

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Snowfall adds another dimension to the vertigo-inducing depths of this remote, rocky chasm in west-central Colorado. From December through March, ski or snowshoe the seven-mile South Rim Drive to see a bird's-eye view of the Gunnison River nearly 3,000 feet below. When you take a ranger-guided snowshoe walk, the park provides the shoes for free; otherwise, they can be rented or purchased locally.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

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Time slows to a primeval pace in the sequoia groves that make up Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks , where arboreal giants have watched the seasons come and go for more than 2,000 years. In the winter, hike along quiet, snowy trails to the General Sherman Tree, among the world’s largest living icons at a height of 275 feet. These parks are also great for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. On free, ranger-led snowshoe walks, shoes are even provided. For something less strenuous, try driving through the wintry landscape, though be aware tire chains are often required during this time of year.

national parks to visit at christmas

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Arch in Arches NP with a sun flare and snow on the ground. arches in winter usa national parks to visit

15 Beautiful US National Parks to Visit in Winter (+ Tips!)

Snow-capped mountains, turquoise beaches, or otherworldly deserts–regardless of which one of these options sounds like the perfect winter getaway, one of these beautiful US national parks to visit in winter is for you!

With 62 parks to choose from, the US national park system is incredibly diverse, offering magnificent winter getaways to travelers looking to make the most of the coldest months of the year, no matter what that means to them.

A white Christmas at a national park in December or a break from dreary gray days on a tropical beach at a national park in February are equally accessible.

For the purposes of this blog post, we are more or less defining winter visits to national parks as trips taking place in December, January, and February.

However, depending on the park in question, winter weather may stretch to November and March as well!

Here’s where to find the best US national parks to visit in winter!

Table of Contents

First Step: Pick Up an America the Beautiful Pass!

Best snowy national parks to visit in winter, usa national parks to visit to escape the cold, more beautiful national parks to visit during winter.

saguaro national park at sunset, one of the best usa national parks to visit december january february

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Planning to check out several of the best national parks to visit this winter? 

If so, consider picking up an America the Beautiful Pass , also known as the USA’s annual national parks pass!

For only $80–less for certain groups like seniors and military personnel–the park covers day-use fees to over 2,000 federally managed lands, including all 62 national parks, for an entire year.

It’s one of the best travel deals around and will pay for itself within 3-4 visits to popular US national parks (for example, as of the time of writing, many popular national parks such as Arches and Yosemite cost between $25-35 per vehicle to visit).

We adore having a national parks pass and have replaced ours several times.

Buy your national parks pass today!

lake in yosemite national park in winter with snow covering the trees and ice on the lake

Arches National Park, Utah

From James Ian of Travel Collecting

Arches National Park is home to over 2,000 natural arches, and several areas crammed with rock ‘fins’ or narrow vertical ridges that the arches form in. 

It is a stunning place to visit, and when the ground is covered in light snow, the arches are perfectly and beautifully highlighted.

Add in trails that stay accessible year-round, and it’s no surprise that Arches is one of the best national parks to visit in winter!

There are several main areas to visit.  At the far end of the road is Devil’s Garden.   The Devil’s Garden Trail has several sections. 

While the challenging primitive trail is inadvisable in winter, the first section to Landscape Arch, the longest single-span arch in North America, is easily accessed by a flat, mostly paved trail. 

Nearby Sand Dune and Skylight Arches are also easy to see even in snow, as they are near the road. 

The Window’s Sections is also great to go to in the winter; the trails are short and Double Arch and the North and South Windows are especially photogenic in the snow. 

The Park Avenue section, which is a small canyon of towering cliffs, can also easily be visited in winter.

delicate arch in arches np with snow on the ground as seen when visiting the national park during winter

What to Know Before Visiting in Winter

Arches National Park is open all year round. 

There is only one road in and out of the park, and in summer, it gets crammed and the parking lots are often full, so winter is actually a great time to go. 

The park entrance is only five miles from Moab, where there is a wide range of accommodations, so it is easy to visit. 

Although Arches National Park is open throughout the winter, the road and trails may be closed after heavy snowfall until they are cleared.

The visitor center also keeps shorter hours in the winter.

sandstone arch framed by blue sky in arches np utah

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

From James of Wanderus Living

Grand Teton National Park is one of the most beautiful winter getaway destinations.

Whether you want to have an adventure in the backcountry or get cozy by a fire, the Tetons have it all. 

The Tetons are located in northwest Wyoming,   near Yellowstone ,  and are home to so much wildlife, hiking trails, ski slopes, and small towns to visit. 

The most common reason to visit the Teton range is to ski and snowboard in the winter.

Grand Teton and Jackson Hole are world-famous for their gorgeous skiing and spectacular winter views.

The most famous ski areas in the region are Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Grand Targhee Resort, and the Snow King Resort. 

If you aren’t a skier, Jackson, Wyoming has a lot more to offer! A lot of the wildlife really starts to come out during the beginning and end of winter as there are a lot fewer tourists.

Located in the Teton range are bears, bison, moose, elk, and plenty of other smaller animals. You will almost be guaranteed to see some bison or moose during your visit.

grand teton mountains covered by snow with elk in the foreground, one of the best national parks in winter usa

You can even opt for a wildlife tour if you want to have a better chance of seeing wildlife during your winter trip!

One of the first things that any visitor of the Teton’s does is capture a stunning photograph of the national park.

The park really shines during the winter and looks incredible with its snowcapped peaks. Consider driving to coordinates (43.763782, -110.553818) to get one of the best possible views of the park!

Consider staying in Jackson Hole, Wyoming which is one of the coolest winter towns in the United States and a must-see on a Wyoming road trip .

There are so many amazing shops, restaurants and cool places to stay. Even if you just want to relax for one day, Jackson Hole has plenty of things to do in town to keep you occupied. 

The Tetons are an extremely popular skiing and snowboarding destination in winter, so lodges book up quickly and prices are high.

Also, the majority of the Teton Park Road is closed to vehicles but is open to hikers and skiers, so come prepared for a different visit than you would during the warmer months.

19th century barn on Mormon Row in Grand Teton National Park covered in snow. Grand Teton is one of the best national parks to visit in january december february

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Remember hearing that the floor of the Grand Canyon can be 20 degrees warmer than the top, as a warning against the perils of the summer heat?

Well when visiting the Grand Canyon during winter, that same logic makes hiking a lot more pleasant!

Popular hikes like the Bright Angel trail and the South Kaibab trail are incredibly pleasant on a sunny winter’s day (though still difficult–never underestimate hiking in the Grand Canyon!), both due to the (usually) fairly temperate weather in the canyon and the lack of crowds as compared to the summer months.

If you get lucky, there may even be a dusting of snow on the upper layers of the canyon, giving the entire park a beautiful, otherworldly vibe. 

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon closes during winter, but the more popular South Rim typically stays open year-round.

Be sure to carefully track the time when hiking in the Grand Canyon in winter!

Shorter days mean that hikers need to be extra vigilant to ensure that they leave enough time to exit the canyon before sunset.

Grand Canyon in winter taken from the rim with snow in the foreground

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Ever wanted to learn how to snowshoe?

There’s no better place to try it out than when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in winter!

With over 350 miles of trails dotted with snowy peaks and alpine lakes, Rocky Mountain NP is a paradise year-round–but to beat the crowds and see a completely different side of the park, head out in winter.

Ranger-led snowshoeing hikes help newcomers learn a new skill (it’s not as intimidating as it sounds!), opening up a whole new world of trails.

Dream Lake, for example, is one of the most incredible and easy to access lakes in the park, and it’s even more stunning in winter.

Group of hikers cross country skiing in rocky mountain national park in winter with mountain peaks in the background

For those who prefer to stick to hiking boots, spots like Old Fall River Road are closed to vehicle traffic in winter but turn into great hikes instead.

In addition to snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and sledding are also fun winter activities in RMMP!

Short winter days are made shorter by the beautiful mountains surviving Rocky Mountain National Park, so watch the time carefully as you explore! 

With large amounts of snowfall each year, it’s imperative to check trail conditions and avalanche risk before heading out each day.

trail ridge road in rocky mountain np in february surrounded by snow

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

From Brittany of Bucket List Bri

Did you know that Canyonlands National Park in Moab is Utah’s largest national park?

It’s actually so big that it’s sectioned into three parts, namely: Island in the Sky – the most visited and panoramic with jaw-dropping vistas; the Needles district filled with towering spires of colorful sandstone; and the Maze – an adventurous “no man’s land” that requires backcountry permits and a high-clearance 4×4.

But what could be more beautiful than the red rocks and panoramic vistas in Canyonlands National Park?

Those same rocks, vistas, and trails but under a gentle, white blanket of snow.

In winter, Canyonlands becomes a quiet place to escape to; a stark contrast from the summer months when jeeps and hikers are sprawling over the trails.

While some trails will be closed due to dangerous snowfall covering guiding cairns and marked paths, other areas remain open to the cautious traveler.

landscape of canyonlands national park snowy in winter usa

One of the best things to do during this season is to visit Grand View Overlook for sunrise or sunset.

The golden hues reflect off the glittery snow to create a magical experience.

If you’re feeling up for it, consider hiking the easy 0.9-mile White Rim Overlook Trail to immerse yourself in the wintery landscape.

Not only is this trail the perfect time to take epic photos, but you will be rewarded ten-fold by the vast panoramic views.

The best way to visit Canyonlands in winter is by spending 2 days in Moab .

This way, you can visit Canyonlands slowly and carefully without rushing to explore Moab’s other famous park: Arches NP. 

Since the Island in the Sky sits at a higher elevation, there might be some trail closures.

Paved roads might be temporarily blocked until they can plow.

There’s no gas, food, or lodging here during winter.

The Visitor’s Center is closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays from January-March.

If you intend to hike, come prepared and be sure to pack crampons .

sunrise at mesa arch in canyonlands np with a sun flare and some snow on the ground

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the USA, and summer visits can require planning months in advance and contending with intense crowds.

Want to have the awe-inspiring landscape a bit more to yourself?

Consider planning a winter national park trip to enjoy Yosemite instead!

Heavy snowfall and ever-changing conditions will mean needing to plan a trip that’s a bit different than a summer trip–casual hikers won’t be able to take on some of the classic trails, and some roads are closed.

But, when staring up at a magnificent view of Yosemite Falls framed by snow, odds are good that you’ll consider the trip worth it.

Tioga Road, Glacier Point Road, and Mariposa Grove Road are closed to vehicle traffic each winter, starting at some point in mid-November and lasting all the way until May.

Roads that remain open often require tire chains in order to access them.

view of half dome and yosemite falls in winter from across the valley

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

With its otherworldly hoodoos and magnificent amphitheater that can easily be explored from above, Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the best national parks to visit in December, January, and February.

In fact, you can even make the argument that the canyon is more beautiful during Utah’s winter months when the bright snow offsets the brilliant orange of the canyon than in the more popular summer months.

The park’s four main viewpoints–Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Bryce Point, and Inspiration Point–all offer magnificent views of the Bryce Canyon amphitheater without needing to take on the task of winter hiking at an elevation of 8000 feet.

However, for those inclined to bundle up and hit the trails year-round, many popular hikes remain open, weather-permitting (you should always check conditions before heading out).

When hiking during the winter, boots are required and crampons highly recommended.

Bryce Canyon from above covered in snow. Bryce Canyon is one of the best usa national parks winter visits

Many trails in Bryce Canyon NP are closed during winter, including popular Wall Street and portions of the Rim Trail. 

While park rangers work hard to keep the main scenic drive open, it may sometimes partially close due to weather, so be flexible!

Paria Road and Fairyland Loop Road are closed to vehicle traffic during winter.

The visitor’s center keeps slightly shorter hours in the winter months, closing at 4:30 PM each day rather than 6:00 PM.

view of a snowy national park bryce canyon winter

Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

From Noel of Travel Photo Discovery

Lava flow at Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park as seen from inside a helicopter, one of the best usa national parks to see during winter

Big Bend National Park, Texas

One of the best things to do in Big Bend is to hike !

One of the best hikes in Big Bend National Park is the Hot Springs Hike.

It is recommended to get there for sunrise to avoid the crowds.

Another fun thing to do is to hike the Lost Mine Trail. This is one of the most popular hikes at Big Bend and is excellent for sunset views.

The surrounding cacti and mountains make this an extraordinary hike.

view of chisos mountains along lost mine trail big bend national park texas

A very underrated area to explore is the Boquillas Canyon Trail. Many people canoe around this spot.

It is breathtaking during sunrise, and you can see the steam of the hot springs at the Rio Grande.

Another very popular area is the Santa Elena Canyon Trail. This trail is extremely easy with beautiful views of the Rio Grande. This is another fantastic area to canoe.

Big Bend National Park is one of the easiest national parks to visit in the winter. The weather is perfect, everything is open, and there are not many crowds. 

The best time to visit Big Bend National Park is actually in the winter.

There are no closures in the winter for Big Bend, believe it or not.

The summertime is when areas of the park close because it is too hot!

hiker standing in santa elena canyon in big bend national park texas, one of the coolest usa national parks to visit winter

Biscayne National Park, Florida

From Amy of The Florida Travel Girl

If you want a National Park that feels like summer year-round, Biscayne National Park is the one to visit.

Just south of Miami, this park boasts some of the clearest waters and prettiest beaches in the country.

You can still take advantage of them in the winter too, with temperatures staying in the 80s most of the year.

The park is open year-round for 24 hours a day, with the exception of the visitor center. 

For overnight visits, it is ideal to stay nearby in Coral Gables or Key Biscayne, however, you can camp if you have a boat!

All sorts of eco-adventures are offered here, from kayaking to snorkeling.

Biscayne National Park as seen from above with the beach to the left and the bright blue water to the right

Spending some time in the water is recommended, as it is home to a variety of tropical fish and sea turtles.

The guided kayak tours are a great way to learn about the ecosystem as well. Fishing and boating are also fun options, especially if you want to camp.

There are two campgrounds here, but they are only accessible by boat.

With such secluded islands, you can really appreciate all the sights and sounds Florida has to offer at Biscayne National Park.

There are no seasonal closures at Biscayne National Park.

boca chita lighthouse in biscayne national park with miami skyline in the far distance

Death Valley National Park, Nevada/California

From Dhara of Roadtripping California

Death Valley National Park is an ideal winter destination because it is the hottest, driest place in the country!

Winter offers comfortable daytime temperatures, so you can explore all the amazing sights the park has to offer in relative comfort.

Hiking is only of the most popular  activities in Death Valley National Park , and winter is the perfect time to tackle some of the more challenging trails in the park.

Try the epic climb to the top of Telescope Peak, the tallest point in the park, or explore the badlands around Zabriskie Point.

Explore the most iconic sights in the park: Zabriskie Point (best at sunrise), Dante’s View (the highest point you can drive to), Badwater Basin (the lowest point in North America), and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, where you can trek to the top of the dunes.

mesquite dunes in death valley national park during a pink sunrise

Once you’ve covered the major sights along Highway 190, head north to Ubehebe Crater, or to Rhyolite, the ghost town just outside the park.

Or, if you have an all-wheel-drive vehicle and desert driving experience, explore some of the back roads in the park.

Death Valley at night is fascinating as well.

The park has some of the darkest skies in the country and is considered an ideal spot for stargazing. Join a ranger-led astronomy program so you can learn as you see.

While you can do a day trip to Death Valley National Park, ideally you should consider spending a few nights in the park, to savor the park’s beautiful landscapes and the silence.

With enough time, you can even extend your winter vacation into a California desert road trip and visit Joshua Tree as well!

Since you won’t be sweating the moment you exit your car, winter is the perfect time to savor a slower trip to Death Valley!

Martian landscape of Death Valley NP with 2 small humans in the bottom left corner. Death Valley belongs on any bucket list for the united states

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

If you want an amazing US national park to visit in winter, look no farther than Saguaro National Park in southern Arizona .  

While most of the country is buried in snow and cold weather, Southern Arizona finally reaches manageable temperatures in the winter, making Saguaro National Park the perfect winter destination for hikers and birders.

Saguaro National Park is split into two units flanking the east and west borders of Tucson, Arizona.

So you feel like you get two parks for the price of one, plus the lovely foodie city of Tucson in the middle!

The Tucson Mountain District of Saguaro National Park is located on the west side of Tucson, near other great attractions like the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and Old Tucson.

You also have a very scenic drive over Gates Pass to reach this side of the park.

Some of the best spots in the Western unit include the petroglyphs at Signal Rock, the Gilbert Ray campground, and hiking the Brown Mountain trail.

sunset over sonoran desert with saguaro cacti in foreground near phoeniz az, one of the best places to visit in arizona

A sunset drive around the Bajada Loop Drive is the perfect place to spot wildlife and a spectacular sunset.

On the east side of Tucson, the Rincon Mountain District also offers a scenic loop called Cactus Forest Drive, which offers stunning views of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

This district also features several great hikes, including the Douglas Springs trail which has several interconnected trails to explore.

Whichever district you decide to visit, be on the lookout for interesting desert creatures, like lizards, snakes, tarantulas, and Gila Monsters!

With average high temperatures ranging from 74°F and 69°F between the months of November and February, winter is absolutely the best time to visit Saguaro National Park!

However, if you plan to head further north in Arizona–say, to the Grand Canyon–as part of your trip, prepare for colder weather and even the possibility of snow.

Saguaro National Park, one of the best national parks to visit in winter, with a cactus in the foreground of the photo

Everglades National Park, Florida

From Neha of Travelmelodies

Everglades National Park in the southern tip of Florida is best visited in winter with warm and dry weather to explore the park.

Spanning across 1.5 million acres, it is also the third-largest national park in the continental US. 

Everglades National Park has the world’s largest wetlands and is home to some of the endangered and threatened species like manatees, American crocodiles, the Florida panther, and many more.

If you are a wildlife lover, then this place will give you ample opportunities to be ecstatic.

Everglades National Park is an easy 1-hour drive from Miami and makes for a great day trip or a part of the road trip from Miami to Key West .

Since it is a massive park, there are 3 entrances: Homestead, Shark Valley, and Everglades City, each providing a different experience. 

group of alligators in and near the water in everglades national park

If entering through Homestead, then the best place to see alligators in their natural habitat is by taking the easy boardwalk type one-mile Anhinga trail.

The Observation tower at the Pa-hay-okee Overlook lets you have a look at the vast expanse while the Mahogany Hammock trail takes you into a dense jungle with the country’s largest Mahogany tree. 

Shark Valley, on the other end of the park, is a great spot for animal viewing.

Take a Shark Valley Tram tour or a bike ride and explore the area. 

There are many ranger-led tours and walks that take you through the interesting parts of the park telling about the variety of wildlife present in the area.

These are  highly recommended, the schedules of which need to be gathered from the Visitor Center.

2 kayaks in the mangrove tunnels at everglades np, one of the best national parks to visit in february january december

Joshua Tree National Park, California

From Julia of Well Planned Journey

Joshua Tree National Park is the ultimate, adventurous escape from cold, winter weather.

As one of the national parks close to San Diego in southern California, it’s an extremely popular getaway and one of the best national parks to visit in December, January, or February.

The best way to explore Joshua Tree in winter is by hiking, camping, and scenic driving. 

Summer in Joshua Tree is extremely hot and dry, making it dangerous to hike many of the park’s trails.

Exploring Joshua Tree in the winter allows you to safely hike in comfortable weather.

While other national parks are cold and snow-covered, Joshua Tree is sunny and 65 degrees!

Explore the unique desert landscape on hikes to Hidden Valley, Barker Dam, and Ryan Mountain.

The absolute best way to see the sunrise is with a walk through the Cholla Cactus Garden. The unique, fuzzy cacti glow a bright orange in the early morning sunlight.

desert landscape at sunrise in joshua tree national park, an excellent part of several of the best west coast road trips usa

Adventure lovers should camp at Jumbo Rocks campground. You can scramble and climb massive boulders only steps from your tent!

One of the best ways to explore the park’s signature Joshua Trees is on a scenic drive.

Driving down Park Boulevard, the main route through the park, you’ll see Joshua Trees for miles! Get off the beaten path with a 4-wheel drive along Geology Tour Road. 

Every Joshua Tree National Park itinerary should include sunset at Keys View.

As one of the highest points in the park, Keys View provides stunning views of the Coachella Valley.

Sunset’s pinks and purples illuminate the valley and provide stunning 180-degree views.

Joshua Tree national park, one of the best national parks in visit december january february, with a joshua tree bending to the left in the foreground

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

From Oksana & Max of Drink Tea & Travel

Mesa Verde National Park is a four season destination, and one of the best US national parks to visit in winter.

However, since it is not as frequently visited in the winter months, it is perfect for those who are looking to avoid the summer crowds, get outside in the colder months, and to gain a greater appreciation for the conditions the ancestral pueblo people lived in.

Mesa Verde National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site.

It is located in southwestern Colorado and contains the dwelling remains of the Ancestral Pueblo people.

It was named a UNESCO site in 1978 for its archaeological and historical significance.

On entry into the park don’t forget to stop by the Visitor Center and Museum.

You can pick up a map at the visitor center and the park rangers will give you guidance on what trails are open at the moment or any information on possible activities taking place.

In the museum, explore the interactive exhibits and watch the 45-minute documentary to get a sense of the history of the park.

archaeological site at mesa verde national park covered in snow in winter national parks usa

Those looking to stay dry and warm can explore the lookout points along the Mesa Top Loop road from the comfort of your car.

This 6-mile road has several lookout points, which offer the best views of some of the most spectacular ruins within the park.

Don’t miss Sun Point lookout, Sun Temple, and Cliff Palace!

However, if you want to brave the cold, there are several winter trails suitable for cold weather hiking, snowshoeing, or cross country skiing.

Just be sure to tell someone where you are going and to bundle up for your winter adventure in this fascinating park.

Some parts of the park, including Wetherill Mesa, are closed during the winter. 

You cannot camp overnight in the park during winter.

2 photos of us national parks, saguaro national park and bryce canyon. black and red text on a white background reads' 15 prettiest national parks in winter'

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About Kate Storm

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In May 2016, I left my suburban life in the USA and became a full-time traveler. Since then, I have visited 50+ countries on 5 continents and lived in Portugal, developing a special love of traveling in Europe (especially Italy) along the way. Today, along with my husband Jeremy and dog Ranger, I’m working toward my eventual goal of splitting my life between Europe and the USA.

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11 of the best national parks to visit during winter

Sara Ventiera

Ken Burns was one of the many who've said it: The national parks were America's best idea.

America's national parks continue to draw big crowds, and visiting one (or more) of our U.S. park sites remains an incredibly popular choice for travelers across the age and budget spectrum.

High demand means some parks get very crowded, especially during the peak summer travel season and when specific entry requirements are in place.

Fortunately, you can usually get a reprieve from the crowds — and still enjoy spectacular scenery — by visiting a national park in winter when many parks reveal their own unique beauty.

These are the national parks best seen in the wintertime, from striking snowscapes to secluded retreats.

Bryce Canyon National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

For travelers who'd prefer to commune with nature versus a bunch of other tourists, winter is an excellent time to visit Bryce Canyon.

While the weather in winter can be pretty chilly, the cold temperatures and high elevation offer winter visitors a fun opportunity: cross-country skiing. Outdoor enthusiasts can lay their own tracks or glide up groomed trails to check out the snow-capped hoodoos.

Entry to the park is $35 per vehicle for seven consecutive days. We recommend getting an $80 annual national park pass if you plan to visit more than one park a year. A pass is an excellent idea if you're traveling to Bryce since it can be easily combined with Zion National Park and Grand Canyon National Park .

Crater Lake National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

With approximately 40 feet of snow falling on Crater Lake National Park every year, it's a wonder more people don't visit Oregon's only national park in winter.

During the winter season, which stretches from approximately November all the way into May (and it can stay quite cold even late in summer), travelers can explore the vast landscape on snowshoes, skis, snowmobiles, snowboards and sleds.

In fact, the park is anchored by the deepest lake in the U.S., which fills an ancient caldera in the Cascade Mountains and may provide even more recreational freedom than what you'd find in summer when scenic roads are packed with sightseeing drivers.

Just keep in mind that many roads, including the North Entrance Road, close to vehicles on Nov. 1 or earlier, depending on snowfall. Though the road to Rim Village is typically plowed, visitors may still need tire chains or all-wheel-drive vehicles with winter tires in order to safely enter the park. Make sure your vehicle is able to handle the snowy and icy roads, or plan on entering the park on a snowmobile or with other snow equipment.

Everglades National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

Everglades National Park is actually busiest in the winter months, but it's hotter than Hades when the wet season hits — and the ubiquitous mosquitos are the size of golf balls, so winter still reigns supreme at this southern national park.

Head over to the Gulf Coast side of the park to canoe through extraordinary coastal mangroves, sawgrass marshes and pine flatwoods. There's a world-renowned variety of migrating birds and manatees, plus it's the only place on the planet where both gators and crocodiles coexist.

You can have a luxury stay on points and still be within driving distance of Everglades National Park by booking a room at the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort or Baker's Cay Resort Key Largo , a Curio Collection property by Hilton.

Related: 10 of the best national parks to visit in the fall

Yosemite National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

Yosemite was one of the first tracts of land to receive the national park denomination and is considered one of the most majestic places in the country. Millions of people make the pilgrimage every year to the home of the Half Dome and El Capitan — two iconic monoliths made even more famous by the popularization of rock climbing.

While most visitors stroll around the valley or hike the arduous Mist Trail in the warmer months, the park offers just as many outdoor activities during winter, with snow sports ranging from downhill and cross-country skiing to tubing and sledding, snowshoeing and ice skating. Outfitters will even take you snowmobiling. You'll face far fewer crowds than in the warm-weather months, no matter which diversion you choose.

