ESCAPE THE COLD – 9 NATIONAL PARKS TO VISIT DURING WINTER

Some US national parks are best to visit in winter. During the summer months, many of them are simply unbearable due to overcrowding or extreme heat. They flourish off-season when temperatures are pleasant, and the number of visitors is low. If you are looking for inviting winter destinations, this post is for you. Let’s see which parks shine the brightest when the rest of the country is shivering and possibly covered with snow. Here is a list of national parks that will provide a beautiful escape from winter. 

Best national parks to visit in winter. Zion National Park invites with its colorful rocks at any time of the year.
Zion National Park invites with its colorful rocks at any time of the year.

9 NATIONAL PARKS TO VISIT IN WINTER 

1. Death Valley National Park, California 
2. Joshua Tree National Park, California 
3. Saguaro National Park, Arizona
4. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah 
5. Zion National Park, Utah 
6. Big Bend National Park, Texas 
7. Everglades National Park, Florida
8. Biscayne National Park, Florida 
9. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliated links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Most national parks are at least partially open in winter, but it does not mean that they are fun to visit at that time of the year. Cold, rain, and possibly snow, make them less appealing for many travelers. Sure, they are stunningly beautiful when dressed with snow, but this kind of adventure is not for everyone. For the safer approach, here is the list of the national parks that offer a pleasant escape from winter. 

1. Death Valley National Park, California 

Do not even think of visiting Death Valley during the summer. The park is known as the hottest place on earth and driest place in North America. Summer temperatures often top 120°F (49°C) in the shade, with overnight lows dipping into the 90s°F (mid-30s°C.)

Best national parks good to visit in winter. Death Valley National Park.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes must be on the list of attractions at Death Valley National Park.

In contrast to the extremes of summertime, winter and spring are very pleasant. The daytime temperatures are mild in the low elevations, with cool nights that only occasionally reach freezing. Higher elevations are colder than in the low valley. Temperatures drop 3 to 5°F (2 to 3°C) with every thousand vertical feet (approx. 300m).

Best national parks to visit in winter. Zabriskie Point at Death Valley National Park.
When visiting Death Valley National Park, make sure to include sunrise at Zabriskie Point.

Despite its not inviting name, Death Valley National park is a stunning place to visit. Take your time to see different sections of the park for its own unique character.

Read: 9 Best Things to Do in Death Valley National Park

Where to stay in Death Valley

Death Valley is huge – 3.4 million acres! It is also remote; therefore, the only logical solution is to reserve lodging inside Death Valley National Park. 

Best national parks to visit in winter. Badwater Basin at Death Valley National Park.
When I visited Death Valley National Park in late September, the temperature in this area was 111 F!

2. Joshua Tree National Park, California 

With average summer highs of 99 degrees Fahrenheit, Joshua Tree is just too hot to enjoy for much of the year. However, winter is a great time to visit. In January, February, and much of March, Joshua Tree will treat you to mild temperatures and low crowds. Daytime winter temperatures hover around 60 degrees, while nighttime temps dip to 30 degrees.

Best parks to visit in winter. Hidden Valley Nature Trail and Day Use Area in Joshua Tree National Park features Joshua Trees and huge boulders.
Hidden Valley Nature Trail and Day Use Area in Joshua Tree National Park features Joshua Trees and huge boulders.

Joshua Tree is a perfect destination for those who like nature but prefer to stay close to shopping, restaurants, and city conveniences of nearby communities. Many visitors come just for a day and see only attractions accessible from the paved road, but to fully appreciate the park, stay at least a few days. You will be impressed by the park’s dramatic beauty. 

Read: What you need to know about visiting Joshua Tree National Park. 

Best parks to visit in witner.Hidden Valley Nature Trail and Day Use Area in Joshua Tree National Park features Joshua Trees and huge boulders.
You will find many views like that in the Hidden Valley Nature Trail and Day Use Area of Joshua Tree National Park.
Hotels Near Joshua Tree National Park 

There is no lodging available within Joshua Tree National Park. However, there are many places to stay in nearby communities, with the town of Twenty Nine Palms being the closest.

