We typically associate National Parks with summer vacation with throngs of sweaty shorts-clad Americans packed shoulder to shoulder in a desperate bid to glimpse a bear. Or moose. Or just a quiet sunset.
That’s what makes winter wonderful in many of our 58 National Parks. As the temperatures drop, so do the crowds. The breathtaking natural beauty remains, sometimes enhanced by the crispy, clean winter air.
Here are 9 National Parks you should visit in the so-called off-season:
Yosemite National Park, California
Valley with El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite National Park
America’s fourth-most-popular National Park can be a zoo during the summer. But winter visitors can take in the park’s beauty in relative solitude while also enjoying activities unknown to the summer crowds, such as ice skating and cross-country skiing.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park
The park covers 1,200 square miles of ruggedly gorgeous Texas wilderness. The wintertime highs are typically in the mid-60’s, making Big Bend the perfect spot for mid-winter hiking or a Rio Grande rafting adventure.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
It’s Hawaii. In winter. Not enough for you? How about the chance to get up close and personal with an active volcano?
Denali National Park, Alaska
Denali Mountain Peak, Denali National Park
It’s Alaska. In winter. But hold on! The park offers all sorts of unique winter activities, including dogsledding, snowshoeing and an unbeatable view of the aurora borealis.
Biscayne National Park, Florida
Buttonwood tree, Biscayne National Park
Most of this Florida park is underwater. Sharks, rays and sea turtles are a common sight. There are fewer bugs in winter, so grab a canoe and paddle the mangroves in search of manatees, those strange marine mammals that supposedly spawned the mermaid myth.
Arches National Park, Utah
Delicate Arch, Arches National Park
This is one of Utah’s top summer attractions. The bright red, delicate rock formations are amazing year-round. Most hiking trails are open in the winter, but you may need snow cleats or poles to navigate some ice and snow packed paths.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park
This crown jewel of the park system rarely gets crowded in the off-season, despite the fact the North Rim section is closed October through April. Take a hike on the South Rim and meditate on the canyon’s majestic beauty in solitude.
Death Valley National Park, California/Nevada
Artist palette in Artist loop drive, Death Valley National Park
Winter is this park’s busy season. That makes sense given summer temps in the desert valley are among the hottest ever recorded on Earth, bumping up against 120 degrees. By comparison, winter days are typically sunny with temps in the 70’s – and the crystal clear skies provide unbeatable stargazing.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Joshua Tree National Park/Yucca Valley in Mohave desert, California
As with Death Valley, summer temps in this California park can fry an egg – or scramble your brain. So, why not come see the ancient trees in the relative cool of winter. There is a small chance you’ll encounter snow, but on most days temperatures hover in the 70s.