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The Best National Parks to Visit in Winter with Kids

An adult walks with a child while pulling another child on a sled, snow covered mountains stand in the background.
Photo Couresy: Hernan Pintera

Looking for an outdoor family vacation this winter? Why not check out one of the best national parks in winter with kids? These national parks are the perfect escape from indoor activities, giving kids space to run around. In fact, December, January, February are actually perfect months to explore these national parks with your family! Use this guide to discover our community-recommended family-friendly national parks – and why you’ll love them too! Some of these destinations have snow on the ground and will require coats and thoughtful cold-weather preparation. While others, like the Everglades and Big Bend National Park in Texas, are simply better when explored during the winter months. You’ll find we’ve even uncovered the best underground national park which offers consistent temperatures year-round. Using suggestions from our Facebook group, we’ve gathered and listed all the reasons why these are the best national parks to visit this winter

Best Southeast National Parks in the Winter with Kids

Grab a coat and head to the best Southeast National Parks in winter for families! Here, you’ll be glad you stepped outside to experience the wonder of some of the more beautiful natural lands in the United States. Exploring the outdoors year-round offers opportunities to see nature in a new way. Plus, we all need the occasional break from being inside for too long!

Shenandoah National Park, VA

A solo hiker wearing a blue coat walks along a path at the Shenandoah National Park, one of the best national parks in Winter with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Patrick Mueller

When the leaves fall from the trees at Shenandoah National Park, families find incredible views of the valley floor. Your kids will delight in hiking and stopping at overlooks, where you can see for miles and miles. It’s no surprise that the best hiking options will be on the Appalachian Trail, which you can access from the park’s entrances. Of course, there are other hiking trails open during the winter too. In fact, Shenandoah National Park has more than 500 miles of hiking trails! If you want to take a wintery drive through natural beauty in the winter, turn on your holiday music and enjoy Skyline Drive. This gorgeous drive runs through Shenandoah National Park and is the only road inside the park. You’ll find that it runs north/south and has four entrance stations. This route stays open throughout the winter and only closes when snow makes it unsafe. 

Mammoth Cave National Park, KY

A dad wearing his young infant on his chest stand next to the Visitor Center sign for Mammoth Cave National Park during the winter.
Photo Courtesy: Joe Shlabotnik

Did you know that Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the world? In fact, your family can explore this natural wonder of labyrinths even when it’s cold outside! If you’re wondering why you should visit Mammoth Cave National Park in the winter, it’s because the underground cave temperatures stay around 54 degrees year-round. While the temperature around the entrance may hover around freezing, you can briefly escape to a warmer climate! When you visit, take a tour led by a knowledgeable guide. The national park changes its schedule based on the season, but don’t worry, you’ll get to choose the perfect tour for your family. Your tour will likely take you into one of the cave’s gigantic chambers or past The Frozen Niagara, an incredible natural formation. No matter which part of Mammoth Cave National Park you explore, this is simply the best underground national park for kids!

Best Florida National Parks in Winter with Kids

Families may think of amusement parks and beaches when they think of Florida, but the reality is that there is so much more to explore in the state. You’ll find that winter is the premiere time for hiking and outdoor activities (that don’t involve beaches or Disney!) Here are the best Florida national parks for families to visit this winter. 

Everglades National Park, FL

An alligator rests in a small pond in the Evergaldes National Park.
Photo Courtesy: Jaroen Hamers

Winter is the busiest time of the year at Everglades National Park, and for good reason. Families will love that temperatures are not sweltering! In fact, you’ll also avoid the blood-sucking mosquitoes. In addition, there are hiking trails of varying distances your family can meander through diverse scenery. As one of the best national parks in winter for kids, Everglades National Park offers families the opportunity to canoe through mangroves while looking for migrating birds, manatees, and, of course, Florida’s infamous alligators! Everglades National Park is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles coexist. Basically, the winter months in Florida bring less rain and that leads to more animals venturing out and gathering at water holes, where your family will have a blast spotting them! From October through April, don’t miss the ranger-led tours. Before departure, check the Everglades National Park website for the tour schedules.

Dry Tortugas National Park, FL 

An aerial view of Dry Tortugas National Park, one of the best national parks in Winter with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Matthew Dillon

You’ll need to plan in advance to visit Dry Tortugas National Park, but the effort will be highly rewarded. This 100 square mile park comprises 7 islands and open water. Located in the Gulf of Mexico, 70 miles from Key West, it can only be accessed by the daily ferry, private boat, or seaplane. Upon arrival, your family can choose from an array of things to do, including snorkeling through coral reefs and shipwrecks and exploring Fort Jefferson. Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the best national parks in winter because, similar to the Everglades, the temperatures are comfortable and hurricane season is over. However, winter storms may still happen, so be flexible when planning your family trip. There are no commercial businesses in the park, which means you’ll need to bring all the food and water you’ll need for your vacation with you to the island. 

