As the season officially transitions from fall to winter in the United States, the country’s scenic landscapes go through their own spectacular changes as well. While temperatures can drop to a frightfully bitter level, many parks transform into winter wonderlands with an abundance of activities and pastimes that anyone can enjoy. Snow-covered trees create enchanting views, stars appear more illuminated in darker skies, caves develop eye-catching icicles, and different wildlife emerges in response to changing elevation levels and fewer crowds.
For those willing to bundle up and brave the cold, we’ve narrowed down a list of our favorite national parks to visit during the winter months!
1. Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming
Photo: NPS/Diane Renkin
One of the most popular outdoor escapes, Yellowstone National Park offers pretty much everything a winter-lover could possibly ask for. Some of the best natural wonders can be observed here, including hydrothermal features like hot springs surrounded by snow and ice, and geysers spouting steam. There are several snowmobiling trails to explore, and wildlife ranging from bison to wolves. Even in the harshest of weather, species here have adapted to survive and thrive along this incredible landscape.
Photo: NPS/ Neal Herbert
2. Denali National Park, Alaska
Photo: NPS/Kent Miller
You don’t have to be thrill-seeker to explore the wonders of Denali National Park during the colder weather. Since Alaska already has less light, this park is the ultimate setting for stargazers and astronomy buffs. With December having longer nights, you can utilize this time to really take in the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), or scope out different constellations and even some planets. The colors and light reflections produce a rare beauty across the sky that is sure to impress.
3. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Photo: NPS/John Marino
With several snow activities to participate in, Hidden Valley towards the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park delivers a fun-filled sledding experience for all ages. Make sure to bring your own sled, tube, or board and take advantage of the excitingly fast slopes. You will also want to keep your eyes peeled for all kinds of wildlife including elk herds, moose, and magical birds like the white-tailed ptarmigan known for changing colors in the winter to blend in with the surrounding environment.
4. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
The Shenandoah area of Virginia boasts beautiful views year-round. But during the snowy months you can catch glimpses of wildlife that you wouldn’t typically spot around the warmer seasons. Bobcats, foxes, and birds like the Northern Cardinal can be seen rather frequently this time of year due to the quiet environment. Many woodland animals like squirrels and nuthatches are also more visible because of the snow-blanketed mountains. If you are seeking a peaceful winter experience, this park certainly fits the bill.
5. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Looking for more of an adventure? Bryce Canyon National Park is best known for its snowy activities like cross-country skiing and winter backpacking. However, it’s important to note that major snowfalls can create hazardous conditions, and some of these require special permits that are usually reserved for experienced hikers. For everyone else, there are ranger-guided activities like snowshoe hikes taking place both during the day and at night under the full moon.
These national parks are just a few of many great options for outdoor entertainment during winter. But before heading out on your adventure, it’s essential to remember that winter weather can create treacherous conditions such as slick pathways. Always check for information on trail closures, prohibited activities, and take extra precautions as needed.