National Parks You Can Still Enjoy During the Winter Months

Trav­el­ing to national parks may be more closely asso­ci­ated with the sum­mer­time, but many parks are just as acces­si­ble (and enjoy­able) after the snow begins to fall. This win­ter, get the most out of yourannual National Park Pass and check out one (or more) of these fed­er­ally pro­tected win­ter wonderlands.

Chan­nel Islands, Calif.
A coastal get­away any­time between Decem­ber and March might sound chilly, but wildlife experts say that’s the best time to visit the five islands (Anacapa, San Miguel, Santa Bar­bara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Rosa) that com­prise Chan­nel Islands National Park. This three-month win­dow period is migra­tion sea­son for scores of gray whales, which can be eas­ily spot­ted from the shore. The park is also known as a haven for water sports, from kayak­ing and sail­ing to deep-sea fish­ing. 

Crater Lake, Ore.
Oregon’s only national park sits roughly 7,500 feet above sea level. As a result, the area receives an aver­age annual snow­fall of 533 inches. Win­ter vis­i­tors can enjoy the park’s vast net­work of trails des­ig­nated for snow­shoe­ing or cross-country ski­ing. Most of the ameni­ties (includ­ing the fabled Crater Lake Lodge) are closed for the win­ter, but vis­i­tors can still visit the park’s gift shop and café for a sou­venir and mug of hot choco­late, respec­tively, after a day of fun in the snow.

Glac­ier, Mont.
Accord­ing to Carol Pucci of The Seat­tle Times, Glac­ier N.P. pro­vides an “ideal win­ter get­away”. Numer­ous cab­ins are avail­able for win­ter rental (many of which have dis­counted rates out­side the sum­mer sea­son), while lodges, eater­ies and other park fix­tures remain open year-round. Some of Glacier’s most pop­u­lar win­ter activ­i­ties include bike rides along the Flat­head River, snow­shoe excur­sions to Lake McDon­ald and ski trips to the breath­tak­ing water­falls that com­prise Sacred Danc­ing Cascade.

Rocky Moun­tain, Colo.
Not sur­pris­ingly, this ele­vated park boasts a large num­ber of pre­mium win­ter hikes. One of the eas­ier trails, Upper Beaver Mead­ows, involves a 1.5-mile stretch that pro­vides prime elk-spotting oppor­tu­ni­ties. The park’s most stren­u­ous hike, Deer Moun­tain, entails an ele­va­tion gain that exceeds 1,000 feet – and rewards those who sum­mit with stun­ning views of the Con­ti­nen­tal Divide. The park is also home to numer­ous cross-country ski­ing routes, though most are clas­si­fied inter­me­di­ate or higher. Snow­mo­bil­ing is also allowed near the North Sup­ply Access Trail. But the real treat of this park, many kids say, is the epic sled­ding found in the Hid­den Val­ley area.

Voyageurs, Minn.
Sit­u­ated in icy north­ern Min­nesota just a few clicks from the Cana­dian bor­der, Voyageurs N.P. receives roughly 177,184 annual vis­i­tors (Yel­low­stone, by com­par­i­son, receives more than 3.3 mil­lion). The result is a win­ter won­der­land of ski­ing, snow­shoe­ing and snow­mo­bil­ing trails that are rel­a­tively crowd-free. But the other draw to this park is Rainy Lake Ice Road, a seven-mile stretch of frozen water that is acces­si­ble to vehi­cles weigh­ing less than 7,000 pounds (with the excep­tion of snow­mo­biles, which are pro­hib­ited for safety reasons).

Yel­low­stone, Wyo.
Dur­ing the win­ter sea­son, America’s largest national park is also one of the busiest. In addi­tion to a vast net­work of ski, snow­shoe and snow­mo­bile routes acces­si­ble to the pub­lic, the park also pro­vides sev­eral ranger-led pro­grams for vis­i­tors. This year’s line-up includes a guided snow­shoe­ing trek to Mam­moth Hot Springs, wildlife ecol­ogy sem­i­nar and geyser-viewing tours at noon and in the evenings. All pro­grams are free (though ski or snow­shoe rental fees may apply).


Yosemite, Calif.
At Yosemite, there is an activ­ity to suit every type of win­ter recre­ator. The park is filled with snowy flat­land trails that are ideal for cross-country ski­ing and snow­shoe­ing, while the Bad­ger Pass down­hill course may appeal to snow­board­ers and alpine skiers (as well as snow-tubers). Back­coun­try ski and snow­shoe tours are offered; these include an overnight stay in one of the park’s fur­nished huts. Yosemite also fea­tures an ice skat­ing rink that sits below two of the park’s most promi­nent land­marks, Half Dome and Glac­ier Point.

Zion, Utah
The dry flat­lands of Zion expe­ri­ence a rel­a­tively light dust­ing of snow every year, mak­ing it the ideal loca­tion to seek refuge from the win­ter weather. Most of the trails remain open year-round, and the park has become a haven for win­ter­time pho­tog­ra­phers. And since the Canyon Shut­tle ser­vice is sus­pended from Novem­ber to March, pri­vate vehi­cle are allowed to drive through the canyon.

This list is cer­tainly not exhaus­tive. Tell us about your expe­ri­ences at these (or other) U.S. National Parks dur­ing the win­ter months.