Last Updated on November 8, 2022
The world is full of wonderful places to adventure. It offers something for everyone — beaches for relaxation, mountains for climbing, forests for exploring, and so much more.
What’s perhaps more amazing is the chance to see all these landscapes inside one or several national parks. These protected areas of land and wildlife are bursting with expansive views, exciting activities, and adventure around every turn.
A lot of parks experience a slowing down in the colder winter months. But winter doesn’t have to mean no national park visits. In fact, winter may be one of the best times to see and experience these fantastic areas of beauty and life.
Visiting national parks in the winter has a lot of benefits, but it does require some additional preparation. Depending on the temperature and terrain, your adventures in these parks will require different types of gear and safety provisions — including insurance with roadside assistance.
Benefits of National Parks in the Winter
Those coveted vacation days are commonly used during the winter holiday. People are looking forward to seeing family and friends but also want to get out into the world with their time off.
There are the frequent holiday travel spots like Colorado, New York, or Vermont. These areas offer holiday-themed experiences and classical holiday treats. For those more outdoorsy people, however, national parks might be the best vacation spots.
In reality, national parks during the colder months of the year have a lot of benefits. In most cases, fewer people are visiting during this time. This means you can see and experience them with fewer distractions and crowds.
Wildlife is more active in the winter, again thanks to fewer people. You have a better chance of catching a glimpse of those elusive animals.
Best National Parks in the Winter
But which national parks are best? The U.S. is home to dozens of national parks, but not all these parks are good options in the winter. Some get too cold or are frequently covered in deep snow and ice.
Of the 63 U.S. national parks, here are five that top the charts for wintertime visits.
#1 – Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico)
Carlsbad Caverns is known for its staggering, natural limestone formations. Visitors can explore the park both above and below ground. You can take guided cavern tours or hike different trails throughout the park.
The park is located in the Southwest, which means the winter months are a little more temperate. If you choose to venture inside the caves, however, the weather is even more tolerable. The caverns stay close to 60 degrees even in the coldest months.
Visitors to the park drop off significantly during the winter months, so it’s a great chance to experience this park for the first time or revisit and see it with fresh eyes.
#2 – Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)
Bryce Canyon National Park is one of several parks in Utah. It’s known for its beautiful red rock formations and deep canyons.
Bryce Canyon gets lots of snowfall during the winter, creating a dazzling landscape. The amount of snowfall does, however, limit some of the activities in the park. While skiing, sledding, and snowshoeing are available on marked trails and designated areas, it’s not allowed in any of the canyons.
The cold temperatures also mean a different parking list. Visitors to Bryce Canyon need to be fully stocked and outfitted for cold temperatures: insulated socks and mittens, stocking caps, winter coats, and waterproof hiking boots.
#3 – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Hawaii)
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is not like other parks. There is no off-season here. Temperatures in Hawaii stay relatively steady year-round, so there is no need to worry about sudden drops in temperatures. It’s the tropical escape from the cold drudgery of winter.
This park offers just about everything to its visitors. In just one park, you can experience black sand beaches, blooming rainforests, and active volcanoes with recent lava flows. The winter months do offer slightly lower temperatures and lower humidity, so it’s more than worth the trip.
#4 – Joshua Tree National Park (California)
Joshua Tree National Park is a popular stop in California. Joshua Tree is popular among rock climbers and U2 fans. It’s a desert terrain with large rock formations and gorgeous stargazing opportunities.
Winter in Joshua Tree can be wet, but daytime temperatures stay balmy and warm. Because of these warmer temperatures, however, Joshua Tree is a busier park in the cold months of winter. This shouldn’t keep anyone away though. The park is huge and offers so many different activities for any level of outdoor enthusiast.
#5 – Zion National Park (Utah)
Zion National Park might be one of the most well-known national parks in the U.S. It’s known for striking rock walls and rust-colored cliffs. Unfortunately, this beautiful landscape is often blocked by thousands of tourists and visitors.
During the winter months, however, visitors drop off, making it a perfect time to experience the wonder that is Zion. The biggest concern, however, is the snowfall. The winter months are also the months with the heaviest levels of precipitation.
Snow shouldn’t be a deterrent, though. The snow creates magical expanses of canyon landscape. The lower elevations are plowed and maintained, but most snowfall melts quickly. Higher elevations often accumulate many inches of snow and are closed during the colder, wetter months.
Gear to Pack for National Parks in the Winter
A trip to a national park isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s time to experience adventure and explore the wonders of nature, but it requires preparation and proper equipment. This is especially true in the often cold and wet winter months, where travelers are at a higher risk for winter-weather-related crashes.
If you are planning a winter trip to any one of the national parks, it’s important to pack warm, insulated, and waterproof clothing. Consider everything from insulated gloves and hats as well as wool socks.
Dressing in super warm clothing, however, isn’t always the best option. Many of these national parks warm up during the day, but temperatures drop quickly as the sun begins to set. The fluctuation in temperature means it’s important to both dress and pack light, wicking layers. Don’t forget to top it all off with an insulated and waterproof coat for cold or wet weather.
It’s important to prepare with proper car insurance as well. National parks allow visitors to explore while staying in their cars. Driving through parks that may be covered in snow or ice can mean trouble for both drivers and passengers. That’s why you should have roadside assistance included in your auto insurance coverage.
Even if you don’t find yourself on the side of the road trying to change a flat tire, having the option for a little extra help will give you peace of mind and an even better trip.
National parks are a true gift. They offer just a glimpse of the wonder and beauty of nature. Take a chance and experience one of these parks with snow dusting the ground. It’s worth it.
Laura Gunn researches and writes for the auto insurance comparison site, 4AutoInsuranceQuote.com. She and her family are avid travelers who usually opt for national parks.