Keep in mind that Tioga Road closes from about November to late May or early June every year. Otherwise, much of the rest of the park remains accessible. The park is also home to a ski resort, Badger Pass, which is far more affordable (and less overwhelming) than popular megaresorts elsewhere in California, such as those in Lake Tahoe or Mammoth .

Grand Canyon National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

There's a reason why the Grand Canyon is one of the most visited national parks in the nation: It's one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World due to its awe-inspiring scale and size. However, the summer crowds and corresponding traffic can put a damper on the wonderment.

So, many visitors consider winter an underrated and particularly special time to visit the Grand Canyon. Take in the view from the popular Bright Angel Trail. That's when the dramatic red rocks pop beneath a dusting of snow, and you'll share the scenery with just a fraction of the number of tourists here in summer. You'll also see more animal activity during the cooler months because of the weather and because the wildlife is emboldened in the absence of humans.

While the North Rim of the canyon does close every winter, the South Rim area remains open, with temperatures at the rim generally peaking in the 40s and dropping into the 20s. Temperatures on the canyon floor are a bit higher, between the 30s and high 50s.

Consider bedding down at the elegant (by national park lodge standards) El Tovar Hotel located directly on the canyon rim. It offers the best views and is home to the only fine-dining restaurant inside the park. It's also the most expensive, with standard rooms starting around $300.

Related: What to pack and where to stay: TPG's ultimate Grand Canyon family vacation guide

Death Valley National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

Death Valley is infamous for its drought and scalding summer temperatures that consistently exceed 100 degrees. So, it's no surprise that travelers drawn to this sprawling desert landscape often come here in winter when the daytime temperatures are decidedly less deadly and snow has dusted the surrounding peaks.

Located in eastern California, Death Valley National Park is a great road trip destination from Las Vegas . Just a 2.5-hour drive from Sin City, travelers can visit Badwater Basin (a salt flat with the lowest elevation on the continent). In winter, it's cool enough for visitors to walk out onto the salt flat and see the iconic "salt polygons" — geometric formations on the earth — up close.

Another can't-miss sight is Artist's Palette on Artist's Drive, a 9-mile scenic route that snakes through the multicolored badlands. The kaleidoscopic hues, formed by various metals oxidizing in the mountains, are best seen in the late afternoon light.

If you want to spend the night in the park, book a stay at Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel . Rooms have a classic Western feel, and there are on-site amenities such as a pool, a saloon and a general store. There are also campsites and recreational vehicle hookups available.

Yellowstone National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

If you've visited Yellowstone in summer, you were likely met with hordes of tourists (irresponsibly) stopping to take selfies with bison and had your view of Old Faithful impeded by hundreds of selfie sticks. But in winter, visitors are rewarded with a different kind of experience.

Steam from erupting geysers and hot springs creates an impressive contrast to the snow-covered backdrop. Wolves and bighorn sheep make their appearance — definitely participate in a wolf-viewing tour. Meanwhile, skiers can enjoy a serene experience that can't be found at any ski resort on Earth.

Search Cook City, Gardiner, Red Lodge or West Yellowstone in Montana for hotels or rental properties near the trio of Montana entrances. The Kimpton in Bozeman is another option if you want a more luxurious lodging experience using your points. It's about 90 miles away from Yellowstone.

There are also many places to bed down at the two Wyoming entrances (especially by the one near Cody, Wyoming). If you're looking for a place to stay with points, consider the Holiday Inn West Yellowstone , the Ridgeline Hotel at Yellowstone (an Ascend property by Choice Hotels), the Days Inn by Wyndham West Yellowstone , the Best Western Desert Inn or the Best Western Weston Inn .

Related: Where to stay when visiting Yellowstone National Park: Best hotels and lodges

Glacier National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

Thanks to social media and the popularity of adventure travel, many of us are convinced we have to catch a flight to Iceland or Alaska for a chance to see the northern lights .

But you can simply head to Glacier National Park — a designated Dark Sky Park — in winter for a solid shot at witnessing the celestial phenomenon. Lake MacDonald, which stretches 10 miles to the north, is surrounded by high peaks and offers an unobstructed sky view.

Glacier National Park normally charges a $35 entrance fee per vehicle in summer, but travelers who brave the cold will get a discounted rate of $25 in winter.

However, if you visit Glacier in winter, you'll want to stay just outside the park. There are a few luxury hotels, including the Firebrand Hotel in Whitefish, and travelers can use points to stay at the TownePlace Suites Whitefish Kalispell ; the SpringHill Suites Kalispell ; or one of Hilton's four properties in the area, including a Hilton Garden Inn, a Hampton Inn, a Homewood Suites and a Hampton Inn and Suites.

Related: Here's how you can visit national parks for free in 2024

Big Bend National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

Discover impossibly dark skies and crowd-free, wide-open spaces at Big Bend National Park in West Texas. Visit during winter to escape the South's blistering heat and stargaze in solitude.

Spend your days hiking in the Chisos Mountains (just be mindful of trail closures for peregrine falcon nesting season) or soaking in the area's natural hot springs near Rio Grande Village.

Plan far in advance, and you can stay at the Chisos Mountains Lodge — but travelers can also take advantage of the park's vast campgrounds. After all, the lows rarely drop below the low 40s even in the height of winter, making it the perfect time to cozy up in an RV or tent.

Saguaro National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

Winter storms may be sporadic in Saguaro National Park, but even if you don't see towering cactuses dusted with snow, winter may still be one of the best times to visit this underrated parkland.

Less than a half-hour from Tucson, Arizona, this national park is in the center of the Sonoran Desert, meaning daytime temperatures during summer can exceed 110 degrees. That's what makes winter a delightful time to visit, as the mild temperatures hover around the mid-60s and 70s.

In addition to having the nation's largest cactuses, saguaros, which can grow up to 60 feet in height and can live to be over 200 years old, the park features ancient petroglyphs, is close to a family-friendly museum and has several scenic drives and mountain trails that vary in duration and difficulty.

Grand Teton National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

Discover a crowd-free version of Wyoming's striking Grand Teton National Park by visiting in winter . After the final leaf peepers leave, the park becomes a winter wonderland where you can cross-country ski, snowshoe or even snowmobile through the snowdrifts.

For a more leisurely experience, dog sled tours take visitors through the silver-white wilderness. Whether you're on a sled or skis, watch out for wildlife: Winter is a great time to spot elk, moose, bison, deer, bald eagles and wolves.

Just note that there are no lodges or services open in the park during the offseason, so you'll want to stay in the nearby towns of Jackson and Teton Village. Consider The Cloudveil , an Autograph Collection property in Jackson. You might even find some off-peak award availability.

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Best National Parks to Visit in the Winter

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You’re probably pretty familiar with the idea of national parks, especially if you’ve been looking for somewhere to travel within the last few years. But if you generally stick to summertime excursions, you may be missing out. So why not break the mold and visit a national park during winter?

Here’s our list of the best national parks to visit in the winter and nearby places to stay when using your hotel points.

1. Zion National Park

A perennial favorite, Utah's Zion National Park is great to visit year-round. With its stunning vistas and a great wealth of hiking trails, there’s plenty to do no matter when you arrive. Although the weather isn’t the best in the winter (the rainy season and below-freezing lows are a risk), there are two special perks for visiting during this time: the lack of crowds and the ability to drive yourself around.

As one of the most popular national parks, you’ll often find yourself jostling for space within Zion’s busier months. But during the winter, the park is so empty that its shuttle service shuts down, allowing you to drive through the park yourself. This will give you more freedom and allow you to park near the hiking trails rather than being ferried up from the entrance. 

Where to stay near Zion National Park with points

There are quite a few hotels clustered around the entrance to the park, including some options from major hotel chains such as Hilton , Marriott and Wyndham. 

2. Yellowstone National Park

The 12th most-visited National Park in 2021, Yellowstone saw 4.9 million guests wander through. So if you’re looking for one of the best national parks in the U.S. to visit in the winter, you may want to try Yellowstone.

Is it frigid? Yes, with temperatures ranging from zero to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, you can bet that you’ll need your cold-weather gear. However, you’ll also be treated to uniquely wintery activities, such as snowmobiling, guided snowcoach tours, cozy lodge fires and skiing. What’s not to like?

Where to stay near Yellowstone National Park with points

Your best bet for redeeming hotel points near Yellowstone is with Marriott ; Springhill Suites in Idaho is located just down the road from the park’s entrance. 

» Learn more: How to visit national parks for free this year

3. Everglades National Park

If freezing temperatures aren’t your idea of fun, consider heading south instead — to Florida’s Everglades National Park. Winter is the best time to visit this park, with its dry season extending from November to April.

Not only will you skip the rain, but you’ll also experience milder temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to the high-70s. So if you’re snowbound at home, visiting Everglades could cure those winter blues. 

Where to stay near Everglades National Park with points

Everglades National Park spans a massive 1.5 million acres and has three entrances. For ease, consider staying a little further away; Miami is within driving distance and has a wealth of hotel offerings from all major hotel chains and across all travel budgets.

4. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

We all love a good Hawaiian vacation, don’t we? And if you’re looking for the best national parks to visit in the winter, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park should be at the top of your list. 

You’ll get to mix the temperate weather on the island of Hawaii (also known as the Big Island) with its snow-capped mountain peaks. Get your fill of the ethereal beauty within the park — including its active volcanoes — before heading back to your resort for warmth and relaxation. 

» Learn more: The best Hawaiian island for a first-time visit

Where to stay near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with points

You’ll need a car (or a tour) to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is just as well since most chain hotels are located near the water. Although the Big Island isn’t as popular as some of Hawaii’s other islands, you’ll still find a wide variety of hotels from which to choose, including Hilton, Marriott and IHG . 

Active duty military and veterans receive free entry to national parks.  Learn about other military travel discounts .

5. White Sands National Park

One of the newest national parks in the U.S. was established in 2019, though you probably haven’t heard of it. White Sands National Park is in New Mexico and contains the world’s largest gypsum dune fields. Aside from its unreal scenery, visitors can also enjoy activities such as hiking, camping and — best of all — sledding down the dunes. 

The park generally sees moderate weather during winter, with daytime temperatures reaching about 60 degrees. 

Where to stay near White Sands National Park with points

The nearest options for using your hotel points are nearby Alamogordo, about a 15-minute drive from the park. The town itself isn’t large; with a population of just over 30,000, you wouldn’t expect much in the way of accommodation. However, you’ll find redemption options from Hilton, IHG, Marriott and Wyndham in this tiny town.

» Learn more: The best hotel credit cards right now

6. Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado offers the quintessential winter experience: deep snow, sledding, snowshoeing and excellent wildlife viewing. For the more adventurous, winter camping is also available. Just don’t forget to bring hot chocolate. 

Where to stay near Rocky Mountain National Park with points

While there are tons of homey lodges located around the park’s entrance, you’ll find fewer choices for redeeming your points. Your nearest option is a Choice hotel, though you can also stay at a Hilton property just over an hour away from the park. 

Best national parks to visit in the winter recapped

Don’t skimp on the national park visits just because the summer’s over. With a wide variety of available activities and plenty of options for warmer weather, do yourself a favor and head out to a national park this winter.

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national parks to visit at christmas

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22 National Parks that are Even Better in Winter (Both Warm and Frozen!)

last Updated: September 25, 2023 national park winter

FYI: Affiliate links may be sprinkled throughout the awesome, free content you see below. I’ll receive a small commission when you purchase from my links (at no extra cost to you), which I’ll totally blow on adult things like boba tea and avocado toast. As always, thanks for the support.

Looking for the best national parks to visit in winter? Thankfully, there’s a whole lot! Here’s our picks of warm + sunny and chilly + snowy national parks in winter (you’ll wanna visit them all after reading this post, you’ll see!).

national parks to visit at christmas

The more parks I visit, the more I’m in awe of the USA! I’ve got a whole lotta love for my home country. Make the most of the winter months with this list of the best national parks to visit in winter. 

This guide will showcase 22 (yes, twenty two!) of the best national parks to visit in winter. I’ve included everything you need to know — including why winter’s a great time to visit, what to expect, best things to do, and of course any logistics like road closures/winter conditions.

Why visit the national parks in winter:

Typically, not as many people choose to visit the national parks in winter, so you’ll experience way fewer crowds (at most) and much more solidarity. That does highly depend on the park though — some parks are too hot in the summer so everyone flocks there come winter!

Since there’s a whole bunch of parks to choose from when planning your winter national parks visit, I’ve organized this list by those with warm(ish) weather and those with your typical winter weather.

You’ll find parks on this list that are downright freezing (heavy parkas required), while others you’ll need your sunscreen for. 

national parks to visit at christmas

BUT all downright stunning in winter. And all the parks on this list are even better in winter. Some have way less crowds, some are actually enjoyable (goodbye blistering heat), and some the wildlife is more out and about.

Oh — and of course some turn into snowy winter wonderlands complete with frozen waterfalls, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing opportunities, and glistening frozen lakes.

FYI — I’m obsessed with Yosemite in winter . It’s easily my all-time favorite of all the national parks to visit in winter. If you live in California, be sure to head over!

A few common questions about the national parks in winter :

  • What constitutes winter? When people say they’re visiting the national parks in winter, they’re usually talking about visiting between December to February/March. Although — some parks do have an extended winter season, meaning snow comes earlier/lasts longer. Always be sure to check the official National Park Service website for updates, as things can change each season.
  • Are the national parks open in the winter? Yup — most are open and welcome to visitors! The only park that completely closes is Isle Royale (one of the best national parks to visit on the east coast in summer) due to hazardous conditions. However, in certain parks, some public facilities, scheduled activities, and even roads are closed or greatly reduced. For instance, Crater Lake National Park is a hit or miss during winter because reduced visibility means you might not even see the lake (the park’s main attraction)!
  • What’s the weather like in the national parks in winter? Well, this highly depends where you’re going! It’ll be warm and sunny in some (like Death Valley , Joshua Tree , and the Everglades), while other parks will look straight outta a winter wonderland (hello Yosemite , Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountain). You’ve really got your pick when it comes to visiting the national parks in winter!

So let’s get to it! There’s a whole bunch on this list – it’ll be hard to choose just a few this season! Whether you’re looking for one of the chillest national parks to visit in winter or prefer some mild weather, we’ve got you covered.

Mild and Warm National Parks in Winter

1. death valley national park .

national parks to visit at christmas

  • Location : California
  • Average Temperatures in Winter: 65-74° F (gets much chillier at night)
  • Why Visit in Winter : moderate temps, great stargazing, enjoyable hiking opportunities, fewer crowds than spring
  • Winter Season : November – February

Winter is easily the best season to visit Death Valley National Park . Why? Simply because it’s way too hot other times of year. Think, 120°F in the heat of summer! And I’m not even exaggerating. Death Valley is the hottest, driest, and lowest national park in the USA.

Death Valley National Park is a land of extremes and contrasts – there’s salt flats, sand dunes, and even slot canyons to explore. And scientific mysteries like rocks sailing across the playa themselves on what’s known as The Racetrack. It’s weird and wild, and a great place for adventurers — as long as it’s not summer.

By visiting in the winter, you’ll be able to enjoy all the activities and hiking the park has to offer without it’s blistering hot temps. The air is a comfortable ~65-75°F, meaning you won’t melt the second you step outta your air-conditioned car.

But no matter when you decide to visit, always come prepared with a hat and lots of water! Gotta keep yourself hydrated! Oh, and sunscreen — yes, even in winter. 

Don’t Miss in Winter:

  • Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: Yes, you can see the sand dunes from the parking area, but you’ll wanna do a bit of hiking to really get the best experience (and best photos!). Bring a board or piece of cardboard – since winter brings cooler temps, sand boarding is way more fun in winter. I honestly can’t even imagine trekking out to the far depths of the dunes in summer – the sand is way too hot on your feet and the sun is scorching!
  • Watch sunrise or sunset at Zabriskie Point: This popular viewpoint is popular any time of day, but the colors really come out when the sun is low in the horizon. Meaning just around sunrise and sunset are the best times to visit! 
  • Badwater Basin Salt Flats: Imagine walking out to a bed of geometric-shaped salt flats as far as the eye can see. Yup, that’s the Badwater Basin Salt Flats , the lowest point in North America! If you’re lucky to visit after a rainfall, the flats will even look like a huge mirror, which typically only happens in winter.
  • Go hiking: Mild weather calls for some great hiking opportunities, since you won’t melt and get all sticky right away. Popular hikes include Mosaic Canyon (my favorite), Golden Canyon (we hiked to Red Cathedral), and the Natural Bridge Trail (quick and easy).

Winter conditions/road closures: Nothing is closed in Death Valley during the season, making it one of the best national parks to visit in winter. However, a storm caused extensive flash flooding in the Scotty’s Castle area in 2015, and it’s been closed until further notice.

Where to Stay: I highly recommend staying within the park itself, at either The Ranch at Death Valley ($$) or The Inn at Death Valley ($$$). There are numerous campgrounds as well if you wanna stargaze from your tent all night – just bundle up as temps drop drastically once the sun goes down.

2. Haleakala National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

  • Location : Maui, Hawaii
  • Average Temperature in Winter: mid-high 70s at high-elevation areas of the park, including the summit mid-day. Expect early-morning sunrise temps to be below freezing. 
  • Why Visit in Winter : rare dusting of snow makes the dormant volcano even more stunning, super lush vegetation, mild weather suitable for hiking to the crater
  • Winter Season : December – February

Does watching the sunrise above the clouds sound like something straight out a dream? 

Imagine waking up at the crack of dawn, driving up switchbacks to the mountain summit, and watching the sunrise above the clouds. Yup, this is Haleakala National Park in Maui, Hawaii .

And it’s by far one of the best national parks to visit in winter. This dormant volcano is sacred to native Hawaiians, and heading to the 10,023 foot summit should be on everyone’s Maui itinerary . 

While it’s pretty uncommon, snow does fall every 5 years or so. Kinda hard to know in advance, so if you happen to get lucky, definitely don’t take it for granted!

Most people leave a bit after sunrise, but the colors really start to show once the sun’s higher in the sky. 

There’s two trails down to the crater, each about 2.2 miles (one way). On your hike, look out for the nene (native Hawaiian goose), the Hawaiian petrel, and the rare silversword (in the same family as the sunflower, found nowhere else in the world).

Good to Know — Haleakala National Park is actually made up of two distinct districts: 

  • Summit District (for watching sunrise above the clouds and hiking to the volcano crater)
  • Kipahulu District (for hiking the Pipiwai Trail and bamboo forest commonly visited on the Road to Hana ).

Top Things to do in Winter:

  • Hike down to the crater: Head down the volcano into the crater to view ancient rock, but beware — the higher elevation can cause altitude sickness. Always have lots of water on hand and take it slower than normal. Don’t miss “Rainbow Bridge”!
  • Watch sunrise above the clouds: By far the most popular thing to do in Haleakala. However, the summit of Haleakalā is about 30°F (or 17°C) cooler than the coast. Aka dress warm and in layers (a blanket works well here). Do note you’ll need to make a sunrise reservation as it’s gotten super popular over the years!
  • Bike down the volcano: There’s a bunch of tour companies that offer van rides to the summit, and then guided biking tours back down! An exhilarating way to start the day for sure! Again, just watch out for that high altitude!

Winter conditions/road closures: The 38 curvy miles of switchbacks to the summit are open all year long. Plan to take a rain jacket as winter brings more rain.

Where to Stay: Most visitors do 1-2 day trips to Haleakala National Park from elsewhere on the island, but there are campgrounds and wilderness cabins. Staying in the Upcountry will get you closest to the park for early morning sunrise visits.

3. Joshua Tree National Park

Day trip to Joshua Tree itinerary

  • Location : California (an hour from Palm Springs )
  • Average Temperature in Winter: a mild ~60°F (with way cooler temps at night)
  • Why Visit in Winter : less crowds, perfect weather for hiking and camping (most trails are dangerous to hike in the high heat the rest of the year) 
  • Winter Season : December – February 

Winter in Joshua Tree National Park is the perfect time to hike, backpack, and camp. For much of the year, Joshua Tree is unbearably hot, but in the winter, temperatures drop, making it the perfect cold weather escape. 

From December to February, day time temperatures are about 60 degrees with plenty of sunshine — great for hiking among the Joshua trees and crazy rock formations. 

There’s endless things to do in Joshua Tree National Park , but here’s a few of the can’t-miss activities for your winter visit:

  • Hike Ryan Mountain. One of the most popular hikes in the park, Ryan Mountain is ideal for sunset. In the winter, you’ll have great views of sunset’s pinks and purples over the Coachella Valley.
  • Hike the Boy Scout Trail. The Boy Scout Trail is one of the more strenuous hikes in the park. In fact, it can only be hiked from late Fall to early Spring due to extreme heat! You’ll be able to explore the park’s famous Joshua trees and massive boulders as you venture through the park’s wilderness.
  • See the Cholla Cactus Garden. A trip to the Cholla Cactus Garden is an essential part of every trip to Joshua Tree National Park. Head to the garden at sunrise to see the small, fuzzy cacti glow orange in the first morning light.

Winter conditions/road closures: While day time temps are mild, plan for freezing nights. Hail and snow are not unheard of in the desert during winter, although they’re not super common. 

Where to Stay: Unlike many national parks, winter is a popular time to visit Joshua Tree. Because of this, if you plan to camp in the park, book your accommodation 6 months in advance when reservations open.

Adventurous travelers will love Jumbo Rocks Campground. Only steps away from your campsite, you can scramble and climb the enormous boulders.

And if you’re not into camping, check out the super-instagrammable Airbnb’s in Twentynine Palms and Yucca Valley. 

Contributed by Julia Jennings from Well Planned Journey

4. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park 

Looking for the best national parks to visit in winter? Thankfully, there’s a whole lot! Here’s our picks of warm + sunny and chilly + snowy national parks in winter

  • Location : Big Island, Hawaii
  • Average Temperature in Winter: ~70°F
  • Why Visit in Winter : about the same temperature year round, so it’s nice and warm compared to the rest of the USA
  • Winter Season : December – March are “chilliest”, although no true winter season

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is an amazing National Park – in any season! I mean, imagine walking on lava beds; how cool is that?! It’s a massive park, home to one of the world’s most active volcanoes, including Kīlauea and Mauna Loa.

The weather on the Big Island of Hawaii is always pleasant and a true paradise. Sure, there’s the occasional rainstorm, but more often than not, it’s likely to be a perfect 70°F and sunny. Yes — even during your winter trip to Volcano National Park.  

The entire winter season hovers around these temps, and It’s consistent and reliable. Although slightly cooler than the beach and lower elevations on the island, you are still promised a gorgeous day at Volcano. 

Definitely make Volcano National Park part of your Big Island road trip , as it’s one of the best national parks to visit in winter. 

Top Winter Activities:

  • Hike the lava fields: In Volcano National Park, you can walk on land that is younger than you. Spend time hiking around the lava fields. If the volcano is flowing, you might even get a chance to see red hot lava. 
  • Hike along the Crater Rim Trail: You’ll love the steam vents constantly sending out warm, moist air from deep in the earth. Hiking along the paths near the caldera, you’ll find dramatic views, deep fissures in the earth, and sulfuric acid on the rocks. And amazing plant life!
  • Check out Thurston Lava Tube (Nahuku): When lava flows quickly, the outside layer can harden and solidify while the hot lava flows through, leaving a tube.  Thurston Lava Tube is large enough for crowds of people to check out. You’ll love imagining the vastness of the lava that flowed through here. 

Winter conditions/road closures: Part of the main driving loop in Volcano National Park is closed … but not due to winter weather.  It is closed due to lava flow overtaking the road recently. 

In 2018, lava flowed right outside Volcano National Park causing some damage to homes and neighborhoods. Since then, the volcano has been dormant.  Due to this, you currently cannot see molten lava. 

Where to Stay: For an epic experience, consider staying within the park itself. The Volcano House , Lava Lodge at Volcano Village , and Volcano Rainforest Retreat are three great options! Outside the park, it’s about a ~2 hour drive from Kona, or a ~3 hour drive from Hilo.

Contributed by Jamie Harper from Fly by the Seat of our Pants   

5. Everglades National Park

Looking for the best national parks to visit in winter? Thankfully, there’s a whole lot! Here’s our picks of warm + sunny and chilly + snowy national parks in winter

  • Location : Florida
  • Average Temperature in Winter : low 50s to upper 70s °F
  • Why Visit in Winter : not too hot, dry with less mosquitos, better chance to see wildlife
  • Winter Season : December – March

Located in South Florida, the Everglades are one of the best winter destinations for people who wish to visit a national park and enjoy warm weather. And you can even visit as a day trip from Miami . 

December to March is known as the dry season in Florida. It’s sunny, dry, not too hot or humid and there are way less mosquitoes. 

It’s also the best time of the year to see the wildlife. Birds, crocodiles, alligators, bobcats and white-tail deer tend to go out more during the dry season which means you’ll have higher chances of seeing them! 

Because of the pleasant weather, winter is also the best time to go hiking in the Everglades! The best walking paths are Anhinga Trail, Pa-Hay-Okee Boardwalk and the Shark Valley observation tower. They are located near the visitor centers in Shark Valley and Flamingo. 

Here are few recommendations of things to do in the Everglades in winter: 

  • Go on a ranger-led activity: The park rangers offer a variety of activities such as guided walks, bicycle, and canoe tours. Definitely take advantage! They can be booked at the visitor center or online.
  • Airspeed boat tour: This is an absolute must-do in Shark Valley, and what most picture the Everglades to be! On the one hour tour you’ll discover the wetlands, mangroves, and of course, see more alligators than you thought possible. 
  • Bird watching: There’s over 300 species of birds in the park, so a highlight for anyone mildly interested! Watch roseate spoonbills, ahingas, double-crested cormorants, purple gallinules, great egrets, white pelicans, ospreys, and more. 

