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Top 10 National Parks to Visit in Winter

There are 63 national parks in the United States that offer spectacular sights and adventures. There are a few national parks to visit in winter that are particularly stunning. Whether you’re a traveler looking to escape the cold for warmer pastures or interested in exploring a snowy winter wonderland, below is a list of the best national parks to visit in winter. On this list of national parks to visit in December and other winter months, you’ll find adventures in sunny California, such as Joshua Tree National Park, or the warm desert climate in New Mexico, such as Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We know you will love all of them.

A bison in the snow at Yellowstone National Park

1. Joshua Tree National Park, California

There is something magical about being in Joshua Tree National Park, a desert town only a few hours from Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas and Phoenix. Joshua Tree National Park consists of 800,000 acres of desert landscape, where 2.8 million visitors enjoy rock climbing, hiking, photography and the serenity of the scenery. Unlike other places that experience hoards of tourists in the summer months, the busy season in Joshua Tree runs from September through May, when temperatures stay below 100 degrees. 

Road Scholar offers a six-day educational hiking adventure through Joshua Tree National Park in winter to learn about this region’s unique natural history and human cultures from expert naturalists.

2. Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park in Utah has more than 2,000 natural stone arches, giant balanced rocks, and hundreds of formations through which to hike. In winter, the scenery is stunning. Get your camera out and marvel at the contrast between white snow on red rocks. Temperatures can be freezing in winter. Snowfall can make some trails impenetrable, but hiking trails are open year-round. As a bonus, winter crowds are a fraction of the size they are in the summertime. 

Road Scholar has curated an 11-day trip that takes adventurers through Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands national parks. 

3. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The biggest benefit of visiting Grand Canyon National Park in winter is that there are 15% fewer visitors. In December, visitors have the trails to themselves, and the car traffic is minimal. Inside the canyon is a desert climate, and it stays warm, even in the winter, with average temperatures in the high 50s. December is incredibly beautiful at Grand Canyon National Park, especially when there is snow dusting the grand cliffs. 

Road Scholar offers a number of trips in and around the Grand Canyon, including by way of rail. The six-day tour takes adventure seekers on an overnight adventure to Grand Canyon National Park via the historic Grand Canyon Railway. 

4. Yellowstone National Park

If you’re trying to decide which national park to visit in winter, Yellowstone is unparalleled. Visitors are treated to stunning landscapes, and all the animals come out to play; elk, bison, wolves and moose. The famous geysers look even more awe-inspiring in the wintertime.  

On the Winter Ventures in Yellowstone Country tour, Road Scholar experts teach adventure seekers how to snowmobile, snowshoe and ski. The six-day tour will also explore unique wildlife and visit Old Faithful, fumaroles and bubbling hot springs in the winter. 

5. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park is a sight to behold in winter as the landscape turns from greens and browns to whites and blues. November to May can be freezing, and most visitors travel by ski or snowshoe since roads can be closed. Road Scholar has planned an amazing six-day winter trip through the Grand Tetons via ski, snowshoe, dogsled, and horse-drawn sleigh. Spend the week snowshoeing and skiing alongside the Teton Science Schools, exploring the scenic trails. 

6. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The average temperature in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in December is 73°F (23°C) and a low of 65°F (18°C), pretty much perfect for hiking and exploring an active volcano. 

Road Scholar has many tours of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Among them is a 13-day trip with adventurers joining local experts for a deep dive into Hawaii’s volcanoes to learn Hawaiian mythology, island ecology and natural monuments.  

7. Death Valley National Park

The average high temperature in Death Valley National Park from December through February is 65-73°F, which is much more tolerable than the triple-digit summer temps. Winter is the ideal time to visit this world-famous national park to explore its narrow canyons, salt flats and dunes that make up this fascinating landscape. 

Take a seven-day small group tour on a study of the geology, ecology and human history of Death Valley through hikes and lectures with geologists and experts. Hiking Death Valley National Park is Road Scholar’s popular trip on a 30-passenger bus with an upgraded video/audio system allowing our instructors to teach "on the go."

8. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

In New Mexico, you’ll find Carlsbad Caverns National Park, one of the best national parks to visit in winter. Located in the Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is an extensive network of underground caves formed over millions of years from sulfuric acid dissolving limestone. With more than 119 caves, Carlsbad Caverns National Park contains caves with other-worldly stalactites, stalagmites, columns and other unique rock formations.

