10 best US national parks to visit in winter

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While there are 63 US national parks to choose from, deciding where to go can be trickier when winter holds a tight grip over most of the country. Still, there are some national parks where winter even outshines the warmer seasons. Plunge into these gorgeous spots and start planning your winter adventure.

1. Zion

Zion’s popularity can take some fun off a hike, but not if you come during the quiet winter season. Now, drive straight into Zion Canyon (the shuttle doesn’t operate in the low season, bar holidays) to find rare solitude and a landscape most visitors miss out on. In winter, the park’s eye-popping sandstone cliffs get dusted with snow, creating spellbinding contrasts of red and white. Slipping can quickly spoil the party, though. As you may face icy conditions on the trails, we highly recommend traction devices for your boots.

Towering red rock faces dusted with snow in Zion National Park
Red meets white in Zion.

2. Death Valley

Visiting the long, narrow and deep Death Valley at the wrong time of the year can be outright dangerous — mind-bending 134°F (57°C) has been recorded at Furnace Creek. Winter is just the right time, though: Stop by between December and February to take in epic sights — from Badwater Basin, North America’s lowest point, to the brilliant viewpoints of Zabriskie Point and Dantes View — while enjoying days in the comfy upper 60s (19°C). However, be sure to bring an extra layer (or two) for those chilly sunrises and sunsets.

Snowy peaks rising up from the plains of Death Valley National Park, CA/NV
Immerse yourself in a less deadly Death Valley.

3. Mammoth Cave

Some things stay the same, and Mammoth Cave’s climate is one of them. Enter the world’s largest cave system —boasting over 400 miles of explored passageways — during winter, and you’ll most likely experience a temperature increase. Although snow and icicles may decorate the outside landscape, the vast cave keeps at 54°F (12°C) year round. Cave tours are generally smaller in winter, meaning you’re in for an intimate adventure.

Too far from home? Wind Cave, SD, and Carlsbad Caverns, TX, are other underground realms with reliable climates.

Historic name carvings on the ceiling of Mammoth Cave
You know how to dress for Mammoth Cave.

4. Dry Tortugas

Fall in love with the Florida Keys‘ version of winter. Quietly floating in the Gulf of Mexico, Dry Tortugas has a (so-called) winter with days hitting the mid-70s (24°C). Exactly like the rest of the year, sunbaking on the beach, discovering the marine wildlife and touring the red-brick landmark Fort Jefferson are top activities.

Passages through red-brick Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park
Step into Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas.

5. Saguaro

Winter excursions don’t come more pleasant than in Saguaro, the backyard of Tucson. Lower your windows and relish scenic drives through the park’s two sections, Tucson Mountain District and Rincon Mountain District. When you feel like it, park your car to get up close to its famous population of saguaro cacti. These giants can reach some 80 feet (24 m), providing appreciated shade even during midwinter — and unbeatable silhouettes.

Silhouettes of enormous saguaro cacti in Saguaro National Park
Beautiful Saguaro at sunset.

6. Everglades

With two distinct seasons, the dry and the wet, there’s no discussion about the best time to explore the Everglades. During the dry, running from December to mid-May, sign up for an iconic airboat ride, meander through alligator-lined trails and paddle your way through the massive biodiversity hotspot — all encouraged by beautiful blue skies and low humidity.

Passage leading through mangrove forest in Everglades National Park
Avoid the humidity and visit Everglades in winter.

7. Big Bend

Delve into West Texas’ seemingly endless landscape in Big Bend, where the Rio Grande twists and turns while the Chisos Mountains reach for the heavens. Stunning sunny hiking conditions are almost guaranteed from December through February. While 62°F (17°C) might sound a tad chilly, the mercury along the low-lying river beds regularly climbs into the pleasant 70s (24°C).

Roadside sign welcoming visitors to Big Bend National Park
Embrace the scale of Texas in Big Bend.

8. Bryce Canyon

Visit Bryce Canyon during wintertime to find its world-record jungle of rock spires, called hoodoos, dressed in glittering snow. At some 8,000 feet (2,438 m) altitude, it’s cool even around midday, but convenience and photo opportunities make up for it. Parking spots are easy to find at the renowned overlooks along the Southern Scenic Drive — a stark contrast to the summer’s craziness — and those who wear traction devices can effortlessly hike down into the Bryce Amphitheatre for breathtaking wintry close-ups.

A frosty Thor's Hammer, an iconic rock spire, in a snow-blanketed Bryce Amphitheater
Photo opportunities abound in Bryce Canyon.

9. Virgin Islands

  • Location: US Virgin Islands
  • Average high: 84°F (29°C)

Craving heat? Load up on vitamin D as you discover the bone-white beaches and lively coral reefs of the Virgin Islands. Before the unforgiving sun gets the better of you, put on a hat and learn about the dark chapters of the historic Annaberg sugar plantation — a chilling but captivating experience.

Still, crystal-clear water along the coastline of Virgin Islands National Park
Plunge into enchanting Virgin Islands.

10. Grand Teton

Come winter, Grand Teton turns into a wonderland for skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing. You can drive into the park, but the stretch between Taggart Lake and Signal Mountain Lodge is groomed exclusively for recreational activities. Although the big sibling in the north, Yellowstone, is cool in winter too, Grand Teton stands out as winter visitors surprisingly easy can uncover such a large portion of the park.

Snow falling on wildlife roaming through Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton — snowy yet accessible.

Keep planning your national park trip

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