The 5 Best US National Parks to Visit During the Winter

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Photo: Andrew Ling

It seems like every summer, the US National Parks get busier and busier. Here are five of the best National Parks in the United States to visit this Winter, to get away from the crowds.

1. Denali National Park (Alaska)

Denali National park is one of the wildest places left in the world. With over 6 million acres of protected wilderness and only one stretch of 90 mile road in the park, it sure is a special place. With around 600,000 visitors a year, it remains one of the lesser visited National Parks (for reference, Glacier National Park came in at number 10 with 3 million visitors in 2019, and Great Smoky Mountains National park came in at number 1, with 12.5 million visitors in 2019.

In the winter, Denali is a winter wonderland with the first 15 miles of the 90-mile park road, open. After the 15 mile mark, you can cross-country ski if you are feeling adventerous. Take your chance at seeing a pack of wolves (hopefully in the distance) or a herd of elk/deer. Rest easy knowing the bears are in hibernation during this time.

If you do decide to venture deep into the park, make sure you plan and are prepared properly as temperatures will almost always be below freezing. However, it will be one of the few places on earth you can truly be alone with pure solitude.

No matter what you choose, Alaska is one of the best places to visit in the winter if you're looking to get away from the crowds. Keep in mind to plan for several days here. Weather is always unpredictable in Denali National Park, but even more so in the winter. Even in the summer, it is said that 60% of visitors don't see the mountain (even in the distance) because of the weather/not being clear.

Good luck! (This is one of my personal favorites).

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Photo: National Park Service

2. Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Grand Canyon National Park was the second most visited National Park in 2019, with nearly 6 million visitors. However, the winter is a different story. However, it can get surprisingly cold with freezing temperatures, so come prepared!

Note the countless activities here! Many of the photos you may have seen online are usually from common viewpoints/pullouts that are easily accessible (which are great). However, dig deeper and you will find a plethora of activities such as hiking down to the bottom to the Colorado River, etc.

Careful near the rim of the canyon as injuries and even deaths have increased in the recent years dramatically.

Tip: catch a sunrise or sunset as the light illuminates the rim of the canyon!

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Photo: National Park Service

3. Yellowstone National Park (Montana, and Wyoming)

Yellowstone is famous for being so busy that there are literal traffic jams throughout the park roads in the summer. However, come in the wintertime and you will find a completely different world. Several of the main roads are closed to vehicles, and open only to snowcoach or snowmobiles. Some major roads through the park remain open to vehicles still as well! Make sure to research and plan in advance!

If winter is not quite your cup of tea, plan to visit on opening day in the spring! When the lakes thaw out, there will often be animal carcasses that appear (from heavy bison/elk, etc. falling through half frozen ponds in the early season). These will be perfect/amazing spots to see wolves and bears come to feed/stay near the carcasses, often for days at a time. Make sure to stay the minimum required distance away from these animals however.

Tip: bring binoculars! Animals such as wolves and bears (if they are coming out of hibernation in spring) can often be miles and miles away!

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Photo: National Park Service

4. Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

Although the north side of the mountain (Sunrise Visitor Center) is closed for the winter season, Paradise (southern side) is still open! Paradise is a great area to spend the day snowshoeing, with a great view of Mount Rainier!

There are still several hikes in this area in the winter that are open/available (skis or snowshoes recommended later in the season). The park offers ranger-guided snowshoe walks (check their website for scheduling) as well as snowplay areas for sledding/sliding for kids!

The snowshoe walks guided by rangers usually cover approximately 2 miles in 2 hours, a great pace for beginners. Be sure to bring proper equipment for an enjoyable experience. Snowshoes are provided by the park with an optional $5.00 donation. Bring a hat, mittens/gloves, suitable boots, sunscreen, and sunglasses. And of course, warm clothing! (Dress in layers!).

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Photo: National Park Service

5. Yosemite National Park (California)

Even though the famous Glacier Point Road is closed for the winter season, Yosemite is still a great National Park to visit to escape the summer crowds. Spend time exploring Yosemite Valley for an entirely unique and fun experience!

Note the Tioga Road/Pass is closed (usually sometime in November). Once closed for the season, vehicles are not permitted between Tioga Pass and Crane Flat, including the Tuolumne Meadows area. The road to Glacier Point usually closes also sometime in November.

Usually from mid-December through early April, the Glacier Point Road is actually plowed to the Badger Pass Ski area, where both downhill and cross-country skiing are popular. Note that tire chains are often required on park roads.

Enjoy!

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