While many travelers head for warm-weather getaways come wintertime, those brave enough to tackle frostier temps can enjoy a magical snow-covered wonderland at many of North America’s national parks. While snowboarding, skiing, and snowshoeing in the parks allow you to experience majestic views while taking a road less traveled, several parks also offer some surprising winter experiences you won’t want to miss.
So break out the parka, pack up your mittens, fire up your car’s heated seats, and plan a road trip getaway to experience these extraordinary national park attractions this winter.
1. Go dog sledding in Denali National Park
Dog sledding is an Alaskan tradition, so it’s no surprise that Denali is the only U.S. national park with a kennel of sled dogs. Dog sledding excursions through the park allow you to tour the kennels of Iditarod champion racers and their dogs, observe how they’re trained, and cuddle with puppies before riding in the sled or taking the reins as you mush through the snowy wilderness. Close out your day with remarkable stargazing; thanks to its northern location, Denali is one of the best parks to see the northern lights in the U.S.
2. Hike up a frozen waterfall in Acadia National Park
Maine’s spectacular waterfalls halt to an icy standstill come winter, and intrepid travelers can try their hand at scaling them using crampons and ice tools during guided tours that cater to varying skill levels. Full-day tours at Acadia National Park dive deeper into the world of climbing with lessons in rope skills such as knots, belaying, and rappelling. Before long you’ll be able to identify different types of vertical ice formations, like cauliflower, candlestick, and chandelier.
3. Enjoy an exhilarating snowmobile ride in Grand Teton National Park
With many traditional roads in the Teton Range closed due to snow and ice, a snowmobile ride adventure through the Wyoming backcountry is the perfect way to behold the mountains come winter. Bundle up for a windswept snowmobile tour departing from Jackson Hole, which highlights scenic destinations in both Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.
4. Take a train ride to the “North Pole” in Cuyahoga Valley National Park
The railroad in Cuyahoga Valley National Park operates through the winter, offering themed rides that make it a compelling journey this time of year. Settle in for special culinary offerings, including beer-tasting and wine-tasting expeditions. Best of all, visitors who hop aboard during the holiday season can enjoy a festive trip to the “North Pole,” complete with a visit from Santa that’s sure to delight younger guests. Travelers can board trains from either the Akron Northside Station or the Rockside Station.
5. Soak in a steaming hot spring in Olympic National Park
If soaking in a natural hot spring surrounded by an untouched snow-covered forest is your scene, then head to the volcanic grounds of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Here you’ll find perfect seclusion for your dip, but you’ll have to work for it: The hot springs in Olympic National Park can only be accessed by a 10-mile trek deep into the woods. As you make the journey, keep an eye out for salmon swimming through the park’s crystal-clear rivers. You can only see them here in winter before they begin their summer migration to the Pacific Ocean.
6. Enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh ride in Rocky Mountain National Park
You’ll hear those sleigh bells jingling as you set off on a scenic horse-drawn sleigh ride through the snowy terrain surrounding Rocky Mountain National Park. Snuggle up under a blanket and enjoy a bit of romance as you check out the local wildlife, and a breathtaking sunset, on an evening ride that includes dinner in a beautiful mountain cabin, complete with poetry and musical entertainment. It’s a unique apres-ski activity that’s the perfect end to a day spent tackling the famous Colorado slopes.
7. Cozy up in a winter lodge in Yellowstone National Park
The winter months are the perfect chance to see Yellowstone National Park’s popular geothermal features without the rush of summer crowds. The park has two winter lodges to warm up in after an action-packed day of exploration, both offering cozy fireplaces, on-site ski shops, and daily tours that provide easy access to popular sights in the park. At Old Faithful Snow Lodge you’ll find an outdoor skating rink with free skate rentals. Or stay at the historic Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel to be close to the steamy springs nearby.
8. Brave a drive across a frozen lake in Voyageurs National Park
The Northern Minnesota winters bring a deep freeze to Voyageurs National Park. Crossing this frozen wonderland takes extra precaution this time of year, but driving is permitted on the park’s ice highways. Ice roads through the park depart from Voyageurs’ visitor centers, and the leisurely 30-mph speed limit gives you a chance to truly admire the remote winter beauty from the warmth of your car. Pack an icehouse and you can stop along the way to ice fish for fresh walleye, sauger, perch and Northern pike.
9. Attend an epic winter festival in Bryce Canyon National Park
The iconic red rock spires that fill the landscape in Bryce Canyon National Park look even more ethereal when coated with a dusting of white snow. Visitors can delight in full moon snowshoe adventures and Saturday astronomy programs at this certified Dark Sky Park. So beloved is this stunning destination come wintertime that it plays host to a kid-friendly Winter Festival each President’s Day weekend. Here you can attend a variety of themed events, including cross-country ski tours, archery clinics, morning yoga, crafts and cookie decorating for kids, and more.
10. Go warm(ish) weather sledding through White Sands National Park
If the thought of braving below-freezing temps for some winter fun frightens you, consider a getaway to White Sands National Park. With daytime highs hovering in the 50- to 60-degree Fahrenheit range, New Mexico winters offer a more palatable climate for sledding and creating snow angels—minus the snow. Glistening white sand tricks the eye into believing that the scenery is a true winter wonderland, and the park’s hills are so popular for sliding down that plastic snow saucers can be purchased or rented at the White Sands visitor center.
11. Stroll through a literal ice palace in Banff National Park
Canada is known for its long winters, and the short summer season means heavy crowds in Banff National Park during warm weather. But a visit during the snowy season offers a Narnia-like wonderland with fewer tourists. Come January you can enjoy the Ice Magic International Ice Carving Competition at frozen Lake Louise. Here, delicate and beautiful ice sculptures take shape as they’re carefully carved by skilled artists. Grab a drink from the onsite ice bar then stroll through a literal ice castle as you view the creations.