Visiting national parks is a must-do for any avid traveler looking for endless natural beauty, some outdoor adventure, wildlife and an appreciation for our own breathtaking country. While a great destination for families, active friends and a wide variety of travelers, national parks can have their season.
While the summer sunshine brings blooming fauna and roaming wildlife, it also welcomes hordes of tourists to many of the nation’s most beautiful parks. There are some parks that don’t need the summer season to shine — visit in winter and enjoy all the same great beauty and connect with nature, but without the rush of tourists hitting the trails.
The winter months are pretty kind to Joshua Tree National Park in California. The days are typically in the mid to high 70s, with lots of California sunshine. Normally, in the summer, the park can reach swelteringly hot temperatures, but, in the winter, visitors find all the same beautiful Cholla Cactus gardens, desert rock formations and famous Joshua trees with all the comfort of a warm, sunny, winter day.
Two parks in one, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park make up 1,353 square miles of sprawling natural beauty. Bundle up and prepare for snowy conditions, but don’t let that scare you off. Winter months in central California can be fickle, but the views will be astonishing. Make your way to the famous General Sherman Tree, the largest in the world, and drive through Tunnel Log — literally, this Sequoia is actually a functional tunnel. The sky tends to be crystal clear in the winter, making your stargazing that much more special.
One park that can just do no wrong, no matter what time of year, Yosemite National Park is just as majestic in the winter months as it is in summer. You can hit all the same must-see landmarks of the park on foot, including the towering Half Dome and Inspiration Point. Just dress warm and check the weather before your trip, using the park app. Explore the park in your winter best, or lean in to the epic slopes and trails, renting skis and snowboards.
The normally hot, hot temperatures of Death Valley National Park are kind of unbearable in the summer — hence the name. Visit the park during winter and see the incredible natural landscape, without the onslaught of hikers come April and May.
Over in Florida, Everglades National Park really shines in the fall and winter months. Some of the park’s more rare and beautiful birds come out in the winter and, with the lower humidity, it’s far more enjoyable hiking the trails and checking out the park’s incredible sites in winter than summer.
The bright red-clay rock formations of Bryce Canyon National Park really pop against the white winter snow. The park boasts several hiking loops, weaving throughout the park as you explore further, but either beginning at scenic Sunrise and Sunset point. Add some spikes to your hiking boots, maybe a walking stick or two, and brave the ice and snow — the trails are so worth it.
Over in Canada, Banff National Park is a must see, any time of year. Winter camping along the crystal-blue waters of Moraine Lake, or skating across the frozen surface of Lake Louise — there are plenty of winter-centric activities worth the trip. Hop on a dogsledding tour, or warm up at Banff Upper Hot Springs. There’s also the added perk of incredible accommodations, year-round, making your stay that much easier — Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Now this one will be cold. Bundle up and lean into the winter weather with a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. During the bitter cold winters in Colorado, you’re bound to see some resident elk roaming around on your drive.
Back to warmer weather, the Grand Canyon is an iconic piece of Americana you just have to see — no matter the season. It may be the most-visited national park in the United States, but you wouldn’t know it in the winter months. The weather will be crisp and sunny, like an easy fall day or early spring. There may be closures, so check online, but the South Rim is (usually) open year-round.
Don’t let the weather hold you back. Use the quieter tourist season to your advantage and finally get out and visit all those parks you’ve been meaning to. Learn a new winter sport with a lesson, or dust off your old skis in a new location. If warmer weather is what you’re after, now is the perfect time to check out all those desert parks you wouldn’t dare step foot in during summer.
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