Best National Parks to Visit in Winter

Best National Parks to Visit in Winter: Orange, red, and blue sky hovers over cacti in Joshua Tree National Park - one of the best national parks in California.

From deserts to mangrove swamps to volcanoes, these four parks offer countless attractions to winter visitors

Konnichi wa / Great Outdoors / Spring 2019

While taking a road trip to a national park is a summer tradition in the United States and much of North America, many vacationers might best enjoy some of these parks during the winter. The best national parks to visit in winter include Big Bend National Park in Texas, Everglades National Park in Florida, Joshua Tree National Park in California, and Haleakala National Park in Hawaii. If you're ready to shake off the winter blues with some sunshine, or if you're already in a warm-weather destination and looking for adventure, consider these options.

National Parks in Florida: Everglades National Park

Sun sets over Everglades National Park - one of the best national parks in Florida.

One of the best national parks in Florida is less than an hour's drive from Miami, making it a worthy day-trip destination for winter snowbirds. The best time to visit Everglades National Park, this unique ecosystem of mangrove swamps and sawgrass prairies, is from the middle of December through the middle of April, which is the area's dry season. Explore the park by car, on a boardwalk trail, on a cruise to the Ten Thousand Islands, on a hike guided by a park ranger, or by canoe. If you're lucky, you'll spot some of the park's signature wildlife, such as alligators, manatees, and many types of birds.

National Parks in Texas: Big Bend National Park

Road runs through jagged rocks with trees lining either side in Big Bend National Park in Texas.

One of the best national parks in Texas is Big Bend National Park. As its name suggests, Big Bend National Park is located where the Rio Grande River makes a sharp turn to the northeast in southern Texas. About 200 miles south of the city of Odessa, Big Bend entices hikers and road trippers with diverse desert landscapes in remote areas that offer plenty of elbow room. Big Bend also has excellent bird-watching opportunities year-round, with more than 400 species sighted in the park. There are RV and tent campgrounds within the park, as well as the Chisos Mountain Lodge, a hotel for those who don't want to rough it. You should, however, make winter reservations for the lodge and campground well in advance. The park is open year-round, but summer months can be brutally hot, which makes the cold-weather winter months ideal for visiting.

National Parks in California: Joshua Tree National Park

Person on top of rock shines light into night sky in Joshua Tree National Park - one of the best national parks in California.

A stone's throw from the resort town of Palm Springs, one of the best national parks in California is Joshua Tree National Park. Joshua Tree National Park draws mountain bikers, hikers, rock climbers, and lovers of the sunshine and clear desert skies. The park straddles two different ecosystems of "high" and "low" desert. The ecosystems have different climates and landscapes, and you'll see the contrast between the two areas on a drive through the park. You can also explore formations of huge rocks, hike to hidden oases, and enjoy vivid sunsets and panoramic vistas at Keys View. At night, the park's star-studded skies dazzle visitors. Bring warm clothes, as Joshua Tree can get chilly during winter nights, especially at higher elevations.

National Parks in Hawaii: Haleakala National Park

Sun sets over clouds at Haleakala National Park in Maui - one of the best national parks in Hawaii

If you're on the Hawaiian island of Maui, one of the best national parks in Hawaii is Haleakala National Park. Named after the volcano that dominates the eastern side of the island - Haleakala National Park is well worth a visit. The park has two sections: the summit of Haleakala and the Kipahulu area on the island's east side. Many visitors to the national park enjoy seeing the sunrise from atop the barren summit of the volcano. From there, you can explore the mountain's unique landscapes and plants on a short walk or overnight hiking trip. The Kipahulu zone contains lush tropical forests, natural pools, and waterfalls. Because it's in a remote region of the island, you should visit the Kipahulu part of the park on a full-day or overnight trip. Although Hawaii's coastal areas remain warm year-round, weather on Haleakala's summit can be chilly, and rain is possible at any time of the year.

Wrapping-Up: The Best National Parks in Winter

River runs through stark, steep rock formations at Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park - one of the best national parks in Texas.

Of course, there are other great national parks to visit in winter, too: like Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, Death Valley National Park and Yosemite National Park in California, Yellowstone National Park (with hot springs) in Wyoming, Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park in Washington, Biscayne National Park (with coral reefs) in Florida, and Acadia National Park in Maine. All of these parks are a virtual winter wonderland in winter months. Many of them offer ample opportunity for cross-country skiing, hiking on hiking trails, wildlife viewing, and other winter activities that are popular this time of year.

The Grand Canyon is particularly worth calling out as it has reasonable daytime temperatures, magnificent red rocks, and excellent views from the south rim and north rim. Also, Yosemite National Park offers a ski area, incredible views of Half Dome from Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point, and plenty of white snow to enjoy on cold, winter days.

While Big Bend National Park is unquestionably one of the best national parks in Texas and perhaps one of the best national parks in the US (see Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend above), it's clear that the other parks have quite a bit to offer as well, especially in winter. From deserts in Big Bend to mangrove swamps in the Everglades to volcanoes in Haleakala, as well as a variety of plant and animal life, these are some of the best national parks that offer countless attractions to winter visitors.

Looking for more on the best national parks to visit in winter and other outdoor activities? Try these:

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”

— John Muir

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