Christmas vacation, the Winter Solstice, cold weather, and snow are right around the corner. While it may not be officially "winter" in your neck of the woods just yet, odds are you're already planning the family's 2021 Christmas/New Years activities.
If your plans aren't yet set in stone, what about using part of the holidays to visit a National Park? While most folks don't usually think of the American National Parks when they plan winter activities, gathering the family up and venturing off to a picturesque winter wonderland could be an excellent way to spend the holidays. A snow-bound trip to the National Parks is a great way to create a memorable family adventure that combines family time, no devices or screens, and the beauty of our nation's most stunning natural wonders.
Though there are 63 National Parks on the roster, not all of them stay open during the winter, and some that do end up closing most sections of the park. That's why we did some research on different parks, and we compiled a shortlist of one park for each of the five geographic regions of the United States. Whether you live in the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, or West, we've found a National Park in each area that offers incredible winter experiences.
The Northeast: Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is the only National Park firmly in the northeastern United States. Thankfully, it stays open during winter! Like many of the more wild National Parks, some park areas will be closed during winter, namely the Visitor Center, some of the museums and picnic areas, and the Seawall Campground. But the roads into and out of the park remain open, and many of the hiking trails are still quite accessible.
While Acadia National Park can offer stunning, snow-kissed wilderness panoramas during winter, the park's proximity to the ocean means that the weather can change, and fast! Be sure to check the National Park Service's weather updates before traveling into the park.
The Southeast: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
We love all of the National Parks, but there's always been a special place in our hearts for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Just 3.5 hrs from our Nashville Studio-Store, this park is in our proverbial backyard, and we've visited it many times.
And we're not the only ones! GRSM is the most-visited park on the roster, according to the National Park Service, with over 12 million visitors per year. However, visitation drops off steeply during December, January, and February, allowing you and your family plenty of time to enjoy the park's many attractions in peace and quiet. Much of the park stays open during the winter months, especially the more easily-accessible attractions within the park like Cades Cove, many hiking trails, and some waterfalls.
As a general rule, the lower and middle elevation areas of GRSM are most accessible during winter, except in extreme cases of winter weather. But no matter what region of the park you visit or when, it's going to be the Southeast's best rendition of pristine natural beauty! (In our totally neutral, unbiased opinion, of course!)
The Midwest: Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Not only is Cuyahoga Valley National Park open during winter, but unlike many parks that close parts of the park during the cooler months, all of Cuyahoga Valley NP's 125+ miles of hiking trails stay open. Furthermore, a dramatic drop in visitation during winter means families can often have the trails all to themselves, something that would be impossible during summer. Even coveted hiking trails like Towpath Trail and Brandywine Falls are often quiet, peaceful, and empty on a winter's day.
The Midwest has several National Parks, but many of them are difficult to get to during winter. Some, like Isle Royale National Park, are completely closed during the winter months. In contrast, Cuyahoga Valley National Park stays open year-round, is easy to get to, and is well maintained.
The Southwest: Arches National Park
According to the National Park Service's record-keeping department, Arches National Park is one of the most-visited parks on the roster, receiving 1.5 million visitors per year. And given that the park is only about 75,000 acres in size (relatively small for a National Park!), this stunning natural attraction does get pretty crowded.
However, if you live anywhere in the Southwest, Arches National Park could make for the perfect holiday vacation, as visitation drops dramatically during winter, but the park is no less beautiful. In fact, some would say that snow-capped arches and a light dusting of snow on the many rock formations and trails add a unique and splendid aesthetic. As artists, we see a deep beauty in a fresh dusting of snow on an otherwise arid, desert-like topography. The visual effect is stunning, almost otherworldly.
As always, be sure to check out the National Park Service website when planning a trip to Arches National Park, as winter weather events can cause closures to various sections of the park, certain roads, entrances, and some of the ranger stations.
The West: Crater Lake National Park
Snow, snow, and more snow! If you live on the west coast and you want your family to see some snow this holiday season, few places offer as much snowfall as Crater Lake National Park. And miraculously, despite the added maintenance and road care that all that snow brings with it, park officials somehow manage to keep Crater Lake NP open all year-round.
With an annual average of 43 feet of snow per year, Crater Lake is one of the snowiest places in the United States. To put that snowfall into perspective, 43 feet of snow is the equivalent of 1.4 inches of snow every day for a year!
And with the park's official winter season lasting from November to April, visitors have many opportunities to enjoy this iconic winter paradise.
National Park Poster Art to Inspire Your Winter Adventure
Deeply inspired by the beauty of the National Parks during all seasons and all types of weather, our award-winning poster artists have dedicated the last several years to creating original illustrations and vintage travel posters of the 63 American National Parks. With over 300 unique designs to choose from, if you need inspiration for a trip to the parks or would like a souvenir to remember a winter holiday by, this collection is for you!
Safe holiday travels!
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer