There’s no bad time to visit a U.S. national park, but there’s something extra special about these beautiful public spaces in the winter. A chill in the air tends to thin out the crowds and give an other-worldly spin on these already heavenly places. Not sure where to go? Here are five national parks sprinkled across the nation that are perfect places to explore during the winter months.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The Grand Canyon provides visitors with awe-inspiring views of its colorful canyon year round, but its potential for drama in the winter makes it even more special. “Dramatic winter storms, bringing several inches of snow, are contrasted with sunny days, perfect for walking along the rim of the canyon,” the National Parks Service shares about the park in the winter season. “Crisp air and a dusting of snow bring a new perspective to the temples and buttes emerging from the canyon floor and provide a perfect backdrop to view the canyon’s flora and fauna.” Head to the South Rim, which is open year round, and spot local wildlife (deer are abundant even in the winter), but also be prepared for the weather to change on a dime. Book a stay at the nearby Thunderbird Lodge, a contemporary accommodation with accessible rooms, or the El Tovar, a design-forward hotel dating back to 1905.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Ready to escape to another planet? Make your way to Joshua Tree National Park. Thanks to its location in Southern California, the park — one of the very few places on earth where you’ll find the puffy little Joshua Tree — never gets too cold during the day (typically hovering in the low 60s). This milder climate makes Joshua Tree an ideal spot for lengthy hikes (though don’t forget to pack plenty of water and let someone know which route you’re taking as cell service in the park is essentially non-existent). Again, the crowds are much thinner this time of year, and beyond having the trails to yourself, you’ll also have the chance to snag typically coveted camping spots, which fill up fast in the warmer months. While visiting the area, pay a visit to Joshua Tree institutions like the famed Pappy and Harriet’s bar, Frontier Cafe, and the more upscale restaurant, La Copine. Not into camping but still want unique accommodations? Check into Autocamp, an upscale glamping destination that will surely delight.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
A visit to the Great Smoky Mountains will leave you changed. The views of the tree-covered mountains can make you understand the great vastness of this beautiful earth, and it’s an experience only heightened in the winter. It’s then that you may catch a glimpse of a dusting of snow softly blanketing the treetops at the very peaks of the mountains. It’s when you can explore for miles on end without seeing another soul in sight. It’s also another place that thankfully doesn’t become too frigid in the winter, with typical daytime temperatures in the 50s, so a light jacket and a beanie should do. Stay close by booking a stay at the Buckberry Lodge, which offers spectacular views from every suite.
Denali National Park, Alaska
Lean into winter by making your way north, as in way way north, to Denali National Park, which remains open throughout the year. Vehicle access can be limited, but as the park notes on its website, there are still plenty of trails accessible for skiing, snowshoeing, and winter hiking. There is also one major reason to head to this snowy (and very chilly) destination in winter, and that’s to potentially spot the Northern Lights. The winter months provide the prime opportunity to see the glowing lights hover overhead. Plan a trip for several days to ensure you get at least one clear evening to watch the green and purple strands dance through the heavens. Book a getaway at Tonglen Lake Lodge, where you can stay in a private cabin and further lean into seclusion.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Want to hit up a national park sans chill? Make your way to Hawaii to spend a few days exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Even in Hawaii, the winter months bring a splendid off-season vibe, with fewer travelers, meaning you have more space to yourself. The winter weather tends to sit right at 70s degrees (though the temperature will vary greatly depending on your elevation — snow is even a possibility here), making for a sublime place to still feel the warmth of the sun, while visiting popular sites like the lava tubes or even to drive the Chain of Craters Road. After exploring, check into the Lotus Garden Cottages, a destination filled with lovely cedar cabins and a spot that will help you plot out the perfect national park adventure.