The winter months are a perfect time to visit one or more of the nation’s great national parks. In fact, many of the most famous national parks experience a drastic drop in attendance, allowing visitors better chances of making reservations and with much better rates. But not all of America’s national parks will be a picture postcard of a winter wonderland. The following are five of the country’s best national parks to visit in winter, one of which may require both generous amounts of sunscreen and rain gear.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon, UT 84764
With visions of snow-covered, red rock formations amid breathtaking views from places like Sunrise Point and Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon National Park is an extraordinary winter destination. Located in southern Utah, the park is not an enormous canyon etched over time by flowing water, but instead is a vast natural amphitheater created from erosion primarily by wind and ice. Among the most fascinating attractions in Bryce Canyon are the multiple, chimney-like rock formations known as hoodoos, making the park one of the country’s most photographed places. Although winter activities, such as skiing and snowboarding, are not allowed due to the risk of damage to the natural landscape, park visitors can enjoy winter hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. This is in addition to more leisurely activities like wildlife viewing and photography. Bryce Canyon is just one of five remarkable national parks in Utah and all worthy of a winter escape, particularly Arches, near the Utah-Colorado border and Zion, Utah’s oldest and most visited park.
Grand Teton National Park
Moose, WY 83012
With one of the country’s best skiing destinations less than 15 miles away, Grand Teton National Park is an enchanting wonderland in winter. The best skiing and snowboarding can be found in Jackson Hole, but Grand Teton boasts several activities of its own, including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking and nature photography. Other winter activities, such as ice skating and sleigh rides, are also close by. If the Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole aren’t enough excitement for a winter holiday, Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park, is not far away.
Related: Best Ski Resorts In America
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii National Park, HI 96718
There doesn’t have to be massive amount of snow at a national park to have a fascinating winter getaway. Indeed, the average winter temperature on the Big Island of Hawaii is a balmy 78 degrees. One of the few locations in the world to view active volcanoes, this national park is home to Mauna Loa, considered to be the largest volcano on Earth, and Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, continuously spewing hot molten lava for more than 30 years. In addition to lava viewing, other recommended activities include a hike through a lush rainforest and bicycling. Plus, there is a wealth of photo opportunities.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park, CO 80517
The spectacular Rocky Mountain National Park is worth visiting any time of the year. But this widely visited park, about 50 miles northwest of Boulder, becomes even more magical in winter, with snow-covered mountains and evergreens, a collection of beautiful lakes and an abundance of wildlife. Rocky Mountain National Park is also a winter haven for outdoor activities, such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, sledding and even a chance to hike along the Continental Divide. For overnight accommodations, shopping and winter tours, the top spot to visit is Estes Park, the site of the national park’s headquarters.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite, CA 95389
With a significant drop in attendance from its peak season, Yosemite is an excellent choice for a winter excursion. During the winter months, the third most visited National Park transforms into a scene of incomparable beauty as clearly evident through vivid images of spectacular vistas and snow-covered granite monoliths. And winter activities abound in Yosemite, such as ice skating at Curry Village, winter sports at Badger Pass and park-sponsored tours. Perhaps best of all in visiting Yosemite in winter is the broader availability in lodging and far greater ease of moving about in arguably America’s most beautiful national park, when attendance is down by more than 75 percent.
Related: Under-The-Radar National Parks
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.