If you’re looking for national parks in November worth visiting, add Carlsbad Caverns National Park to your list. There are countless opportunities to take advantage of, such as participating in the nightly Bat Flight Program, which has visitors gather in the amphitheater near the entrance to the cave system to watch thousands of bats emerge to hunt for food. Explorers can also visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park to learn more about the diverse ecosystem that makes up the surface of the caverns, such as desert plants like cacti and yuccas and wildlife like mule deer, coyotes and jackrabbits.

What makes this national park one of the best national parks to visit in December is the arid climate that offers comfortable weather during the colder months. This makes Carlsbad Caverns National Park a great place for outdoor enthusiasts, with trails providing sweeping views of desert landscapes. Visitors can learn from local experts who will provide detailed information on flora, fauna, wildlife and the park’s history.

9. Yoho National Park, BC, Canada

Yoho National Park is located in British Columbia, Canada, and is one of the best national parks in December that you can visit. The term “Yoho” is a Cree expression that means “awe and wonder” and perfectly describes the natural beauty this national park has to offer. This winter is a great opportunity to take in the sights and wonders of Yoho National Park, which contains more than 507 square miles of protected land filled with sweeping landscapes of mountains, waterfalls and valleys. If you’re looking for national parks to visit in winter, consider these top attractions you can view when hiking in Yoho National Park

Emerald Lake: Famous for its striking turquoise color, this is a glacial lake that offers excellent views of the park, including mountains and forests that outline the shore. Burgess Shale: This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is famous for its perfectly preserved fossils that date hundreds of thousands and even millions of years, providing deep insights into the evolution of early life on Earth.Takakkaw Falls: This roaring waterfall cascades over 1,260 feet, making it one of the tallest waterfalls in Canada. With mountainous views and stunning scenery, this waterfall is a must-see attraction. Northern Lights: Yoho National Park is an excellent location for visitors to witness the aurora borealis, known as the Northern Lights. Winter is an exceptional time to view the vibrant colors of the Northern Lights that brighten up the sky with hues of greens, blues and yellows. Wildlife: Winter in Yoho National Park offers unique opportunities to view wildlife, such as elk, moose, deer, mountain goats, wolverines and the elusive lynx. With a snowy backdrop, wildlife is often easier to spot and identify. Outdoor activities: There’s a plethora of outdoor winter activities you can partake in when visiting Yoho National Park in the winter, including snowmobiling, hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Many trails offer suitable routes for different activity levels, allowing outdoor enthusiasts of all abilities to enjoy the great outdoors in Yoho National Park.

10. Denali National Park, Alaska

In the interior of Alaska, you’ll find Denali National Park, the third-largest national park in the United States. With so much ground to cover comes endless possibilities for viewing wildlife and beautiful landscapes. Denali National Park is located in the interior of Alaska in the central part of the Alaska Range. It is about 150 miles north of Anchorage, making it an easy drive from Alaska’s most populated city. The endless adventures it offers make Denali National Park one of the best national parks to visit in winter. Some of the top explorations and activities you can partake in when visiting Denali include:

Mount Denali: Perhaps the star attraction of Denali National Park is Mount Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley. Mount Denali has the highest peak in North America, standing at 20,310 feet tall. While reaching the summit is only for expert climbers (and even extremely dangerous for them) you can enjoy easy day hikes at the base, as well as views of the mountain from various areas of the park. Wildlife: Denali National Park is known for its diverse and untouched wilderness. Adventurers can spot rare and unique wildlife, such as grizzly bears, black bears, moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, foxes, lynx, marmots and a wide range of bird species. The diverse wildlife also allows for great photo opportunities, where visitors can take images and videos of the park’s healthy predator-prey ecosystem. Winter activities: There are plenty of winter activities Denali National Park offers its visitors, including dogsledding, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, all of which are great ways to explore the park’s extensive trail network. Other activities include ice fishing and outdoor camping, which offer a truly immersive winter experience.The experts: At Denali National Park, you can join ranger-led  tours or partake in one of Road Scholar’s Alaska National Park tours, where you can learn from local experts about the wildlife, geography, culture and history of Denali National Park. Northern Lights: Denali National Park is also one of the best national parks to visit in winter because it offers visitors the opportunity to view the Northern Lights up close. With minimal light pollution and its northern location, Denali National Park is a great viewing spot for the dancing lights illuminating the night sky.

Road Scholar National Parks in Winter 

Still don’t know where to go for winter break? Road Scholar aims to provide immersive and educational adventure travel for those who want to head for a national park in the winter months.

We have curated tours for those who want to travel during winter break. Enroll in a national park winter adventure today with Road Scholar.