Winter is an extremely underrated time to visit national parks, but we understand why. For the casual camper, huddling into a sleeping bag on a cold night doesn’t have much appeal. When you’re “camping” with Cabana, the heater, hot shower, and queen mattress allow you to comfortably explore so much more, from the High Desert of California to the Northwest mountain ranges.
Why visit national parks in the winter? For most of these areas, winter is their “low season,” and when tourism slows, you can more fully enjoy the quiet beauty of nature. Instead of shuffling along with hundreds of others on popular trails or setting an alarm for months ahead to snag a campsite in the park, you’ll experience more solitude, the spontaneity of first-come first-served campgrounds, and majestic winter views.
Here are the 8 national parks that will make your winter one to remember.
1. Saguaro National Park
We think Saguaro National Park is underrated year-round. Although winter is technically the busy season here, you probably won’t see the same crowds as some of the other desert parks. Here you’ll find mild temperatures, sunny days, and the unique cacti found only in Arizona and Mexico. If you’re looking for an escape from the cold, Saguaro is the place to start. In fact, much of Arizona is ideal in the winter, so add Saguaro to your extended desert exploration.
2. Bryce Canyon
Utah is one of our favorite destinations for winter travel, and it’s hard to choose between Utah’s Mighty 5. As long as you’re prepared for winter hiking conditions, all of Utah’s parks are stunning winter landscapes, and the lack of summer crowds make them that much more enticing. If we have to choose, the unique rock layers in Bryce Canyon make it a standout. With the white snow atop the red rocks and the evergreens along the trails, this park is certainly worth braving the cold. In addition to the usual snowshoeing and skiing, there is the Bryce Canyon Winter Festival in February, with classes and activities like archery, skiing, yoga, and even cookie decorating.
3. Grand Teton National Park
If you’re heading east out of Washington, grab your snow chains and go to Grand Teton National Park. For nature photographers, wildlife enthusiasts, and winter sport participants, the Grand Tetons are full of opportunity. You can snowshoe or cross country ski across Teton Park Road, take a private photography tour, and even go ice fishing on Jackson Lake. For the adventurous but less experienced, there are guided tours for skiing and snowshoeing. Make sure you are prepared for winter weather before you go; the National Park Service has great resources to start.
4. North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park probably doesn’t come to mind when you think of winter travel, but only a small portion of the road through the park closes. In the winter, you can take a scenic drive to Diablo Lake, snowshoe to Ross Dam, and enjoy what will likely be undisturbed time in nature, because this park is very underrated.
5. Olympic National Park
If you’re not usually on the hunt for winter fun, you might be surprised by how much there is to do in Olympic National Park in the winter. The peninsula is our most popular destination year-round, and the diverse terrain provides something for everyone. Where else can you ski, explore a rainforest, and walk along the beach all in one weekend? The road to Hurricane Ridge is only plowed on weekends, so plan to fit your skiing, snowshoeing, and tubing in Friday - Sunday. During the week, experience the Hoh Rainforest at the rainiest time of the year for lush greenery and enchanting trails.
6. Crater Lake
Oregon’s national park is a stunning summer spot, but the activities in the (long) snowy season make it a winter wonderland. You can downhill or cross country ski, snowboard, snowshoe on your own or with a guide, and snowmobile. Crater Lake receives an average of 42 feet of snow per year, and the winter activities will last from November to May. The lake itself is only visible about 50% of the time, so check out the webcam before you go.
7. Death Valley National Park
A winter national park list wouldn’t be complete without including the hottest place in the world. Death Valley is actually at its most popular in the spring, but in the winter you’ll have cool weather, otherworldly views, and (aside from holiday weekends) surprisingly few crowds. If you’ve ever thought to yourself “seen one desert, seen them all,” Death Valley will quickly change your mind. From the salt flats to the sand dunes to Devil’s Golf Course, you’ll be amazed by how much this one park holds.
8. Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is another desertscape that grows in popularity as the weather cools. As the closest national park to LA, Joshua Tree is an extremely popular escape from the city. It’s also a hot spot for rock climbers and boulderers. Whether you’re packing climbing gear, rising for a sunrise hike, or hoping to get an awesome Instagram photo, Joshua Tree is a perfect go-to.
If you're ready to hit the road and never look back, we have good news: Cabana's one way trips are back!
Hoping to cross quite a few of these natural beauties off your bucket list? Turn your Cabana trip into an Extended Stay, and take $1,000 off your 21-30 day winter travel.