As shorter days and cooler temperatures descend on North America, it’s time to look for the next great outdoor adventure. We encourage visiting a U.S. National Park at any time of the year, but winter is a unique time to explore. Smaller crowds at some of the more popular parks are just one of the benefits. December, January, and February provide some of the most beautiful, peaceful, and picturesque landscapes, and parks that can be relatively inhospitable during the height of summer become havens during the cold months. Here are the best national parks to visit in the winter.
Only a fraction of the park’s 5 million annual visitors come during the winter months. At over 277-miles long and up to a mile deep, this natural wonder was created over millions of years as the Colorado River wound its way through the canyon. While temperatures can hover in the 30 and 40 along the rim, milder temps can be found along the river at the bottom of the canyon. The South Rim is open year-round and winter is an ideal time to enjoy the park’s trails and avoid he crowds that dominate the park during the rest of the year.
As winter settles in, it’s no wonder that so many seek to escape the drudgery with a visit to the Sunshine State. This lesser-known national park is located south of Miami — only 5 percent of the entire park is on land. The park encompasses the world’s third largest coral reef, which is home to more than 500 species of fish and is an underwater paradise for diving and snorkeling.
With temperatures soaring well over 120 degrees during the warmer months, visiting the “hottest place on earth” during the winter is the best time to visit this below-sea-level basin. Encompassing over 3 million acres, this land of extremes offers up everything from salt flats and sand dunes to high mountain peaks. Due to the scorching temperatures during the height of summer, winter and spring are the busiest seasons.
Winter is the perfect season to visit this subtropical wetland as the temperatures are mild, the humidity is tolerable, and the mosquitos are less plentiful. This is also the dry season, and as the water levels within the park become lower, the wildlife congregates at various waterholes throughout. Visitors can spot the park’s iconic alligators and if you’re extremely lucky, one of the rare and elusive Florida panthers.
Montana and Wyoming
Winter turns the nation’s first national park into a land of “fire and ice.” Daytime temperatures may struggle to reach the double digits on many days. However, for those seeking a unique experience in an otherworldly landscape, there is no other place like it on Earth. The geothermal activity stands in dramatic contrast to the snow that blankets the park each season. Embrace the cold and savor the solitude as the park offers cross-country skiing, snowshoe tours, and guided snowmobile tours.
One of Utah’s “mighty five national parks,” Bryce Canyon is located at high altitude, meaning this dramatic landscape receives abundant snowfall. The vibrant colors of the spectacular geologic formations like the natural bridges and hoodoos are only enhanced by the addition of snow. Snowmobiling is off-limits in the park, but opportunities for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing abound in this winter wonderland.