Best Southwest National Parks in Winter with Kids

It’s hard to choose the best Southwest national parks in winter because there are so many popular ones in this area! These beloved national parks offer dramatic rocky landscapes and warmer weather. They are great to visit any time of the year, but when you visit in the winter, you’ll find truly special experiences in these locations.

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

A parent and two small children wearing winter gear stand in the snow within Bryce Canyon National Park, one of the best national parks in Winter with kids.
Photo Courtesy: Balu

Rock spires, known as hoodoos, rise out of the landscape at Bryce Canyon National Park. In the winter, ice and snow stand in stark contrast between the red rock formations and the evergreen trees. While the weather may be a bit chilly, families can bundle up and explore to their heart’s content! Don your winter boots, as families will find many winter activities in this picturesque setting. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are favorite activities to do at Bryce Canyon National Park in winter. Even if you don’t have your own snowshoes, you’ll find them available for use within the park. Then, in February, around President’s Day weekend, the annual Winter Festival is held. Families will adore this special event held within the park! In partnership with Ruby’s Inn, family-friendly activities are scheduled for visitors. If you are a snow-lover you’ll want to plan your trip here just for the festival. 

Zion National Park, UT

A view of a snow-covered land and river within Zion National Park, with snow-capped desert mountains in the distance.
Photo Courtesy: Mac H

Utah’s first national park, Zion National Park is also one of the best national parks in winter for kids. Despite its extreme popularity during the summer peak season, the winter season offers a relatively quiet life at Zion National Park. While some of the trails may occasionally be closed due to snow and ice, the most popular ones are usually open and are protected because they are lower in elevation. Visitors in the winter love that temperatures are relatively mild. However, you’ll still want to prepare your family by wearing layers in preparation for temperature fluctuations. Hit the winter trails of Zion National Park to find a solitary experience in nature, fresh air, and amazing scenery. During your visit to Zion National Park in winter, your kids can also spot wildlife. Wild turkeys roam freely in the park. Additionally, you also may spot golden or bald eagles flying overhead!

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ 

Two kids wearing winter gear, hats, and sunglasses smile with an expansive view of Grand Canyon National Park behind them.
Photo Courtesy: Diane Oliveira

Although the north rim closes in the fall, your family can still visit the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park during the winter months. Sunny afternoons and smaller crowds will provide the perfect setting over the canyon! For miles, you can explore one of the best national parks in winter for families at your own pace. If it snows during your visit, don’t worry about driving from site to site. Two of the park’s shuttle routes continue to run throughout the winter, transporting you to favorite observation points. On the other hand, if the roads are clear, you can drive your personal vehicle to sites only accessible through park shuttles at other times of the year. Then, there are several short hikes perfect for families. Note, some trails, like the popular South Rim Trail, are not cleared of snow and ice in the winter.

Best Great Plains National Parks in Winter with Kids

The Great Plains region extends from the northern to the southern borders of the United States. While this means a wide variety of temperatures for winter visits, it also means families have a plethora of geographic landforms and ecosystems to choose from. From the extreme heat of Texas to the extreme snow and cold in the north, we’ve found the best great plains national parks in winter for families.

Big Bend National Park, TX

A young girl takes a picture of an expansive view of Big Bend National Park, featuring large rock mountains and sparse foliage.
Photo Courtesy: Jon Cutrer

West Texas blazes in the summer heat, making a visit to Big Bend National Park challenging. Winter is the best, and the busiest time, for people to visit here. Still, don’t let the projected crowds scare you away. Simply plan and make lodging reservations in advance! Alongside hiking, stargazing, and breath-taking scenery, Big Bend National Park offers a rare delight for fossil enthusiasts. The Fossil Discovery Exhibit will fascinate kids, especially aspiring paleontologists. When you visit, learn about fossils and their geologic time periods. In fact, you can even see fossils in the wild! Then, take advantage of a second unique opportunity at Big Bend National Park. Because the park borders Mexico for more than 100 miles, there is a border crossing here. When societal and health environments are favorable, it’s possible to include a day-trip to Boquillos, Mexico by crossing the Rio Grande at Big Bend National Park.