Winter conditions/road closures: none

Where to Stay: When it comes to accommodation, you can opt for a campsite in the national park such as Long Pine Key Campground or Flamingo Campground. Everglades Chickee Cottage & Bungalow in Ochopee also offers a glamping version! 

For more traditional accommodation, opt for a hotel in Miami, Naples or Fort Myers and drive back to the Everglades during the day.

Contributed by Pauline from BeeLoved City

6. Big Bend National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

  • Location : Texas
  • Average Temperature in Winter: ~65° F, significantly colder at night
  • Why Visit in Winter : the weather is mild and gorgeous; summer is way too hot to enjoy the park, fewer crowds 
  • Winter Season: November – February/March

While summer temps can soar into triple digits, winter at Big Bend National Park is beautiful. Daytime temperatures can get to 65 degrees or even higher, and the chilly nights are perfect for campfires and s’mores. 

With smaller crowds than fall and spring, winter is the perfect time to visit Big Bend National Park. 

Here are some of the things you don’t want to miss:

  • Take a drive down Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to take in the incredible views of the Chihuahuan Desert landscape. 
  • Hike Santa Elena Canyon , a short 1.4-mile hike that’s one of the most scenic in the park. You’ll be hiking along the Rio Grande, with the canyons rising on either side of you the whole way. You can also paddle the Rio Grande along the Santa Elena Canyon!
  • Hike the Boquillas Canyon Trail , a short hike that’ll take you to the entrance to Boquillas Canyon where you can view a spectacular sunset. If you have a passport, you can visit earlier in the day and take a donkey ride to the nearby small Mexican village of Boquillas del Carmen .

Winter conditions/road closures: It’s important to keep an eye on the weather when visiting Big Bend in the winter. While winter storms are not frequent, they do move in quickly, so you’ll want to make sure you’re not caught unprepared.

Where to Stay: To stay in the park, make sure to book the Chisos Mountain Lodge . It fills up very quickly so you’ll want to book at least six months out.

Contributed by Yo Schlachter of Texas Wanderers

7. Biscayne National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

  • Average Temperature in Winter: ~70° F 
  • Why Visit in Winter : mild climate, less rainfall and less humidity (resulting in fewer mosquitoes), smaller crowds, year-round sunshine
  • Winter Season: December – February

Biscayne National Park in Southern Florida is a beautiful ocean paradise, and the largest marine sanctuary in the US National Park System. 

Of course, Southern Florida is known for its year-round warm weather, with Miami being one of the most pleasant places to spend winter in the US. Rainfall and humidity are far lower in the winter months than during summer in Miami, and December/January temperatures are on average around 25C°/77F°. 

Biscayne National Park is actually 95% water and home to the world’s third largest offshore reef. The park offers excellent diving and snorkelling at the park’s coastal barrier reef, which is also home to the only underwater archaeological trail in the US.

The park extends from Key Biscayne, an island which was once a coconut plantation. It is now a tropical oasis, with charming residential villages and varied outdoor activities – a world away from the hustle and bustle of Downtown Miami and Miami Beach. 

Must-Do’s here:

  • Stop at some of the beaches , including the Rickenbacker Causeway, Virginia Key Beach Park, and/or Hobie Beach. Both of these have calm, gentle waves and are great for children or those who aren’t experienced swimmers.
  • There’s plenty of local companies offering boating or kayaking excursions departing from Key Biscayne. This is the best way to see marine life without diving, if you prefer.
  • Back on land at Key Biscayne, there’s plenty to do such as exploring the park on two wheels to spot other local wildlife, such as pelicans, manatees and curious racoons. 

Where to Stay: Camp on Elliott Key, the largest island in the park, or on Boca Chita, one of the popular islands for day trips.

Contributed by Claire from

8. White Sands National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

  • Location : New Mexico
  • Average Temperature in Winter: ~60-75°F, although nights will be much colder
  • Why Visit in Winter : less chance of afternoon thunderstorms, mild temps, and calm winds
  • Winter Season: November – March

White Sands National Park is the newest, and 62 nd , national park in the United States. The white gypsum sand dunes of the park are incredible and a beautiful place to take photos.

It’s a great destination to explore in winter because it’s warm and dry throughout — best for those wanting to escape cold and wet winters elsewhere in the country. It’s one of the best national parks to visit in winter if you wanna guarantee mild weather.

The average daytime temps in November are still a balmy 70 F, but it does cool down in January and February to 60 F. As White Sands is located in a desert, the temperatures cool off significantly in the evenings. Make sure you prepare for high temperature swings when you visit.

As it doesn’t snow here, and the temperatures in winter are still relatively warm, all of your favorite summer activities in White Sands National Park are also available in winter. 

  • Hiking is the most popular activity and is more enjoyable in winter than the scorching summer. There is no better way to explore the gypsum sand dunes than setting out on a hiking trail.
  • If you are interested in a unique biking experience, you can cycle along the famous eight-mile Dunes Drive . It’s mostly hard-packed gypsum sand, which is something you won’t find anywhere else!
  • For anyone looking to blow off some steam (or just have a little fun!), head to some of the higher sand dunes and try some sledding . Sledding is normally associated with the cold and snow, but here you can do it in warm temperatures on sand!

Winter conditions/road closures:  As it doesn’t snow here in the winter, all roads and activities are open year-round. Occasional winter storms can occur, bringing rain and even limited snow. Check the weather report in advance. 

Where to Stay: White Sands National Park doesn’t have any accommodations, but you can camp at many locations within an hours drive or spend the night in a hotel at nearby Alamogordo .

Contributed by Bettina from

9. Guadalupe Mountains National Park 

national parks to visit at christmas

  • Average Temperature in Winter: ~50 °F (nights much cooler)
  • Why Visit in Winter : rugged trails and amazing vistas, mild temps, fewer crowds

Boasting the four highest peaks in Texas and incredibly diverse flora and fauna, the Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a not-so-cold wilderness waiting to be explored! If you’re venturing on a road trip in Texas , this national park is a must-stop!

In general, winters in the Guadalupe Mountains are mild, with daytime temperatures in the 50s and nighttime lows in the 20s and 30s. You’ll definitely wanna pack layers!

Things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park in the winter:

  • Lace up your hiking shoes and venture out in one of the incredible hiking trails through Guadalupe’s mountainous backcountry . There are multiple day hiking options, such as Devil’s Hall Trail and McKittrick Canyon Trail.
  • Pack your camping gear and opt-out in the wilderness. Camping in the Guadalupe Mountains is an excellent activity to escape the crowds and connect with nature, even when it’s a bit chilly outside.
  • Get your binoculars ready and spot wildlife ! Since several different ecosystems are found within the park, this means there’s a lot of animal species to see! However, many are nocturnal and come out when it’s dark out. 

Winter Conditions/Road Closures: Mind you, the dry season goes from October through June, and due to the high winds in the winter, the Guadalupe Mountains might experience fires. This means that smoking and open fires might be prohibited. As usual, always check the National Park Service website for updates.

Snow and freezing fog can occur during the cooler months of December and January, as well as high winds. Check the weather in advance.

Places to stay in or near the Guadalupe Mountains:

Camping: The park has two first come, first serve backcountry campings offering primitive dry camping for both RVs and tents. Pine Springs and Dog Canyon, the latter being more secluded. 

There are no other lodging options in the park. If you prefer staying in a hotel or cabin, look for accommodation in Dell City, Texas or Whites City, New Mexico .

Contributed by Bruna Venturinelli from Maps ‘N Bags

10. Dry Tortugas National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

  • Average Temperature in Winter: ~70s°F
  • Why Visit in Winter : dry season (and least chance of hurricanes), fewer crowds, less humidity, clear blue skies, great bird watching
  • Winter Season: November – April

Dry Tortugas is an amazing National Park to visit in the winter! It is located south of Key West, Florida so the weather is normally in the 70’s – but can be windy so be ready for that. 

You take a 2 hour boat ride to get to the island but that is all part of the adventure! The ocean water is gorgeous around Key West and if you keep a good eye out you could see dolphins or turtles. 

Below is a list of things to do when you are there: 

  • Explore Fort Jefferson. You can walk around the top of it and in through the fort. It is a really cool experience to imagine what it must have been like for soldiers to live here all those years ago. 
  • Spend time at the beach. Head over to the beach to look for huge conch shells – only looking though – you aren’t allowed to take any. Next up you can sit on the beach and take in the beauty and the quiet of being on an isolated island in the middle of the ocean. 
  • Snorkeling . Bring your swimsuit to do some snorkeling by the beach that is located by the fort wall. Take note the water can be cloudy if it has been windy for a few days. 

If you are looking to get out of the cold and experience a unique National Park then head to Dry Tortugas this winter! 

Winter conditions/road closures:  Winter can get windy, so be prepared (with days of 20+ knot winds common)! Northern storms can reduce underwater visibility and drop the temps (but most of the time it’s beautiful and sunny).

Where to Stay: You’ll want to find a place to stay in Key West like Casa Marina Hotel or Boyds RV Park. 

Or if you want you can camp overnight on the Dry Tortugas! There is no water there so you will have to carry in everything you need. If you are up for this I highly recommend it – it would be an amazing experience! 

Contributed by Bryanna Royal of Crazy Family Adventures

11. Pinnacles National Park 

national parks to visit at christmas

  • Average Temperature in Winter: low 60s F
  • Why Visit in Winter : mild daytime temps for hiking, fewer people than in the busy spring
  • Winter Season: November – February 

Pinnacles National Park in Central California is a fabulous park for a winter trip. With its beautiful volcanic pinnacles and talus caves, this relatively young and small national park is both pleasant and blissfully uncrowded during the winter months.

With daytime temperatures in the low 60s on average, you can get by with layers that include a light fleece jacket. Winter does bring rain in California, so also pack a light poncho so you can stay dry in the event of showers with your hands free. If you plan to hike very early or very late, you may need gloves and a beanie. 

Top things to do in Pinnacles National Park:

  • Trails at Pinnacles can be combined for a day-long trek that takes you through all the best parts of the park, including the most stunning pinnacles, one or both of the two main talus caves: Bear Gulch and Balconies, and the surrounding grasslands. 
  • Other than hiking, wildlife viewing is popular at Pinnacles. The park is one of the release and manage sites for California condors born in captivity, and you can see them roosting on high ledges or soaring in the skies above. You can see numerous species of birds, bees, and lizards, and even snakes at Pinnacles.
  • Rock climbing enthusiasts visit Pinnacles to climb, and nature lovers come to enjoy the dark night skies. You can see the Milky Way on clear nights, since there is little to no urban pollution. 

Where to Stay: The park is open year round, but there is no lodging within the park. The only campground, near the east entrance, features large, clean campsites, and you must reserve in advance. 

Contributed by Dhara from Roadtripping California

Cold and Snowy National Parks to Visit in Winter

1. yosemite national park .

Looking for the best national parks to visit in winter? Thankfully, there’s a whole lot! Here’s our picks of warm + sunny and chilly + snowy national parks in winter

  • Average Temperature in Winter: low 30s to high 40s°F
  • Why Visit in Winter : fewer crowds, winter wonderland, glistening frozen lakes, cheaper rates 

Visiting Yosemite in winter means plenty of spectacular photo stops and short wintery hikes. There’s glistening frozen lakes, picturesque snow capped mountain peaks, and s’mores by the fire. 

The crowds vanish, icicles dangle from tree branches, snowflakes coat the Valley, and the entire park is so calm and bright. A winter wonderland for sure! It’s by far one of the best national parks to visit in winter if you’re looking for snow.

Temperatures and snowfall range depending on where you are in the park and your level of elevation, with average high temps in Yosemite Valley of around 50°F (10°C), and average lows being around 30°F (-1°C).

Although many hikes are unavailable due to the snow pack, there’s still a bunch of ways to fill your time. 

Top Yosemite Winter Activities:

  • S nowshoe and cross-country ski: Although Yosemite Valley typically doesn’t have sufficient snow for skiing or snowshoeing, there’s other spots to go. Check out Crane Flat and Badger Pass. 
  • Go hiking in the snow: The most common short hikes in Yosemite during the winter include: Bridalveil Falls, Lower Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake, and the Vernal-Fall footbridge section of the Mist Trail. These are all hikable during winter in Yosemite, except after super heavy snowfalls (as the trails won’t be trekkable due to all the snow and ice).
  • Check out Tunnel View: This is one of the viewpoints you see on all those postcards, and rightfully so! Ansel Adams made this view famous long ago, and Tunnel View is an absolute must stop for any visitor to Yosemite in winter, even if you’ve already visited during another season. Other popular viewpoints accessible during winter: Valley View, Sentinel Bridge, and Yosemite Valley Chapel.

Winter conditions/road closures:  tire chains may be required depending on road conditions, and something you may want to invest in beforehand.

In addition, winter weather may restrict access to some parts of the park. Some roads in the park will close due to snow around late October and stay closed through May or June (depending on the year and how much snowfall Yosemite receives; roads open and close on different dates every year).

It’s important to note that the main road which leads to the super popular photo spot of Glacier Point (Glacier Point Road) is closed during the winter as conditions are way too dangerous. Tioga Pass is closed as well. 

Where to Stay: I highly recommend staying at Rush Creek Lodge . It’s super close to the entrance of the park, the entire lodge was built using the finest wood (meaning the place smells incredible), and there’s s’mores by the fire every night. 

Contributed by Jessica from A Passion and A Passport 

2. Bryce Canyon National Park 

Looking for the best national parks to visit in winter? Thankfully, there’s a whole lot! Here’s our picks of warm + sunny and chilly + snowy national parks in winter

  • Location : Utah
  • Average Temperature in Winter: ~32F
  • Why Visit in Winter : less crowds, crisp air, snowy hoodoo vistas 
  • Winter Season: November – late February/early March

While Bryce Canyon National Park is beautiful at any time of year, winter in the park is especially magical. While it does get especially cold (with highs averaging between 39-41 degrees Fahrenheit), you’ll find that the snow creates some stunning vistas, making the hoodoos look even more otherworldly. Just be sure to bundle up (although it’s typically pretty sunny)!

And plus, the views are even better when covered with a dusting of snow! Despite the snow, there’s still plenty of hiking opportunities throughout the hoodoos. There are stunning views throughout the park and when hiking, so prepare to stop for tons of photos!

Depending on the year, there could be anywhere from a few inches to a few feet of snow. Be sure to pack and plan accordingly!

One of the best times to visit the park is during its annual Bryce Canyon Winter Festival weekend, held each President’s Day weekend. Many winter activities are offered, including cross-country skiing tours, ski clinics, snowshoeing tours, kids’ events, crafts, and more.

Some things to do in Bryce Canyon National Park in the winter include:

  • Check out the viewpoints along the Bryce Amphitheater : This is the most visited part of the park, and for good reason – Bryce Amphitheater is where you will find the best views, and its most famous rock formations. Don’t miss Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Bryce Point, and Inspiration point.
  • Hike the Queen’s Garden and Navajo Loop Trail : This popular hike will introduce you to all the iconic sights within the park, including Thor’s Hammer. The hike is a combination of two trails to form a 2.9 mile loop. Allow about 2.5-3 hours to complete. You’ll be surrounded by hoodoos!! Choose to continue along the Navajo trail and come back up Two Bridges (since Wall Street is closed in winter).
  • Go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing : There are several winter recreation options available in Bryce Canyon park, including cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The park offers a winter snowshoeing program, and visitors can rent snowshoes and poles free of charge. Guided full moon snowshoeing hikes are also offered. 

Winter conditions/road closures: The Navajo trail through Wall Street is closed in the winter due to rockfall danger. The Rim trail between Bryce Point is also closed due to danger of falling off the cliffs. 

The 1-mile road leading to Fairyland Point and 0.3-mile road to Paria View are closed to traffic, but remain open to cross-country skiers. Other road closures may be possible due to snow conditions.

Where to Stay: Ruby’s Inn is located just a mile outside of the park entrance. The historic inn offers comfortable standard and luxury rooms, as well as RV and tent campgrounds, a pool, and on-site restaurant, with a homey feel.

Contributed by Caroline Ikeji of Pictures and Words Blog

3. Arches National Park

Looking for the best national parks to visit in winter? Thankfully, there’s a whole lot! Here’s our picks of warm + sunny and chilly + snowy national parks in winter

  • Average Temperature in Winter: 40-50°F, depending on the day and windchill, with nights much chillier
  • Why Visit in Winter : temps are more manageable, lack of crowds, arches covered in snow are especially beautiful, most hikes are still possible
  • Winter Season: November – February

Arches National Park is open all year round and winter is a great time to visit. In summer, the heat is extreme and the crowds of people can clog the roads, parking lots and trails.

In winter, however, you will have the trails to yourself and the arches covered in snow are especially pretty. Just imagine the contrast of snow on the park’s red rock landscapes!

The weather is mild, making it one of the best national parks to visit in winter months.

On our Utah national parks road trip , we loved exploring Arches! Can’t wait to go back!

Some great winter activities are:

  • Drive through the park : There are several distinct areas in Arches National Park and the road through the park takes you to all of them.  Some arches such as Skylight Arch and Sand Dune Arch, as well as Balancing Rock and the viewpoint for the Park Avenue Canyon are short walks from parking areas alongside the road.
  • Go hiking: Arches National Park is a hiker’s paradise and all of the trails are open throughout the year.  The primitive trail on the Devil’s Garden hike is not safe, but the rest of that hike, including the paved path to Landscape Arch is easy to do. For all winter hikes in the park, it is best to wear some kind of traction on your hiking shoes and carry trekking poles, as some areas may be icy. 
  • See Delicate Arch : This freestanding arch is featured on Utah’s license plates.  The trail to Delicate Arch is one that gets icy and it has a drop off on one side in parts, but the views of Delicate Arch covered in snow are iconic. Just be extra careful here.

Winter conditions/road closures: There is only one road through the park and it is open all year round, though it may be closed for a few hours after a snowfall while the rangers clear the snow from the road.

The visitor center is also open all year, although the hours are a little shorter in winter. Expect ice, snow, and reduced park operations in winter.

Where to Stay: The only place to stay inside the national park during winter is Devil’s Garden Campground.  25 of its sites remain open throughout the winter on a first come, first served basis.

If camping in the cold doesn’t seem appealing, Moab , where there are plenty of accommodation options, is just a five-mile drive from the park entrance.

Contributed by James Ian from Travel Collecting 

4. Canyonlands National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

  • Average Temperature in Winter: highs averaging 30-50°F
  • Why Visit in Winter : cooler and mild temps, enjoyable hiking opportunities, lack of crowds
  • Winter Season: late November – early March

Canyonlands National Park, located in the desert of Utah, is one of our favorite places to visit during the winter months. It’s a quiet time in the park, so if you’re looking for some peace and solitude, definitely consider Canyonlands for your winter national parks trip!

The temperatures in Canyonlands are pretty chilly, and it does occasionally snow, so make sure to pack warm layers for Canyonlands if you go in winter.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Canyonlands after a snowstorm, you’ll absolutely love how beautiful it is there with the white snow contrasting against the red rocks.  

Good to know: The main areas of Canyonlands are Island in the Sky, The Maze, and The Needles District.  If you are planning on doing some hiking and seeing the major arches and lookouts, plan on just visiting Island In The Sky and The Needles. 

Top things to do in winter:

  • While you’re in Canyonlands, make sure to hike to Mesa Arch . It’s short and sweet and easily passible even with a little bit of snow. And especially popular at sunrise!
  • To really appreciate the vastness of Canyonlands, make sure to go out to the ends of the Green River Overlook and the Grand View Overlook so you can get the best views of all the canyons below.  These overlooks are especially spectacular when there is snow on the ground since the snow really highlights all of the layers of rock!
  • At night, bundle up, and spend some time watching the stars . The remote nature of Canyonlands will let you see more stars than almost anywhere else on earth!

Winter conditions/road closures: Canyonlands is about a 40 minute drive outside of Moab, Utah and there are not any services near the park.  Plan on being self sufficient while you’re there with plenty of food, water, and gas to last your stay. 

The Island in the Sky visitor center is closed Wednesdays and Thursday from January to early March, while the Needles Visitor Center is closed entirely from late November to early March.

If you plan on hiking, bring along instep crampons — sandstone covered with snow and ice is treacherous. In addition, paved roads may close temporarily for snow plowing.

Where to Stay: Plan on camping in the park or traveling to and from Moab each day.

Submitted by Jessica Averett from Bring The Kids

5. Grand Canyon National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

  • Location : Arizona
  • Average Temperature in Winter: ~40s and 50s, much colder at night
  • Why Visit in Winter : far less crowds, a lot more wildlife, clear skies
  • Winter Season: December – February/March

Looking for the best national parks in winter? Look no further than northwest Arizona, as winter is one of the best times to visit the Grand Canyon . 

The park sees more than 6 million visitors a year, but not many see it with a fresh blanket of snow. 

Yes, it does get cold in the Grand Canyon in winter. During the day it is in the 40s and 50s but at night it can get well below freezing. The canyon sits 7,000+ feet above sea level, meaning it’s much colder than other nearby spots in northern Arizona.

Good to know — You can only visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in winter as the North Rim is closed.

Top winter activities:

  • From the visitors centre you can visit Mathers Point . This is the most popular point at the Grand Canyon because of its location and spectacular views. Don’t miss other viewpoints including Yaki Point, Pipe Creek Vista, Grandview Point, and Moran Point.
  • You can also walk part of the Rim’s Trail . The Rim Trail extends from Hermit’s Rest to the Grand Canyon Village.  From the visitors centre you can take the trail to Mather’s Point and then onto Yavapai Point.  From there you can turn around and return to the visitors centre.

Winter conditions/road closures: The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is closed, so plan to visit the South Rim! 

When you arrive at the park, make a stop at the visitors centre. You can find out there if the roads are bad or if any trails are closed due to snow.  If the roads are snowy you can opt to take the shuttle (get a map at the visitors centre).

Where to Stay: Check out one of the (normally exceptionally busy) lodges within the park, including El Tovar Hotel, Bright Angel Lodge, and Maswik Lodge.

If you wanna stay outside the park, stay in Tusayan. The Holiday Inn Express is located just two miles from the South Entrance of the Grand Canyon.

Contributed by Nicole from American SW Obsessed

6. Yellowstone National Park

Looking for the best national parks to visit in winter? Thankfully, there’s a whole lot! Here’s our picks of warm + sunny and chilly + snowy national parks in winter

  • Location : Wyoming
  • Average Temperature in Winter : ~28 F
  • Why Visit in Winter : fewer tourists, turns into a winter wonderland (great place for snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing), steaming geyser basins 
  • Winter Season: November – February/March, but highly depends on year 

A national park that is often overlooked for a winter visit but is never neglected during summer is Yellowstone National Park. However, if you’re a snow lover and a person who prefers fewer crowds, booking a winter trip to Yellowstone is a once in a lifetime experience and one you should most definitely do.

Imagine hydrothermal features. Lakes. Waterfalls and wildlife. And now picture them blanketed in a fresh layer of white snow. Even more stunning, am I right?! A true winter wonderland!

The average daytime temperatures in Yellowstone hover around 28 degrees for most of the winter. Nighttime temperatures plummet and regardless of what your plans are there, you will need to pack heavy winter gear, including a parka, snow boots, and thick mittens.  

Yellowstone receives an average of 150 inches of snow during the winter months (whoa), and can arrive as early as September and last until May.

Some fantastic winter activities in Yellowstone include (but are not limited to!) :

  • Cross-country skiing: Two of the most popular trails in the park are Blacktail Plateau trail and the Biscuit Basin trail that passes through Old Faithful geyser basin.
  • Snowshoeing : You can rent snowshoes from concessionaires and most trails are groomed in Yellowstone. Some beginner trails are Old Canyon Ski Trail (1 mile), Black Sand Basin Ski Trail (4 miles), and Observation Point Loop Snowshoe Trail (2 miles).
  • Snowmobiling : Looking for some fast-paced thrill through the forest? Rent a snowmobile at one of the rental shops right outside the park entrances.
  • Wolf watching: This business brings in $35 million annually and is best done during winter when the wolves congregate in the lower valleys.

Winter conditions/road closures:  Road closures in Yellowstone can present a problem for visitors. Thankfully, snowcoaches take visitors throughout the park if they are unable to put on a pair of skis or snowshoes.  

  • Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, for example, can only be seen by snowmobile or snowcoach (or by skiing and snowshoeing).

While many facilities are closed in the winter months, the park explicitly explains which ones do remain open. Yellowstone has warming huts set up throughout the park for visitors to enjoy.

Where to Stay: If you opt to stay in the park, Mammoth Campground remains open year-round. Do note it’s advised to find a cabin in a city close to the park and venture in each day.

Contributed by Megan Starr from Megan & Aram

7. Rocky Mountain National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

  • Location : Colorado
  • Average Temperature in Winter: below freezing (brr!)
  • Why Visit in Winter : snow capped peaks and blue skies, fewer crowds, recreational sports, wildlife viewing 
  • Winter Season: November – February/March, but snow can fall in high elevations longer

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the top winter travel destinations in the USA. It makes a perfect addition to any Colorado road trip due to its icy landscapes, numerous snow activities, and striking landscapes. With this being said, it’s one of the coldest national parks to visit in winter!

The average temperature during winter in the Rockies hovers below freezing even in low elevations. Visitors need to layer up in warm waterproof jackets and thermal clothes. Accessories like thick scarves, gloves, and woolen socks are essential during the winter. 

