The Best National Parks to Visit Right Now: Winter 2022-2023 Edition
America’s national parks are among its greatest treasures, and followers of this blog know we jump at the chance to visit them whenever we can. Each year, the warmer months draw throngs of visitors to the parks with near-endless opportunities for hiking, biking, kayaking and camping. In fact, spending summer vacations in the national parks has been a rite of passage for many of us over several generations.
But savvy travelers know a little secret about the National Park Service: it’s actually the chill of winter that can make many of the parks truly sparkle. That’s because, in the winter months, falling temperatures mean fewer crowds—and in some parts of the country, it also means blankets of frost and snow that transform the normally packed trails and lookout points into a dazzling and isolated winter wonderland.
True, visiting a national park in the winter takes a bit more preparation—and a lot more layers! But the extra planning can pay off in an unforgettable experience, with scenic drives, jaw-dropping overlooks, and a new collection of photos to match.
The NPS comprises 423 individual parks and protected lands from coast to coast, and chances are there’s at least one near you. So what are you waiting for? Here are 5 of our favorites to visit this winter.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
The towering Teton Range spans 40 miles, laying the postcard-worthy backdrop for this exquisite national park. Situated just outside of the winter sports playground of Jackson, and just 31 miles from Yellowstone National Park, its particular geography and topography combine to create bitterly cold conditions in the winter. But you’re unlikely to find a prettier snow-capped scene just about anywhere else in North America.
Grand Teton has a handful of trails and access points open during any given winter season, but advance planning is a must. Some areas are entirely closed off by road, so you may need to access portions of the park by way of cross-country ski or snowshoe. Check with rangers to confirm which sections of the park are open on the day of your visit. And bring your camera!
Everglades National Park, Florida
Around 2,500 miles southeast from the frigid features of the Teton Mountains, Everglades National Park offers an entirely different sort of winter bliss—this time, in the form of uninterrupted sunshine and relatively rain- and bug-free conditions.
Here, the winter months mean an escape from the typical wetland humidity of the Everglades, with temps consistently hovering in the mid-70s Fahrenheit. You may not ever need a jacket, but you’ll be downright cozy while you spot native wildlife, from a variety of avian species to the iconic Florida alligator. Book an airboat tour for an up-close (and safe!) look at these prehistoric predators in their natural habitat.
Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii
Located on the blissfully beautiful island of Maui, this national park occupies over 33,000 acres, with its eponymous dormant volcano making up three-quarters of the island’s entire land mass. Adventurous hikers can set out on the Sliding Sands Trail, which winds its way up the primary crater (soaring to over 10,000 feet—a higher altitude than many popular U.S. ski resorts!) and provides breathtaking views of the island and its surrounding seas.
If you feel the need for speed, it’s also possible to soak up those jaw-dropping views at a rapid pace by biking down the volcano. You can hop a short bus ride up to the summit pre-dawn, watch the sunrise, then cycle down with a guide and a few fellow adventurers for an unforgettable national park experience.
Or for a more laid-back day at the park, try the short hike to Leleiwi Overlook for stunning sunrise views. At just 30 to 60 minutes in total duration (depending on your activity level and desired pace), it’s an easy way to take in some of the best views in the park.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
The state of Utah is spoiled to have several stunning national parks within its borders, all of which are worth the trip any time of year. But there’s something special about Bryce Canyon, and something even more remarkable about Bryce Canyon in winter. Its soaring limestone spires, which are known as “hoodoes,” are an iconic part of the landscape year-round, but the reddish-brown landscape takes on a new magic when covered by a dusting of powdery white snow or glistening ice.
Book a snowshoe hike during a full moon (available between November and March most winter seasons, weather permitting). Or, visit the Winter Festival over President’s Day weekend for arts and crafts, winter activities and sports clinics, and other frosty-aired revelry while soaking up views of the brilliant red rocks.
Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada
Don’t let the name scare you. Death Valley is technically known as the hottest place on earth—an honor it earned back in July of 1913 with a recorded temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit. But, it’s an incredible (and yes, even hospitable) environment to visit during the winter months.
During the cooler season, the park’s natural badlands, sand dunes and salt flats are best viewed around sunrise and sunset, when temps hover around the high-60s Fahrenheit and the dramatic landscape takes on the sun’s pastel palette. Most trails here remain open year-round, but check with the ranger station before setting out on your desired route—and as always, pack plenty of water!
Ready to Hit the Trail?
Even in the winter months when you may not see or feel it, the sun is still in full effect throughout the day. Protect your skin from harmful UV rays by applying Broad Spectrum sunscreen before you head to the park, and bring a pair of high-performance sunglasses along for the trek.