Check these hotels in Twenty Nine Palms near Joshua Tree National Park. 

Best national parks to visit in winter. Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park.
Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park – Do not touch! They are vicious!

3. Saguaro National Park, Arizona 

Saguaro National Park is home to the largest cacti in the US. These majestic plants, found only in a small portion of the United States, are protected by Saguaro National Park, to the east and west of the modern city of Tucson. Winters in the Saguaro National Park are delightful with mild warm days averaging 65 degrees F (19 C) and cool nights averaging 40 degrees F (5 C).

Best national parks to visit in winter. Saguaro National Park.
You will find a lot of beauty in Saguaro National Park.

For that reason, the park’s busiest time is from Christmas through Easter, but do not worry about the crowds. Although the park gets many visitors at busy times, many confine their activities to scenic drives and short walks. Within 15 minutes, you can easily leave the crowds behind.

Best national parks to visit in winter. Saguaro National Park.
Saguaro National Park. The saguaro cactus is the largest in the United States and will reach heights of 40 feet tall.

The park is split into two diverse sections: Saguaro National Park West & Saguaro National Park East. Plan to spend at least two full days in the park to explore both sections of the park. Read more about things to do in Saguaro National Park. 

Hotels near Saguaro National Park 

There is no lodging in the park, but you can find many great hotels in Tuscon, Arizona

Related: Travel Essentials for Family Road Trip 

Can't wait to escape the cold? Here is a list of 9 national parks that will provide a beautiful escape from winter. 

4. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah 

Capitol Reef National Park includes low-elevation desert areas that receive little snow and also a higher mountainous country where snow occasionally falls during winter. Most winter recreation takes place at lower elevations where daytime temperatures are mild. The park offers outstanding opportunities for sightseeing, hiking, and biking during the cold months.

The best national parks to visit in winter .One of the amazing features of Capitol Reef National Park, Hickman Bridge.
One of the fantastic features of Capitol Reef National Park, Hickman Bridge. Photo courtesy of Jakub Jasinski.

Capitol Reef National Park, the second largest of Utah’s The Mighty 5, is much less visited than the other four due to the relatively remote location. Still, with its colored cliffs, narrow canyons, ridges, arches, spires, and domes, the park is another example of Utah’s glory. 

Related: Why Utah is the Best State for Nature Lovers 

The best national parks to visit in winter. Capitol Reef National Park.
Off the beaten path, Capitol Reef National Park delivers on beauty and solitude. Photo courtesy of Jakub Jasinski.
Where to stay near Capitol Reef 

No lodging is available inside the park. Find your Capitol Reef hotels in Torrey, Utah. 

5. Zion National Park, Utah 

Zion Canyon offers a wonderful escape from winter’s cold and snow. It is located at a low elevation where temperatures are relatively mild, and snow seldom reaches the canyon floor. Scenic drives, hiking, and biking are enjoyable year-round in this area. See: Things to do in Zion National Park. 

The best national parks to visit in winter. Zion National park.
The epic Angels Landing hiking trail in Zion National Park may be icy in higher elevation in winter. Make sure to check the conditions before you take this hike.

Check the weather and local snow conditions to make sure the trails you hope to travel are clear and safe. During winter months, trails like Angels Landing can be snowy or icy on the higher sections.

Related: Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park 

Where to stay in Zion National Park 

Zion Lodge is the only in-park accommodation, but makes sure to reserve well in advance! Zion Lodge is located inside Zion National Park and offers easy access to excellent hiking and other outdoor opportunities. The original lodge burned down in 1966, but the rebuilt structure convincingly re-creates the classic look of the old inn. 

 You will find plenty of other great places to stay when visiting Zion National Park, but if you are looking for a unique western experience, I recommend Zion Mountain Ranch. The ranch delivers upscale accommodation and spectacular distance views of Zion. View Mount Carmel Junction hotels here.

Best national parks to visit in winter. Zion Mountain Ranch near Zion National Park.
Zion Mountain Ranch delivers the Old West charm and modern conveniences.

