Winter’s here, and that means a whole new world of exploration awaits at America’s spectacular national parks! From the granite monoliths of Yosemite Valley and the elk range of Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley to the tippy-top of East Maui’s shield volcano and the sawgrass sloughs of the Everglades, this is a fabulous time of year to pay these treasured landscapes a visit.
And while day trips are certainly a possibility, winter campers, pitching a tent in developed campgrounds or going backpacking, get to extend—and deepen—their experience.
Our Top 16 Best National Parks for Winter Camping
The following are all primo choices for national parks that have winter camping. In some of these places, wintertime’s actually the peak visitation period, but for others, it’s the quietest stretch of the calendar. And that's music to the ears of many a lover of public lands!
The jewel of the northern Sierra Nevada and one of America’s most iconic landscapes, Yosemite National Park is an excellent place for winter visits: Temperatures are relatively balmy compared to many of the country’s mountain parks, and there’s typically a nice range between snow-free or lean snowcover lower down and voluminous mid- to high-elevation snowpacks.
Four developed campgrounds in Yosemite stay open all winter: Upper Pines and Camp 4 in the Yosemite Valley, Hodgdon Meadow along Big Oak Flat Road, and Wawona beside the South Fork Merced River. Meanwhile, well-prepared winter backpackers can access the vast backcountry from trailheads in Yosemite Valley, the Badger Pass Ski Area, Wawona, and other accessible jumping-off points.
Glorious East Maui volcanic landscapes ranging from oceanfront headlands to surreal alpine barrens await at Haleakalā National Park, where winter ranks among the most popular times of year to explore. Winter campers can bed down in the coastal Kīpahulu Campground or up in the high (and often chilly) cloud belt at Hosmer Grove Campground.
Or, with the requisite permit in hand, backpack into the wild and ethereal basin of the Haleakalā Crater to access designated backcountry campsites—or take advantage of three wilderness cabins.
Some of the most amazing terrain in the world falls within the boundaries of Arches National Park in Southeast Utah’s spectacular swath of the Colorado Plateau, including the densest concentration of natural arches anywhere. Winter visitors enjoy more elbow room in this hotspot of a park, plus the chance to see the slickrock formations snow-dusted (and cast against the backdrop of the shining white La Sal Mountains).
Arches includes one designated campground, Devils Garden Campground, which remains open all winter; the namesake outback of fins, arches, and spires awaits via the trailhead adjoining the campground. Winter backpacking is also a possibility in designated sites.
Winter is part of the peak visitation season (October through May) in Joshua Tree National Park, set among the boulder piles and Dr. Suessian yucca gardens along the frontier between the Mojave and Colorado (Sonoran) deserts. Not really a surprise: This dreamy dryland can be downright scorching in summertime.
Given the ideal climatic window—and the booming popularity of Joshua Tree—you can generally expect all the campgrounds to be full over winter weekends and holidays. Planning ahead, in other words, is critical. The majority of the park’s campsites lie in the reservable campgrounds: Black Rock, Cottonwood, Indian Cove, Jumbo Rocks, and Ryan. The highly competitive first-come, first-served campgrounds here are Bella, Hidden Valley, and White Tank.
Winter backpacking opportunities abound in fifteen designated zones within the Joshua Tree backcountry, from Eagle Mountains and Pine City to Black Rock and East Zone.
There’s no vehicle camping during the winter in Mount Rainier National Park, which encompasses the enormous 14,411-foot stratovolcano forming the royal high point of the Cascade Range. But winter camping on snow is allowed in most parts of the park so long as the snow depth is sufficient (at least two feet deep in much of the park, at least five feet deep in the Paradise area). You need to be prepared for the intense seasonal conditions of the storm-hammered, snow-socked Cascadian high country—and for the perils of avalanches and other wilderness realities.
Because it’s dependent on a certain amount of snowcover, the start date for the winter-camping season varies, but it always ends on May 15th. Overnight parking is available in designated lots at Paradise, Longmire, and Narada Falls.