Yellowstone National Park, WY

The sign for Yellowstone National Park covered in snow.
Photo Courtesy: Nick Photos

Spread over nearly 3,500 miles, Yellowstone National Park is mostly located in Wyoming. Summers are crowded at Yellowstone National Park, making a winter visit idea for those hoping for smaller crowds. It’s worth noting that most of Yellowstone’s roads close in early November. The exception is the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and Cooke City, a 51 mile stretch at the north end, where you can access the park. Once inside, you’ll find that snowmobiles and snow coaches use the roads to shuttle visitors from place to place. Yellowstone National Park is known for its geysers, namely Old Faithful, and the cold clear winter air provides a perfect backdrop to view the regular steam bursts. Don’t forget about wildlife viewing! In the winter all of the non-hibernating animals move into the valley. During your winter visit, you’ll even have an incredible chance to view the well-known Lamar Valley wolves. 

Best California National Parks in Winter with Kids

With nine national parks in total, California offers families the most national parks in the United States. It’s no surprise then that we’d include a couple of our favorites for your family to visit this winter. There is so much diversity in the state’s landscape that once your family starts exploring the best California national parks in winter for families, you won’t want to stop!

Death Valley National Park, CA

The sparse landscape of Death Valley National Park, one of the best national parks in Winter with kids, with some hikers in the distance.
Photo Courtesy: Maria Carolina Montenegro

While the ground in Death Valley National Park might not quite cook an egg, it is the hottest place on earth. If you want to visit the land of extremes, winter is the best time to come with your family. Whether you have half a day or can stay longer, you’ll be amazed at the stark winter beauty of Death Valley National Park. Here, marvel at snow-capped mountains surrounding the desert. Camping in Death Valley National Park during the winter is a special treat too. You’ll have a front-row view when the sky comes alive at night! In fact, the park is certified as an International Dark Sky Park. Snuggle up with your kiddos and a cup of hot cocoa as you view the night sky without light pollution. Finally, attend the Death Valley Dark Sky Festival in February/March for educational sessions and demonstrations you won’t find anywhere else. 

Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Inside Joshua Tree National Park, one of the best national parks in Winter with kids, snow-capped Joshua trees and rocky landmarks dot the foreground.
Photo Courtesy: Joshua Tree National Park

A Dr. Seuss-esque Joshua Tree dots the landscape of Joshua Tree National Park. Those visiting during a snowfall will marvel at the unique evergreen bunches covered in clean, white snow! Joshua Tree National Park is also perfect for stargazing. The campgrounds here are popular. But, you’re more likely to score a site if your family visits during the winter. Usually, the weather at Joshua Tree National Park is comfortable in the winter, however, if it is too cold or you simply want to drive through the park, you can easily access points of interest via car. If you want to get close to nature, hiking at Joshua Tree National Park is great for families. There are a number of easy trails that are not too strenuous or too long. You will want to be aware however, the fluffy-looking “teddy bear” cactus is not meant to be cuddled!

Happy Planning

A line of children explore a snowy national park.
Photo Courtesy: US Forest Service PNW Region

We hope this list of best national parks in winter for families has inspired your outdoor travel planning! The United States offers so many unique landscapes, ecosystems, and waterways. The national parks system is set up for you to enjoy them throughout the year with your families. In fact, families with 4th and 5th graders can visit the parks for free this year! During these times when healthy safety is a concern, please be sure to check each of the park’s websites to learn about closures or limitations. 

Thank You To Our Community!

Boy stands smiling in the snow at Crater Lake National Park
Photo Courtesy: Jon and Teaya Tompkins
Crater Lake National Park

A special thank you to the Families Who Love to Travel Facebook community who generously shared their travel advice and top picks for this list of the Best National Parks to Visit in Winter with Kids. We could not have compiled such a thoughtful and robust list without their dedication to our community. Families Who Love To Travel is a group of amazing families who also love adventure and exploring through travel. Join the Facebook community and also the Instagram community (@families.love.travel) to connect with other families who also love the unique experiences travel has to offer.

*Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the activities on this list may also be closed. Please ensure availability before making your decision.

Angie Reedy

Angie Reedy loves traveling and writing. When life brings opportunities to combine these loves, she finds much joy. Although she lives next to Normal, Illinois, life there with her family, which includes her husband, three children, an anxious dog, and a hedgehog named Megan, is anything but normal. Angie is a freelance writer and editor who mixes travel writing alongside her work on a true-crime book. She's always looking for the next adventure wherever in the world it might lead!
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