Explore top winter activities at 15 national parks. These aren’t parks to get away from the season. These are places to be immersed in all the joy that winter offers. These are winter wonderlands.Less
While inland Maine is known for long, hard winters, temperatures on the coast are generally milder, making Acadia National Park a great destination for those looking for a little reprieve. But don’t get us wrong, there’s still snow here in winter — and plenty of opportunities to get out and play after the fall leaf-peeping crowds have subsided. Top winter activities include ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, scenic driving, and photography.
Winter at Bryce Canyon National Park offers snow-covered hoodoos and incredible views. A focus on the sky, though, really differentiates this winter wonderland experience from all others. Bryce Canyon embraces astronomy as a major part of its interpretive experience. November through March, ranger-led full moon snowshoe hikes are a real treat, with snowshoes and poles provided. Most hiking trails remain open during winter for snowshoeing, winter hiking and backpacking, and cross-country skiing.
Located between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio (about a half hour from each), Cuyahoga Valley National Park is an easy escape. Nature may slow down in winter, but this park keeps hopping, giving local residents and visitors alike a reason to get out of the house and into the outdoors. The railroad also operates through the winter and offers special rides you won’t want to miss, like the beer-tasting and wine-tasting trains, dinner trains, and a holiday season journey to the “North Pole.”
While winter weather causes many planned closings in Glacier (and many unplanned ones, too), NPS maintains 10 miles of Going-to-the Sun Road, from park headquarters in West Glacier to Lake McDonald Lodge, throughout the season. This gives hearty visitors a chance to see some of the iconic mountain views for which Glacier is known. Just be sure to consult ski/snowshoe trail maps to find your favorite route, or those less sure-footed on snow can join a ranger-led snowshoe walk.
While the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is closed in winter, the South Rim stays open year-round. And as if the Grand Canyon weren’t dramatic enough in other seasons, winter brings a new sense of the spectacular, as the canyon’s intense earthy colors contrast brilliantly with fresh white snow. Whether you’re looking for a physical challenge or a chance to slow down and rest, winter allows visitors a chance to enjoy this park during the less-busy season.
Just south of Yellowstone is a smaller, but no less magnificent, national park that preserves some of the most majestic mountains in the country. While most amenities and services shut down for the winter season, the park remains open for exploration, and lodging is available in nearby Jackson, Wyoming. Snowplows keep the outer park road clear through winter, but the inner road closes, giving winter adventurers a near-private tour of many of the park’s favorite sites and trailheads.
About 245 miles north of Albuquerque or 167 miles south from Colorado Springs, the central figure at this park is, of course, the sand dunes — the tallest in North America. While special (but easy-to get) sand sledding and sand boarding equipment is needed during warm months, regular snow sleds and snow boards will work when the dunes are covered in snow. So bring the kids and get ready to ride.
Winter is a great time to stop by one of America’s most-visited parks, as this is the least busy season. Even when higher elevations at Great Smoky are covered in snow and roads through mountain passes close, many trails and roads in the foothills are accessible. Enjoy a year-round fishing, hiking, camping, touring historic sites, and outdoor education.
Just because the Lassen Volcanic Highway leading through this northern California park is closed in winter doesn’t mean you can’t explore. As soon as the highway closes to vehicles, it opens to cross-country skiers and snowshoers. So grab your gear and head out into miles of wilderness completely unfettered by auto traffic from around mid-November to late March each year.
With distinct zones – mountains, forests, coast – Olympic is like three parks in one, and all are accessible in winter (with a little extra prep, of course). Traveling from Olympia, WA, Highway 101 circles the park, providing access to all areas and entry points. You’ll find Hurricane Ridge 17 miles south of Port Angeles in the north, complete with a warm and cozy visitor center and rental shop for winter gear. Coastal destinations are on the west side and forests on the south to southwest.