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The 10 best National Parks to visit this winter

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From snowy mountains to active volcanoes, there’s something for everyone

Yosemite National Park in winter.
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Editor's Note: This post was originally published in November 2016 and has been updated with the most recent information.

Temperatures might be dropping around the country, but that shouldn’t deter you from venturing outside. Sure, you may need a few more layers than in summer but, in winter, many of America’s national parks offer fewer crowds and jaw-dropping landscapes.

Whether it’s a snowy trek through a national park in Utah, or a one-on-one encounter with a manatee in Florida’s Biscayne National Park, any of these gorgeous destinations is worth the trip. We’ve rounded up 10 of the best national parks to visit this winter.

Want even more national park goodness? Check out our guide to the best hotels near 9 of America’s top national parks or our deep dive into national park architecture.

Arches National Park, Utah

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.
Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.
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The brilliant red rock of Arches National Park is memorable anytime of the year, and winter offers relief from both the blazing summer Utah heat and crowds. Most of the park’s hiking trails are open year round, but popular trails like Delicate Arch will likely require traction devices and trekking poles thanks to packed snow and ice.

Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada

mountains and desert in Death Valley National Park
Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park.
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In the summer, Death Valley regularly logs some of the hottest temperatures—hovering around 120 degrees fahrenheit—in the world, making it the perfect winter destination. You can expect mostly sunny days in the low 70s, the rare rainstorm, and some of the best stargazing in the world. Be aware that winter is Death Valley’s peak season, so advance reservations might be necessary.

The Grand Canyon, Arizona

The Grand Canyon after a winter snowstorm.
The Grand Canyon after a winter snowstorm.
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Head to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in the winter, as the North Rim is only open from May until October. You’ll still get amazing vistas at any time of the year, but in winter the sometimes overwhelming crowds dwindle to just a trickle. That doesn’t mean you’ll lack for things to do—hiking trails abound and temperatures below the rim of the canyon can often be a bit warmer.

Biscayne National Park, Florida

The ocean and mangrove trees at sunset.
Biscayne National Park at sunset.
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A 45-minute drive south of Miami, Biscayne National Park is unique to America’s national park system because most of the park’s 173,000 acres are submerged. The bay is teaming with wildlife—including sharks, rays, sea turtles, jellyfish, and more than 500 species of fish—and the winter months see fewer bugs and mosquitos. Book a canoe trip through the mangroves and be on the lookout for manatee; their prime season is November through April.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Santa Elena Canyon and Rio Grande river at Big Bend National Park.
Santa Elena Canyon and Rio Grande river at Big Bend National Park.
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With more than 1,200 square miles of rugged desert and mountains, Big Bend National Park may not be as popular as our country’s busiest parks, but it’s worth the trek in the winter. Winter highs are usually in the 60s, perfect weather for hiking, floating down the Rio Grande, and exploring historic hot springs. Head to the 72-room Chisos Mountain Lodge—the only lodging in the park—for rustic accommodations and a good central location.

Denali National Park, Alaska

Alaskan mountains and glaciers covered in snow.
Ruth Glacier in the Alaska Mountain Range, Denali National Park.
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Sure, it may be dark in Alaska in the winter—Denali can receive less than five hours of daylight—but that doesn’t mean this national park isn’t worth a visit. Much of the park’s sole road is closed in the winter, but miles of trails out of the Winter Visitor Center allow for both short and extended trips by ski, snowshoe, foot, or dogsledding. Denali also offers a glimpse of the aurora borealis and some of the world’s most impressive glaciers.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

A desert view with pink and blue skies.
Joshua Tree National Park in the Californian Mojave Desert.
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With daytime temperatures often above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, Joshua Tree National Park in the winter is a perfect time to see the iconic spiked trees and towering boulder formations. Snowfall does happen in the winter months, but most often visitors are treated to perfect hiking and climbing weather— think highs in the 60s and clear skies.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

Caldera of the Haleakala volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Caldera of the Haleakala volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
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A winter getaway to Hawaii seems like a no brainer, but beyond the island’s unforgettable beaches, visitors also shouldn’t miss a trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. On the main island check out Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, a massive shield volcano. Or drive up to the top of Haleakala National Park on Maui and enjoy the numerous hiking trails and scenic vistas.

Sequoia National Park, California

Giant sequoia trees covered in snow.
Giant sequoia trees covered in snow.
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Head to the 102-room Wuksachi Village and Lodge in Sequoia National Park to see some of North America’s oldest forests covered in snow. Winter visitors have to deal with smaller crowds and have access to over 50 miles of marked snowshoe and cross-country trails.

Yosemite National Park, California

A sunrise near Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
A sunrise near Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
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Yosemite offers something for everyone at any time of the year, but in winter the snow-covered valleys take on an ethereal quality. Try ice skating, cross country skiing, and check out the Majestic Hotel and Yosemite Valley Lodge—National Park lodges open throughout the year.


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