The top things to do in winter in the park include:

  • Snowshoeing around Bear Lake: The trail is just half a mile long and perfect for all ages. Along with the loop trail, visitors can also walk over the frozen lake surface and feel the thick layer of ice crack beneath their weight!
  • Sledding in Hidden Valley: Hidden Valley located on Trail Ridge Road is the only place within the park where sledding is allowed. Visitors can rent plastic sleds or tubes in Estes Park, carry it to the top of the hill, and have fun sliding down.
  • Watching wildlife in the Rockies: Winter is a perfect time to watch the wildlife of the Rocky Mountains. Visitors can easily spot elk, deer, and even moose on Bear Lake Road and other places inside the park.

Winter conditions/road closures: While Bear Lake Road is open during the winter, Trail Ridge Road that connects Estes Park to Grand Lake is closed after the Hidden Valley area.

Where to Stay: Estes Park, the gateway to the park, is the perfect place to stay during your visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. 

It has many hotels, wooden cabins, and vacation rentals for all types of travelers. 

A day trip from Denver is possible, just note the skies get dark sooner than you’re probably used to. If you’ve never visited the city before, definitely spend at least one day in Denver . 

Contributed by Ketki of Dotted Globe

8. Grand Teton National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

  • Average Temperature in Winter: ~25-30 F
  • Why Visit in Winter : amazing winter wildlife viewing (elk refuge), many roads closed to traffic are used as cross-country skiing & snowshoe paths
  • Winter Season: late November – early March 

If you’re looking for one of the greatest national parks in the USA to visit this winter, consider Grand Teton National Park! 

Often overshadowed by neighboring Yellowstone, visiting Grand Teton in winter is actually a better choice than visiting Yellowstone, as it is far more accessible. With Yellowstone, you need to book a snowcoach or snowmobile to access most sites and it requires a lot of advance planning. Grand Teton has drive-in access, although some main roads are closed.

Make no mistake, though: Grand Teton is cold in the winter! Expect daytime high temperatures around 25-30 degrees Fahrenheit, and nighttime lows around 0-5 degrees Fahrenheit, with about 10 snowy days a month. So pack warm and be prepared for a winter wonderland!

There are several great things to do in Grand Teton in winter:

  • Take a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge just outside the park to see these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat
  • Go on a winter wildlife safari , where you have a chance of seeing moose, foxes, wolves, bighorn sheep, and all sorts of deer.
  • Try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing on the groomed snow trails in the park.
  • Go dog sledding : There’s lots of dog sled tours available, taking participants to snowy winter wonderland in nearby National Forest land. Try being the “musher” — it’s loads of fun! Psst: you can also do this in Canada’s Banff National Park in winter !

Winter conditions/road closures:  Several roads which are normally used in other seasons become closed in winter and turned into groomed trails. Two of those main roads are Moose-Wilson Road and Teton Park Road. 

You can enter via the Moran Entrance Station, which is easily accessed via Jackson Hole. 

Several places within the park are also closed to protect winter wildlife habitats: namely, Wolff Ridge, Static Peak, Prospectors Mountain, and much of the Snake River.

Where to Stay: It’s best to stay in the town of Jackson, and the Wyoming Inn is a great choice for people who want a chic yet cozy boutique hotel experience while they’re there.

Contributed by Allison Green of Eternal Arrival

9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

  • Location : Tennessee and North Carolina
  • Average Temperature in Winter: mid 30s-low 40s
  • Why Visit in Winter : frozen waterfalls, lack of crowds (and traffic), clear views, Christmas attractions, no bugs 
  • Winter Season: December – February (come Jan – Feb for snow)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park located in eastern TN and western NC is the most visited park in the country, partially because the majority of it remains accessible year-round. 

There are several major airports within a half day’s drive and many other tourist destinations nearby, making it an easy road trip destination as well. 

With lower altitude mountains than western national parks, this is a wonderful place to hike in winter without subzero temperatures! While snow is sporadic, it’s not uncommon to see frozen waterfalls and streams which makes for a magical wonderland feel. With this comes winter temperatures of average highs in the mid 30s-low 40s with lows in the 20s.

What to do in winter:

  • Hiking in the Smokies: Be sure to check conditions before heading out and remember that higher elevations usually mean colder temperatures! Two popular winter hikes are Laurel Falls and Porter’s Creek. Lots of hiking options here . 
  • Find a frozen waterfall: Grotto Falls is a waterfall that freezes and you can hike behind it! If winter trails aren’t a good fit, drive by Meigs Falls and check it out from the road.
  • Visit nearby Gatlingburg or Pigeon Forge : These towns are full of Christmas light displays, holiday shows, and typical tourist museums and attractions to enjoy year round. 
  • Ski : Ober Ski Mountain to the NW and Cataloochee Ski Area to the SE are both outside the park limits but nearby for visitors to enjoy snowboarding, skiing, and sledding. Visitors can cross-country ski on closed roads in the park if they time their visit right to have enough snow. 

Winter conditions/road closures: Before heading out, visitors should always check the NPS website for unexpected road closures; fallen rock or trees can’t be predicted. There are some regular seasonal closures that may impact hiking trail selection or require using a different trailhead, all also found on the NPS website.

Where to Stay: Stay at one of the many adorable cabins for the coziest winter experience! Airbnb has lots of different options in all of the surrounding gateway cities. Cherokee, NC and Townsend, TN are quieter areas for peaceful retreats while Gatlinburg, TN is a busy place with lots going on nearby. 

Contributed by Stephanie from

10. Zion National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

  • Location: Utah
  • Average Temperature in Winter: 50 F/25 F
  • Why Visit in Winter: fewer crowds, quieter trails, cheaper accommodation 
  • Winter Season: December-February

Zion in winter is full of fresh, crisp winter air, incredible landscapes (sometimes even dusted with snow), and lots of space (goodbye crowded viewpoints). 

It’s one of the most visited national parks in the country with nearly 4.5 million visitors each year. If you don’t want to battle the crowds (and don’t mind chillier temps), then winter may just be the perfect time for your visit.

And thankfully, most of the hikes stay open in the winter, partially due to the low elevation of the park. 

Winter activities in Zion:

  • It seems counterintuitive but doing Zion’s famous Narrows hike in winter (where you’re hiking IN the Virgin River) is a must. Gear up with a drysuit and canyon shoes and you’ll basically have this unique canyon hike all to yourself. 
  • For a bird’s eye view you can’t beat Angel’s Landing . The last bit of this vertigo inducing hike is along a narrow ridgeline so make sure to check trail conditions in case of snow or ice.
  • If you’re game for a longer, more challenging hike with a high payoff then you can’t beat Observation Point . This 8 mile hike with 2300 feet of elevation gain will reward you with sweeping views of Angel’s Landing.

Winter conditions/road closures:  The weather in Zion is generally mild in the winter but check trail conditions before embarking on your hike.

The more shaded Zion trails tend to be icy in winter, including Angels Landing, Weeping Rock, Observation Point, and the Emerald Pools. Be extra careful!

In addition, the shuttle bus is usually suspended early December to mid February. This just means you’re able to drive freely throughout the park!

Where to Stay:  Less than a mile from the park entrance the Desert Pearl Inn offers spacious and comfortable rooms. If you want a bit of pampering after your adventure you can’t beat the Red Mountain Resort in nearby St. George.

Contributed by Brianna Simmons of Casual Travelist 

11. Acadia National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

  • Location : Maine
  • Average Temperature in Winter: 30s and low 40’s 
  • Why Visit in Winter : snowmobiling and snowshoeing, fewer crowds, 
  • Winter Season: December – February 

Acadia National Park in Maine is absolutely beautiful in winter with its snow covered trees and paths. 

And unlike the super busy summer season, Acadia is quiet during the winter. Yet, there are plenty of things to do for outdoor adventure sports lovers who don’t mind the freezing temperatures. Just be sure to bundle up of course! Making it one of the best national parks to visit in winter for skiers and snowshoers.

With less foliage, bird watchers flock to Acadia to see birds such as owls and eagles. You can also try and spot the Northern Lights in Acadia during the dark winter nights, too!

During winter, the average temperatures in the park during the daytime hovers around the 30s and low 40’s Farenheit. Acadia also averages about 60 inches of snow annually, so check the forecast before you go to know what to expect!

  • Ski and snowshoe: You can cross country ski in Acadia on carriage roads and park roads, some of which are even groomed. There are 120 miles of hiking trails to explore by snowshoe. On the ponds, there are opportunities for ice skating and ice fishing.
  • Take your snowmobile on the Loop Road and the unplowed fire roads. And don’t worry, if snowmobilings not your thing, you can still drive on two sections of Park Loop Road which open, Ocean Drive and Jordan Pond Road.
  • Go ice climbing on the cliffs . And yes, it’s exactly as it sounds. You’ll take swings of the axe in order to climb up, which is just as exciting as it sounds. If you’ve never done this before, definitely go with a guide!

Winter conditions/road closures: Although Acadia National Park is open all year long, the visitor centres are closed. In addition, many of the roads are closed in the winter, including portions of the Park Loop Road and the scenic route up to the top of Cadillac Mountain. 

Where to Stay: Bar Harbor is the nearest town to Acadia and generally considered the gateway to the park. You can rent winter sports equipment like skis and snowshoes at Cadillac Mountain Sports in Bar Harbor. 

Do note that many of the restaurants and hotels in Bar Harbor close for the winter season, but The Atlantic Oceanside Hotel stays open year round.

Contributed by Shobha George at Martha’s Vineyard Tourist

Hope this (giant) list of the best national parks to visit in winter inspires you to visit a few parks! Do you prefer spots that are cold and snowy or mild and warm(ish)?

All photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) are credited to NPS and are used with permission.

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The Best National Parks to Visit in Winter

Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

One of the best-kept secrets about America’s national parks ? Many are even better in winter. Whether you want to feel the satisfying crunch of snow under your boots or escape those chilly temps for a desert ramble , one thing’s for sure: You'll be able to do so without the crowds that summer brings. And no matter how great the other seasons are for a visit , a visit to your favorite fall foliage or spring wildflower destination is completely different in the depths of winter. 

Below, find the best national parks to visit in winter, from the island of Maui to the coast of Maine. Be sure to pack a few extra layers , and remember to always double-check trail and road conditions before heading out. 

This gallery has been updated since its original publish date. All listings featured in this story are independently selected by our editors. However, when you book something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Haleakala Volcano Maui Hawaii best national parks to visit in winter

Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii

Meaning “house of the sun” from the legend that demigod Maui once lassoed a star and pulled it closer to Earth to make the days last longer, Haleakalā National Park centers around the dormant, high-altitude volcano by the same name. The crown jewel of the park, though, is its Sliding Sands Trail , which traverses the main crater to get you up close to colorful, rust-hued rocks, endangered silversword plants , and cinder cones. If you’d rather relax and enjoy the view from afar, make a reservation to watch sunrise from the mountain’s summit; pack a breakfast to enjoy at the Leleiwi Overlook once the sun is up. Afterwards, chill out near the beach at one of Maui’s exquisite hotels .

inside a cave at Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

The famous, striking limestone formations at Carlsbad Caverns have often been compared to floating underground jellyfish, or alcoves full of goblins and fairies—however you interpret them, they’re otherworldly. The best part about visiting this New Mexico locale in the winter months (apart from bypassing the crowds) is that the cave stays a balmy 56 degrees Fahrenheit , rain or shine. Ranger-led tours are available year-round, or visitors can opt to check out the Natural Entrance and Big Room Trails on their own. For those looking to check yet another winter-friendly park off their list while in the area, the nearby Guadalupe Mountains feel like an island in the Chihuahuan Desert, with vista-rich hiking trails you won’t want to miss.

Full Moon Over Joshua Trees

Joshua Tree National Park, California

From the U2 album that shares its name to the dreamy vacation rentals of nearby desert towns, Joshua Tree has long been at the center of hippie-generated folklore—and a hub for creatives looking to escape SoCal’s big cities. The park itself is a mecca for world-class rock climbers , but it also offers scenic drives and family-friendly hiking trails that any visitor can enjoy. (No wonder it's one of the most-visited national parks in California .) After perusing the Cholla Cactus Garden and scrambling up the enormous, monzogranite boulders along Arch Rock Nature Trail , settle in for some epic stargazing at The Rowan in Palm Springs or a nearby HipCamp if you prefer to rough it.

Mount Rainer National Park Washington

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

As the continental U.S.’s most glaciated peak, Mount Rainier almost always looks like a winter wonderland, even in the sweltering heat of summer. But a visit to this stratovolcano during winter months means much more accessible snowplay, with the road to the park’s gorgeous Paradise area open all day during the season. After a winding scenic drive through the sparkling, snow-covered pines, join a ranger-guided snowshoe walk (rent at the National Park Inn General Store in Longmire) before sipping afternoon tea in front of a crackling fire at the historic National Park Inn , the park’s only year-round lodging .

Bryce Canyon National Park Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

If you think Bryce Canyon’s red hoodoos are beautiful, just imagine them shrouded in glittering white snow. In winter months, photographers from across the country flock to the park’s majestic Sunrise and Sunset Points to capture the faded light as it travels across the rocky pinnacles. Don your microspikes or snowshoes (available for rent at Ruby’s Inn ) and travel between the two points on the Rim Trail, then warm up on a views-for-days drive to Rainbow Point —elevation 9,115 feet. Bed down at one of the area's great Airbnbs, like a tiny house built in a shipping container just 20-minutes by car from the park. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park North Carolina and Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

Getting out in nature during an East Coast winter doesn’t have to mean shivering in a snowstorm for hours on end. At Great Smoky Mountains National Park , roughly half the season’s days boast a high temperature in the 50s—perfect for hiking the park’s more than 800 miles of trails. Start the day by taking in the views at Newfound Gap , nestled on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, then hike to craggy Alum Cave or explore the old-timey wooden structures at Cades Cove . At night, stargaze by the fire at Cades Cove Campground , or retreat to a chic cottage and fit-for-a-foodie supper at Blackberry Farm .

Zion national park late autumn landscape sunset view USA

Zion National Park, Utah

Zion ’s famous sandstone walls are often eclipsed by tourist throngs from spring through fall, with 4.5 million people rushing into the 15-mile-long canyon each year. But with a light dusting of snow, the rust-colored cliffs visible from the Pa’rus Trail take on a magical quality, and oft-crowded spots like Canyon Overlook are generally mob-free. Best of all? Winter travelers can savor slow mornings, sipping coffee in a cozy western cabin at Xanterra’s centrally located Zion Lodge .

Everglades National Park Florida

Everglades National Park, Florida

Not only is the Everglades ’ sauna-esque humidity tempered by cooler mid-70s temps in the winter, but the vast swampland’s water levels also drop after hurricane season ends, giving visitors better opportunities to spot the park’s most notorious resident: the alligator. An airboat tour at Gator Park is a fantastic way to acquaint yourself with Florida’s birds and reptiles; then, don't miss motoring down to the sawgrass marsh of the Anhinga Trail . Treat yourself to a great night's sleep at one of Miami's best hotels , within an hour of the park.

Zabriskie Point badlands at sunrise Death Valley

Death Valley National Park, California

Though its name may not conjure images of a carefree getaway, Death Valley is a treasure trove of colorful badlands, salt flats, and miles of secluded sand dunes. But we consider it one of the best national parks to visit in winter because the cooler months are the only time most people will want to visit. Boasting an average daytime high of 67 degrees Fahrenheit in January and 73 in February, the park is sunny all winter—yet far too hot come summer , when temps hover around 108 degrees. On your winter visit, take in the rosy glow of sunrise from Zabriskie Point and hike through the mustard-hued walls of Golden Canyon, then lounge poolside at the freshly updated Inn at Death Valley . Take a moment to appreciate the date palms and 1920s architecture of this historic hotel (once a favorite of Clark Gable) before dining in elegant, western kitsch at The Last Kind Words Saloon .

Snow covered Monument Cove in winter in Acadia National Park Mount Desert Island Maine New England USA.

Acadia National Park, Maine

For brave souls willing to venture into a frigid Maine winter, the reward is striking views of Mount Desert Island’s ragged Atlantic coastline. Follow Acadia National Park ’s scenic Ocean Drive , which is plowed from Schooner Head down to the Fabbri Memorial during snowy months, for the best vistas. Snowshoers and cross-country skiers will also love the park’s 45 miles of groomed crushed-stone carriage roads , which offer some of the best winter hiking in the U.S .

Volcanoes National Park Big Island Hawaii.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

Popular with snowbirds in search of winter sunshine, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park experiences its peak season during winter months—and it’s easy to see why. From black sand beaches to rainforests booming with plant life and very recent lava flows , this park’s outdoor adventures are a welcome respite from the snow and ice on the mainland. Hit snooze at the nearby Volcano Rainforest Retreat , where floor-to-ceiling windows offer views of the surrounding lush foliage, before spending an afternoon soaring over the national park on a Circle of Fire helicopter tour .

The Rio Grande Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park, Texas

A natural wonder (especially in the mostly-flat Lone Star State ), this park is named after a massive bend in the churning Rio Grande River that separates West Texas from Mexico —and the far-flung locale has enough scenic diversity for a week-long journey. Stay at the Chisos Mountains Lodge and marvel at high-elevation vistas of the craggy Window Formation as you hike through madrone trees and fragrant junipers. Then, soak your tired bones in the park’s historic hot springs , ideally as the sunset turns the famous Santa Elena Canyon into a hundred shades of amber.

Beautiful Spring Hike to Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Akin to the inside of an idyllic snow globe, Rocky Mountain National Park is a sight to behold in winter. Not only is the nearby mountain town of Estes Park transformed into a romantic holiday village, complete with twinkling lights and quaint storefronts, but the park itself offers a multitude of recreational winter activities. Kids will love sledding in Hidden Valley , a former ski area that’s now the only sled zone in Rocky Mountain, and grown-ups can venture into the frontcountry on a snowshoeing trip to breathtaking Emerald Lake. Be sure to look out for elk and moose on the snowy hillsides—they’re quite active in winter. End your busy day with a glass of single malt at the ornate Stanley Hotel ’s Whiskey Bar before padding upstairs to your room.

Grand Canyon National Park Arizona best national parks to visit in winter

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

A bucket list item for many, the vintage cabins and restaurant at Phantom Ranch , a cottage-style 1920s lodge located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon , typically require a lottery just to snag a stay. In the winter season, however, cancellations are more frequent. (Editor's note: Due to repairs, Phantom Ranch campsites are operating at 50 percent occupancy, and the hiker dormitories and canteen will be closed until September 2022.) Avid backpackers can often nab last-minute permits to camp at the storied Bright Angel Campground as well, enjoying the sunny weather near the Colorado River (it's a shocking 20 degrees warmer than the rim). If you’re not looking to hike nearly 5,000 vertical feet down to the canyon’s floor, just take in the panoramic views from the park’s south rim, open year-round, on the family-friendly Rim Trail that spans from South Kaibab to the stone ruins at Hermits Rest. 

national parks to visit at christmas

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Full Suitcase Travel Blog

9 Great USA National Parks to Visit in December 2024 (+Info & Tips)

By Author Jurga

Posted on Last updated: March 21, 2024

9 Great USA National Parks to Visit in December 2024 (+Info & Tips)

Wondering  where to travel in December  or looking for trip ideas for a Christmas & New Years’ getaway? In this article, we share some travel inspiration for  America’s National Parks in December !

December is a beautiful month to travel to many National Parks. In some places in the northern states, it’s already winter at its best. Whereas many of the warmer southern states are experiencing the dry season when the weather is perfect for outdoor activities.

So depending on what you are looking for, December can be an excellent time to visit various U.S. National Parks. Furthermore, if you are traveling between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you’re likely to have most of these National Parks all to yourselves!

In this article, we feature an inspirational mix of a variety of National Parks that you can visit in December . From white Christmas in the Colorado Rockies or a perfect winter city trip getaway, to warm Florida beaches or hiking in California – there’s truly something for everyone on this list. You’ll also learn about a stunning National Park in the Pacific that many people don’t even realize belongs to the U.S…

Good to know:  For this inspirational post for National Parks to visit in December, we asked the opinions of fellow travel bloggers. They share some of their favorite National Parks that they visited in December and offer experience-based tips for your visit. We also included some of our personal suggestions. Take a look!

PRO TIP: If you are planning to visit several National Parks, get an annual pass. It’s called  America the Beautiful Pass  and costs 80 USD for the whole family traveling in the same private vehicle. It’s valid in all National Parks and 2,000 federal recreation sites across the United States for one year from the month of purchase.

READ ALSO: Best National Parks to Visit in November

December winter getaways - National Parks

These are some great National Parks to visit in December :

1. Everglades National Park

  • Location:  Florida
  • Suggestion by  Paula from Paula Pins the Planet
  • Where to stay:  Stay  in Miami  and visit Everglades on a  day tour . If you are planning to visit the northern side of the park, you can also stay  in Everglades City .

The Everglades National Park is an ecosystem and a World Heritage Site, located in the sunny state of Florida, just west of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Everglades National Park is heaven for those who love outdoor activities. You have many hiking trails to choose from and also water activities like snorkeling and of course, the traditional airboat and wildlife show .

The best time to visit the Everglades is during the dry season, and the best month to visit the park is in December . This is the time of year when the temperature and the humidity levels are lower, the mosquitoes are not around, and hurricane season has passed.

December is one of the coolest and most pleasant months in Florida, with an average temperature ranging between 59-78°F (15-25°C).

Everglades NP in December

Another great reason to visit the Everglades during December is that it’s the best time to see the local wildlife . This is the time when manatees migrate to the Everglades. As the water levels drop during the dry season, a large number of animals congregate around the water holes, making the wildlife viewing an easy endeavor.

Also for bird lovers, this is the best time of the year to be here, as many species migrate to South Florida to enjoy the warmth of this region. 

Good to know: December is the busiest time of year to visit the Everglades. Many tourists come to South Florida to get away from cold, bitter temperatures up north. This is especially the case around Christmas and New Year. So if you can, try to visit at the beginning of December and make sure to book your accommodation well in advance.

TIP: Another must-visit place during your trip to the Everglades is the  Ten Thousand Islands Wildlife Refuge . It’s the second largest mangrove forest in the world forming fascinating labyrinths of water and islands with very rich wildlife, including some endangered species.

Alligators in Everglades National Park

2. Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Location: Colorado
  • Suggestion by  Claudia Tavani from My Adventures Across The World
  • Where to stay: See our guide to the best towns and hotels to stay near Rocky Mountain National Park .

Rocky Mountain National Park is mostly known as a summer destination. But if you enjoy outdoor activities and are looking for a true winter break in December , you’ll be glad to know that it’s a fabulous place to visit in the winter as well! While during the warmer months, the park is where you’ll find some of  the best hikes near Denver , snowshoeing and skiing are favorites when it snows.

The weather in Colorado can be unpredictable year-round, with sudden drops in temperatures and snowfall even in the middle of summer. But come December and you’re likely to find winter at its best, with the most powdery snow you can wish for and beautiful crisp winter weather.

That makes the Rocky Mountain NP the perfect place for those looking for a white Christmas in combination with winter sports . The average temperatures in Estes park in December are between 18 and 35°F (-8 to 2°C). But the good thing about Colorado winter is that the air is so dry that you don’t really experience that bone-chilling kind of cold that makes it uncomfortable to stay outside.

Rocky Mountain National Park in December

The best places for snowshoeing in the Rocky Mountain NP are Bear Lake, where you will find various trails, Glacier Gorge, and Hidden Valley. The latter is a former ski hub, and currently, the only place where you can go sledding .

If skiing is what you are looking for, then opt for Eldora, which is roughly one hour drive from Estes Park. The slopes are nice and easy, snow is powdery in perfect Colorado-style and if you are lucky and get a sunny day, the temperatures are actually quite pleasant and you’ll find yourself ditching your jacket!

December and the rest of the winter is also the ideal time of year to spot wildlife in Rocky Mountain NP. You can expect to see elk, mule deer, coyotes, and other large mammals. When temperatures start to drop, many animals move to lower elevations, which makes it even easier to spot them.

Keep in mind that some popular drives – Upper Beaver Meadows Road, Old Fall River Road, and Trail Ridge Road – are closed during the winter months. But you’ll still be able to explore some lookouts throughout the park. Just be sure to check the road and trail conditions on the RMNP website before you venture out each day.

Good to know: The best place to stay for exploring the park is Estes Park. Here you can find the complete guide to the best Rocky Mountain NP hotels and Estes Park lodging . It’s also possible to visit Rocky Mountain National Park from Denver , and even on a short trip, you can still see a lot. There are also nice day tours if you don’t feel like driving in the mountains in winter.

Wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park in winter

3. Joshua Tree National Park

  • Location:  Southern California
  • Suggestion by  Dhara from Roadtripping California
  • Where to stay: 29 Palms , a small town right outside the north entrance, is the best place to stay near the park.

Looking for a really nice National Park to visit in December? Consider Joshua Tree National Park , a desert park perched on two deserts: the Mojave and the Colorado. Joshua Tree’s landscapes feature large boulder formations and diverse plant life, including many types of cacti and succulents. The famous Joshua tree, after which the park is named, is a succulent.

December is a wonderful time for hiking , bouldering , or rock climbing . But there are many more  things to do in Joshua Tree National Park . It’s also a great time to see birds, especially around the oases.

With daytime temperatures in the 60s (16-18°C), December is the ideal time to do some of the longer and more challenging trails in the park. We recommend the Lost Horse Mine Trail , to visit the remains of the richest gold mine in the area.

Alternatively, check out the 7-mile Lost Palms Oasis hike . They are both best tackled in cooler weather. If you don’t like to hike far, check out the Cholla Cactus Garden (see the featured image of this article). It’s especially beautiful at sunrise or sunset.

December is also a popular time for rock climbing in Joshua Tree. You will see professional rock climbers attempting vertical climbs and other visitors making their way to the tops of the flatter boulder formations.

If you enjoy birding and wildlife , try the short trail to Barker Dam, a dam built by early cattlemen in the region. In the winter, the dam attracts many species of migrant birds.

