The campgrounds may be closing down for the season, but that doesn’t mean you need to leave our National Parks behind until spring. In fact, many National Parks shine in the winter months, so get planning. Here are five of our favorites to explore when it gets cold outside.
1. Yellowstone National Park
Guess what, the geysers, bubbling mud pots and hot springs are just as incredible (if not more so) in the winter as in summer at Yellowstone National Park. Plan to book a snowcoach or snowmobile tour to explore the park. It’s an incredible way to take in the geology and natural beauty of the park minus the summer crowds.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Pat Henson
Look for ranger-led programs at Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs. You may also want to check out a snowshoe tour at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, as well as a winter photo safari to snap photos of wildlife and landscapes at the park.
2. Rocky Mountain National Park
It’s fun to explore our National Parks in new and different ways in the winter months. At Rocky Mountain National Park, sign up for a free snowshoe walk or cross-country ski with a park ranger. If you don’t have your own gear, no worries. You can rent what you need at shops just outside the park in Grand Lakes and Estes Park.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Brendan Bombaci
You can also rent sleds and snow tubes outside the park, then bring them to Hidden Valley inside the park for a day of sledding down the gentle hill. Winter is a great time for wildlife watching too, so keep your eyes open for elk, mule deer and moose.
3. Crater Lake National Park
As Oregon’s only National Park, Crater Lake National Park can get very busy in the summer, but a visit to this park in the winter can be a real delight for outdoor lovers. Roads around the park, including Rim Drive, begin closing in mid-October, so the only way to get around the park in the winter is on cross-country skis or snowshoes.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Douglas Sprott
The only visitor center open in winter is Steel Visitor Center, which is open daily 10 am to 4 pm. Stop in on weekends to join a free ranger-led one-mile snowshoe walk. As a bonus, snowshoes are provided. As snow blankets the area for the season, winter is truly a magical time to explore Crater Lake National Park without the buzz of cars, tour buses and summer tourists.
4. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is fantastic in summer, but only in winter can you strap on skis for downhill skiing or cross-country skiing, or don a pair of ice skates for a few laps around the outdoor ice skating rink at Yosemite Valley. Take in the views of Half Dome and Glacier Point as you skate figure eights or enjoy a cup of hot cocoa.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Elaine
Or, head to the Badger Pass Ski Area, the oldest downhill skiing area in California, for skiing, snowboarding, snowtubing and more. You can even hike in winter at Yosemite National Park since several trails in Yosemite Valley are accessible to hikers.
5. Bryce Canyon National Park
With its uniquely impressive rock formations (hoodoos), some say that Bryce Canyon National Park is even more incredible in the winter. From November through March, Bryce Canyon offers ranger-led full moon snowshoe hikes. The park provides snowshoes and poles, but you’ve got to have your own snow boots.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Prayitno
Another great way to explore Bryce Canyon National Park is on cross-country skis, but daredevils take note, it’s not legal to ski off the rim into the canyon. However, there are a variety of rim trails offering unparalleled views that are open to cross-country skiers.