Another accommodation worth mentioning is Holliday Inn Express Springdale Zion National Park Area. The hotel is ideally situated just outside of Zion National Park and is tucked among the towering red rock cliffs of Zion Canyon. I loved the outside area with incredible views of the mountains. Make your booking for this hotel here.

Explore other Springdale, Utah hotels 

6. Big Bend National Park, Texas 

Visitors to Big Bend National Park can enjoy some of the best weather in the country during the winter months. The average temperature in the park runs from 35 F to 65 F. And even better, these months are some of the driest of the year. Usually, the skies are clear, and day time highs can run into the 70’s.

The best national parks to visit in winter. Big Bend National Park.
The famous “Balanced Rock” formation in the Grapevine Hills section of Big Bend National Park. Image credit: Shutterstock by Dean Fikar.

Some areas may reach 115 degrees in the summer and are unbearable to visit. So, you’ll have the opportunity to visit parts of the park that you would otherwise not be able to see during other seasons.

Big Bend National Park encompasses 1,200 square miles of the most rugged country in the nation. Including adjacent preserved areas, 1.25 million acres of untamed wilderness stretch for 150 miles along the Rio Grande.

Related: Your Guide to National Parks in Texas 

The best national parks to visit in winter. Big Bend National Park. Balanced Rock.
Entrance to Santa Elena Canyon at sunrise, Big Bend National Park, Texas. Image credit: Shutterstock by Paul Leong.

Where to stay in Big Bend National Park 

Chisos Mountains Lodge

The only lodging available within Big Bend National Park is Chisos Mountains Lodge, nestled within the Chisos Basin at 5,400 feet elevation. The lodge offers various rooms and cottages, plus a gift shop, camper store, and dining room. The lodge is open year-round.

In 2020 the lodge may be closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Call Reservations Office at 877-386-4383 to make sure that the lodge is open!

Hotels outside the park 

You can find two hotels in Terlingua, Texas, close to Big Bend National park. 

7. Everglades National Park, Florida 

The Everglades are mild and pleasant from November through April, with low humidity and clear skies. Temperatures reach average highs of 77°F and lows of 53°F. Though strong cold fronts may occasionally create near freezing conditions, such events are rare in this subtropical climate.

The best national parks to visit in winter. An alligator at Everglades National Park.
You will see a lot of smiling faces at Everglades National Park.

Humidity is low and significant rainfall rare. Biting insects are uncommon unless you’re trekking into the heart of a wet hammock or mangrove labyrinth. As water levels drop during the dry season, large numbers of animals congregate around remnant water holes, making wildlife viewing an easy task. 

The best birding season is from December to March. You might see as many as 300 bird species. They concentrate mostly around the permanent bodies of water, which makes them quite easy to observe. The best time to view the birds is at sunrise. 

The best national parks to visit in winter. Roseate spoonbill in Everglades National Park.
Roseate spoonbills are my favorite birds in Everglades National Park.

Where to stay near Everglades 

There is no overnight lodging inside Florida’s Everglades National Park other than RV and tent camping. Small cities and towns border the park to the east and west and offer a variety of accommodations. 

Here are hotels in nearby communities:

Homestead – East of Everglades 

Florida City – East of Everglades 

Everglades City Hotels – West of Everglades National Park 

8. Biscayne National Park, Florida 

The park is situated in a subtropical climate, which ensures sunshine year-round. Winters are dry and mild, with occasional fronts bringing wind and little rain.

Biscayne is 95% underwater, meaning you need to go below the surface to truly experience it. To get around the park, you’ll need a watercraft of some sort, whether it’s your own or rented from a nearby company, 

Biscayne National Park encompasses coral reefs, islands, and shoreline mangrove forests in the northern Florida Keys. Its reefs and islands are accessible only by boat. Dolphins, turtles, and pelicans live in Biscayne Bay Lagoon. 

The best national parks to visit in winter. Biscayne National Park,
Lighthouse in Biscayne National Park, Florida. Image credit: Shutterstock by nyker

Recreational opportunities include fishing, boating, diving, snorkeling, paddling, hiking, camping, wildlife watching, cultural exploration, and the rare opportunity to experience largely undeveloped Florida Keys. 

