Michelle runs The Wandering Queen, a travel blog to help fellow women adventurers travel the globe. A Texan-Panamanian based out of Seattle, she loves to wander around both the United States and the world. She is an expert on all things hiking, backpacking, national parks, and camping.
When the days start to get cold and short, it is easy to hunker down for the winter. But did you know that you can still explore some of the best U.S. national parks in the winter?
The best part is that the crowds are so much smaller and you can take advantage of magnificent views with snow-covered canyons or mountains. In some of the parks located in deserts, the weather is tolerable. So grab your hiking backpack, hiking essentials, and trekking poles to visit the six best U.S. National Parks in the winter.
Mount Rainier National Park
If you love winter wonderlands, then Mount Rainier National Park is a fantastic place to visit in the winter. Families who want to experience a snowy wonderland flock to this national park to play in the snow and hike.
You can snowshoe beautiful trails such as Mazama Ridge Trail, Skyline Trail, Reflection Lakes trail, and Panorama Point trail. All routes have phenomenal views of Mount Rainier and are pretty moderate hikes. Just make sure to avoid high avalanche areas by asking the local rangers questions. The rangers are very helpful and can even provide you with maps.
The only vehicle access open in the winter is the Nisqually Entrance, and the gate is only open during certain times (9 a.m. – 4 p.m.).
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree is one of the best places for stargazing in the country and is a well-known spot for astrophotography. Joshua Tree’s most famous winter constellation to spot is Orion, the Hunter, and it can be seen in the southern sky.
Other popular winter activities include rock climbing and hiking. Since the weather isn’t as extreme as in the summer, visiting in the winter is a fantastic time to experience these activities. It does snow on occasion in the winter, so you might get lucky and experience the park blanketed with snow.
Make sure to take pictures of the Joshua trees. These unique spiky trees are from the agave family and feel like they come straight from a Dr. Seuss book. There are also other trees in the park called Cholla Trees. The cholla trees grow in an area called the Cholla Cactus garden, and it is best to experience this during sunset.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park holds the world record for the hottest temperature, which is why you should definitely visit this park in the winter. What is outstanding about Death Valley is just how strange yet beautiful the formations are. In one area, you have bright white salt flats, and in another place, mountains splashed with pastel colors; in another region, there are impressive sand dunes, and in another area, there are jagged, sharp, brown formations of salts. It is one of the most unique national parks in the USA.
One of the best things to do is to experience sunrise at Zabriskie Point. You can hike Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch, and Badlands Loop right after sunrise as the views are phenomenal and the trailhead is close by. There is also Artist Drive, where the mountains have beautiful pink/purple, blue/green, and yellow/orange colors.
Badwater Basin is another popular spot to explore. This area is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. The basin is filled with Sodium Chloride, AKA salt, and is an excellent place for photography.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park looks so majestic all year long, but there is something fantastic about seeing this incredible canyon covered in snow. The only drawback of visiting this remarkable park is that Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road are closed.
But don’t let that deter you from visiting. The crowds are low, there are still so many outstanding viewpoints, and many trails are still open. Some of the popular hikes include Bridalveil Falls, Hetch Hetchy, Wawona, and Mariposa Grove. There is even a Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice skating near the half dome! Yosemite is the definition of a winter wonderland.
Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park
Bryce Canyon is such a unique place to visit in the winter. It’s astonishing to experience the bright orange-colored hoodoos blanketed with white snow. Also, the crowds are pretty much nonexistent during this time. Some of the best activities include taking pictures of the four main viewpoints: Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point.
You can also do the popular trails: Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail, Rainbow Point and Yovimpa Point, Peekaboo Loop Trail, and Fairyland Loop Trail. The Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trail is probably the most popular hike that will get you the best views.
Zion National Park
One of the most popular parks in the United States is Zion National Park, featuring an expansive, brightly colored, orange-red canyon. It is a marvelous thing to witness and experience. Visiting Zion in the winter brings fewer crowds, so take advantage of hiking the lovely trails that are usually packed.
Many people visit Zion to hike Angel’s Landing. Be careful in the winter, as this trail is at a higher elevation. There are chains to help with balance, but the trail can still be very icy. Bring good hiking shoes and microspikes.
Another fantastic trail that is extremely popular is The Narrows. Since this trail requires you to walk in the cold river, it deters many people from doing it in this season. But if you rent a dry suit, you can easily do this fun and unique hike. Make sure to bring a walking stick to help you wander through the river.