The snowy solitude of winter creates a serene landscape in National Parks all over America and the cold ensures fewer people jostling to take in the views. In fact, you may just have the entire park to yourself. At the other end of the spectrum are the warmer climate parks, offering a welcome reprieve from the chill. Whether you’re wishing for a winter wonderland, or a winter escape, check out our picks for the 10 best national parks to visit this winter.—Jayme Moye
Rocky Mountain National Park
For wintertime mountain majesty, Rocky Mountain National Park wins with more than 60 snow-capped peaks above 12,000 feet. The park is a haven for cold-weather fanatics who come for the world-class ice climbing, winter mountaineering, snowshoeing, and skiing. The Moraine Park, Longs Peak, and Timber Creek campgrounds are open all year, and Rocky is one of the few national parks that allows backcountry camping in the winter.
Insider Tip: The Colorado snowpack is naturally avalanche-prone. Get a free backcountry permit for camping overnight, and check with rangers for area closures before heading out.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Rocky Mountain National Park Guide
Bryce Canyon National Park
The otherworldly rock formations of Bryce Canyon draw more than 1 million visitors a year, most of whom come in droves every season except winter. However, the hoodoos—iconic red rock spires—look the most dramatic when topped by a heap of snow. Expect a chill, though the park’s daytime temperature rarely drops below freezing thanks to its desert location.
Insider Tip: Winter’s crisp, dry air makes stargazing particularly vivid. Bryce Canyon offers free ranger-guided full moon snowshoe hikes and winter astronomy sessions.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Bryce Canyon National Park Guide
Everglades National Park
Most popular during the winter thanks to mild temperatures, less humidity, and far fewer mosquitos, the Everglades is a great winter escape. Plus, water levels drop in the dry winter season, drawing animals like the gray fox and the white-tailed deer out to the remaining watering holes for optimal wildlife viewing. The Florida panther is still a long shot to spot, but crocodiles and alligators abound.
Insider Tip: Already a birding hotspot, Everglades is best in winter as migratory birds settle in for the season. Walk Anhinga Trail at any time of day for ample sightings of wading birds and more.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Everglades National Park Guide
Death Valley National Park
Temperatures soar over 120 degrees in Death Valley in the summer, making it the hottest place on Earth. But come winter this below-sea-level basin mellows out to around 70 degrees. The largest national park outside of Alaska, Death Valley serves up everything from snow-covered peaks to sand dunes. Bring your camera as the low-angled winter light and expansive setting make for stellar photography.
Insider Tip: Winter and spring are the park’s busy seasons. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the least-crowded. Make camping reservations in advance online.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Death Valley National Park Guide
Big Bend National Park
The largest protected area of Texas, Big Bend is perhaps most appealing in winter. Temperatures hover in the 60s, perfect for taking on the park’s nearly 200 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, which span desert, riverside, and mountain terrain. The Rio Grande River borders more than 100 miles of the park, and scenic half-day canoe floats are available year-round.
Insider Tips: Elevation in the park ranges from 1,800 feet along the river to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains. Temperatures can vary by 20 degrees between the two, so bring extra layers.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Big Bend National Park Guide
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
For the ultimate winter escape, it’s hard to top Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Beyond the tropical beauty, the park is a fascinating tribute to the past 70 million years of volcanism and the evolution of the Hawaiian Island chain. Mauna Loa and Kīlauea—two of the world’s most active volcanoes—are located in the park. Drive (or hike) to the top of Kīlauea and peer inside.
Insider Tip: Heavy volcanic activity can temporarily close down Crater Rim Drive, the road to Kīlauea. Call or check the park’s website before making the drive.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Guide
Biscayne National Park
Located only 45 minutes from Miami, Biscayne National Park seems like another world entirely. An underwater paradise, the park is 95 percent submerged. More than 500 species of fish inhabit the aquamarine waters and swim around the bountiful coral reefs. While the park’s concessioner offers glass-bottom boat tours, we recommend snorkeling to truly experience the rich biodiversity.
Insider Tip: Exploring the park (other than the mainland shore) requires a boat. Regularly scheduled boat tours take visitors to the islands and coral reefs, or you can rent a canoe or kayak.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Biscayne National Park Guide
Yellowstone National Park
WHERE: Wyoming and Montana
Admittedly, Yellowstone isn’t typically thought of as a winter destination. The park packs in a lot of snow and temperatures dip down into the 20s, even at the height of day. But for hardy visitors, Yellowstone is a sight to behold. Geysers, fumaroles, and hot springs stand in dramatic contrast to the snow and ice. The park offers cross-country skiing, snowshoe tours, and guided snowmobile tours, complete with stops at warming huts.
Insider Tip: Not all of the park entrances are open to car traffic in the winter. Plan to enter via the North or Northeast entrances, both of which are in Montana.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Yellowstone National Park Guide
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is open year-round. With warmer winter temperatures (highs in the 40’s) and easier accessibility than the North Rim, it makes for a stunning, albeit, unusual, winter vacation. Hardly any of the park’s 5 million visitors come during the winter, and it’s the one season where advanced reservations are not required.
Insider Tip: Head to Phantom Ranch, located a mile below the rim on the canyon floor, for jaw-dropping hiking trails and balmy temperatures in the 50s and 60s.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Grand Canyon Guide
WHERE: Washington D.C.
Every year the national Christmas tree is erected at President’s Park. The tradition dates back to 1923 when First Lady Grace Coolidge had a 48-foot Balsam fir placed on the Ellipse, south of the White House. An annual tree lighting ceremony takes place in early December, and live performances are held in the park the remainder of the month. The fanfare is courtesy of the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation, with support from corporate sponsors.
Insider Tip: Check the National Christmas Tree website for the live entertainment schedule and Santa’s Workshop hours.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Washington DC Guide