The best national parks to visit in winter. Biscayne National Park, Florida.
Boca Chita Key in Biscayne National Park in Florida. Image credit: Shutterstock by National Parked.

Where to stay near Biscayne National Park 

There are two campgrounds in the park. Visit the camping page for details. There is no lodging inside the park, but there are plenty of places to stay close by.

Here are hotels in nearby communities:

Homestead – East of Everglades 

Florida City – east of Everglades 

9. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Another national park good to visit in winter is Congaree. This park lets you explore the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern U.S. Winter in the southeast means no humidity and no bugs, making it an ideal season to paddle, hike, or fish at the park.

The best national parks to visit in winter. Congaree National Park, South Carolina.
The swampy cypress forest of Congaree National Park in South Carolina on a misty, rainy day. Image credit: Shutterstock by Denton Rumsey

November through February remains mild, with average daytime temperatures reaching the mid 50’s. Nighttime temperatures can dip below freezing. Snow is not typical, though it can occur. Flooding is most frequent at this time of the year and can happen with little or no warning. It is best to be prepared with proper clothing and footwear.

The best national parks to visit in winter. Congaree National Park, South Carolina.
Boardwalk Trail in Congaree National Park in South Carolina. Image credit: Shutterstock by National Parked

Where to stay near Congaree National Park

Tent camping is the only form of overnight accommodation that is available at Congaree National Park. You will find plenty of hotels in the city of Columbia, approximately 20 minutes from the park.

Basic tips for traveling in winter 

The national parks above will let you escape winter, but first, you need to get there. Traveling in winter may present many challenges, including snowstorms. You have to be prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at you. 

Here are important things you should keep in your car when traveling in winter 

  • Sturdy ice scraper and snow brush. This is one of the most crucial things to keep in your car during winter. 
  • Collapsible Shovel. You will need it if your car is stuck in snow or if you have to clear a path to drive. 
  • Waterproof Windproof Outdoor Fleece Blanket. You will need it in case you get stranded or get into a crash. It’ll get cold fast, especially if your car won’t turn on.  
  • Emergency flares or reflectors. Snowstorms reduce visibility, whether it’s daytime or nighttime. Reflectors will help other cars, and emergency vehicles see you if you are stopped on the side of the road.
  • Portable cell phone charger and/or 6 USB Multi Ports Car Charger,
    Try to keep your phone charged before hitting the road, but always keep a cell phone charger in your car as well. You will need your phone to call for assistance if you are stuck or involved in a car crash.
  • Winter waterproof boots for women 
  • Water and non-perishable snacks. If you get stranded, you may have to wait for assistance. The wait could be long if road conditions are bad. Storing water and snacks in your car will come in handy in these situations.
  • Gloves and other winter clothing
  • Rock salt, sand, or kitty litter. These coarse materials will help your tires gain traction if your vehicle is stuck in the snow. Spread the material near your tires and in your car’s path to get out of a slippery situation.
  • First aid kit 
  • Extra windshield washer fluid. Make sure your windshield washer fluid has antifreeze components to prevent it from freezing. 
  • Jumper cables. Cold weather can affect a car’s battery. You can’t start your car if the battery’s dead, which means you won’t be able to use the car’s heater for warmth. 
  • Small auto repair tool kit. You can fix minor vehicle problems with basic tools. Learn how to perform simple maintenance yourself, so you don’t have to wait for help.

These are all essential things to keep in your car during winter, but before you even hit the road, make sure you have gas and good wiper blades. Always keep a half-full tank of gas in your car during winter months and check that your wiper blades are in working order. You may also want to look into getting snow tires. 

You may also like:

Things to do in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Things to do in Arches National Park, Utah 

Why Utah Is the Best State for Nature Lovers. Arches National Park at sunset.

The Ultimate Itinerary for Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks

Morning Glory Pool in Yellowstone.

Spring in Great Smoky Mountains National Park 

Colorado National Monument, Colorado  

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