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7 National Parks That Are Even Better in Winter

Don’t let the cold weather stop you from getting outdoors in these top US national parks to visit during winter.

A person wanders around a snowy national park landscape
Hi, I'm Karen!

Karen is a Scottish freelance travel and culture writer based in the US. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, National Geographic, BBC, and Condé Nast Traveler.

As the temperatures drop and snow starts to fall, The US’ national parks transform into tranquil winter wonderlands. Although national parks have surged in popularity over the last few years, it’s still something of a best-kept secret that the crowds disappear in winter, leaving uncrowded trails and wide-open snowscapes for adventurous visitors who aren’t afraid of a little chill. So, pull on another layer and your warmest wool socks, check the road and trail conditions, and start planning your trip—here’s our pick of the US national parks you should visit this winter.

1. Yellowstone, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming

A snowy scene at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
Get Yellowstone to yourself during the snowy winter months.Photo Credit: Sirtravelalot / Shutterstock

It's easy to make a case for visiting this popular US national park in winter.

While only Yellowstone’s north entrance is open in winter, you can be sure that the summer crowds will have long gone, leaving you plenty of space at the park’s famed steaming geysers. They look even more impressive spouting steam into a crisp sky, after all. Explore by ski, snowshoe, or snowmobile; alternatively, take a snowcoach tour that leads you to geysers, waterfalls, hot springs, and free-roaming herds of bison, elk, bighorn sheep, and wolves (easier than ever to spot against a snowy white backdrop). Afterward, warm up with a soothing dip in Boiling River—winter offers your best chance of getting it to yourself.

2. Rocky Mountain, Colorado

Visitors hike the snowy mountains at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park is a great winter destination.Photo Credit: Melissa A. Woolf / Shutterstock

Combine horror movie lore with true winter adventure.

With its snow-covered mountains and forest, Rocky Mountain National Park puts on a spectacular show in winter. Adults can venture deep into the mountains on a snowshoeing tour, while kids will love flinging themselves down the slopes in Hidden Valley, the park’s designated sledding area. However you choose to explore, keep your eyes peeled for elk and moose on the snow-covered hillsides. After a day of exploring, unwind with a drink or dinner—and a side of bone-chilling history—at the Stanley Hotel, inspiration for The Shining.

3. Voyageurs, Minnesota

Exterior of the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center at Voyageurs National Park.
The lesser-explored Voyageurs National Park is ideal in winter.Photo Credit: Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock

Catch the northern lights without leaving the country in this national park.

Winters in Minnesota are harsh but the few hardy adventurers who make it to Voyageurs are rewarded with a dramatic landscape of frozen lakes and frost-covered pines. From snowshoeing and snowmobiling to ice fishing and driving along an ice road, there’s a bounty of activities on offer too. A certified International Dark Sky Park, Voyageurs boasts expansive views of unpolluted skies all year long but the long nights of winter make it the best time of year to see the northern lights.

Related: Where To See the Northern Lights Around the World

4. Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina and Tennessee

A winter scene at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Don't skip the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which is even more striking in winter.Photo Credit: Kyle S Lo / Shutterstock

Visiting in winter is the best way to avoid the summer hordes.

As the country’s most-visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains can feel uncomfortably crowded in the warmer months. Yet the winter season’s temperatures are typically mild enough for hiking some of the park’s more than 800 miles (1,290 kilometers) of trails. Start the day by taking in the views at Newfound Gap before hiking to Alum Cave to see impressive icicle formations. You can also take a self-guided driving tour of the Cades Cove Loop Road or join an organized hiking tour to pristine waterfalls.

5. Bryce Canyon, Utah

A winter landscape at the Bryce Canyon National Park.
Dramatic winter landscapes are a given at Bryce Canyon.Photo Credit: ASGARALY LOULOUA / Shutterstock

Combine winter landscapes with nighttime stargazing here.

Bryce Canyon’s gravity-defying limestone spires—known as hoodoos—are a remarkable sight year-round but a dusting of snow on the reddish-orange rocks adds even more drama. See them on cross-country ski and snowshoe trails that lead you along the canyon rim or join one of the park’s ranger-led astronomy programs, which include full moon snowshoe hikes—with some of the darkest, starriest skies in the West, winter stargazing is a must.

6. Mt. Rainier, Washington

A winter scene at Mount Rainier in Washington.
Mt. Rainier arguably looks its best in winter.Photo Credit: Bill45 / Shutterstock

If you want a national park where you can try winter activities, look no further.

Mt. Rainier’s glaciated peak looks like a winter wonderland all year round but a visit during winter months has the added appeal of snowy adventures. While many roads are closed in winter, the road to Paradise is frequently plowed, inviting visitors to cross-country ski, snowshoe, snowboard, sled, or winter camp—you can also join ranger-guided snowshoe walks. Add on a stop at Longmire to hike or snowshoe through the forest for excellent views of Mt. Rainier and bubbling mineral springs.

7. Badlands, South Dakota

The sun sets at Badlands National Park.
Be sure to brave the Badlands this winter.Photo Credit: Joshua Lombard / Shutterstock

Striking scenery and animal encounters make the harsh weather conditions worth it.

Only the resilient brave Badlands National Park during its harsh, bone-chilling winters, but those who do are rewarded with the sense of having the park to themselves—and those otherworldly landscapes are arguably even more beautiful when dusted with snow. It’s a good time for wildlife-watching, too: When the crowds dissipate, the animals come out to play, promising ample opportunities to spot bison, bighorn sheep, and maybe a coyote or two.

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