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
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
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
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
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
If you visit Zion National Park during winter, then a trip to Bryce Canyon National Park is definitely worthwhile. While the weather is chillier than Zion due to a higher elevation, families can bundle up and explore to their heart’s content! Start outside of the park on Highway 12 and explore a mossy overhang and small waterfall via a short kid-friendly hike. Make sure you also hike Sunset Point to Sunrise Point, which overlooks pink-red rock colored with snow. Though 11-miles-long, families can also tackle parts of the Rim Trail. Queens Garden (1.8 miles round-trip) and Bristlecone Loop (one-mile round-trip) are two other easy hikes. Families can also snowshoe or cross-country ski 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. Ask rangers at the visitor’s department about weather conditions before you venture out!
Pro Tip: Families will also love Bryce Canyon National Park’s annual Winter Festival, usually held in February around President’s Day weekend. In partnership with Ruby’s Inn, family-friendly activities are scheduled for visitors!
Zion National Park, UT
Zion National Park is also one of the best national parks in winter for kids. Snow dusting the landscape makes it look truly magical, almost like a painting. Despite its extreme popularity during the summer, the winter season offers fewer crowds, without the possibility of heat stroke or exhaustion. While some trails may be closed due to snow or ice, popular ones are usually open and easy to hike with the right hiking shoes or traction devices. However, even though temperatures are mild, you’ll still want to prepare your family by wearing layers in case of fluctuations. The Riverside Walk is popular for families to hike all-year-round, but The Narrows might be too cold for little ones in the winter. Visit the lower Emerald Pool Trail with kids instead! Or, hike the first half of Angels Landing or the Weeping Rock Trail. Remember to ask a ranger about weather conditions first!
Arches National Park, UT
Arches National Park is another family-friendly destination worth visiting during winter to avoid massive crowds and heat. Since you can reach most of the popular viewpoints or lookouts by car, it’s even easier for families to enjoy this stunning landscape in colder weather! If need be, most hikes are also open (make sure to ask rangers about current weather conditions), short, and very kid-friendly. Hike the one-mile-long Park Avenue first, which is mostly flat except a few beginning stairs. Kids will watch in amazement at the stunning landscape with enormous towering walls of red sandstone! After, drive to Balanced Rock to take a short walk to a huge balanced boulder. It’s a paved path that’s also very convenient for strollers. With spectacular views all around, this walk is very family-friendly if you avoid the top!
Afterward, drive to The Windows Trails, a one-mile loop next to Double Arch. Along the way, you’ll spot three main attractions: North, South Window, and Turret Arch. It a flat and easy walk with kids, as you can go to Double Arch from the same parking lot as Windows. Afterward, stop at the Delicate Arch Lookout, accessible via the Delicate Arch Trail. Just keep in mind this 3-mile round trip is a strenuous hike with kids! Or, drive to the Fiery Furnace Viewpoint for a family photoshoot. Nearby, the Sand Dune Arch will become your kid’s new favorite spot to experience a slot canyon. Take off your shoes, climb on rocks, or play in the sand! Landscape Arch Hike (1.6 miles round trip) is another easy hike to take with kids in Arches National Park.
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
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
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
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
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
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!
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!
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.