Nights in the park in December are cool to cold, so bundle up if you venture out to see the Milky Way or do night photography. It’s a great time of the year for stargazing !

Joshua Tree NP in December

4. Zion National Park

  • Location:  Utah
  • Our personal suggestion
  • Where to stay: See our guide to Zion accommodation .

December is a good time to visit Zion National Park for those who’d like to explore this famous Utah bucket list destination without the crowds. You will meet hardly any people on the hiking trails and even the most popular places in the valley are quiet in winter. Furthermore, accommodation is much cheaper than at any other time of the year (except for the Christmas holiday).

Another big advantage of visiting Zion in winter is that you can drive the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive in your own car. In the high season, you have to take the Zion shuttle bus to get around the park, but in winter, you have complete flexibility and can easily drive to the starting points of the most popular trails in Zion. This is, unfortunately, not the case during the year-end holiday season anymore.

However, December is also the coldest month in Zion and snow is not uncommon. But snow usually melts quickly at the lower altitudes and the main road in the park remains open year-round.

Average high temperatures in Zion in December are just under 50°F (10°C), but it can also freeze. So dress warm and wear sturdy waterproof hiking boots so that you can enjoy the stunning winter landscapes to the fullest!

Zion National Park Scenic Drive in winter

There are many incredibly beautiful hikes in Zion, but depending on the weather, some of them might get closed in winter once in a while. So make sure to check the official Zion NP website for up-to-date conditions. Ideally, you check it just before you set off to explore the park.

One of the most popular trails in Zion is Angels Landing . This is a strenuous hike involving using chains for support at the top. I would only recommend doing it in December if the weather and trail conditions are exceptionally good.

A better alternative at this time of the year is the Canyon Overlook hike . It’s a much shorter and easier hike with a stunning view over the Zion Canyon. It’s well worth in any season and simply magical if there’s snow!

Other short and easy hikes include Riverside Walk , Pa’rus Trail , and Lower Emerald Pool . All absolutely stunning. Here you can find all our suggestions for hiking in Zion .

TIP: Also in December, you can find some unique activities here! Check out this amazing UTV/ hiking tour to a beautiful slot canyon . At the moment of writing, this tour also runs in winter.

Zion also has lots of wildlife and many animals come down to the valley looking for warmer temperatures and green grass to graze on. Mule deer are abundant and you can often see them right next to the Zion Lodge, along the river, and at many other places throughout the park.

Zion NP might not be an obvious choice for a December trip, but as long as you dress warm, know what to expect, and keep your plans somewhat flexible, you will love Zion in winter.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Zion to Bryce Canyon Drive & Itinerary

Zion Canyon Overlook in Zion National Park in December

5. National Park of American Samoa

  • Location: U.S. territory of American Samoa in the South Pacific
  • Suggestion by: Meredith from Chasing Abandon Travel Blog
  • Where to stay: There are just very few accommodations on Tutuila Island where the national park is located. Tradewinds Hotel is by far the best option here. The nicest hotels can be found on the nearby Upolu Island (in Samoa, so not American Samoa).

The trip from the mainland USA to the tiny island territory of American Samoa is a huge undertaking. And so the National Park of American Samoa is one of the last on most people’s list of National Parks to visit. But this hidden gem is absolutely worth a trip!

While it’s possible to travel here any time of the year, planning ahead to visit in December will give you the best weather experience.  

With the tropical weather of the South Pacific, there are no shutdowns at the National Park of American Samoa for winter weather. Instead, expect hot tropical weather, with a chance of daily rain, and high humidity. 

December falls at the end of the trade wind season, so seas will be calmer for enjoying the beach and snorkeling.  Come January and the local cyclone season begins that lasts until April/May, where you could experience not only a week-long tropical monsoon trough dumping rain over the islands but also the potential of a tropical cyclone (hurricane).

Blunts Point View in American Samoa National Park

To fully experience the Park, come prepared to walk! The best way to explore is to hike the National Park of American Samoa’s four maintained trails , which highlight different areas of the main island of Tutuila.

Pack your snorkel gear to visit the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, with protected marine areas offering some of the best snorkeling on the island.

While much of the National Park is located on Tutuila Island , the rest of the parkland can be found on the neighboring Ofu Island , a short plane ride away. Ofu protects some of the most pristine corals in the South Pacific ! With an epic long, white sandy beach likely free of other visitors, you will truly feel like you’ve found your slice of heaven.

If you are looking for a truly unique, off-the-beaten-path American National park for a winter getaway, the National Park of American Samoa is as good as it gets!

Mt Alava Summit in the National Park of American Samoa

6. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  • Location:  Tennessee & North Carolina
  • Suggestion by Nikki from Attractions of America
  • Where to stay: Gatlinburg, TN is the best town to stay. Alternatively, try  Townsend, TN .

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great winter getaway in the southern United States. There is so much to see and do in this beautiful park during the winter that you’ll have difficulties choosing where to go first.

The good thing about the Smokies is that in addition to all the outdoor activities, this area also has some great local towns that offer plenty of things to do even when the weather doesn’t cooperate. There’s truly something for everyone!

In December, you can expect cold temperatures in the Smokies. It often freezes at night and daytime temperatures average at around 40°F (5°C). It doesn’t snow much, but you might get lucky and experience white Christmas in the Great Smoky Mountains. However, the snow usually melts fast, especially at lower elevations.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park in December

The Smoky Mountains is a top-rated and an incredibly busy park. However, winter is the low season here. So if you visit in December, you’ll have easy access to the most popular places without the crowds.

The many waterfalls of the park are particularly nice in winter. One specific trail that is amazing during this season is the Laurel Falls Trail , where you can capture glimpses of ice formations throughout your hike. Make sure to also check out Grotto Falls and Abrams Falls , which have most likely frozen over into beautiful winter masterpieces. Cades Cove valley is accessible all year round and typically allows you to view some incredible wildlife.

Besides the National Park, you can visit many other sites nearby such as Ober Gatlinburg , where you can go ice skating, snowboard, or ski surrounded by stunning scenery.

Another amazing stop in the winter is the Gatlinburg Arts & Crafts Community , where you can see many amazing artisans displaying their skills such as candle making and woodworking.

You can also head over to Pigeon Forge , where you can soak in the Winterfest Tour of Lights . One of the best ways to see the twinkling Christmas lights is by taking a guided Pigeon Forge Trolley Tour of Lights that lets you admire the beauty of the holiday season throughout the Smoky Mountains.

The light displays in the area depict not only the holiday characters but also the famous animals found in Smokies such as coyotes, deer, black bears, bobcats, and elk.

Gatlinburg in the Smoky Mountains at Christmas

7. Grand Canyon National Park

  • Location:  Arizona
  • Suggestion by Heather from Trimm Travels .
  • Where to stay: See our guide to where to stay in and near Grand Canyon .

The Grand Canyon is one of the most-visited national parks and is known for being super-crowded at most any given time of the year. However, I discovered that in December, there are no crowds. This isn’t an exaggeration. I visited Grand Canyon in December twice and every time, I couldn’t believe how few people we saw at the popular South Rim.

Not sharing the Grand Canyon with thousands of people provides uninterrupted views of one of America’s most iconic attractions. The silence allows for peaceful and meaningful thoughts which make for quite an emotional impact. And there is no fighting for the best photo spots.

Good to know: South Rim is open the whole year. Here you can find our suggested itinerary on the best things to at the South Rim of Grand Canyon in one day . Also the West Rim’s Skywalk is open year-round, but please take note of its shortened hours from October to April.

Grand Canyon in December

Now to be fair, there are a few cons to visiting Grand Canyon in winter. The North Rim is closed during winter and the weather is fairly chilly warranting the need for warmer clothing.

However, with average daytime temperatures in December ranging from 40-60°F (5-15°C), you never really know how wintery it will be. On my first visit in December, I only needed a sweatshirt. But on my second trip, I needed a coat. Neither time, though, was so cold I couldn’t enjoy myself.

It does snow in Grand Canyon in December occasionally, but usually just enough to add a thin white layer and make the scenery even more beautiful. For a truly special experience, you can opt for a helicopter tour above the Grand Canyon – unforgettable at any time of the year!

For those who love nature and don’t mind potentially colder weather, this is the perfect time to visit! If you avoid the Christmas period, its’ really quiet, and Grand Canyon accommodation is quite a lot cheaper than in other months. Also, because it’s the holiday season, the hotels and lodges in the nearby towns are beautifully decorated. All this makes Grand Canyon a perfect winter getaway!

TIP: December can be a nice time to make a trip to this beautiful part of the USA. Here you can find a suggested itinerary for how to see the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Antelope Canyon in 2 Days .

READ ALSO: Complete Guide to Visiting the Grand Canyon in Winter

Grand Canyon National Park in December

8. Gateway Arch National Park

  • Location:  St. Louis, Missouri
  • Suggestion by Tiffany from Mommy And Me Travels
  • Where to stay: There are plenty of hotels and accommodations in St. Louis .

St Louis, MO (STL) is the gateway between the eastern and western United States. This is signified by the 630-foot Arch along the Mississippi River which is the highlight of the Gateway Arch National Park . And while this is a very different place than all the others in this selection of National Parks to visit in winter, this unique National Park is a great choice for a city trip in December!

There’s a lot to see and do at this Midwest National Park! Make sure to take a tram ride to the top of the Arch for great views. Visit the newly renovated Museum at the Gateway Arch where you can learn more about the history of the United States’ expansion to the west. Stroll through the Old Courthouse to learn about the Dred Scott case and take a riverboat ride down the Mississippi River .

Visiting the Gateway Arch National Park is always an awesome experience that the whole family will enjoy. And because most of this National Park’s attractions are indoors , it’s a great place for those looking for something different to do during bitter cold Midwest winters.

Furthermore, you’ll find a nice Christmas spirit in town and beautiful holiday decorations around the National Park grounds. There are usually several ice skating rinks in the city. Don’t miss the Winterfest at the Arch ice skating rink that’s located right in Kiener Plaza with the Old Courthouse and the Gateway Arch in the background!

Gateway Arch National Park in St Louis in December

St Louis Arch is the tallest monument in any United States National Park. A ride to the top of the Arch gives you an amazing panoramic view of the park ground and the city skyline. In winter, this view is amazing on a clear day as you can see for miles the beauty of snow covering the city.  Visiting on a night in December is a real treat as your view is lit up with amazing holiday light shows from throughout the city.

After your visit to the top of the Arch, make sure you spend some time in the museum at its base before heading across the park to the Old Courthouse . 

This courthouse is recognized as where Dred and Harriet Scott fought for their freedom in the pivotal Dred Scott case. This case hastened the start of the civil war. You can learn all about it in the courthouse theater at the showing of the film Slavery on Trial: The Dred Scott Decision, and discover how 19th-century St. Louis fostered three Constitutional amendments.  

Wrap up your visit to the St Louis Gateway Arch National Park with a trip down the Mississippi River on a dinner river cruise . These dinner cruises are a real treat as you go on a 19th-century replica steamboat. It’s a perfect way to end your day at the Gateway Arch National Park!

Gateway Arch National Park in St Louis

9. Death Valley National Park

  • Location:  Eastern California, at the Nevada border
  • Where to stay:  Best accommodations inside the park are The Ranch at Death Valley  and  The Inn at Death Valley .

Death Valley   National Park is known as one of the hottest places on our planet. So a visit here in summer is really not a good idea (take my word for it – we tried). But if you are looking to explore Death Valley to the fullest and without the crowds, December is one of the absolute best months to be here!

With average temperatures between 40 and 65°F (5-19°C) and zero days of rain, December is one of the coolest and driest months in Death Valley NP. Warm days are perfect for outdoor activities while cool nights are great for stargazing.

You can easily spend a few days at Death Valley, but even if you only have a couple of hours or a day, you can see and do a lot! We recommend at least one full day at the park, but because the days are short in winter, you may want to stay longer.

The must-sees are the Badwater Basin , a salt flat at the lowest elevation in North America, the 9-mile scenic road Artists Drive , and the views from Zabriskie Point and/or Dantes View .

Mosaic Canyon , Golden Canyon , or Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes  are all excellent hiking options – perfect when visiting in December.

TIP: Several Death Valley accommodations like Inn at Death Valley or The Ranch at Death Valley have swimming pools that are filled from the natural hot springs in the area. So even in winter, the water temperature usually stays in the pleasant 80s (25-30°C). In addition, because of its proximity to Las Vegas , you don’t even have to stay here – Death Valey can easily be visited on a day trip from Las Vegas (and there are also tours if you don’t want to drive).

LEARN MORE: Best Places to See in Death Valley National Park

Death Valley in winter

So, this is our selection with several suggestions for National Parks to visit in December. I hope that you found some new ideas and travel inspiration for your winter holidays!

For more inspiration, please also check our guide to the parks to visit in January via the link below. Many of those places are great in December as well. Check it out!

READ ALSO: Best National Parks to Visit in January

More travel inspiration for American National Parks:

  • Most Popular National Parks in the USA
  • National Parks to Visit in September
  • National Parks to Visit in October
  • National Parks to Visit in November
  • National Parks to Visit in February
  • National Parks to Visit in March
  • National Parks to Visit in April
  • National Parks to Visit in May
  • National Parks to Visit in June
  • Best National Parks to Visit with Kids
  • Lesser-Known National Parks

If you found this post helpful, don’t forget to bookmark it and share it with your friends. Are you on Pinterest? Pin these images!

American National Parks in December

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed .

Sunday 27th of November 2022

Great list and looking forward to some December National Park visits possibly Joshua Tree, Death Valley, or Everglades.

Friday 2nd of December 2022

Whichever park you decide on, have a great trip!

Marile Ploos van Amstel

Tuesday 8th of March 2022

I would like to print this information 9 Great American National parks to visit in December Is it possible to send it to me via email so that i can discuss it with my family and the travel agent to plan a trip to USA

Wednesday 9th of March 2022

Hi Marile, you can just print it straight from your browser if you absolutely need it on paper. Or save to pdf instead of printing. Hope this helps.


The 8 Best National Park for Christmas

national parks to visit at christmas

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If you’re looking for a fun, festive way to spend Christmas, why not check out one of America’s national parks? From the jaw-dropping beauty of Yosemite National Park to the winter wonderland that is Yellowstone National Park, there’s a park perfect for everyone. Here are our top eight picks for the best national parks to visit during Christmas.

Yellowstone National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

If you’re looking for a winter wonderland, look no further than Yellowstone National Park . Blanketed in snow, the park is a winter paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you enjoy skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, or just soaking in the scenery, Yellowstone has something to offer.

Many of the park’s popular attractions are open during the winter months, so you can still experience all that Yellowstone has to offer. Take a scenic drive along the Grand Loop Road, explore the geothermal features at Upper Geyser Basin, and watch for wildlife as you traverse the park. You can also visit the world-famous Old Faithful geyser and take a dip in one of the park’s hot springs.

With so much to see and do, Yellowstone is the perfect place to spend your Christmas. So come on up and enjoy all that this majestic park has to offer.

Old Faithful Inn

For an amazing Christmas experience in Yellowstone, stay at the Old Faithful Inn. The Old Faithful Inn is a historic lodge located within Yellowstone National Park. During the Christmas season, the Inn hosts a variety of festive activities for guests to enjoy. These activities include a tree lighting ceremony, holiday caroling, and storytelling by the fireplace. Guests can also take part in traditional old-fashioned games such as KanJam and quoits. The Inn also offers special holiday-themed meals, including a traditional Christmas Eve dinner and a New Year’s Eve buffet. If you’re looking for a festive and unique way to celebrate the holidays, make sure to check out the Old Faithful Inn.

Rocky Mountain National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

Winter brings deep snows and colder temperatures to the Rockies, but it also creates abundant recreational opportunities. Two of the most popular activities in the park in December are cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Park rangers lead snowshoeing trips in the park. You can either bring your own or rent equipment in Estes Park. You’ll find reasonable rates for daily equipment rental.

Another fun activity in the park is snow tubing. Hidden Valley is one of the most popular spots in the park for tubing. The area is open from 10am to 4pm daily. There is no cost, but you’ll need to bring your own sled or tube. You can purchase or rent them in Estes Park.  For downhill skiing enthusiasts, the best spots are located outside of the park boundaries.

Just outside of the park is Estes Park, Colorado. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, Estes Park holds its annual Catch the Glow Christmas Parade & Celebration. Here you’ll find a Christmas parade with live bands, pony rides, hayrides, and Santa’s workshop.

Throughout the holiday season, you can stroll or shop in downtown Estes Park. You’ll find amazing holiday decorations and quaint shops and cafes, selling everything from clothing to souvenirs to warm drinks.

On Christmas Eve, you can visit Santa at the Castle Mountain Lodge before he sets off on his journey to deliver toys to children around the world. You’ll also find several of the city’s restaurants providing holidays dinners and meals both on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

You can enjoy an evening at the famous Stanley Hotel on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, where you’ll get a meal, live music, champagne, martinis, and a hot chocolate bar for the kids.

Grand Canyon National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

One of America’s most well-known national parks is also one of the best to visit at Christmas time. Grand Canyon National Park is open year-round. Temperatures in December are usually cold, but the average high is still 43 degrees Fahrenheit, so you won’t face bone-chilling extremes during the day.

And visiting the Grand Canyon in the winter will avoid the large crowds and long lines you will inevitably encounter during the summer. An important thing to know is that roads to the North Rim are closed during the winter, so you’ll be spending time on the South Rim instead.

Some trails will be snow-covered, but you should also have the opportunity to experience plenty of others that are open. And you’ll also likely experience clear skies so you can see the full grandeur of the canyon.

On the South Rim, Mather Campground is open year-round. It’s first-come, first-serve in the winter. Trailer Village RV Park provides year-round full RV hookups.

Polar Express

One of the highlights of Christmas time at the Grand Canyon is the Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express . The train leaves from Williams, Arizona for a 90-minute round trip tour. On board, you’ll get to spend time with Santa, his elves, and other helpers. You’ll also get snacks and hot drinks and gifts from St. Nick himself. You’ll board the decorated 1930s era train at train station in Williams. There you’ll see thousands of Christmas lights and several displays outside as you ride by.

Williams, Arizona, also has its annual parade and tree lighting. It’s usually shortly after Thanksgiving. Santa is also usually on hand for the ceremonies. You can also shop in downtown Williams amid the Christmas decorations, whether you’re staying in town or staying in the park.

Grand Teton National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

-Skiing and snowboarding: With its majestic mountains and pristine powder, Grand Teton National Park is a mecca for skiers and snowboarders from all over the world. Visitors can enjoy downhill skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort or cross-country skiing through the park’s meadows and forests.

-Snowshoeing: Snowshoeing is a great way to explore the park’s backcountry and get off the beaten path. There are numerous trails to choose from, ranging from easy day hikes to multi-day treks.

-Wildlife watching: Winter is an ideal time to view some of Grand Teton’s most iconic wildlife, including bison, elk, moose, and trumpeter swans. Visitors can spot them from their car on the park’s roads or on foot while hiking or snowshoeing through the

Jackson Hole Activities

If you’re looking for festive Christmas activities in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, you won’t be disappointed. The town comes alive with holiday cheer during the month of December, and there are plenty of fun things to do for people of all ages. One popular activity is attending the Jackson Hole Wildlife Art Show, which features artwork from local and regional artists. Another is taking a sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge, where you can see some of the area’s iconic wildlife up close. Of course, no trip to Jackson Hole would be complete without hitting the slopes at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the country. So whatever your interests, you’re sure to find something to enjoy in Jackson Hole this Christmas season.

Mount Rainier National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

National Park Inn

The National Park Inn at Mount Rainier is also a great place to enjoy some holiday cheer at Christmas. The inn offers a variety of festive activities, including a tree-lighting ceremony, live music, and a visit from Santa. Guests can also enjoy a special holiday dinner in the hotel restaurant. The restaurant features seasonal dishes, such as roasted turkey and pumpkin pie. After dinner, guests can relax by the fire or take a stroll through the beautifully decorated grounds. The National Park Inn is the perfect place to celebrate Christmas with family and friends.

Yosemite National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

The Ahwahnee

The Ahwahnee at Yosemite National Park is a beautiful place to spend Christmas. The Ahwahnee has a number of different activities that are available for guests to enjoy. One activity that is available is the Ahwahnee sing-along. This is a special event where guests can join in and sing Christmas carols together. Another activity that is available is the Ahwahnee yarn bombing. This is an event where people can knit or crochet hats, scarves, and other items to be placed around the Ahwahnee. There are also many different Ahwahnee holiday-themed events that are available for people to participate in. These events include the Ahwahnee gingerbread house decorating contest, the Ahwahnee cookie decorating contest, and the Ahwahnee ugly sweater contest.

Bracebridge Dinner

The Bracebridge Dinner at The Ahwahnee in Yosemite Valley is an elegant Christmas tradition that dates back to 1927. Named for the fictional Squire Bracebridge, who appears in Washington Irving’s “The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.”, the dinner is a seven-course feast that features many of the same dishes that were served at the original event. While the dinner is no longer held in the grand dining room of The Ahwahnee, it continues to be an intimate and cherished holiday tradition for those who are lucky enough to attend. If you’re looking for a truly unique and special holiday experience, the Bracebridge Dinner at The Ahwahnee is not to be missed.

Wawona Hotel

For guests staying at the Wawona Hotel in Yosemite National Park during the Christmas season, there are plenty of festive activities to enjoy. A highlight is the hotel’s annual tree-lighting ceremony, which takes place in front of the picturesque main lodge. Guests can also enjoy caroling around the property, roasting marshmallows by the fire pits, and taking horse-drawn sleigh rides through the snowy woods. Of course, no visit to Yosemite would be complete without exploring all that the majestic national park has to offer, and there are plenty of trails to hike and sights to see throughout the wintry landscape. With so much to do, guests are sure to have a memorable holiday experience at the Wawona Hotel.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

Gatlinburg, TN

As the holidays approach, Gatlinburg, Tennessee becomes a veritable winter wonderland. The town is decked out in twinkling lights, and the air is filled with the scent of fresh pine. If you’re looking for a festive getaway this Christmas, Gatlinburg is the perfect place to visit. Here are just a few of the holiday-themed activities that you can enjoy in this charming town:

* Take a stroll down Gatlinburg’s scenic Parkway, which is illuminated with millions of lights during the holiday season.

* Visit Santa’s workshops at Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium, where you can also see Elf on the Shelf displays and catch a holiday magic show.

* Ride the tram to Ober Gatlinburg, an Alpine-style village located atop a mountain. Here you can go ice skating, visit Santa’s workshop, or take a ride on the Alpine Slides.

* Indulge in some tasty holiday treats at one of Gatlinburg’s many restaurants and cafes. You’ll find everything from gingerbread lattes to pumpkin pie milkshakes.

No matter how you spend your time in Gatlinburg, you’re sure to create lasting memories with your loved ones

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is a great place to enjoy Christmas activities. The city offers a variety of events and attractions that are perfect for the holiday season. One popular event is the Polar Express Train Ride. This ride takes passengers on a journey through the snowy mountains while listening to Christmas carols. Another popular attraction is the Dollywood theme park, which features Christmas lights and decorations throughout the park. Visitors can also enjoy Appalachian music and dance performances, as well as take part in traditional Appalachian crafts such as basket making and quilting. pigeon forge is also home to a variety of shops and restaurants that offer Christmas themed items and food. There are also several hotels and resorts that offer special Christmas packages and rates. With so many things to do, Pigeon Forge is the perfect place to enjoy a festive Christmas vacation.

Zion National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

Zion National Park is a fantastic place to visit all year round, but in winter it really comes into its own. There are a number of different activities that you can enjoy in the park when the snow starts to fall. One popular option is cross-country skiing. With over 100 miles of trails to explore, there are plenty of places to strap on your skis and enjoy the silence of the winter landscape. Another great activity is snowshoeing. This is a great way to get off the beaten path and really see some of the more remote parts of the park. If you’re looking for a real challenge, you can even attempt to hike to the top of Angel’s Landing in winter conditions. Whatever you choose to do, Zion National Park is an unforgettable place in winter.

Zion National Park Lodge

The Zion Park National Lodge is a great place to enjoy Christmas activities. The lodge has a variety of Christmas activities to choose from, including Christmas carols, Christmas lights, and Christmas tree decorating. There are also a variety of Christmas activities for kids, including Christmas crafts, Christmas games, and Christmas story time. If you’re spending the holidays in the park, The Zion Park National Lodge is a great place to enjoy Christmas activities with the family.

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national parks to visit at christmas

12 Best National Parks to Visit in December

By: Author Bram Reusen

Posted on Last updated: April 14, 2024

As many people are holiday shopping, decorating their homes, and begin hunkering down for winter, December isn’t usually a busy month in the National Park System.

There are, however, still many national parks that are downright amazing in December—you could even say that some are in their absolute prime this time of year.

Whether you’re planning a trip to get away from the stress of the holiday season or are actually spending the holidays in the parks, you’ll find several beautiful December destinations below.

You can go hiking in Utah and Texas, canoeing and snorkeling in south Florida, and immerse yourself in tropical scenery in Hawaii and the Virgin Islands. The choice is yours!

Best National Parks to Visit in December

This blog post about the best national parks to visit in December contains affiliate links. If you click on one of those links and make a purchase from one of our partners, we may earn a commission, without any extra cost to you. This helps support this website and ensures fair compensation for our team.

Planning a Visit to National Parks in December

1. big bend national park, texas, 2. biscayne national park, florida, 3. death valley national park, california, 4. dry tortugas national park, florida, 5. everglades national park, florida, 6. haleakalā national park, hawaii, 7. hawai‘i volcanoes national park, hawaii, 8. mammoth cave national park, kentucky, 9. saguaro national park, arizona, 10. virgin islands national park, u.s. virgin islands, 11. white sands national park, new mexico, 12. zion national park, utah, when to visit national parks.

