Winter is not the season usually associated with hiking in our national parks, and for good reason: whether you like rafting or fishing, biking or boating or backcountry camping under the stars, our parks provide an endless source of fun to fill up any number of springs, summers, and autumns. But if you’ve been neglecting winter hikes in our national parks, you’ve been missing out! In today’s post, we’ll let you know about the best parks to banish cabin fever and enjoy a bracing hike through some magical—and less crowded—landscapes.
1. Grand Canyon National Park
How could this not top the list? This king of the parks is marvelous in summer, but majestic in winter. And although easy access to the North Rim is closed off, the South Rim is all yours. Particularly recommended is the Hermit Trail, which is mostly southwest-facing and, thus, less prone to snow and ice. Check out the park’s safety recommendations and hiking tips here.
2. Bryce Canyon National Park
Technically, Bryce is not a canyon but an “amphitheater.” Whatever you call it, its red-rock spires, known as hoodoos, are breathtaking – and all the more so when they’re covered by a layer of snow. To top it off, Bryce offers free snowshoe hikes under the Utah full moon, guided by its rangers, as well as astronomy lessons that take advantage of the park’s dry air and great visibility. Plan your trip here.
3. Big Cypress National Preserve
If snow and ice just aren’t your thing, check out Florida’s Big Cypress Preserve. There you’ll find the beginning of the Florida National Scenic Trail, a 1,300-mile recreational delight that wends its way from the Everglades in the south of the state to the Gulf Islands National Seashore in the north. And walking the trail in winter provides three major benefits: it’s less swampy, less humid, and there are fewer mosquitos.
4. Big Bend National Park
Another great choice for snow-averse fans is Big Bend, a southwest-Texas park that includes both the Chisos Mountains and a big chunk of the Chihuahua Desert. Here, a number of moderate-to-strenuous day hikes take you through the panoramic Boot and Oak Creek Canyons, the Chisos Basin, and Emory Peak. Best of all, a visit in winter removes the threat of thunderstorms and high heat, leaving you with dry, mild weather to enjoy the park’s 1,250 square miles.
5. Rocky Mountain National Park
The Rocky Mountains in winter? Didn’t Louis and Clark get stranded there? Perhaps, but things have changed. Rocky Mountain has it all, from grassy valleys to 14,259-high Longs Peak – including the highest visitor’s center in the entire National Park system. But don’t let all that height throw you off: the park provides a series of winter hikes through the lower-elevation east side of the park which will allow you to enjoy some spectacular views while still having enough warmth in your fingers to operate your camera.
These hikes – and more – will allow you to enjoy America’s vast national park system year-round. But even the easiest of trails warrant basic precautions, including waterproof clothing, appropriate footwear, over-the-shoe traction devices for ice, hiking poles, a whistle or signal mirror, and of course, food, water, a first-aid kit, flashlight, and map. Responsible hiking means respecting Mother Nature, and yourselves, by heading out prepared. Want more tips on visiting the National Park System? Check out our Park in Your Pocket series here.