National Park Adventures During Winter
The New Year is in full swing, and judging by the National Park Service's visitation figures, millions of Americans are already planning their 2024 travel itineraries.
Visiting America's preserved nature spaces is usually considered a spring, summer, or autumn activity, but it doesn't have to be. In fact, most National Parks stay open during winter (even if services and accessibility are quite different).
The following sections detail one park in each geographic area of the continental U.S. that stays open throughout the winter season.
The Northeast: Acadia National Park
Located in Maine, Acadia National Park is the jewel of the northeast, and it's open during winter! Winter storms affect accessibility, so it's always a good idea to visit the National Park Service website and read weather updates before heading into the park.
Fun Fact: Though Acadia is quite far north, its proximity to the ocean makes the region more temperate than one would imagine. Still, pack like you're heading into a winter storm because the weather can change quickly!
The Southeast: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina is the most-visited park on the roster, entertaining around 12-13 million visitors annually. But you wouldn't know it during winter! The park stays open during the cooler months, and visitation drops significantly, affording visitors a quieter, less crowded experience.
Fun Fact: Because the park includes regions of wilderness that vary considerably in elevation, one can experience anything from mild to cool to extremely cold temperatures, depending on which sections of the park they're exploring. Dress accordingly!
The Deep South: Everglades National Park
While National Parks generally receive the most attention during summer, Everglades National Park is the opposite! The winter months are the best time to visit this incredible Floridian marshland, as mild temperatures, fewer insects, and low-to-moderate crowds make for an enjoyable experience.
Fun Fact: Because there are no roads that go through the Everglades, it's a good idea to book an Everglades tour on an airboat. Doing so allows one to fully immerse themselves in the Everglades. ADG Creative Director Joel Anderson traveled to the Everglades with his wife Patty (ADG's bookkeeper extraordinaire) last winter, so check out our interview with Joel for more Everglades tips!
The Midwest: Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Not only does Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio stay open during winter, but unlike many National Parks that close sections of the park during winter, Cuyahoga Valley keeps open and maintains all of its 125-plus miles of hiking trails throughout the winter season. Further, as visitation recedes during winter, visitors often have the trails to themselves.
Fun Fact: Not only does Cuyahoga Valley National Park stay open during winter, the park's rangers and managers lean into winter activities! Check out the NPS website to see all of the winter fun to be had at this park.
The Southwest: Arches National Park
Arches National Park in Utah receives about 1.5 million visitors per year, and as it is a relatively small park, it can get congested during peak season. With that in mind, savvy travelers pack appropriately and head off to the park during winter.
Fun Fact: The park's naturally arid landscape can be chilly, frigid even, during winter. But a light dusting of snow and snow-capped arches add an incredible visual element and makes braving the cold worthwhile.
The West: Yellowstone National Park
America's first National Park and the most well-known park by far, Yellowstone becomes inundated with visitors during the summer months. While its location in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho makes for cold weather, wind chill, and snow drifts, hearty souls dress in layers and visit the park during winter.
Fun Fact: Because Yellowstone does get so much snow, most of the roads in the park are only open to snow coach and snowmobile travel during winter. Thankfully, the park's concessionaires offer guided tours and rentals so visitors can see the park during a truly epic and visually incredible time of year.
The Pacific Northwest: Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake National Park in Oregon is a beauty of the Pacific Northwest, equally incredible during winter and summer. The park remains open during winter, though some roads are closed and not all park services are available.
Fun Fact: Because of its high elevation, Crater Lake is known for winter storms that can dump massive amounts of snow on the park in a relatively short time. With that in mind, always check the park's website in advance.
Is There Really Such a Thing as a "Bad" Park to Visit During Winter?
An old outdoorsman refrain goes something like this:
"There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear."
Yes, some National Parks do close during winter. But many stay open, offering visitors a chance to interact with the wilderness in a way that is totally different from what folks would experience during a summer visit.
While a few parks on the roster will be quite temperate and comfortable during winter (Everglades and Dry Tortugas come to mind), many of the 63 parks remain open to the public during winter despite the cold weather that is common in most of the parks during the off season. Even under a few feet of snow, these beauties can be enjoyed during the colder months as long as visitors dress appropriately!
We hope you get out and enjoy at least one National Park this winter, no matter the weather.
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer