National parks are for more than just summer hiking. Break out of your cold-weather hibernation and visit these seven parks that are at their best in winter.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Big Bend National Park serves as a border between the United States and Mexico, and offers a unique way to cross between the two countries—by rowboat. Visitors can pay $5 to be ferried across the Rio Grande on a small boat, or you can walk across for free (at your own risk, and only at a designated area when the water levels are low).
Winter is one of the best times to visit Big Bend National Park, as the temperatures average around 60-70 degrees during the day, whereas in the summer it can get dangerously hot (over 100 degrees).
Where to stay: Chisos Mountains Lodge is the only hotel option within the park. Make your reservation well in advance, as it tends to book up early.
Olympic National Park, Washington
Olympic is one of only three national parks that has a full ski area in the winter. (To find out the other two, keep reading.) The Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area has one lift and two rope tows, and operates from mid-December through March depending on conditions. Ski here, and you’ll be able to brag “I skied in the Olympics” without technically lying.
Where to stay: Elwha Ranch Bed and Bath overlooks Olympic National Park and the Glacier Mountains.
Death Valley National Park, California
Death Valley is the hottest and driest place in North America, and has set the world record for the highest air temperature (134 degrees). Unsurprisingly, it’s not a place you want to visit in the summer. In the winter, you’ll get mild temperatures that rarely drop below freezing, plus smaller crowds—the weeks after Thanksgiving and before Christmas are the least busy time of the year, according to the NPS.
Where to stay: The Ranch at Death Valley is located next to the NPS Visitor Center, offering easy access to the park. The 224-room hotel has restaurants, a general store, and even a saloon to keep you entertained.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Winter is the best time of year to visit Everglades National Park, as December through April is the dry season. You’ll usually have temperatures in the upper 70s with low humidity, the biting insects that can be prevalent in summer are gone, and lower water levels make it easier to spot wildlife.
Where to stay: There are no hotels inside the park (although there are two campgrounds), but Everglades City is just next to the park and has plenty of overnight options. Everglades City Motel is affordable and a five-minute drive from the park.
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Embrace winter at Mount Rainier National Park, which has a designated “snow play area” where you can go sledding or tubing. Ranger-guided snowshoe walks are also available, as are plenty of trails for cross-country skiing.
Where to stay: The National Park Inn is the only hotel within Mount Rainier National Park that is open year-round.This quaint property has 25 guest rooms, a dining room, and a general store, so you don’t have to leave the park once you’ve checked in.
Yosemite National Park, California
Enjoy a side of history with your skiing at Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area, California’s oldest downhill skiing area. Located off of the park’s Glacier Point Road, lifts here serve 10 runs, and there are also more than 90 miles of marked trails for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. For an unforgettable winter experience, you can even cross-country ski a 10.5-mile trail to Glacier Point, which overlooks Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls.
Where to stay: Built in the 1920s, The Majestic Yosemite Hotel has been painstakingly renovated to preserve its heritage. This AAA Four-Diamond property is located within the park and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Approximately five million people visit the Grand Canyon every year, but only about 10 percent of visitors come in the winter. Although the North Rim is closed in the winter, the South Rim is completely open year-round. Certain roads that are closed to personal vehicles in the summer reopen for the winter (weather-dependent), allowing you to explore at your own pace. Temperatures on the South Rim are generally cold, but if you venture to the canyon’s floor, the weather is much warmer, reaching up to 60 degrees during a winter day. To learn more about the park, see Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon.
Where to stay: You can find great winter deals at the normally expensive El Tovar Hotel, a historic lodge located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Incredible National Park Lodges in the U.S. (and the Best Time to Book Them)
- A Year of National Parks: Your Month-by-Month Guide to America’s Best Idea
- 12 Gorgeous Photos of America’s National Parks
Caroline Morse Teel wants to visit all these best national parks in winter. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for more national park photos.