While many national parks shut down—either partially or entirely—during winter, others are among the absolute best places to visit in December.

Thanks to the incredible diversity and wide geographic range of the National Park System, you’ll always find one or more parks to visit, no matter what month or season it is.

December is, of course, the ultimate holiday month, with Christmas and New Year’s Eve highlighted brightly on many people’s calendar.

This also means that the first half of the month is very quiet in the national parks, as people are planning family gatherings and spending money on presents and food.

So, if you’d like a quiet national parks experience, early-December is a fantastic time to plan a trip .

The week between Christmas and New Year’s, on the other hand, is pretty busy. This is an exceptionally popular time to visit national parks. Many of the best national parks to visit in December see a huge spike in visitation during that particular week, so keep that in mind when planning your trip.

Because late-December is also one of the busiest travel weeks of the entire year, you can expect prices to be significantly higher as well, both for transportation and accommodation.

So, which national parks are best to visit in December? Whether you’re looking for a winter hiking holiday or want to soak up some tropical sunshine, you’ve got a wide range of options:

  • Death Valley
  • Dry Tortugas
  • Haleakal ā
  • Hawai‘i Volcanoes
  • Mammoth Cave
  • Virgin Islands
  • White Sands

For each of these top national parks to visit in December, I’ve provided some basic information below. This includes expected crowds (based on historical visitation data), typical weather, and—not unimportant—the average sunrise and sunset times in the park.

NOTE: In terms of average crowd levels, December is an interesting month. For almost all national parks, the first part of the month will be unusually quiet. The week between Christmas and New Year’s, however, is when visitation increases dramatically, which in its turn also raises the monthly average. So, even if the “expected crowds” below say ‘moderate’ or ‘high’, it’s quite likely that the park will still be relatively quiet during the first three weeks of December. Something to keep in mind!

Location: Southwestern Texas Expected Crowds: Low Weather: The average high temperature is 63°F (17°), while the average low temperature is 39°F (4°C). The monthly precipitation average is merely 0.51 inches (13 mm) in total. Average Sunrise Time: 7:39 am Average Sunset Time: 5:56 pm

Canoeing into Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas - Credit NPS

Visiting Big Bend National Park in December

Winter in Big Bend National Park is usually sunny, pleasant and mild. Although days with clouds and near-freezing temperatures do occasionally occur, the general Big Bend National Park winter weather is relatively warm and enjoyable .

Average maximum temperatures from December are well into the 60s, while this is also among the driest months of the year. Snowfall is pretty rare and, when it does occur, is usually quite light. This makes December a fantastic time to go hiking and boating in Big Bend.

The National Park Service does advise December visitors to prepare for a variety of weather conditions, though. Temperatures can vary from below freezing to up into the 80s.

Besides hiking and boating, there are many other ways to explore and enjoy these spectacular canyons, rugged desert plains, and mountains on the border of the U.S. and Mexico. Those include bird watching, fishing, stargazing, horseback riding, and scenic drives.

All in all, Big Bend National Park in December is fantastic. It’s a beautiful month to visit this underrated and less-visited park in southwestern Texas.

More About Big Bend National Park

  • Park Website
  • Travel Guide
  • Topographic Map
  • Accommodation

Location: Southern Florida Expected Crowds: Moderate Weather: The average high temperature is 76°F (24°C), while the average low temperature is 64°F (18°C). December is the driest month in Biscayne, with no fewer than 26 sunny days and a total amount of precipitation of barely 0.05 inches (1.27 mm). Average Sunrise Time: 6:57 am Average Sunset Time: 5:33 pm

Boca Chita Key harbor, Biscayne National Park, Florida

Visiting Biscayne National Park in December

No less than 95% of Biscayne National Park , which is just south of Miami , is water. Only 5% is land, which includes a small stretch of mainland shoreline and several offshore islands. Therefore, the only way to explore and experience Biscayne National Park is on boat trips.

A wide array of excursions leave from the Biscayne National Park Institute near the park’s visitor center, from glass-bottom boat tours to snorkeling and scuba diving trips and sailboat outings.

On these boat tours, you can enjoy the stunning seascapes of Biscayne Bay, both from the boat itself and in the water. This park offers some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world, though the best underwater visibility does occur in summer.

December is a great time to visit Biscayne National Park thanks to southern Florida’s amazing subtropical climate.

This is the dry season in this part of the country, meaning that a visit to Biscayne National Park in December comes with very mild weather and tons of sunshine.

More About Biscayne National Park

  • Top Things to Do in Biscayne National Park
  • How to Visit Boca Chita Key

Location: Southeastern California Expected Crowds: High Weather: The average high temperature is 65°F (18°C), while the average low temperature is 38°F (3°C). Total average precipitation is 0.19 inches (4.83 mm). Snow is possible in the mountains; the lower-elevation areas are generally pretty comfortable. Average Sunrise Time: 6:51 am Average Sunset Time: 4:34 pm

Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park, California

Visiting Death Valley National Park in December

In summer boasting some of hottest and driest weather in North America with temperatures exceeding 130 degrees Fahrenheit, Death Valley National Park in December is an entirely different story.

Temperatures are still very pleasant—December is the coldest month of the year, but still has an average high temperature of 65°F—yet snow tops the peaks of the park’s towering mountains.

Low-angled sunlight creates stunning patterns of shadows in the badlands below Zabriskie Point, in Badwater Basin, and in the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, just to name a few popular places in Death Valley .

Long and dark nights, often without clouds, make for some of the best night sky viewing opportunities in America in December.

It is worth noting, however, that, although still comfortably warm, December marks the start of the “wet” season in Death Valley National Park. The beginning of the month is typically quite dry, with a slight increase in potential precipitation during the last week. (January and February are the park’s wettest months.)

In terms of crowds, the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas is the quietest time of the whole year in Death Valley National Park.

Christmas through New Year’s, however, is one of the busiest times in the park in winter, the National Park Service says . During the latter third of December, visitors are encouraged to visit on weekdays rather than on weekends.

More About Death Valley National Park

  • Best Death Valley Hikes
  • Top Things To Do in Death Valley National Park

Location: 70 miles west of Key West , southern Florida Expected Crowds: Low Weather: The average high temperature is 77°F (25°C), while the average low temperature is 69°F (21°C). Average precipitation through December is 2.02 inches (51.3 mm). Although very dry, winter is also the windiest time of year in this region. Average Sunrise Time: 7:06 am Average Sunset Time: 5:45 pm

South Swim Beach and Moat at Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Visiting Dry Tortugas National Park in December

One of the least accessible national parks in America, Dry Tortugas National Park is 70 miles west of Key West . It’s only reachable by seaplane or boat.

This is a glorious destination all year, but it’s particularly amazing in winter, not in the least because it’s one of America’s greatest tropical destinations.

December in Dry Tortugas National Park is warm, typically sunny and—well—dry. The park was named after its dry conditions, specifically its lack of freshwater sources, and the many turtles that frequent its shallow turquoise waters. December is the driest month in the park.

From November to April, there can be the occasional windstorm, though, which cause swells and waves, and reduce visibility underwater.

That said, however, December is not the hurricane season in south Florida—the hurricane season officially ends on November 30—so you don’t have to worry about that at all.

In general, visiting Dry Tortugas National Park in December is a great idea. You can expect beautiful sunny weather and very comfortable temperatures. This is, after all, one of the warmest national parks in December.

Highlights include massive Fort Jefferson, which is the largest brick building in the Americas, stunning beaches, and world-class snorkeling and scuba diving.

Tours, whether by plane or boat, depart from Key West. The Yankee Freedom catamaran is the most popular way to get to the Dry Tortugas from Key West.

More About Dry Tortugas National Park

  • Top Things to Do in Dry Tortugas National Park

Location: Southern Florida Expected Crowds: Low Weather: The average high temperature is 79°F (26°C), while the average low temperature is 57°F (14°C). December is the driest month in Everglades National Park, with a total precipitation of only 1.37 inches (34.8 mm). Average Sunrise Time: 7:01 am Average Sunset Time: 5:36 pm

Nine Mile Pond mangrove tunnel canoeing, Everglades National Park

Visiting Everglades National Park in December

This sprawling national park southwest of Miami —the third-largest national park in the contiguous United States—can be visited throughout the year, but summer does come with high humidity, hot weather, and relentless bugs.

Winter, on the other hand, has none of that. This is the dry season and there are virtually no bugs, humidity is low, and temperatures are more than comfortable.

The month of December is a glorious time to explore the “River of Grass,” whether you’re going canoeing or kayaking, joining a cruise or going on a wildlife excursion.

Both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve, Everglades National Park encompasses one of the world’s most important wetland regions. For one, this is one of only a few places on Earth where both alligators and crocodiles live . Other marine animals you might spot include manatees, sharks, and dolphins.

Everglades National Park is also renowned around the world for its sheer abundance of birds. More than 300 species of birds call the park home, many of which you can see in winter.

High-profile birds in the Everglades are anhingas, roseate spoonbills, great egrets, white-crowned pigeons, snail kites, osprey, bald eagles, wood storks, limpkins and pelicans. All of those can be seen throughout the park in December.

More About Everglades National Park

  • Where to See Wildlife in Everglades National Park
  • Where to See Alligators and Crocodiles in the Everglades
  • Famous Birds of the Everglades
  • Best Things to Do in Flamingo
  • Best Things to Do in Shark Valley
  • Top Sights on the Everglades Main Park Road
  • Best Everglades Bike Trails

Location: Eastern half of Maui , Hawaii Expected Crowds: Moderate Weather: The average high temperature is 76°F (24°C), while the average low temperature is 72°F (22°C). (Note that these are averages for the entire park. The high-elevation Summit District is significantly colder than the tropical Kīpahulu District.) Rainfall is possible every day in Kīpahulu; the Summit District is much drier. Average Sunrise Time: 6:53 am Average Sunset Time: 5:47 pm

Hiker on Sliding Sands Trail in Haleakala Crater, Maui, Hawaii

Visiting Haleakalā National Park in December

Even though winter is the wet season in Hawaii, that doesn’t mean visiting the Hawaiian national parks is a bad idea. Rather the contrary, in fact, December in Hawaii is absolutely amazing.

Temperatures remain high throughout the year in most areas, while more precipitation means even lusher tropical scenery.

Haleakalā National Park in Maui, for example, is a phenomenal destination in December. Thanks to its wide range of elevations between the coastal Kīpahulu District and the Summit District, there’s usually some enjoyable weather to be found somewhere in the park.

The Kīpahulu District, for example, has daytime temperatures that range between 70 and 80 degrees year-round, including in winter. This lush area, home to palm trees, waterfalls and natural swimming holes, does get its fair share of rainfall, though, so remember to bring appropriate clothing.

At the spectacular summit of Haleakalā, it can get significantly colder. The National Park Service says that “on average, the temperature drops about 3°F for every 1,000 foot rise in elevation, making the 10,023-foot summit of Haleakalā about 30°F cooler than the coast.”

Popular activities in Haleakalā National Park in December include swimming, camping, hiking, bird watching, photography, sunrise and sunset viewing, and stargazing.

More About Haleakalā National Park

  • Best Haleakalā Hikes
  • Top Things To Do in Haleakalā National Park

Location: Southwestern portion of the Big Island, Hawaii Expected Crowds: Moderate Weather: The average high temperature is 72°F (22°C), while the average low temperature is about 54°F (12°C). (There are significant temperature differences between the Kīlauea summit and the coastal area at the end of the Chain of Craters Road. Additionally, the summit of massive Mauna Loa can have freezing temperatures and even snow in any month of the year.) At Kīlauea, rainfall and fog are possible any day in December, as well as in most other months. Average Sunrise Time: 6:46 am Average Sunset Time: 5:45 pm

Kilauea Overlook view of the crater, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

Visiting Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park in December

The second national park in Hawaii is Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park , located on the Big Island. Home to both Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, two of the most active and biggest volcanoes on the planet, this is a fascinating national park to visit in December.

There are no distinctive seasons in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. This basically means that temperatures in winter are as enjoyable as those in summer.

However, the park is notorious for its rapidly changing weather—mist can roll in at any time, while evenings usually bring some rainfall. Chilly temperatures can also occur unexpectedly. Prepare and bring proper clothing for both sunny and rainy weather.

The park’s significant precipitation does, on the other hand, result in a gorgeous rain forest wonderland.

Numerous hiking trails run through verdant tropical forests, some descending into volcanic craters, others leading to jaw-dropping views. The park also has a few scenic drives, which run past historic sites, overlooks, and other attractions.

Visitation numbers are fairly steady throughout the year, mainly because the park’s weather doesn’t change much. They usually peak around holiday periods, such as Christmas, New Year’s, and the Fourth of July, as well as whenever one (or both) of the park’s volcanoes are erupting.

Early-December is usually a relatively quiet time to visit this unique national park.

More About Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park

  • Best Hawai‘i Volcanoes Hikes
  • Top Things To Do in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park

Location: Southern Kentucky Expected Crowds: Low Weather: The average high temperature is 48°F (9°C), while the average low temperature is 32°F (0°C). The temperature inside the cave, however, is a constant 54°F (12°C). December is one of the wetter months in Mammoth Cave National Park, with a total precipitation of about 5 inches (127 mm). Mild to moderate snow is possible. Average Sunrise Time: 6:49 am Average Sunset Time: 4:30 pm

Domes and Dripstones Tour, Mammoth Cave National Park - Longest Cave in the World

Visiting Mammoth Cave National Park in December

The temperature within Mammoth Cave, the longest known cave system in the world , is a constant 54°F, so you can visit the cave year-round. Moreover, December—and especially the first half of the month—is one of the quietest periods in the park in terms of visitation.

A variety of cave tours are available every day through December.

Above-ground, the weather in December is on the chillier side, but it’s still possible to hit some of the trails in Mammoth Cave National Park if you so desire. Note, though, that some snow and ice may occur.

More About Mammoth Cave National Park

Location: Southern Arizona Expected Crowds: Moderate Weather: The average high temperature is 66°F (19°C), while the average low temperature is 41°F (5°C). Sporadic rain showers occur about once a week in December and other winter months. Snow is possible, too, especially in higher-elevation areas of the park. Still, about 50% of December days have completely clear skies. Average Sunrise Time: 7:20 am Average Sunset Time: 5:21 pm

Loma Verde Loop, Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Visiting Saguaro National Park in December

December is the “coldest” month of the year in Saguaro National Park , but with an average high temperature of 66°F, things could be much worse.

Thanks to its relatively warm winter temperatures, Saguaro National Park in southern Arizona is at its busiest from November through March. Don’t let that deter you from visiting, though!

There are plenty of opportunities to get away from the crowds, which are still relatively small compared with other parks anyway.

You can enjoy the amazing 65-degree afternoons on the many excellent hiking trails in Saguaro National Park . The King Canyon Trail to Wasson Peak, the Loma Verde Loop and Tanque Ridge Trail are especially great for escaping the busy roadside areas.

Additionally, its two separate districts—the Tucson Mountain District (West) and Rincon Mountain District (East)—both located on either side of Tucson, Arizona , have their own scenic drive. Both roads are open to motorists and cyclists alike.

More About Saguaro National Park

  • Best Saguaro Hikes
  • Top Things To Do in Saguaro National Park

Location: Most of the island of St. John , U.S. Virgin Islands Expected Crowds: Moderate Weather: The average high temperature is 84°F (29°C), while the average low temperature is 75°F (24°C). December marks the start of the dry season, with the chance of rainfall decreasing rapidly throughout the month. Some precipitation is possible in December, but major storms are rare. Average Sunrise Time: 6:42 am Average Sunset Time: 5:45 pm

Visitor on tropical Honeymoon Beach in Virgin Islands National Park

Visiting Virgin Islands National Park in December

For a beach holiday, Virgin Islands National Park is arguably the best national park to visit in December. Very few places in America allow you to spend December snorkeling, sunbathing, swimming, and relaxing under palm trees quite like the U.S. Virgin Islands do.

In fact, I don’t think there’s a national park that’s greater for tropical beach vacations than Virgin Islands National Park—especially in December. It’s by far the warmest of all U.S. national parks in December.

This is the start of the dry season in the Virgin Islands (and much of the rest of the Caribbean). Chances of precipitation decrease steadily throughout the month, while temperatures are perpetually high and sunshine is plentiful.

Popular things to do in Virgin Islands National Park in December include glamping at Cinnamon Bay Beach, visiting historic plantation ruins, turtle viewing at Maho Bay Beach, and snorkeling at Trunk Bay Beach, which is considered one of the world’s most beautiful beaches.

More About Virgin Islands National Park

  • Best Beaches in Virgin Islands National Park
  • Best Hikes in Virgin Islands National Park
  • Historic Plantation Ruins in Virgin Islands National Park
  • Scenic Views in Virgin Islands National Park
  • Virgin Islands National Park Snorkeling Guide

Location: Southern New Mexico Expected Crowds: Low Weather: The average high temperature is 57°F (14°C), while the average low temperature is 21°F (-6°F). Precipitation occurs mainly in the form of occasional winter storms, which bring rain and possibly light snow. The total precipitation in White Sands National Park in December is only 0.79 inches (20.07 mm), though. Average Sunrise Time: 6:58 am Average Sunset Time: 5:02 pm

Gypsum sand dunes in White Sands National Park, New Mexico - Photo Credit NPS

Visiting White Sands National Park in December

Looking for a warm national park that still offers a white Christmas experience, albeit an atypical one? White Sands National Park it is!

Although you’re unlikely to see actual snow on these extraordinary sand dunes, their bright white gypsum sand does remind imaginative visitors of snow-covered slopes. It’s essentially a warm winter wonderland in the southern New Mexico desert.

And if that’s not all, you can even go sledding here. Sand sledding on the soft sand of the White Sands dunes is one of the park’s most popular things to do. Just like you would in actual winter sports resorts, make sure to bring sunscreen and sunglasses.

Note, though, that nights do get rather cold in White Sands National Park in December. The average nightly temperature is well below freezing this time of year.

Comfortable daytime temperatures, on the other hand, allow for outdoor activities like the above-mentioned sledding, as well as dune hiking, bicycling, picnicking, and landscape photography.

More About White Sands National Park

Location: Southwestern Utah Expected Crowds: Low Weather: The average high temperature is 54°F (12°C), while the average low temperature is 30°F (-1°C). The weather is generally chilly, but can be pretty comfortable on sunny days. Total precipitation in December is 1.6 inches (40.64 mm) on average, most of which is in the form of snow. Average Sunrise Time: 7:36 am Average Sunset Time: 5:16 pm

Zion Canyon in Zion National Park, Utah

Visiting Zion National Park in December

Early to mid-December is one of the quietest times of the year in Zion National Park . And for a national park that’s so incredible crowded otherwise, that alone is a great reason to visit the park in December.

This is easily one of the most popular national parks in the United States. So, for the most enjoyable park experience, I strongly recommend visiting in the shoulder or even low season, i.e. December.

In the first three weeks of December, you won’t have to wait in traffic to get into the park, trails will be quiet, and you shouldn’t have issues finding a place to stay near Zion .

Additionally, December is one of just a few months when you’re allowed to drive your own vehicle on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive—another major perk of visiting Zion in early-December. (During the long busy season, you need to take the free park shuttle bus to explore Zion Canyon.)

The only exception to this is the holiday season at the end of the month, which is when the shuttle bus does run and, as such, private cars are not allowed on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.

Fun things to do in Zion National Park in December are stargazing , scenic drives, enjoying potentially stunning snowy Zion Canyon scenery , and hiking some of the park’s amazing trails.

Note, however, that snow and ice are not uncommon, so think twice before hitting iconic Zion hiking trails like Observation Point and, particularly, Angels Landing. The Park Service recommends wearing traction devices when hiking in Zion National Park in winter.

More About Zion National Park

  • Best Zion Hikes
  • Best Views in Zion National Park

For a nice visual overview of when to visit the national parks, I recommend checking out my national parks calendar in this blog post . It highlights the best months to visit each of the 63 U.S. national parks, which should help you plan your itinerary.

For an overview of the best national parks for a specific month, check out these blog posts (this is a series that is still in progress; I’ll add more months as I publish the posts):

  • January: Best National Parks to Visit in January
  • February: Best National Parks to Visit in February
  • March: Best National Parks to Visit in March

Additionally, the following blog posts may also be helpful:

  • Winter (cold): Best National Parks for Winter Wonderlands
  • Winter (warm): Best National Parks for Warm Winter Getaways
  • Spring: Best National Parks to Visit in Spring
  • Summer: Best National Parks for Summer Island Vacations
  • Fall: Best National Parks for Fall Foliage

Have You Visited Any of These National Parks in December? Which Ones Are You Planning to Visit in December? Share Your National Parks Experience Below!

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8 national parks with epic holiday celebrations

Twinkling lights, sightseeing with Santa, and a heavenly chorus are just some of the seasonal celebrations that await this holiday season

By Amanda Adler

The holiday season is a wonderful time to visit North America’s national parks , which offer cooler temps, lighter crowds, and a peaceful serenity that comes during this relatively quiet time of year. Those looking to visit these stunning destinations during the holidays will find that some even transform into winter wonderlands bursting with special themed activities to help make the season bright.

Whether you’re seeking family-friendly entertainment and a visit from Santa, rousing celebrations featuring time-honored traditions, or a tranquil getaway that allows you to further immerse yourself in the beauty of nature, these national parks make the perfect destination for your holiday getaway.

An elaborate light display depicts a frog with an illuminated tongue.

1. Cherish time-honored customs at Hot Springs National Park

Those looking to relish treasured customs at the country’s national parks will find a lot to love during the classic celebrations found at Hot Springs National Park . Downtown Hot Springs bursts to life with holiday light displays from November to early January. The charming Garvan Woodland Gardens shines extra bright during the Holiday Lights event, featuring displays of nearly 5 million lights, glowing gingerbread houses, glimmering Christmas trees, and more.

Related A city within a park: Arkansas’ Hot Springs National Park turns 100

And the steamy springs create a picturesque backdrop for the region’s annual Hot Springs Christmas Parade, held in early December, which is dedicated to “keepin’ it lit” each holiday season.

A dimly lit cave is the setting for a gathering of people listening to a concert surrounding a Christmas tree.

2. Enjoy awesome acoustics at Mammoth Cave National Park

For a holiday tradition that dates back to 1883, take in a joyous choral performance during the Mammoth Cave Sing . Annual Cave Sing events have taken place within a cavern at Mammoth Cave National Park since 1980, offering performances by singers and musicians from local colleges and other groups.

This 1-hour melodic experience takes place in early December, and though the cave offers a soft glow from the centerpiece Christmas tree, visitors should be prepared for low lighting and chilly temps in this natural concert setting.

On a dark night, children look in awe at a huge lighted sculpture of a moose.

3. Savor a traditional holiday atmosphere at Banff National Park

From carols to candles, cookies, and cocoa, the holiday season is full of robust rituals passed on from generation to generation. And at Alberta’s Banff National Park you can honor treasured traditions in an awe-inspiring snow-covered setting. Events held throughout the season include European-style Christmas markets filled with handcrafted wares and delicious treats, a delectable hot chocolate trail through Banff and Lake Louise, and a live Christmas story told through illuminated puppets, dazzling sculptures, and clever sound effects at the park’s Cascade of Time Garden. 

Related 11 national parks with incredible winter experiences

Santa stands with outstretched arms as he greets passengers on a train.

4. Travel to the North Pole at Cuyahoga Valley National Park 

Families looking for kid-approved experiences this holiday season can enjoy appearances by Saint Nick at Cuyahoga Valley National Park . Here you can see Santa in his natural habitat when you set off on a scenic train trip to the North Pole as part of the Cuyahoga Valley North Pole Adventure . 

This special event, taking place in the weeks leading up to Christmas, allows travelers to see Santa’s workshop up close as all the elves are hard at work making presents for all the children on the “nice” list. Savor hot chocolate and cookies while you draft your wish list to be delivered directly through the North Pole postmaster.

Related Top 10 things to do in Ohio

Santa waves from the caboose of a train as it passes an illuminated town marked "North Pole."

5. Hop aboard the Polar Express to Grand Canyon National Park 

Fans of the man in the red suit can also ride the rails for a different Santa-themed adventure, taking visitors from Williams, Arizona, to Grand Canyon National Park . A nighttime excursion on Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express offers a peaceful, 90-minute journey complete with seasonal snacks. Travelers will have the honor of mingling with Santa and his reindeer before heading back to Williams with a keepsake present in hand. It’s a popular journey that fills up fast, so making reservations for this experience is a “must.”

A white riverboat sails past the St. Louis skyline, which is dominated by the sight of the soaring Gateway Arch.

6. Cruise with Santa past Gateway Arch National Park

Still searching for a unique chance to meet Kris Kringle? Then don your pajamas and join Santa on a river cruise past the iconic Gateway Arch National Park . On the weekends leading up to Christmas, you can dress in ultimate nap time comfort as you come aboard a festively decorated riverboat for the PJs and Pancakes with Santa event. Here cruisers will enjoy a kid-approved breakfast, holiday-themed crafts and games, and plenty of photo ops with the big man himself. Adults looking for a more grown-up getaway will find that a rousing celebration awaits on the special New Year’s Eve Party Cruise.

A red and black finch sits alert on a tree branch.

7. Seek out songbirds at Zion National Park (and beyond)

Each December, natural areas throughout the country take part in the longest-running citizen science survey in the world during the Christmas Bird Count. This century-old, far-reaching effort allows bird watchers and avian enthusiasts to join in the efforts to identify, count, and record the bird population as part of what’s considered to be the most significant citizen-based conservation effort. 