Right on the doorstep of Tucson, Arizona’s second-biggest city, Saguaro National Park showcases the wild wonders of the Sonoran Desert, from slopeside cactus forests to high-elevation pinewoods. You won’t find any vehicle camping in the park, but six designated backcountry campgrounds serve trekkers in the Saguaro Wilderness Area of the Rincon Mountains, a marvelous, roadless Madrean Sky Island range.
These backpacking campgrounds include Spud Rock Spring, Happy Valley Saddle, Juniper Basin, Grass Shack, Douglas Spring, and—the largest (six sites) and highest (roughly 8,000 feet in elevation) of all—Manning Camp.
Be prepared for the fitful—and potentially wet and chilly—weather of the Sonoran Desert rainy season, with frequent light rains at lower elevations and the chance of snow in the high country. Midwinter temperatures at the campgrounds often range from lows in the mid-20s to highs in the mid- to upper 40s.
The spectacular hoodoos and breaks along the Pink Cliffs of the Paunsaugunt Plateau’s eastern escarpment, including the centerpiece of Bryce Amphitheater, make Bryce Canyon National Park yet another stone-cold Utah wonderland. Winter visitors escape the peak-season crowds and enjoy stunning vistas of snow-whitened pinnacles and spires.
But you need to be ready for the harsh winter conditions here on the Paunsaugunt, lying on the upper heights of the Colorado Plateau’s Grand Staircase at and above 8,000 feet. Nights typically drop below freezing, and snowstorms are commonplace.
While Sunset Campground closes down in April, Bryce Canyon’s North Campground, located right by the visitor center, remains open year-round. Backpacking in winter at Bryce Canyon, meanwhile—which typically involves snowshoeing or cross-country skiing—is challenging, and the Park Service issues permits for the activity “to only the most experienced and well–prepared adventurers.”
Dominated by the highlands of the Yellowstone Plateau and extending into the wildlife-rich Northern Range, Yellowstone National Park—the most venerable national park on the globe, mind you—is utterly incredible in wintertime. And given how long it lasts in this high-elevation Rocky Mountain wilderness, winter’s really the defining season, even though most of the folks who visit Yellowstone in throngs in the summertime never experience it.
None of Yellowstone’s developed campgrounds are currently open during the winter (though Mammoth Campground has historically been open year-round). Permit backcountry camping, though, is very much doable for experienced and well-prepared snowshoe- or ski-equipped wilderness travelers, usually from about mid-December through late March.
The rewards are huge—vast backcountry stillness, pluming geothermal basins, frosty-coated bison, and wolves—but you need to be ready for temperatures that regularly plunge well below zero, even without the nasty windchills…
The landscapes of southwestern Utah’s Zion National Park, which fall from the domes of the Colorado Plateau down to the arid Mojave Desert and Great Basin lowlands, make the adjective “breathtaking” seem utterly inadequate. A wintertime visit to Zion lets you revel in the North Fork Virgin River’s Zion Canyon and other geologic glories with far lighter crowds.
One of the park’s campgrounds, Watchman Campground, stays open all year-round, while backpackers can tent out at designated or dispersed sites (depending on a given backcountry area’s regulations).
Winter temperatures in Zion often soar into the 50s and 60s under strong sunshine, while nighttime lows regularly sag below freezing. Bring traction devices for negotiating icy or snowy trails, and stay cognizant of the danger of falling icicles when hiking along cliff faces!
A linchpin of South Florida’s surprisingly extensive wildlands, Everglades National Park is a globally unique treasure that includes not only the Everglades proper—the celebrated “river of grass,” a vast tropical sheet-flow marshland—but also islands of pine rockland and jungly coastal mangroves.
Winter’s the best time to visit the Everglades, given it’s the dry season, with warm (but not sweltering) temperatures, less mugginess, fewer mosquitoes, and few of the flashy thunderstorms that help define the summer wet season. Drive-in camping is available along the main park road via the 108 sites at Long Pine Key Campground and the 274 campsites at Flamingo Campground edging Florida Bay. Wilderness camping in the park is most often pursued by boat, via the designated Wilderness Waterway.
