Our national parks really are America’s best idea. But, because they’re so awe-inspiring, they’re often also really crowded. At least they are in the summer, when they fill up with tourists and school-vacation hordes. But some of the parks are even more spectacular in the winter, and if you don’t mind layering up, you can have them to yourself. America is great.
For skiers: Olympic National Park
There aren’t that many places you can ski within eyesight of the ocean, and Hurricane Ridge, the small-scale ski area inside Washington’s Olympic National Park, is one of them. After your ski, soak in the Sol Duc Hot Springs, or fish for giant steelhead trout in rivers like the Hoh.
For photographers: Bryce Canyon National Park
The orange hoodoos of Bryce Canyon are spectacular at any time of the year, but there’s something particularly beautiful and otherworldly about them when they’re coated in snow. Take a snowshoe or cross-country ski tour around the rim to shoot photos.
For snowshoers: Glacier National Park
Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park‘s thoroughfare, is one of the most beautiful roads in the world, and in the winter, when it’s closed to cars, you can take your time and snowshoe up, soaking in views of Lake McDonald and the peaks beyond. There are local rumors about secret pond-hockey games on high mountain lakes when the conditions are right.
For paddlers: Everglades National Park
Winter, in the Florida Keys, is the dry season. The Everglades is the third-largest park in the country, and much of it is accessible only by boat. Pack your camping gear in a kayak, paddle out to the 10,000 islands and find yourself a private beach for the night.
For the crowd averse: Yosemite National Park
Yosemite hits high in the accolades department. It’s one of the most stunning national parks, but, come June, it’s also one of the most crowded.
Blame California’s population, or Instagram, but in midsummer you can barely find standing room on the shuttle bus, much less a site at Camp 4. So go in the winter, when you can stay at the Majestic Yosemite hotel (formerly known as the Ahwahnee) and hike up to Yosemite Falls uninterrupted.
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