8 of the Best Winter Adventures in National Parks
After a record-breaking 330 million park visitors in 2016, national parks have become an increasingly popular vacation destination. The summer season tends to draw the most crowds, and the past few summers have gotten so busy that the NPS is considering a reservation system to help maintain the pristine nature of our most popular parks and their delicate ecosystems.
But the good news is that national parks are open year round, so if you want to avoid the crowds and see incredible landscapes, winter is the time to go. Whether you want to escape the cold or embrace it, there’s something to do at a national park this winter. Here are eight of the best adventures around the country.
Be sure to check for up-to-date conditions as many northern or higher-elevation locations have reduced access during winter months. If you plan to head into the backcountry, be sure to have the survival skills and safety knowledge, otherwise stick to the safer areas!
1. Ski or Snowboard in Yosemite National Park, California
Skill level : All
Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area (formerly known as Badger Pass) is one of only three lift-serviced ski areas in the U.S. National Park System, so it should definitely be on your winter bucket list. You’ll find 10 runs in a variety of beginner, intermediate, and more challenging terrain. Cross-country ski trails round out your exploration of this area in Yosemite. When you’re ready to take a break from the snow, grab a meal and hot drink at the on-site lodge.
2. Take a Guided Horseback Tour in Death Valley National Park, California
Skill Level : None for group tours, experience required for private rides
Due to the extreme summer heat, winter is the only time of year that you can take a horseback tour through Death Valley. Furnace Creek Stables runs their rides out of the Oasis at Death Valley (formerly Furnace Creek Resort), and takes visitors around the desert floor, into nearby canyons, and across the surrounding foothills. Knowledgeable guides talk about the history and geology of this fascinating park from the way it was first discovered—on horseback.
3. Cross-Country Ski in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Skill level : Beginner to advanced trails
Both groomed and untracked ski trailscriss-cross Yellowstone’s snow-covered valleys and plateaus. You’ll likely see bison, foxes, elk—you might even get lucky and spot a wolf. Blacktail Plateau is a popular route, clocking in at eight miles across varied terrain, including open plateaus and quiet woods. Mammoth and Old Faithful remain open throughout winter, and employees are there to rent out equipment and answer questions. These locations are open thanks to the hardworking NPS road crew, but access is weather-dependant and some passes will be closed.
4. Paddle the Kayak and Canoe Trails in Everglades National Park, Florida
Skill Level : Basic boating skills, navigation skills depending on route
With few(er) bugs, 70-degree temperatures, and plenty of birdwatching, Everglades National Park is the ideal winter destination for folks looking for a different side of Florida than Disney or beachside resorts. With multiple launch points and options for distances—including multi-day itineraries—the abundance of boat trails here make it easy to explore the Everglades. You can bring their own boat, rent one on location, or opt for a guided trip, depending on your paddling skill level.
Note: Parts of the park have been closed as of early October 2016 due to Hurricane Irma damage, but restoration is currently underway, so check the park’s website when planning your trip.
5. Get Vertical on Ice Climbing Routes in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Skill Level : Ice climbing gear and experience required unless accompanied by guide
While the summer might be all about hiking, Rocky Mountain National Park becomes an ice climbing destination every winter thanks to some of the most consistent ice in the country. The majority of routes form each year with high-quality ice and a variety of climbs for all skill levels. Hidden Falls is a good place to start, with relatively easy access and everything from warm-up to advanced options. Guided trips are available through the American Alpine Institute. (You might even run into Marmot athlete Pete Takeda while you’re there!)
6. Backcountry Ski to Pear Lake Winter Hut in Sequoia National Park, California
Skill Level : Difficult, backcountry ski skills required
Situated in the middle of the snow-covered Sierra Nevada in Sequoia National Park, this slice of winter paradise has room for you and nine of your best adventure buddies. The trek to the hut is strenuous, and you’ll encounter 2,300 feet of elevation gain over six miles. The hut is open from December to April (though it’s still weather dependent), and you have to pre-register or enter the lottery to snag a spot. Pre-registration for this year is closed, but keep checking back—remaining openings are available on first-come, first-served basis. Many also opt to ski and in and camp near the hut, then hang out inside and warm up. The rustic beauty and remoteness make it worth the effort.
7. Take an Overnight Hike in the Desert in Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Skill Level : Easy to strenuous, depending on hike
Summer temps in Saguaro National Park can exceed 100 degrees on a regular basis, but winter days hover in the mid-60s with nights in the 40s—perfect for backpacking. Camping is allowed at six designated backcountry sites, but you must reserve sites in advance and get a wilderness permit. The closest campsite is Douglas Spring, a six-mile hike from the trailhead.
8. Go on a Guided Snowshoe Tour in Glacier National Park, Montana
Skill level : Some level of physical fitness
Winter promises to be a quiet time in Glacier, and seeing this stunning landscape during the snow-covered months is something you won’t soon forget. Two-hour guided tours run out of the Apgar area on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the winter season. Led by knowledgeable park rangers, the tour often includes animal track sightings of some of the 70-plus species of mammals that call the area home (many of them are active all winter!). There is no lodging in the park during the winter, but staying in nearby towns offers another magical Montana experience.
Anytime you’re heading out for a winter adventure, you’ll want to make sure that you have your layering system down. Be sure to pick up a moisture-wicking baselayer and an insulated jacket to keep you warm and dry no matter where you end up.
Originally written by RootsRated for Marmot.