When we think of the 63 American National Parks, we envision sunshine, warm days, fully leafed out trees, and brilliant flora and fauna. We picture ourselves hiking through the woods or over mountains and into valleys in shorts and t-shirts, adding sunscreen as needed for the bright, open spaces. We get the feeling of summertime excitement, of meeting fellow adventurers from other parts of the country and world, of long days and short, cool nights.
But what about an entirely different National Parks experience? What about traveling to the National Parks during late winter? Or very early spring?
Why You Should Try a Winter Park Adventure
At a moment's glance, the thought of trudging through Yosemite National Park or Great Smoky Mountains National Park in a foot of fresh snow and below-freezing temperatures probably does not sound too appealing. (But as anyone from the Midwest, Northeast, or Pacific Northwest knows, the key to enjoying the outdoors during winter lies in adding extra clothing layers!)
And to sweeten the deal, there are a few great benefits to exploring National Parks during winter. Some of these include:
- Park Visitation. During winter, park visitation numbers plummet. If you're looking for a quiet, peaceful nature experience, traveling to a National Park during winter may be the best way to avoid crowds and possibly even have the park to yourself.
- Lack of Foliage Can be a Good Thing. When the leaves fall, this tends to "open up the parks" with better sight potential, stunning views, and more visibility, especially on forested hills and mountains.
- An Entirely Different Experience. From snowshoeing to cross country skiing, snowmobiling, winter photography, snow and ice cave exploring and winter wildlife-viewing, a trip to the National Parks during winter is beautiful.
- Not all National Parks are Open During Winter. This might not sound like a good thing at first, but it is. The National Park Service makes calculated decisions on which parks should stay open and which would be too difficult to operate during winter. As a result, park resources are refocused onto the parks that remain open, ensuring they are well-maintained throughout winter.
- Never Underestimate Bragging Rights. While it's always fun to regale friends and family members with stories of National Park adventures, telling your peers about a trip to the parks during winter carries an extra level of bragging rights. (Not only did you hike the entire 10-mile trail, but you also did it in a foot of snow AND below-freezing temps... plus wind chill!)
Pick a Park and Tallyho!
We did some research and found five National Parks that we think would be fantastic for winter adventuring. They are:
- Zion National Park. One of the most-visited parks on the roster (yet also one of the smaller parks), summertime adventures to Zion often end up being less pleasant than you may have imagined. Why? Simply because of the huge mass of people who try and go there during spring, summer, and fall. And while it's sometimes rainy and somewhat cold in winter, you can enjoy the park without constantly bumping into people. And the main road, which is usually closed to everything but shuttle buses in the summer, is open to passenger vehicles during winter!
- Arches National Park. Similar story with Arches National Park. It's a relatively small park, and it receives immense visitation numbers, especially in recent years. A great chance to see the park's fantastic arches without having to scuffle with other park visitors for a perfect photo-op is to simply visit Arches NP during winter. The winters in Moab, Utah, where Arches National Park is located, are relatively mild, and sometimes snow dots the brilliant red rocks. Truly worth packing that extra jacket!
- Yellowstone National Park. This one requires some preparation because it is quite cold and many of the roads are closed during winter. But Yellowstone is beautiful in December, January, February, and March. And the park is still open and available to visitors! Rent a snowmobile or snowcoach, and recline in warmth and comfort at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Mammoth Hotel, or Canyon Yurt Camp.
- Crater Lake National Park. Many have said that winter defines Crater Lake National Park. For one thing, the winter season lasts much longer in Crater Lake due to its high elevation and location in the Pacific Northwest. You can easily find all the snow you want in March, April, May, June, and even into July. In fact, Crater Lake National Park receives over 44 feet of snow per year! Compare that to Portland, Oregon, which only receives about 3 inches of snow per year.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The most-visited park on the roster, Great Smoky Mountains National Park all but empties out in the winter, giving avid park-goers a chance to experience some of the beautiful sights, sounds, and smells of GRSM without having to negotiate crowds and traffic. Imagine getting Cades Cove, Alum Cave, Cammerer Tower, Clingman's Dome, LeConte Lodge, Rainbow Falls, the Chimney Tops, and the Foothills Parkway all to yourself?
Snow, Winter, Spring Sunshine, and Vintage Poster Art
We're only just now coming out of an intense winter spell here in Nashville, but there are plenty of National Parks that are still experiencing winter weather. If you'd like to explore a National Park in an entirely different element (and do so safely, given the Covid-19 pandemic), why not travel during the end of winter and into early spring when there are fewer people at the parks?
If you're more of a warm-weather person and you prefer to bide your time until the sun comes back out, the snow melts, and the temps rise back up out of the frigid zone, we have vintage National Park poster art to keep you excited and thinking of the parks until the summer rolls around.
Stay safe (and warm) out there!
Anderson Design Group Writing Staff