Best National Parks to Visit over the Winter Season
America’s national parks are some of the most beautiful natural places you can find. While many opt to visit them in the spring, summer, and early fall seasons, when the weather is warm and mild, most are actually open year round. While there may be less to specifically do in the winter and the off seasons, these parks are just as beautiful and often much less crowded in the wintertime. In addition, there is a unique and special beauty that comes with seeing the parks dusted in snow during a time period when many folks wouldn’t think to visit.
Here, we’ll discuss all the best parks to visit in the winter and the places and activities you will want to see and try when you are there. We’ll also discuss where to stay in your RV and whether or not there are any nearby and open campgrounds during the winter months. Pack your bags and prepare for some wintry travel with us!
1. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is truly special all year long. However, there is something especially spectacular about the bright orange spires (called hoodoos) when they are covered in snow. Nestled deep in a canyon, the contrast of colors is unique and stunning, and it makes for both beautiful scenery and incredible photography opportunities. In the winter, most of Bryce Canyon remains open, with just some seasonal and occasional weather-related closures. Popular snowy activities here include snowshoeing, cross country skiing, hiking (with the right boots!), backpacking, photography, and astronomy.
If you are looking for somewhere nearby to stay in your RV, keep in mind that, within park boundaries, North Campground stays open year-round. In addition, there are also plenty of public lands camping opportunities nearby.
2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park just so happens to be America’s most-visited national park. Because its peaks are between 5,000 and 6,600 feet in height, the winters here tend to be somewhat more mild than many of the other mountainous regions of America. While visitors can expect wintry conditions at least a few dozen times each season, the snow does thaw in between storms, meaning you may or may not see the mountains dusted in white powder during a winter visit. In the winter, many folks tend to enjoy hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing, as well as camping and auto touring.
If you are traveling to Great Smoky Mountains in your RV over the winter, Cades Cove Campground remains open year round. They accept reservations, but these may or may not be necessary in the slow season.
3. Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park may just be one of the most diverse and spectacular parks in the United States. Located on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, Olympic visitors can find stunning coastal regions, mountains, rainforests, valleys, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, and so much more! While you will likely find snow in the mountains here during a winter visit, the coastal and rainforest regions actually tend to be quite wet and rainy. However, in many ways, this offers the opportunity to see these temperate rainforests and the Pacific Ocean in one of their truest forms. After all, the yearly rainfall is what makes these areas so gorgeous and lush.
In the winter, guests tend to enjoy various activities, depending on the region(s) that they choose to visit. Up in the mountains, visitors typically go snowshoeing, cross-country or downhill skiing, tubing, hiking, and snowboarding. In the rainforest and coastal areas, park guests typically hike, sightsee, and go for scenic drives.
If you are bringing your RV along for the journey, there are a few campgrounds that remain open in the inter season. Graves Creek Campground can be found in the Quinault Rainforest, while Hoh Campground can be found in the Hoh Rainforest. Heart o’ the Hills Campground is open year round but is only open to foot traffic during snowfall. Near the coast, Kalaloch Campground, Mora Campground, and Ozette Campground stay open in the winter for RVs and tents. Finally, in the valley and forest regions of the park, guests can choose between North Fork Campground and Staircase Campground for overnight accommodations.
4. Acadia National Park
Found in coastal Maine, Acadia National Park is truly one-of-a-kind all year long. In the winter, only two sections of the park remain open: to motorized traffic Ocean Drive and Jordan Pond Road. Ocean Drive is a two-mile-long route that travels beside the ocean and offers amazing views, while Jordan Pond Road is another short scenic drive. As far as activities go, winter park guests tend to enjoy hiking, cross country skiing and snowboarding, ice fishing, wildlife viewing, and dog sledding. While much of the park remains closed in the winter, seeing the stunning, rocky coastline covered in a fresh blanket of snow is reward enough.