The events at Zion and Bryce Canyon allow participants to join with family and friends to conduct their count throughout a designated zone within the park. Those who can’t make it to Utah for this endeavor can locate Christmas Bird Count events at nearby national, state, and other parks throughout the holiday season by visiting the National Audubon Society’s website .

A geothermal pool sits at the center of a snowy landscape.

8. Ring in the New Year at Yellowstone National Park 

Yellowstone National Park offers a bounty of seasonal traditions, including a holiday dinner at Old Faithful Snow Lodge, complete with cheerful carols and live piano music. However, it’s the park’s New Year’s Eve event that offers the most unique way to usher in the year ahead.

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, visitors gather to wait and watch as Old Faithful bursts to life for the first eruption of the New Year. This longtime holiday tradition makes the perfect, peaceful alternative to a typical New Year’s party blowout.

Meet the Author

national parks to visit at christmas

Amanda Adler

Amanda Adler is a writer who splits her time between traveling the U.S. in her RV and soaking up the air conditioning in her home in Orlando, Florida. While on the road she seeks out national parks, theme parks, kid- and dog-friendly hiking trails, and local businesses that tout their wares as being “craft,” “artisanal” or “bespoke.”

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  • America’s 20 prettiest national parks in winter

Denali National Park and Preserve, AK

Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society

Winter gives a totally different perspective of park life

In winter, dropping temperatures and snowy landscapes mean you'll need to prepare differently for a national park visit, but the pay off is well worth the time.  

Once-crowded trails turn into tranquil getaways. Quiet winter wonderlands showcase nature's calm beauty. 

If you're looking for a chance to break free from cabin fever, consider visiting one of our wonderful national parks in winter. Or, just sit back and enjoy the photos below, and see for yourself how our national parks transform during the coldest months.

1. Arches National Park, Utah

Arches  has some of America's most breathtaking scenes. In winter, white snow contrasts with the red rocks and blue skies to create some stunning sights. While daytime temperatures can rise above 100 degrees in summer here, expect freezing temperatures in winter. Even scant snowfall can make trails and roads impassable, so be sure to plan ahead if you intend to visit this national park in winter.

Sunset in Arches National Park, UT

Sunset in the Arches. C redit:  Jacob W. Frank, National Park Service.

2. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Mount Rainier National Park has all the snow you could ask for in a winter landscape. The area known as Paradise receives an average of 54 feet of snow every year and held the world record for annual snowfall at 93.5 feet in the 1970s. In winter,  Mount Rainier  also has all the recreation you could ask for: sledding, sliding, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, climbing and camping. 

national parks to visit at christmas

D escending to Ingraham Flats camp from Mt. Rainier summit. C redit:  Palojono, flickr.

3. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

While it may be hard to imagine,  Bryce Canyon's  earthly spires are even more spectacular when icy. Bryce Canyon National Park also has ideal stargazing skies, and the cold, dry air makes them all the more amazing. Saturday astronomy programs and full moon snowshoe adventures are just a couple of the several incredible programs offered here during the winter season. The annual Winter Festival is held on President's Day weekend. There are many dangers here in this season, however, so if you do visit, be sure to follow park regulations and get up-to-date weather information at the visitors center before venturing out. Boots are mandatory and traction devices are highly recommended for trail hikers, and backcountry permits are issued to only the most prepared and experienced. 

national parks to visit at christmas

Credit: Raj Hanchanahal Photography , flickr.

4. Yosemite National Park, California

Classic places like Yosemite National Park never fail to amaze. In winter, snowy peaks, foggy slopes, icy waterfalls and frozen streams beacon to visitors who will find beauty as well as fun. Some roads  close in winter , but those that access Wawona and Yosemite Valley are cleared. The Glacier Point/Badger Pass Road is also plowed so that skiers and snowboarders can reach the popular Badger Pass ski area. Trails are open for snowshoers, and the Merced River has year-round fishing.

national parks to visit at christmas

Credit: puliarf, flickr.

5.  Denali National Park, Alaska

One would expect snow to be status quo at the northern latitudes where  Denali 's mountains rise from the earth. Snow may begin in August, with winter setting in by October. Denali receives less than five hours of true daylight by the time the winter solstice arrives, but there are some notable advantages to visiting this harsh, remote landscape during its coldest months. Its winters provide even more tranquil solitude, and if you are lucky you may get a glimpse of the breathtaking  aurora borealis . You can also see some expert snow sculptures and ice carvings during February's week-long Winterfest. The  winter visitor center  remains open daily, offering ranger-led snowshoe walks, skiing and dog sledding. With temperatures dropping as low as -40°F, those who are truly bold may even brave the backcountry.

national parks to visit at christmas

Credit: Denali NPS (Jacob W. Frank), flickr.

6. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Although the Grand Canyon is a southernly park, its ridges are still blessed with delightful snow in winter. Fog is typical in the early morning hours but afternoons are sunny. The canyon's north rim closes to visitors in fall, but the south rim is open year-round and is likely to be far less crowded for visitors during this season. Those who do come can take a cell phone  audio tour , or use a GPS device for  virtual caching . 

national parks to visit at christmas

Credit: Grand Canyon NPS, flickr.

7. Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming

Winter celebrations should include the beginning of America's National Park System upon the protection of this park in March 1872. In winter, Yellowstone's iconic landscapes are inhabited by a plethora of wildlife such as bison, elk, moose and wolves. Its geysers appear even more dramatic in the cool air. Not surprisingly, Yellowstone National Park remains popular for visitors year-round, as evidenced by the numerous  recreation offerings in winter  including tours by snow-coach, skis and snowshoes. 

national parks to visit at christmas

Credit: exquisitur, flickr.

8. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

With the highest elevations in the country, Colorado is well-known for being a winter destination, and Rocky Mountain National Park is no exception. With numerous peaks to explore, backcountry skiers can cut through the incomparable continental divide. Other  recreation opportunities  include world-class snowshoeing, sledding and hiking.

Frozen lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Credit:  Bryce Bradford , flickr.

9. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Winter stretches itself from October through June at  Lassen Volcanic National Park . Clear lakes become icy, volcanoes become topped with heavy snow and steam vents become especially smoky. For those seeking fun as well as beauty,  winter activities  are at their peak here, with sledding hills that offer mountain views, snowshoeing for beginners and experts and backcountry skiing that can't be beat.

national parks to visit at christmas

Credit: National Park Service.

10. Zion National Park, Utah

Similar to Arches and Bryce, this Utah destination's red rock canyons sparkle when it snows. Zion National Park's majestic rocks appear all the more dramatic when cloaked in white.  Winters in Zion  are relatively warm, reaching 50-60°F during the day, but very wet - nearly half of its annual precipitation falls between December and March. If you intend to visit, be aware that trails may close due to snow and ice.

national parks to visit at christmas

Credit: guneyc , flickr.

11. Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park's  waves wildly crash at the shores while its wild creatures venture from their homes in winter. If you're looking for a place to have  all to yourself  this season, then consider the prime backcountry ski slopes here. Visitors can also take advantage of ice fishing, snowshoeing, scenic drives and dog sledding.

Acadia National Park

12. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

America's most visited park still gets attention after all its gorgeous leaves have dropped. The barren trees become fortresses of ice and snow - a true winter wonderland. If you visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park, be aware that the main roads should remain clear, but secondary ones  may be closed . Bears will be in hibernation, but you are more likely to catch a glimpse of wildlife once the foliage has vanished. This is another great place to take a quick jaunt on the Appalachian Trail as well.

national parks to visit at christmas

Credit: ErnestDuffoo , flickr.

13. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Snow covers Grand Teton National Park's classically beautiful landscape from November to May. Its long winters can be bitterly cold (the coldest temperature ever recorded here was -63°F). Most visitors travel by ski or snowshoe because roads aren't as accessible.  Planning ahead  is crucial if you do visit in winter. Even this quintessential park could be opened to drilling in the near future, which is why we keep working to protect such special places, even after they've been made into public parks.

national parks to visit at christmas

Credit:  jeffgunn, flickr.

14. Glacier National Park, Montana

With a name like  Glacier National Park , you would expect to see some icy wonders here. This national park gets its name the massive glaciers which shaped the land here ten thousand years ago. This distinct place allows scientists to studying those ancient processes as well as the impacts melting glaciers will have on our national parks. If you want to see it in person during winter, you will have to ski or snowshoe in, making it an excellent winter getaway. Weather can be very unpredictable, so visitors must come  prepared  for potential dangers.

national parks to visit at christmas

Credit: Glacier NPS (David Restivo), flickr.

15. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Winter defines  Crater Lake National Park . High elevations and proximity to the Pacific Ocean create conditions for Crater Lake to receive over 44 feet of snow every year on average. Without this precipitation, the lake itself wouldn't exist. If you desire to discover this snowy wilderness, it's best not to drive, but it is a wonderful place for skiing and snowshoeing.  Ranger-led  interpretive hikes are offered every weekend.

national parks to visit at christmas

Credit: dlebech , flickr.

16. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park's  diverse elevations means it can receive rain, snow and ice in one day. Leafless trees and spacious skies create wide-open mountain vistas. If you want to go for a hike, hop onto the legendary Appalachian Trail for a stretch, but be aware that park  facilities are closed .

national parks to visit at christmas

Credit: National Park Service .

17. Olympic National Park, Washington

Olympic National Park has many diverse landscapes, all of which come alive in the wet season of winter. Drippy rain forests burst with rich greens, ocean beaches are dramatically plummeted by stormy waves and grandiose mountains tower with snowy peaks. Avalanches make  visiting its peaks in winter  fairly risky, although lower elevations remain relatively mild if you care to witness the splendor in person.

national parks to visit at christmas

Credit: PJ Peterson , flickr.

18. Joshua Tree National Park, California

Evergreen trees receive special attention this time of year, and the Joshua Tree should be no exception. While snow isn't likely at the Joshua Tree National Park's lower elevations, its perfect stargazing skies reign supreme all year long. Winter temperatures can reach 60°F, making it the opportune time to visit the otherwise-sweltering  Joshua Tree . 

national parks to visit at christmas

Credit: JBYoder , flickr.

19. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska

Skies are normally clear in this rugged wild place, offering dancing auroras at night. The photograph below may be your best bet for capturing the beauty of this park, however. The winter season is dark, very long and extremely cold - temperatures rise to only 5-7ºF during the day and fall to -50ºF at night. Hearty souls to choose to brave the elements anyhow will need to rely on dog sleds for  transportation .

national parks to visit at christmas

20. Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada

Known as the hottest place on the planet, Death Valley is certainly a winter park. The mountain peaks are snow capped, and the low angled winter light makes this wild land more beautiful. Occasional rainstorms are a seasonal treat for this area is also the driest on the continent. Most days are sunny, however, so this desert is prime location for solar energy development, which The Wilderness Society is  working to keep out of the most sensitive wild lands . The stargazing here is legendary, so the park hosts several astronomical events during the cold months, including  full moon festivals , star parties and Mars Fest in March. If you think you might visit, you will find it at its quietest between the end of November to the end of December, after which visitation peaks so reservations are recommended. You can  take a peek online . 

national parks to visit at christmas

Credit: National Park Service.

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Local Adventurer » Travel Adventures in Las Vegas + World Wide

9 Best National Parks to Visit in December

  • North America / Outdoors / USA

Looking for the best national parks to visit in December?

Since we live in the Southwest, December is the perfect time to explore nearby National Parks . Some parks in the US turn into winter wonderlands, while others are finally bearable with cooler temps. Minus the holidays, you also get to enjoy the parks with fewer crowds.

9 Best National Parks to Visit in December

This post may contain affiliate links, where we receive a small commission on sales of the products that are linked at no additional cost to you. All opinions are always our own. Read our full disclosure  for more info. Thank you for supporting the brands that make Local Adventurer possible.

Last Updated: December 19, 2023

− − Content Menu

  • Best National Parks to Visit in December
  • More National Parks to Visit in December
  • Tips for Visiting National Parks in December

What to Pack

Frequently asked questions.

  • Planning Checklist
  • More Resources

Before we get into it, we want to remind everyone to explore the parks responsibly using the 7 Leave No Trace Principles . Have a plan, stay on established trails, carry out anything you carry in, leave what you find, minimize campfire impact, respect wildlife, and be considerate of others.

About the National Park by month Series

To put together this list, we’ve combined our personal experiences and tips we gathered from locals and cross-referenced them with the weather, accessibility, local forums, seasonal attractions like fall foliage or wildflowers, and special events happening in the area. We also considered any unique adventures only offered at certain times of the year to find the most optimal months to visit each National Park. Phew! that was a lot!

It took me a whole week of research, but since I’m a maximizer, it was worth having a year-round calendar of adventures (publishing that soon!). Also, check out our complete list of all the national parks and national park units that include soon-to-be national parks.

We also chose to leave out the hardest-to-access national parks in this series.

National Parks By Month: Aug | Sep | Oct | Nov | Dec | Jan | Feb | Mar | Apr | May | Jun | Jul

Is December a Good Time to Visit National Parks?

Yes! Though summer is the most popular time to travel, and fall usually has the perfect temps, certain national parks are ideal for visiting in December.

Plan on visiting more than two national parks this year? Pick up an America the Beautiful annual pass to save money (entrance fees to each park are, on average, $30-35 per vehicle). Plus, you are helping support the Parks that always need funding.

To Escape the Cold

1. biscayne national park, florida.

9700 SW 328th St, Homestead, FL 33033, map

Average Temperatures: 68°F / 62°F

Why Visit: The best weather in Biscayne National Park starts in December, which will make it busier, but the mild temperatures are worth it. Since 95% of the park is in the water, get ready to spend time in a boat or the water. Don’t forget to look out for manatees!

Best For / Top Activities: Swimming, Snorkeling, Fishing, Hiking

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Boca Chita Key, Fowey Rocks Lighthouse, Snorkeling, Jones Lagoon
  • Wildlife – Sea Turtles, Manatees, Spiny Lobster, Snapper, Grouper
  • How many days do you need? 2-3

Pro Tip: 90% of visitors enter the park via boat, so plan accordingly!

See More: 7 Remarkable Things to Do in Key West Florida

Biscayne National Parks in Florida

2. Everglades National Park, Florida

40001 State Hwy 9336, Homestead, FL 33034, map

Average Temperatures: 78°F / 60°F

Why Visit: December is the dry season in Everglades National Park. You get cooler temps, and you’ll find fewer mosquitos, and wildlife will be more active and abundant.

Best For / Top Activities: Boating, Camping, Kayaking, Bicycling, Fishing, Hiking, Tours

  • To Do – Shark Valley, Anhinga Trail, Eco Pond, Snake Bight, Nine Mile Pond
  • Wildlife – Alligators, Raccoons, Opossums, Bobcats, Gray Fox, Leopard Frogs, Roseate Spoonbill, Manatee

Pro Tip: Since visiting during the dry season is popular, make advanced reservations for camping, lodging, and tours.

See More: 7 Fun Things to Do in Sarasota Florida

things to do in everglades national park

For the Cooler Temps

3. death valley national park, california‎ →.

36.4799715,-118.1707461, map

Average Temperatures: 65°F / 39°F

Why Visit: Maybe it’s because we get enough of the scorching heat in Vegas, but I will not touch Death Valley until winter. December is one of the best times to visit Death Valley, with warm temperatures during the day for hikes. At night, temperatures drop significantly, so pack layers. It’s the desert way.

Best For / Top Activities: Hikers, Backpackers, Scenic Drive, Photography

  • To Do – Badwater Basin , Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes , Zabriskie Point
  • Wildlife – Western Pipistrelle Bat, Desert Kangaroo Rat, Desert Cottontail, Coyote, Kit Fox, Badger, Bobcat, Mountain Lion
  • How many days do you need? 1-3

Pro Tip: The park is enormous. We were surprised at how long it took to drive from one spot to the next. Give yourself plenty of travel time. Also, keep in mind that the days are shorter in December.

See More: 15 Incredible Things to Do in Death Valley National Park

zabriskie point death valley national park

4. Joshua Tree National Park, California‎ →

6554 Park Blvd, Joshua Tree, CA 92252, map

Average Temperatures: 61°F / 37°F

Why Visit: We love Joshua Tree in December for the climbing. For those who don’t climb, it’s still a great time to get photos of Joshua trees, rock piles, and epic sunsets. There isn’t as much to do in this park if you’re not into climbing, but it’s worth visiting at least once. When the temps drop at night, it’s perfect for sitting around the campfire if you are lucky enough to get a camping spot.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking, Backpacking, Stargazing, Camping, Scenic Drives, Climbing

  • To Do – Arch Rock, Cholla Cactus Garden, Halls of Horror, Skull Rock
  • Wildlife – Bobcat, Mountain Lion, Coyote, Gray Fox, Desert Kit Fox, Black Bear, Bighorn Sheep, Desert Cottontail
  • How many days do you need? 1 or 2-3 if you climb

Pro Tip: The park gets busier during the cooler seasons, so book your site early if you’re hoping to camp.

See More: 11 Amazing Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park

wildflowers in joshua tree super bloom + 7 best national parks to visit in march

5. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

37.1879181,-86.1028107, map

Average Temperatures: 49°F / 38°F

Why Visit: Winter is the low season at Mammoth Cave, making December the best time to avoid crowds. The cave stays the same temperature year-round (54° F or 12 °C). You’ll get to explore the caves in smaller groups. It will be chilly if you plan on exploring any surface trails, but if you have the appropriate gear, you’ll be good to go.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking, Bicycling, Cave Tours, Kayaking

  • To Do – Mammoth Cave, Doyel Valley Overlook, Sunset Point, Green River
  • Wildlife – Bats, White-Tailed Deer, Coyote, Black Bear

Local Tip: They offer fewer cave tours during the winter but don’t book up quickly like they do in the summer.

See More: Complete National Parks List by State

national parks to visit at christmas

6. Saguaro National Park, Arizona‎ →

2700 N Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743, map

Why Visit: Cool days make December one of the best times to explore Saguaro National Park. If you visit in early December, the crowds are manageable, but the park’s busiest time is between Christmas and New Year.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking, Scenic Drive, Photography, Camping, Ranger Programs

  • To Do – Valley View Overlook Trail, Cactus Forest Drive, Bajada Loop Drive, Signal Hill Trail, Desert Museum
  • Wildlife – Bats, Bobcats, Javelina, Mountain Lions, Gray Fox, Coyotes, Ringtail

Local Tip: The park has an East and West portion separated by the city (roughly 30-45 mins). When you plan your trip, take into account where each trail is.

See More: 11 Beautiful Things to Do in Saguaro National Park

saguaro cactus national park

7. White Sands National Park, New Mexico‎ →

19955 US-70, Alamogordo, NM 88310,  map

Average Temperatures: 57°F / 22°F

Why Visit: December is a great time to visit White Sands National Park since it’s a much quieter time of year. You can even camp under the stars but be prepared with cold-weather camping gear since temperatures are freezing at night.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking, Bicycling, Backcountry Camping, Photography, Stargazing, Sledding

  • To Do – Sledding, Dune Life Nature Trail, Alkali Flat Trail, Playa Trail
  • Wildlife – American Badger, Apache Pocket Mouse, Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Bobcat, Coyote, Kit Fox
  • How many days do you need? 1-2

Local Tip: Keep your eye on trail markers when you’re hiking. It can get disorienting very quickly. We found our way back using the direction of the sun setting. It also helps to download an offline version of google maps of the area.

See More: 5 Incredible Things to Do at White Sands National Park

Popular White Sands in New Mexico

For Winter Activities

8. great sand dunes national park, colorado‎ →.

11999 CO-150, Mosca, CO 81146 , map

Average Temperatures: 36°F / 12°F

Why Visit: We need to go back to see the great dunes covered in snow during the winter. The park completely transforms, and instead of sandboarding, you can sled or snowboard on the dunes. Snow typically falls once per week on the dunes and mountains in December.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking, Sand Boarding, Off-Roading, Stargazing, Photography

  • To Do – High Dune, Sand Boarding, Medano Creek, Zapata Falls
  • Wildlife – Mule Deer, Ord’s Kangaroo Rats, Black Bears, Abert’s Squirrels, Pronghorn, Pikas, Elk

Pro Tip: Even though it snows once a week, they clear the roads quickly. Plan your visits during the afternoon for the warmest weather.

See Related – 9 Things You Can’t Miss at Great Sand Dunes National Park

national parks to visit at christmas

9. Acadia National Park, Maine‎ →

25 Visitor Center Rd, Bar Harbor, ME 04609, map

Average Temperatures: 34°F / 14°F

Why Visit: If you love having a National Park to yourself, December is the time to go. The frigid weather keeps people away, but as long as you dress appropriately, it’s a fantastic time to explore. You also can enjoy winter activities like snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.

Best For / Top Activities: Scenic Drive, Hiking, Snowshoeing, Skiing, Snowmobiling

  • To Do – Ocean Drive, Jordan Pond Road, Thunder Hole, Sand Beach, Beehive, Cadillac North Ridge Trail
  • Wildlife – Moose, Whitetail Deer, Beavers, Seals, Harbor Porpoises

Pro Tip: Visitor Centers will be closed during the winter, but they do share visitor hours with the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce. Check what is open before visiting since the park is more limited.

See More: 15 Breathtaking Things to Do in Acadia National Park

Cadillac Mountain + 15 Can't Miss Things to Do in Acadia National Park

Map of the Best National Parks to Visit in December

Want to See More NATIONAL Parks to Visit in December?

If you’re a national park lover like us and have done many of the above, here are some more ideas for National Parks to visit in December. While December may not be the most ideal month of the year to visit these parks, it’s still worthwhile.

  • Great Basin National Park, Nevada
  • Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
  • Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
  • Yosemite National Park, California
  • Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Tips for Visiting the Best National Parks in December

  • Explore the parks responsibly using Leave no Trace principles . Stay on established trails, carry out anything you carry in, etc.
  • Pick up the National Park Annual Pass if you plan on visiting multiple parks within the year. It saves you a lot of money.
  • It’s always a good idea to pack layers wherever you go. Some parks are warm during the day and cool at night. Pay attention to the elevation change too! Some parks will be warm on the valley floor and cold at higher elevations.
  • You may need a reservation. See national parks that now require reservations here .
  • Always check the park’s site and Visitors Center for the most up-to-date information on closures.
  • Remember that wildlife is wild. Be familiar with how to interact with animals and how much space you should have between you and them.

Balcony House Tour, Mesa Verde National Park CO

How you will pack depends on which park you visit and the activities you plan, but here is a general guide on items we always try to pack.

  • Camera Gear
  • Travel Backpack
  • Camping / Backpacking Equipment
  • National Park Annual Pass
  • National Park Passport
  • Layers ( The Best Travel Jackets )
  • Solid Hiking Shoes

Wanna know what to wear at the airport? These are my airport outfits and our carry-on essentials for every flight.

Is December a good time to visit national parks?

Generally, December is considered the off-season for many national parks due to colder weather. Some parks may have limited services, shorter daylight hours, and potential closures of certain roads or facilities. However, if you enjoy winter activities and fewer crowds, it can still be a unique and beautiful time to visit. Plus, it’s a great time to visit parks that are typically too hot to visit in the summer.

What is the warmest National Park in December?

Parks in the southern United States, like Everglades National Park in Florida, tend to be warmer in December compared to parks in northern regions.

Is December a good time to visit Arches National Park?

Arches National Park can be visited in December, but temperatures can be cold. Daytime temperatures are generally milder than nighttime temperatures, and there may be snow on the ground. The park is less crowded during this time.

Is it a good idea to visit the Grand Canyon in December?

The Grand Canyon is open year-round, and visiting in December can be a good idea if you prefer fewer crowds. However, be prepared for colder temperatures, especially at the higher elevations of the South Rim.

Is Yosemite open in December? What is Yosemite like in December? Is it safe to drive to Yosemite in winter?

Yosemite National Park is open in December, but some roads and facilities may be closed due to snow. Yosemite Valley is at a lower elevation and is accessible in winter. Driving conditions can be challenging in snowy weather, so check road conditions and be prepared for winter driving.

Can you go to Bryce Canyon in winter? Is Bryce Canyon open in December?

Bryce Canyon National Park is open in December, and winter can be a beautiful time to visit. Some facilities may close or have reduced hours, but snow-covered hoodoos create a unique and picturesque landscape.

Is Yellowstone worth it in December?

Yellowstone National Park is open in December, offering a serene winter landscape. While a lot of roads are closed, guided snowcoach tours and snowmobile excursions are available, providing a different experience compared to other seasons.

Can you go to Zion in December?

Zion National Park is open in December, and winter can be a quieter time to visit. Some trails may be icy or closed, but the main canyon is accessible.

Can we visit Smoky Mountains in December?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open in December. While it may not be as cold as some northern parks, be prepared for winter weather and the possibility of snow at higher elevations.

Is Glacier National Park open in December? Is Glacier National Park good in December?

Many parts of Glacier National Park are closed in December due to heavy snowfall. While it may not be an ideal time for visiting the entire park, winter enthusiasts can enjoy activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in open areas.

Recap of the 9 Best National Parks to Visit in December

December is a wonderful time to explore the National Parks. You get to take advantage of good weather, and most schools have started back up, so it will be a bit less crowded than in the height of summer. Here is the list of parks we recommend visiting.

  • Biscayne National Park
  • Everglades National Park
  • Death Valley National Park
  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Mammoth Cave National Park
  • Saguaro National Park
  • White Sands National Park
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park
  • Acadia National Park

Can you think of others that belong on this list of best national parks to visit in December? Which ones are we missing?

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Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.

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Parks Collecting

The 12 Best National Parks to Visit in Winter in the USA

Photo of author

If you want to visit national parks in winter, you have lots of choices.  While the glaciers and mountains of Alaska might be challenging, there are plenty of parks that are open and beautiful in winter. 

