Above: There are some U.S. National Parks that are perfect for visiting in wintertime. All photos courtesy of Road Scholar
By Alex Morris
There’s something to learn in each of the 59 National Parks in the United State all year ‘round, but some of these famous landscapes offer special adventures in winter time — and smaller crowds for more exclusive experiences. Whether you’re looking for a warm winter getaway or interested in exploring a snowy winter wonderland on skis or snowshoes, there’s a National Park for every type of traveler and learner.
- Average high temperature in December and January: 23 degrees F
- Average annual snowfall: 150 inches
- Average high temperature in February: 46 degrees F
Watch herds of snow-dusted buffalo as you journey across miles of winter wonderland via snowcoach, snowmobile, snowshoes or skis in Yellowstone National Park. Learn about geology as you witness the steaming bubbles of Old Faithful in winter and towering waterfalls and find out how Yellowstone’s flora and fauna adapt in winter.
- Average temperatures from December through April: 77 degrees F
Prefer an escape from the colder temperatures up north? Follow the birds to Florida and kayak or cycle through Everglades National Park. The Everglades are a birder’s delight in winter, as our feathered friends fly from all over the U.S. to nest during Florida’s dry season. Learn why the birds lay their eggs in Florida during winter and enjoy the subtropical sunshine of South Florida.
The Grand Canyon
- Average temperatures from December to February on the rim range from 20 to 43 degrees F
- Average annual snowfall: 8 to 12 inches
Capture the beauty of the snow-covered canyon contrasted with the red rocks of Sedona — a destination perfect for practicing your winter photography. Nearby Sedona is a lovely destination to celebrate the holidays, with lots of festivities and sparkling lights to enjoy, and the Grand Canyon’s candlelight service at the “Shrine of Ages” is a special sight to behold.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- Average high temperature for December through February: 68 degrees F
Mythology, ecology, geology and more: there is so much to learn in Hawaii all year ‘round! The dryer, temperate climate makes winter a perfect time to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to study craters and enjoy a nighttime visit when lava flows and glows at the bottom of the clouds near the tops of the surrounding cliffs.
Saguaro National Park
- Average high in winter: 65 degrees F
While the bears up north hibernate and the birds have flown south for the winter, Saguaro National Park is teeming with life. Learn about the hidden oases beneath the façade of the barren cacti-spotted desert. Hike among those saguaros across out-wash plains, bahada hillsides, foothills and desert dry washes as you learn about the world’s most recognized cactus.
- Average high temperature in December through January: 26 to 31 degrees F
- Average annual snowfall: 28 to 43 inches
Bundle up and head to the Grand Tetons this winter — a snowy paradise just waiting to be explored. Ride in a horse-drawn sleigh or mush a dog-sled team through Granite Canyon to natural hot springs as 7,000 wintering elk surround you. Learn about these locals at the National Elk Refuge and ride a chairlift to the top of Snow King Mountain for stunning views of the sparkling Tetons in winter.
- Average high temperature December through February: 65 to 73 degrees F
For those who can’t take the heat of the extreme 80-120F days in Death Valley for much of the year (which is most of us), winter is the ideal time to visit this world-famous National Park. Explore the golden hills, narrow canyons, salt flats and sand dunes that make up this beautiful and fascinating landscape. Learn about geology and how the plants and animals survive in this extreme climate.
- Average high temperature December through February: 60 to 67 degrees F
Discover the mystique of a land that early Spanish explorers called “El Despoblado,” the empty land. Big Bend National Park in West Texas is home to three ecosystems with mountain peaks, deserts springs and river trails. Winter weather in Big Bend is perfect for hiking along the Rio Grande and a refreshing soak in the hot springs during cooler winter evenings.
About Road Scholar
Road Scholar calls itself the nation’s largest educational travel organization for adults — a true university of the world. This not-for-profit educational organization offers 5,500 extraordinary learning adventures in 150 countries and 50 states. Road Scholars are immersed in a variety of educational activities, enlisting renowned faculty and experts who offer insider access not available to most individuals. Dedicated to making educational travel available to everyone, Road Scholar offers financial aid for those who otherwise could not participate in its programs.
Road Scholar educational adventures are created by Elderhostel, the not-for-profit world leader in educational travel for adults since 1975. Learn more at RoadScholar.org.