For camping, unfortunately none of Acadia’s campgrounds remain open in the winter. However, there are a few nearby private camping options, as well as some Harvest Hosts locations and Boondockers Welcome hosts. Be sure to reserve or confirm a campsite before making the trek here!
5. Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is truly the place for winter enjoyment. As the name suggests, it is tucked deep into the upper portions of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, just about ninety miles north of Denver. Because of the harsh winters and deep snows this park experiences between November and March, many of the main roads stay closed through the season. However, some areas remain open seasonally, while many of the areas around Estes Park remain open, as well. Popular winter activities here include snowshoeing (either self-guided or with a ranger), sledding, skiing, hiking, and wildlife viewing. The winter season in particular is a great time to see elk, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep, and a variety of other, smaller animals.
When visiting Rocky Mountain in your RV, you will find that only Moraine Campground stays open in the winter months. However, there are also plenty of dispersed RV camping opportunities in the areas surrounding the national park.
6. Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is one of the only parks whose main scenic drive stays open in the winter season! While it may be closed occasionally due to icy or hazardous conditions, it is typically plowed within a few days after each storm. If you do decide to drive Skyline Drive in the winter, you should come prepared. Plan to travel with food, blankets, and a full gas tank, as there are no open services along this lengthy road. However, you should also be prepared for epic views and incredible hiking opportunities! In addition to hiking, photography and snowshoeing are also popular wintertime activities in Shenandoah.
Unfortunately, none of Shenandoah’s campgrounds remain open in the winter. However, there are a few private campgrounds that stay open, as well as some opportunities for boondocking with local hosts.
7. Mount Rainier National Park
Last but not least, Mount Rainier National Park is gorgeous in the wintertime! While many of the park’s roads close in the winter, the roads from Nisqually to Longmire and from Longmire to Paradise remain open when not experiencing heavy snowfall. Otherwise, the park remains open to foot traffic all year long. Popular winter activities include the standard snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and hiking, as well as snowmobiling and general exploring. Many people enjoy photographing the stunning Mount Rainier in the winter, as well.
The wildlife is particularly active during the winter, making wildlife watching and photography another popular wintertime activity. Like many of the other parks, Mount Rainier’s campgrounds are not open in the winter. However, there are several private campgrounds available outside the park, as well as plenty more camping opportunities in nearby city Seattle.
Wintertime offers national park visitors a chance to see the parks as many never do. There is something so serene about a national park in the quiet winter, especially in the aftermath of fresh snowfall. This is such a unique experience, and any of these seven parks would make an excellent choice for a winter RV destination. Be sure to plan everything out well before heading out, and happy trails!
Have you ever visited a national park in the winter? How did you like it? Would you visit again in the winter? Feel free to share all about the topic in the comments below!
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The best winter camping I’ve done was at Everglades National Park!!!
What a wonderful trip, I stayed at the Flamingo campground, the Southernmost one -it has AT&T coverage-
The norther Campground has Verizon.
I ventured down to Key West on a day trip and loved it!
I am surprised that Big Bend national park isn’t on the list. Its very south Texas and warmer than the parks listed in the article. Average temperature in December is 60 day/ 40 night
Glacier National Park is also a must-see in winter. Pre-Covid you could take a ranger-led snowshoeing tour and rent snowshoes there for $2. Not sure if they’ve resumed that. Closed roads can be hiked, snowshoed, or skied. Truly a winter wonderland!
Big Bend was amazing in my experience! It snowed in the Chisos Basin, but was long sleeve comfortable down below.
Hot Springs NP is also a great place to visit in winter. Winter weather affects travel less than 5% of the time. There are occasionally ice or snow events but roads are usually clear within a few days.
I am surprised you did not mention some of the southern national parks where the weather is conducive year around and often more pleasant during the winter. For example, South Florida has three national parks at is Southern tip, Everglades, Biscayne, and Dry Tortugas. All great options for winter visits. Camping is available in the Everglades year-round and you can visit Biscayne from there.
I think the point of this article was to list parks that are good for experiencing winter scenery and activities, not for avoiding it. LOL