Last year alone, 307 million people visited our country’s beautiful national parks! Were you one of them? With 58 national parks to choose from, the possibilities for viewing awe-inspiring land formations and majestic animals are endless. Everyone should have the opportunity to experience the wonder of a national park, and winter can be just as good a time as any to go. With hoards of visitors arriving by the truckloads at some of the larger parks during the summer, the winter months tend to be quieter and less busy, making it easier for you to take your time and see the sights. A few parks in particular are actually better to visit during the winter due to their brutal summer heat or dry, barren landscape. We’ve compiled a list of 7 national parks that offer amazing views and awesome outdoor activities from November through March. Whether you’re interested in a winter wildlife expedition in Yellowstone or a tropical volcano vacation to Hawai’i, there’s something for every explorer here! Read on!
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
There is no better time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park than during the winter! With an abundance of outdoor recreation for the whole family, this 415-square mile park should be at the top of your camping destination list! Many of its warm-weather activities carry right over into the colder months, such as hiking, wildlife viewing, and stargazing. In addition, during the winter you can take in the park on snowshoes, cross-country skis, or a sled. The full, lush forests of the park become your playground! There are five campgrounds within the park, but only one, Moraine Park Campground, is open year round. It has 77 winter sites that accommodate RVs up to 40’ long and offers a mix of flush and vault toilets. A free shuttle connects the campground to Bear Lake and Estes Park, so you can pick up some local souvenirs and enjoy dinner at a mountainside lodge. You’ll feel on top of the world at Rocky Mountain National Park!
Everglades National Park, FL
Winter is a great time to visit Everglades National Park in Florida! Known as their “dry season,” December through mid-May is the busiest time for birds in the Everglades. The warm weather attracts the largest variety of wading birds and their predators, making for an interesting visit! As the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S., it’s also home to manatee, American crocodiles, and the elusive Florida panther. The dry season brings with it low water levels, which means more wildlife viewing for you! Fishing is a popular activity in the Everglades thanks to the nearly 300 different species of fish that call the freshwater marshes and marine coastline of the park home. The park offers both front-country and backcountry camping for its visitors. The two front-country campgrounds accommodate both tents and RVs, and reservations are recommended during the busy winter months. With average winter temps in the 50s, this is a great time to visit the Everglades which are typically hot, humid, and rainy in the summer and fall.
Death Valley National Park, CA
One of the few national parks that doesn’t see an influx of visitors in the summer is Death Valley National Park, located on the border of California and Nevada. Located below sea level, this basin suffers from extreme drought conditions and record summer heat, making it almost too hot and barren for visitors to do anything other than see the sights through the windows of their air-conditioned cars. But come winter, temperatures drop into a more bearable range of mid-60s to low 80s, making this the best time to hike in Death Valley. There are many easy-to-moderate hikes scattered around this 3.4- million acre park. You can also bring your bike and ride the hundreds of miles that are suitable for mountain biking. Of the nine campgrounds within the park, seven of them are open during winter and offer full amenities. With many must-see areas in the park that feature intimidating names like Badwater Basin and Devil’s Golf Course, make sure you bring your camera to capture the breathtaking land formations that have to be seen to be believed.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, HI
Step into a world of active volcanoes and ever-changing landscapes when you visit Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawai’i. Home to Mauna Loa and Kilauea, two of the world’s most active volcanoes, the park offers more than 150 miles of hiking trails that allow you to take in the true beauty of the park on foot. Hike over decades’ old lava flows, see where volcanic gases seep from the ground, and walk over a cooled lava lake that’s still steaming from a 1959 eruption! If you prefer to explore by vehicle, three roads offer amazing views of the park: Crater Rim Drive, Chain of Craters Road, and Mauna Loa Road. Two campgrounds within the park are available. Nāmakanipaio offers water and restrooms. Kulanaokuaiki has vault toilets but no water. Even though daytime highs are around 70° at the Kilauea Visitor Center, temps may be 12-15° cooler at the summit of Kilauea and it’s often rainy. The coastal plain at the end of Chain of Craters Road is often dry, hot, and windy. So pack clothing for a variety of weather.
Yellowstone National Park, WY
Our country’s first national park becomes a barren winter landscape once the snow starts to fall. An area that bustles with millions of visitors every year is transformed (seemingly overnight) into a quiet, desolate landscape. While appearing to be almost inhospitable, wildlife thrives in this snowy land. Home to the largest concentration of mammals in the U.S., you’re bound to see wolves, grizzlies, elk, moose, coyotes, bison, and bighorn sheep if you’re in the right place at the right time. But don’t plan on filling up your tank to drive the roads of the park on your own. Besides one lone road between Mammoth Hot Springs and the northeast entrance, all other roads are closed to traffic. The only transportation allowed inside the park during the winter months is snowcoach or snowmobile! You can still visit Old Faithful (which is even more amazing in the winter!), the gorgeous Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and go on wildlife viewing adventures, but you must go by guided snowmobile or snowcoach tours. Mammoth Campground is the only year-round campground in the park, and Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Spring Hotel are open year round as well. If you love immersing yourself in extreme wintry adventure, then put Yellowstone on your list of winter destinations!
Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Located in southern California, Joshua Tree National Park offers wonderful opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, stargazing, and more during the winter months. Where the Mojave and Colorado Deserts meet, you’ll find a fascinating landscape that has been shaped by strong winds and occasional downpours of rain. A rich variety of plants and animals call Joshua Tree home, despite the desert environment. People have occupied this area for at least 5,000 years, dating back to the Pinto Culture and American Indians. Everyone who has lived in the area has left their mark on it, and you can learn about the rich history of the area at the various visitor centers. There are 9 year-round park campgrounds that offer about 500 developed campsites. They fill quickly during the busy winter months, so book your stay under the dark night sky in advance or get there early.
Channel Islands National Park, CA
A great reason to visit Channel Islands National Park in California during the winter months is to go whale watching! There are 27 species of cetaceans in the Santa Barbara Channel, including many types of whales, orcas, porpoises, and dolphins. From mid-December through late-March, sightings of gray whales are very common. They can be seen from shore or boat, and early morning hours are best since white caps later in the day can distort your viewing. There are a few outfits that offer whale-watching excursions from Santa Barbara, Ventura, and the Channel Islands Harbors. All five of the Channel Islands have one primitive campground each that is open year-round for camping. While the winter months are wet, sunny days in between help break up the dark skies. And with an average air temperature around 60° and water temp around 50°, you can easily soak up the sun while taking part in other island adventures available here, such as hiking, kayaking, tidepooling, surfing, and more.
Do you enjoy winter camping? Does a national park top your list of favorite winter camping destinations? Tell us about it in the comments!