When it comes to national park adventures, winter pursuits can be just as thrilling for many than summer ventures.
Whether you’re in the mood for downhill ski runs or the quiet bliss of solitude in a please-let-there-be-no-cell-service zone, America’s Best Idea has something for everyone, regardless of where you fall on the ideal Fahrenheit-reading spectrum.
Below,are to great wintertime national park adventures to consider adding to your bucket list.
Yosemite National Park in California
Beauty abounds in the winter wonderland that is Yosemite with activity highlights ranging from high-flying Yosemite Flight Tours to marveling at the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias. If you’re antsy to lace up your hiking boots, find a winter hiking trail to match your mood and adrenaline levels at Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Remember: Weather can be excessively snowy this time of year, so prepare accordingly.
Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado
The Rockies have lots of snow and slopes for sledding and tubing in the winter. For fun family tubing near Denver, visit Hidden Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park. Hidden Valley used to be a family downhill ski area and has now been re-developed by the Park into a wonderful sledding area that is easily accessed by car. A picnic pavilion provides shelter with 14 picnic tables, and flush toilets are available year-round. There’s also a winter warming room (both handy things to have with kids in snowsuits!). Sled rentals are available for $5 per day at Estes Park Mountain Shop on the Hwy 34 entrance to Estes Park, and at The Warming House on Hwy 36 on the way to Beaver Meadows entrance. When the kids get cold and tired, head into Estes Park for a hot chocolate and a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants in town.
Great Basin National Park in Nevada
Altitude junkies, you’ll want to make your way up to Wheeler Peak — 13,065 feet at the summit — which takes around two days in the winter (though you can also take a scenic drive, too). For those who prefer to spike their heart rate closer to the ground, take a tour of the park’s Lehman Caves, which is even more spectacular in the winter thanks to a downtick in crowds. At night, take time to appreciate some of the darkest skies in America, preferably at the aptly named Stargazer Inn.
Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Denali may get plenty of summer love, but winter proves a matchless experience for those who dare. If you’re looking for a truly unique experience, consider an overnight dog-mushing excursion with Denali Dog Sled Tours, where canine rangers help you navigate the park’s majestic hinterlands. The company offers multi-day tours (from one to four nights) and are the only guides that can take guests to Wonder Lake, the park road corridor and the North Face of Denali (which, trust us, you’ll want to see).
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
This stunning stretch of 26,000 acres in the backcountry of Palmetto State may not be a household name, but it delivers a wintry trek. In December and January, the high averages between 58–61°F and the low hovers around 36–42°F, making it comfortable for hiking and camping. Worth noting: A reservation and a backcountry permit is required to camp in Congaree. Bonus: Congaree park admission is free.
Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine
Don’t overlook Northern New England during this time of year. Winter in Bar Harbor is magical. With trails glimmering in snow and icicles springing off from the park’s pink granite cliffs, embark on miles-long hikes, ice climbing adventures, or cross-country skiing and snowshoeing expeditions.
Mount Rainier National Park in Washington
Whether you seek advanced snowshoeing routes or snowshoeing 101, Mount Rainier has something for all in this picturesque slice of the Pacific Northwest. In the Paradise area of the park, enjoy free ranger-led snowshoe walks (snowshoes provided), where you’ll learn about plants, animals, and more, as you get to work on the trails. For more advanced snowshoers, catch thrills on yes-this-is-very-fast glissading descents.
Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida
For warmer-weather adventures, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Florida destination that outshines Pensacola. Birdwatchers will delight in being situated under the so-called Atlantic Flyway, which extends 3,000 miles from the Caribbean to the Arctic tundra, giving you access to seeing birds (bald eagles! blue herons!) make their migration to and from their wintering grounds. Take reflective walks in the peaceful embrace of Santa Rosa Island or partake in stellar winter diving thanks to warm temperatures and incredible water clarity. During your stay, be sure to see Fort Pickens, a 19th century war fort, which even has idyllic campgrounds when you’re ready to bid the day’s adventures adieu.