The parks of the southwest are mostly at a high altitude, so can get snow, but this can make a pleasant contrast from the grueling that of summer, and the red rocks are especially summer when contrasted with dustings of white powder.  

Others, like those in Florida and the south are actually at their peak in the cooler winter months.

Here are our picks for the best national parks to visit in winter in the USA.

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12 Best National Parks in Winter

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If you like hiking, check out the best winter hikes in US national parks .

1. Death Valley National Park

California/ Nevada

Death Valley is the hottest place in earth.  Summer temperatures are regularly well above 100°F and being outside in the middle of the day is well nigh impossible. 

Winter, however, is a different story, and this is the perfect time to visit.  January temperatures are typically around 70°F/ 20°C in the day, so you can comfortably get out and explore the dunes, flats, slot canyons and other trails. 

There is even snow on the peaks surrounding the valley, which makes a lovely backdrop for the desert beauty.  The winter skies are usually clear, making this a great place for star gazing too.

Death Valley National Park in winter

INSIDER TIP: Because this is one of the best national parks in winter, it is also the busiest time to visit Death Valley National Park, so book accommodations ahead.

READ MORE : Guide to Death Valley National Park

2. Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park and the surrounding Jackson Hole valley see a lot of snow in winter, turning the entire area into a beautiful winter wonderland.  The jagged peaks of the Teton mountain range are especially stunning when covered in snow.

Most facilities close down in winter and a large section of the inner park road is closed to regular traffic.  However, nearby Jackson Hole has plenty of accommodations, the outer road is open and the inner road is groomed several times a week for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.   

Grand Teton National Park winter

INSIDER TIP: Put on some snowshoes or slip Microspikes over your hiking boots and hike out to Taggart Lake for some of the best mountain views. 

READ MORE : Grand Teton National Park Winter Guide  

3. Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is another winter wonderland.  The lakes and waterfalls are frozen and the entire park is blanketed in snow.  This makes for great winter hiking and breathtaking scenery. 

Estes Park has plenty of accommodation options and makes a great base from which to explore the eastern section of the park.

Winter is a great time to see wildlife too, as many animals head to lower areas to escape the worst of the snow.  Elk and bighorn sheep are commonly seen.  

Bear Lake Rocky Mountain National Park winter

INSIDER TIP: The park is divided into two separate sections when the high pass on Trail Ridge Road is closed for winter, so you will need to decide whether to stay in Estes Park to the east or Grand Lake to the west. 

READ MORE : Rocky Mountain National Park Winter Guide  

4. Arches National Park

Arches National Park is an easy choice as one of the best national parks to visit in the winter.  The park is stunning, but there is only one road through it, which can be clogged with traffic in summer.  The park also sees summer temperatures soar well into the 90’s and beyond. 

In winter, you will often have the park to yourself, and the red arches and fins covered in snow make for especially beautiful photos, especially framed against a bright blue sky.

Although trails may be closed if it snows, the weather is often mild and many of the trails are quite easy, so this is also one of the best national parks to hike in the winter. 

Arches national park in winter

INSIDER TIP: Be mindful that the road can be closed temporarily for clearing after snow, so check the weather and call ahead to check.

READ MORE : Guide to Arches National Park

5. Yellowstone National Park

Wyoming, Montana, Idaho

Although many of the roads are closed in winter and snow can come as early as September, Yellowstone makes the shortlist as the best national park for winter activities and wildlife viewing. 

Brightly colored pools surrounded by white and spouting geysers rising from snowy fields are especially dramatic.  Winter is a great time to see wildlife such as wolves, bighorn sheep, elk, bison and moose. 

Yellowstone is also a prime place to head for winter activities such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

yellowstone national park winter bison

INSIDER TIP: The only road open throughout the winter months is the road from the northeast entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs, but many of the other sights such as Old Faithful and the lodges there can be accessed by snow coach or snow mobile.

READ MORE : Guide to Visiting Yellowstone in Winter

6. Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon is famous for the orange hoodoos (spires) crowded into Bryce Amphitheater.  Seeing them surrounded by and contrasted with the white of fresh snowfall is stunning.  If you are willing to brave the cold, you will be rewarded with jaw dropping views and frequent clear skies. 

It’s one of the best national parks for winter hiking , though you will need appropriate boots and traction.  Many of the trails are groomed for cross country skiing.  If you don’t fancy that, you can easily enjoy the views from the rim. 

Bryce Canyon national park in winter

INSIDER TIP: Check weather updates to make sure the park is not temporarily closed for winter weather when you plan to visit.

READ MORE : Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

7. Everglades National Park

This is one of the best warm national parks in winter.  Summer sees crazy heat, humidity and mosquitoes. 

In winter, temperatures are in the high 70’s, humidity is low and the bugs are gone.  Lower water levels also make seeing wildlife such as alligators, manatees and water birds easier.  Consequently, winter is actually the busy season in the Everglades. 

everglades national park

INSIDER TIP: You can visit the park on a kayak tour or by taking an airboat around the waterways.

8. Zion National Park

Zion National Park is another of the best Utah national parks in winter.  The park is fairly small and incredibly popular, so it can get very crowded in summer. 

In winter, there are fewer people and the scenery is just as stunning.  In fact, the canyon walls and red rocks are even more dramatic dusted in snow. 

In addition, the main road through the canyon is closed to car traffic for most of the year, but is open for January, February and part of December. Although it can be cold, you can still hike the Narrows (the famous river hike) by renting a dry suit from one of the operators in nearby Springdale.

zion national park winter

INSIDER TIP: Winter is the wettest season, so check for road and/ or trail closures before heading out.

READ MORE : Guide to Zion National Park

9. Dry Tortugas National Park

One of the warmest national parks in winter, Dry Tortugas National Park is a perfect escape from the northern chills. 

The park consists of seven small islands in 100 square miles of open water, about 70 miles (113 km) off the coast from Key West. 

The incredible Fort Jefferson is a highlight, but the main reason to visit is the snorkeling and diving.  The waters are crystal clear and bright blue, the colorful coral reefs are amazing, the marine life stunning, and the winter weather just about as perfect as you can get.

dry tortugas national park

INSIDER TIP: Boat trips out to Dry Tortugas National Park leave from Key West.

10. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best California national parks in winter.  The highlights of the park are the awesome evergreen Joshua trees that give the park its name.  But they are desert trees and do not provide shade.

Summer can be scorching and with little relief from the heat, it can be a bit much.  The park is much cooler in winter but, although it can snow at the higher altitudes, this is rare lower down. 

Joshua Tree national park winter

INSIDER TIP : Clear skies make this one of the best places in the country for great star gazing at night, so make sure you schedule a night visit when the skies are clear.

READ MORE : Guide to Joshua Tree National Park

11. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Tennessee, North Carolina

America’s most visited park is wonderful at any time of year and definitely one of the best national parks in the winter. 

After snowfall, when the trees are covered in snow, it becomes a veritable winter wonderland.  You can also discover remnants of previous occupancy such as stone walls and foundations that are hidden in leafier months.

great smoky mountains national park winter

INSIDER TIP: As with all of the snow winter parks, check for weather warnings and temporary road closures after snowfall.

READ MORE: Great Smoky Mountains National Park Guide

12. Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon is not only one of seven natural wonders of the world , it is also one of the best national parks during winter. 

With only 10% of annual visitors there during winter, you won’t have to deal with crowds and the wildlife tends to be more active with fewer people around to disturb them.  Plus, a dusting of snow on the upper reaches of the canyon makes the colors pop. 

The north rim, which is a higher altitude, is closed in winter, but the south rim is open year-round.  You can hike the Bright Angel Trail and once you get below the rim, the temperatures warm up and hiking is much more pleasant than during the heat of summer.

Grand Canyon national park in winter

INSIDER TIP: While afternoons are sunny, it can be foggy in the morning, so plan you day around the weather.

READ MORE: Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

Do you have another national park you love in winter?   Join my private Facebook group National Parks Collectors and comment and let me know.

If you enjoyed this post, Pin It to your National parks and Winter Travel boards:

Read about other great U.S. national parks 

  • Best Winter Hikes in US National Parks
  • The 12 Best US National Parks
  • The Best US National Parks to Visit in Spring
  • The Best US National Parks to Visit in Summer
  • The Best US National Parks to Visit in Fall
  • The Best Lodges in US National Parks
  • The Most Scenic Drives in US Parks
  • The Best National Parks Beaches
  • The Best Parks to See Fall Foliage
  • The Complete List of all 63 US National Parks

About the A uthor  

James Ian Yosemite

James Ian is a national park, camping and hiking expert .

He has dedicated his life to travel, visiting more than 80 countries, all 7 continents and most of the national parks in the United States. With over 35 years experience in the travel industry, James has worked on cruise ships, at resorts and hotels, and as a travel planner who’s helped hundreds of people plan successful trips to US national parks. 

Based on his experience visiting our national parks multiple times, in-depth research and expertise as a travel planner, James has published detailed itineraries for most of the major national parks in the US. These itineraries, as well as in-depth park guides , comprehensive camping and hiking gear reviews and buying guides, and helpful packing lists and gift guides will help you have your own incredible trip to US national parks without stress and hassle.

As a national park expert, James has contributed to many publications , including USA Today, Time Business News, Savoteur, Best Trip, and Wired.

Parks Collecting is a participant in the Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of, Inc. or its affiliates. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases .

10Best: Christmas celebrations at national parks

National parks aren’t just for summer vacation. Many of the nation’s 409 parks and affiliated areas gear up for a festive holiday season with special events and programs, from cave caroling to star gazing. “Most parks have a year-round presence, and Christmas events are really a part of their communities,” says Will Shafroth , president and CEO of the National Park Foundation , a charity supporting the park system. He shares some favorite holiday events with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.

Luminaria lighting, Mesa Verde National Park, Colo.

Visitors are dazzled every holiday season when luminarias decorate a Mesa Verde cliff dwelling built by the Ancestral Pueblo people. The small paper lanterns, popular in the Southwest, will line the path to the Spruce Tree House, and throughout the historic park interpretation area on Dec. 10. Guests are advised to dress warmly, and bring a flashlight. “This is something they’ve been doing for years,” Shafroth says. 970-529-4465;

National Christmas Tree Lighting, President’s Park, Washington

A few things have changed since President Calvin Coolidge lit the first National Christmas Tree in 1923. The tree now has a Twitter account, @TheNationalTree , and a concert celebrates the lighting. The Dec. 4 event features Fall Out Boy, Trombone Shorty and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Two days later, the park will host a menorah lighting for Hanukkah.  “This is an amazing place, right on the White House grounds,” Shafroth says. 202-208-1631;

Cave Sing, Mammoth Cave National Park, Ky.

It’s hard to beat the acoustics in the world’s longest cave system, as local residents discovered in 1883 when they held the first Christmas celebration in the cavern. In 1980, the park service revived the candle-lit tradition, complete with decorated tree. This year, it’s scheduled for Dec. 6. “To take advantage of this special place and highlight its uniqueness is a really wonderful thing,” Shafroth says. 270-758-2180;

Raft with Santa, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Ariz.

St. Nick doesn’t limit his outings to sleigh rides. On Dec, 24, passengers are invited to join him piloting a raft down the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, below Hoover Dam. “It’s a very mild stretch of river,” Shafroth says. The trip ends with hot chocolate, cookies and Christmas gifts. 800-455-3490;

Victorian Christmas, Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, Buffalo, N.Y.

The home where President Theodore Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1901 after the assassination of President William McKinley celebrates happier memories every Christmas, decking out for an annual Victorian celebration. The event, which is open to the public Dec. 4-12, includes wine tastings, luncheons and plenty of historic trimmings. “It’s beautifully decorated,” Shafroth says. 716-884-0095;

Solstice Star Gazing, Pinnacles National Park, Paicines, Calif.

On one of the darkest nights of the year in one of California’s darkest spots, rangers will help visitors explore the heavens. The winter solstice star gazing event, scheduled for Dec. 22, will be held at Bear Gulch Reservoir. “It’s a perfect place. It’s a long way to the next town out there,” Shafroth says. 831-389-4486;

Wreath laying, Andersonville National Historic Site, Ga.

A national cemetery, located at the site of a notorious Confederate prisoner of war camp, will participate in national Wreaths Across America Day on Dec. 12. Guests are encouraged to bring or sponsor a wreath to place on one of the 19,000 graves. “It’s an important part of the history to recognize,” Shafroth says. 229-924-0343;

Prairie Cultures Festival, Homestead National Monument, Beatrice, Neb.

The Homestead Act of 1862 opened huge swaths of federal land to settlement, attracting new immigrants — and their holiday traditions. The annual festival runs through Jan. 3, 2016, and in previous years represented groups have included Czech, Danish, French, German, Hispanic, Irish, Jewish, Polish, Scottish, Swedish and Welsh. “This is ground zero for the Homestead Act, and they are highlighting the diversity that America was at the time,” Shafroth says. 402-223-3514;

Christmas at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Vancouver, Wash.

This Pacific Northwest fur-trading and military outpost turns the clock back to the 1840s with its annual holiday celebration on Dec. 12. Activities include wreath making and a chance to build a toy top, along with caroling and dancing and servings of apple wassail. 360-816-6230;

Polar Express, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Pajama-clad passengers line up every year for the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s “Polar Express” trip through the northern Ohio national park. The outing includes a reading of the storybook that inspired the hit holiday movie. “It’s a great old refurbished train and it goes through this lovely scenery as it chugs along,” Shafroth says. The trips, which run through Dec. 20, are sold out, but check for cancellations. 800-468-4070;

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The Best Glamping Retreats Near U.S. National Parks

Enjoy readily available red rocks, gorgeous glaciers, and the darkest skies in the country, all from the comfort of these tents, trailers, and “bubbles.”.

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A white canvas tent with small porch on grassy field

Sleep luxuriously near Yellowstone National Park with glamping expert Under Canvas.

Courtesy of Madeline Lu/Under Canvas Yellowstone

Our national parks protect some of the highest peaks, oldest rocks, and most otherworldly terrain in the United States. It’s no wonder they’re so beloved. Camping in one of these glorious spaces allows you instant access to the natural wonders and abundant wildlife that make each worth visiting—but it’s not for everyone. If you want a stay that’s extra luxurious—but still surrounded by nature—book one of the following glamping sites set near national parks, which will elevate your time in the great outdoors while putting you right at nature’s doorstep.

Aerial view of campground at Ulum Moab, with several large, widely spaced tents linked by dirt road

Enjoy the great outdoors without sacrificing luxury at Ulum Moab.

Photo by Bailey Made

Under Canvas

  • Near: Acadia (Maine), Bryce Canyon (Utah), Glacier (Montana), Grand Canyon (Arizona), Great Smoky Mountains (Tennessee/North Carolina), Lake Powell–Grand Staircase (Arizona/Utah), Moab (Utah), Mount Rushmore (South Dakota), North Yellowstone–Paradise Valley (Montana), West Yellowstone (Montana), Yosemite (California), Zion (Utah) National Parks
  • Book now:

With 12 locations across the United States, Under Canvas has mastered the art of safari-inspired accommodations near some of the country’s most iconic national parks. All of its sites are set within 30 miles of a national park (or national monument, in the case of the Under Canvas Lake Powell–Grand Staircase location). The company’s various tent types feature en suite bathrooms and sleep between three and seven people in king-size beds. Each campsite offers activities specific to the area, such as hot-air balloon rides over Moab, llama treks in Glacier National Park, private yoga classes in Zion, or white-water rafting trips in the Smokies.

In 2023, the brand also launched a higher-end spin-off, Ulum Moab , near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks— one of our top new hotels for 2024 . Each of the 50 suite-style tents includes a king-size bed, a rain shower with Aesop bath products, a comfortable seating area, a private patio, and a wood-burning stove. It also has a beautiful main lodge overlooking the desert, hot and cold dipping pools, a yoga deck, firepits, and a sprawling patio where local musicians play acoustic sets under the stars most nights.

Interior of guest room at the Resort at Paws Up, with black, tan, and white geometric patterned rug and two wood-trimmed beds

Guests at the Resort at Paws Up can access Glacier National Park as well as Lolo and Nez Perce–Clearwater National Forests.

Courtesy of the Resort at Paws Up

The Resort at Paws Up

  • Near: Glacier National Park (Montana)
  • Book now: ;

Dive into Montana’s natural wonders at the Resort at Paws Up , which offers a variety of family-friendly accommodations (including a lodge and home rentals) and is situated about two-and-a-half hours away from Glacier National Park .

For glampers, six luxury campsites—each with six tents—are placed in secluded areas of the property such as on the banks of the Blackfoot River and near the serene Elk Creek. Tents range in maximum capacity from two to six people.

From mid-May through mid-October, relish the heated slate bathroom floors, spacious showers, and rustic-refined decor of the well-appointed tents. Each camp comes with a chef, who serves up elegant, family-style ranch cuisine, and a butler, who helps set up your day-to-day itinerary and can show you how to build the perfect s’more.

Red Adirondack chairs and lanterns form circle with six lit Conestoga wagons at dusk, rugged mountains in distance

In addition to its standard guest rooms and suites, Capitol Reef Resort offers cabins, tepees, and Conestoga wagons.

Courtesy of Capitol Reef Resort

Capitol Reef Resort

  • Near: Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)
  • Book now: ;

Escape to the Wild West in style with handcrafted Conestoga wagons, inspired by their 19th-century predecessors, which were used to transport goods between cities and rural communities. Capitol Reef Resort in Torrey, Utah, provides eccentric luxury accommodations mere miles from the national park. The stationary wagons—which are air-conditioned and situated along Scenic Byway 12—sleep up to six with a king bed and two sets of twin bunk beds. Soak up picturesque red-rock views from the seasonal outdoor heated pool or year-round hot tub. Or book an à la carte adventure with the resort through the national park, such as a llama day hike or a Jeep tour.

Interior of a yurt, with bed, sofa, and edge of blond-wood kitchen at right

Acadia Yurts is located on the west side of Mount Desert Island, which locals call its “quiet side.”

Courtesy of Kristin Clements/Acadia Yurts

Acadia Yurts

  • Near: Acadia National Park (Maine)
  • Book now: ;

Acadia Yurts , located on Maine’s Mount Desert Island and accessible by car or ferry, amps up the luxury with its 24- and 30-foot-wide dwellings, which sleep a maximum of four or six people, respectively. Only a few miles from Acadia National Park, the yurts feature standard lattice walls, skylights, and colorful, whimsical decor. A full bathroom and a kitchen setup take them from traditional to top-notch. The on-site wellness center boasts a sensory deprivation float tank, sauna, and yoga studio; guests can also book massage therapy with CBD and Himalayan hot stone treatments.

View of forest and distant mountain from wooden deck of tent, with two red Adirondack chairs

Alpenglow Luxury Camping offers packages as well, including Matanuska Glacier helicopter, climbing, or trekking tours.

Courtesy of David Crane/Alpenglow

Alpenglow Luxury Camping

  • Near: Wrangell–St. Elias and Denali National Parks (Alaska)
  • Book now:

Raw Alaskan wilderness is literally outside your front door at Alpenglow Luxury Camping . Located about two-and-a-half hours from Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and four hours from Denali National Park, Alpenglow’s 12-by-14-foot canvas tents sleep up to three people and feature covered porches with views of the Matanuska Glacier and surrounding valley.

Out here, things are a little more rugged. There is no electricity in the tents, but you can recharge your phone or portable lantern batteries in the common space. The site opens Memorial Day weekend each year and typically closes the first weekend of September. Summer temperatures hover around 60 to 80 degrees during the day and 50 to 60 degrees at night; although the tents aren’t heated, there are plenty of extra blankets in each. There is no shower on the property, but Alpenglow provides a bucket of hot water and sponges to rinse off before taking a dip in the site’s cedar hot tub, which offers mountain views.

  • Near: Yosemite (California), Sequoia (California), Joshua Tree (California), and Zion (Utah) National Parks
  • Book now:

At each of its seven locations across the United States—including four near national parks— AutoCamp transforms a fleet of sleek, modern Airstream trailers into chic accommodations kitted out with Tempur-Pedic mattresses, spa-inspired bathrooms, and private patios with firepits. Each sleeps up to three people. Cabin-style suites and luxury tents—including accessible options at each camp—are also available and offer a bit more space.

At the heart of each location is a common space, restaurant, and shop where guests can hang out, stock up on essentials (don’t miss the signature s’more and barbecue kits) and, on some nights, enjoy live music. The Yosemite, Joshua Tree, and Zion locations all also have a swimming pool—perfect for diving into after a long day hiking, biking, or otherwise exploring the great outdoors nearby.

AutoCamp will open its newest property near California’s Sequoia National Park in fall 2024 (booking now open), for a total of eight properties across the USA.

Related: There’s a New Place to Glamp Near Zion National Park—Here’s What It’s Like

Interior of white tent with bed and chairs, viewed from wooden deck

While there are plenty of activities on offer at Dunton River Camp, you could also simply relax outside your tent.

Courtesy of Dunton River Camp

Dunton River Camp

  • Near: Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)
  • Book now: From $1,300 per night,

Less than two hours from Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park, the 500-acre Dunton River Camp features eight luxury tents with showstopping views of the San Juan Mountains or the west fork of the Dolores River. Each tent sleeps two people. When you’re not off exploring the ancient pueblo cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, steam in a streamside sauna, explore the area on a complimentary mountain bike, or visit the only active geyser in Colorado, which happens to be on site at the Dunton River Camp.

Interested in hiking, fly-fishing, or horseback riding? Each day, an included guided tour sets off from the camp. À la carte activities such as rock climbing, rafting, and photography instruction can be booked as well. Back in your tent, unwind in the six-foot soaker tub. No need to worry about chills: A towel warmer stands nearby.

Exterior of bubble-shaped room lit at night with background of starry sky

The accomodations at Basecamp Terlingua offer world-class stargazing.

Courtesy of Basecamp Terlingua

Basecamp Terlingua

  • Near: Big Bend National Park (Texas)
  • Book now:

Big Bend National Park solidified its spot as a stargazing destination when it was named an International Dark Sky Park in 2017. At Basecamp Terlingua , which is less than 10 miles from Big Bend, you can book a “ bubble ”—a plastic dome with transparent walls and ceiling—so you don’t even have to leave your queen-size bed for some world-class stargazing. The resort, located in an old ghost town, features plenty of other sleeping options such as adobe casitas, luxury tepees, and lotus tents, which are like a cross between a yurt and a bell tent. The seven bubbles come in varying sizes—including a deluxe, two-room bubble that includes a private hot tub and pool—but all are heated, air-conditioned, and equipped with an indoor bathroom and an outdoor firepit with lounge chairs.

This article was originally published in 2019; it was updated on July 11, 2024, with new information. Jessie Beck contributed to the reporting of this story.

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The show that made Barbra Streisand famous is playing at Maine State Music Theatre through July 13.

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national parks to visit at christmas

Jenna Lea Rosen as Fanny Brice with the cast of “Funny Girl” at Maine State Music Theatre. Photo by MSMT/Jared Morneau Photography

Who are the luckiest people in the world? At least for theater fans, the answer is “people who need people,” a line made famous well over half a century ago by Barbra Streisand in the original production of the musical “Funny Girl.”


WHAT: “Funny Girl: the Musical” by Maine State Music Theatre

WHERE: Pickard Theater, Bowdoin College Campus, Brunswick

REVIEWED: June 28 (matinee); continues through July 13

TICKETS: Starting at $93

CONTACT: 207-725-8769,

On the heels of the show’s recent Broadway revival, the Maine State Music Theatre has opened a spirited production of the classic musical on its home stage at the Pickard Theater on the campus of Bowdoin College in Brunswick.

The show primarily captures the rousing excitement of early musical theater while unavoidably making us think about how it launched the career of Streisand. At a lengthy but enjoyable two-and-one-half hours, plus intermission, it’s a show that still charms with its memorable songs, old-style comedy and bittersweet love story.

The impressive production, directed and choreographed by Kenny Ingram and with the time-honored music of Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill and book by Isobel Lennart, tells the semi-fictionalized story of Fanny Brice, a real-life figure who rose from humble origins to showbiz stardom as a give-it-everything-you’ve-got performer in the early 20th century.

At first socially awkward and vulnerable, but with a unique talent and an admirable determination to succeed, Fanny gained the attention of famed impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. and went on to star in many of his glitzy stage shows. At the same time, Fanny’s personal life was a bit of a rollercoaster ride.

Jenna Lea Rosen takes the lead role and scores comedically with her initially wide-eyed approach to Fanny’s personal and professional challenges. Armed with a feisty “New Yawk” accent, the actress easily takes charge of backstage, front stage and offstage scenes. Her vocals are compelling on both comic numbers (“Sadie, Sadie” and “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat”) and in more intimate moments (“People” and “Don’t Rain On My Parade”). Advertisement

Douglas Raymond Williams plays Fanny’s handsome rogue of a love interest who brings her to a fuller life but fails her in the end. His opera-trained vocals alongside Rosen (“I Want to be Seen With You” and “You are Woman, I am Man”) establish both the heat and uncertainties within their relationship.

Among the many standout secondary actors and choristers, Tyler Johnson-Campion is a tap-dancing whiz. His work with Sue Cella, who plays Fanny’s mom, is a treat on “Who Taught Her Everything.” Cella also has some fun moments squabbling with a competitive friend played by Maine State favorite Charis Leos.

Tommy Betz shines as a Tenor and David Girolmo returns to the Pickard stage as the stern but supportive Mr. Ziegfeld. Jeremiah Valentino Porter gets to toot a hot horn on “Cornet Man.”

The Maine State Music Theatre Orchestra, led by Jason Wetzel, mixes up the period flavors with a newer Broadway expansiveness. The costumes designed by J. Theresa Bush and scenic design by Jeffrey D. Kmiec take the audience back to a distant era when musical theater and its early stars were on the rise.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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