Sweeping from below sea level to the 11,000-foot heights of the Panamint Range, Death Valley National Park is the Mojave Desert at its most extreme, boasting some of the world’s most fearsome heat as well as truly head-spinning scenery. Because of the dangerously hot summer temperatures (how do daily lows above 100 degrees F sound to you?), winter and spring form the main tourism season in the park.
Reservable winter campsites are available at Furnace Creek Campground, while the other developed frontcountry campgrounds—Texas Springs, Sunset, Stovepipe Wells, Emigrant, Wildrose, and Mesquite Springs—as well as a number of primitive campgrounds offer first-come, first-served camping. Backpacking is allowed in many parts of the park as well.
You could make a solid argument that western Wyoming’s Teton Range is the single prettiest mountain range in the U.S. (We get it: There are many other contenders.) Those toothy Rocky Mountain peaks, topping out on the 13,775-foot horn of Grand Teton, create the awesome backcountry and backdrop of Grand Teton National Park, a real winter wonderland lying just a hop, skip, and a jump south of Yellowstone National Park (and firmly part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem).
Winter visits to the Grand Teton can include world-class cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and wildlife-watching. Free permits are available for winter backcountry camping, though (broken record time!) you need to be well-versed in wilderness travel and safety and ready for gnarly weather.
Well off the beaten path in the Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas, Big Bend National Park ranks among the least-visited national parks in the country. That said, wintertime is part of this desert wildland’s busy season, which runs from about November through April.
There are four developed campgrounds in Big Bend open in the winter: three of them (Chisos Basin, Rio Grande Village, and Cottonwood) are operated by the National Park Service, and one (Rio Grande Village RV Park) by a concessionaire. There are lots of other camping opportunities, including designated primitive roadside campsites and backpacking in both the low desert and up in the magical Chisos Mountains.
Sure, other seasons in Rocky Mountain National Park are glorious—from the blooming tundra wildflowers and booming afternoon thunderheads of summer to the bugling wapiti bulls of autumn (we’re getting carried away, sorry). But there’s something extra special about the vastness, stillness, and sparkling snowscape of wintertime in the Southern Rockies.
Winter camping in this beloved park an hour or so from Denver is available both in the frontcountry—within Longs Peak Campground and the open sections of Moraine Park and Timber Creek campgrounds—and the backcountry, where backpackers with permits have many designated sites to choose from.
There are many reasons to visit Grand Canyon National Park in the winter. For one thing, you’re treated to one of the planet’s biggest and most flat-out beautiful chasms in perhaps its most visually striking guise, with the white of snow-capped rims, buttes, and ledges contrasting with the colorful reds and oranges of the ancient rocks. And for another, you can enjoy that much more quiet and solitude—especially after the December holidays—in one of the country’s most popular parks.
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon remains open all winter, though be aware snowstorms and other inclement conditions can temporarily close roads. You can camp at Mather Campground (which takes reservations) or Trailer Village RV Campground, or go backpacking; backcountry permits are easier to nab than during peak-visitation seasons. The North Rim, closed to vehicles between December 1st and May 14th, offers deep winter wilderness for those backpackers willing to hike there from the other side of the Grand Canyon.
Many of the national parks we’re covering here include truly remote terrain that becomes all the more remote in the depths of winter. Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park is among the most remote national parks from the standpoint of accessibility, given this farflung cluster of islets in the westernmost reaches of the Florida Keys can only be reached by boat or seaplane.
From historic Fort Jefferson to coral gardens and tropical seabirds, the Dry Tortugas are rich in attractions for those willing to make the journey. And winter weather is ideal for camping, which here goes down at the primitive, first-come/first-served Garden Key Campground.
Take Mountain House on Winter Camping Adventures
Winter parkgoing requires the right kind of fuel, and in the food department, you can’t do better than the just-add-hot-water deliciousness of Mountain House meals! Explore our camping collection.