Snowy landscapes, stunning wildlife, icy temperatures and peaceful trails make exploring US national parks a whole new experience in winter.
Forget tackling crowded trails in summer. The cooler months are the time to soak in the serene beauty and quiet calm of US national parks when they transform into a winter wonderland.
Just because it is cold outside, doesn’t mean you need to say indoors. Break free from cabin fever. These are the five best US national parks to visit in winter.
1. Yosemite National Park, California
One of the most visited parks in the entire United States, Yosemite National Park is magnificent in any season. In winter expect less crowds checking out an enchanting winter wonderland of snow-capped peaks, glittering trees, mysterious fog and icy streams and waterfalls.
Some of the roads and trails in the park close during the cooler months due to snow, but access to Wawona and Yosemite Valley are cleared. The route to the Badger Pass ski area is also cleared to skiers and snowboarders can reach the slopes.
If you’ve wanted to try snowshoeing, there are plenty of trails open and you can still fish in the Merced River. But be warned, the temperatures can dip as low as -2 degrees celsius (28°F) overnight and you’ll need to keep an eye out for more than bears.
GET INSPIRED BY: California’s Great National Parks
2. Arches National Park, Utah
Red rock, white snow and blue sky give Arches National Park in Utah a tint of national pride come wintertime.
One the United States’ most famous National Parks, winter is the off-season and that means no crowds. Taking pictures with the red arches and formations usually requires plenty of patience. If you visit in winter, small crowds means no queue for a selfie with the famous arches.
Professional photographers prefer the winter months for the cool, clearer air and strong contrast of colours against the snow. It’s also one of the best places to stargaze thanks to the remote location and altitude.
Expect the trails to be quiet, but do go prepared. Temperatures average between -6 and -17 degrees celsius (20-0°F) through winter. Dress in layers, wear sunscreen and carry plenty of water.
GET INSPIRED BY: Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks
3. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
More than 13 metres (44ft) of snow falls here every year on average. The high elevation and close proximity to the Pacific Ocean create the perfect storm for snowfall at Crater Lake National Park.
Created by a volcanic eruption around 5670 BC, the namesake lake can be tricky to spot in the winter months. It is advised to check the weather forecast or local webcam for visibility before heading out to avoid disappointment.
The snowy winter wilderness can be intimidating so tag along on a ranger-guided snowshoe walk or pop on skis and follow designated routes through the park.
4. Denali National Park, Alaska
While the idea of heading to Alaska in winter might seem crazy to some, those chasing a glimpse of the breathtaking aurora borealis will disagree. The wild, remote and tranquil landscape is the perfect place to view the Northern Lights.
With 6 million acres of land this is one of the largest national parks in the United States and it is also home to North America’s highest peak, Mount McKinley or Mount Denali at 6,190m (20,310 ft).
Snow starts falling in Denali National Park in August and during the winter solstice expect less than five hours of daylight a day. At times temperatures can plunge to an icy -40 degrees celsius (-40°F)!
Travellers can borrow snowshoes from the visitor centre. It’s open daily, year-round and offers guided walks, skiing and dog sledding too. While out on the trails watch out for bears, moose, Dall sheep, caribou and wolves, plus sculptures made of ice.
GET INSPIRED BY: Majestic Alaska
RELATED CONTENT: Where to go and what to do in Alaska
5. Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming
Snow-capped peaks, steaming geysers and skiing marks winter in Yellowstone National Park. Leave the hiking boots at home: the only way to explore the trails and roads in winter is by cross-country skiing, snow-coach, snowshoes or guided snowmobile tours.
America’s oldest national park rewards those who put in the effort during the cooler months. Arrive prepared to trek past geyser basins, fumaroles and hot springs dramatically contrasting the frozen planet. Plus keep your eyes peeled for beautiful wildlife – from bison taking steam baths at a geyser on their migration route, to the elusive and predatory wolf.
Temperatures here in the winter months average a high of -1 degree celsius in December and January, but thankfully the park is dotted with warming huts to give you a break from the cold. At night, expect lows of -5 to -20°C (20-0°F).
GET INSPIRED BY: Scenic Park Explorer
Have you visited any US national parks in winter? Let us know about your favourite memory in the comments below!