Visiting national parks is a go-to family vacation for good reason — you’re surrounded by endless natural beauty, outdoor adventure and interesting wildlife. Visiting our nation’s parks is a great way to connect with the kids while sharing an appreciation for our own breathtaking country.
While the summer sunshine may bring blooming fauna and roaming wildlife, it also welcomes hordes of tourists to many of the nation’s most beautiful parks. Not all parks need the summer season to shine — visit in winter and enjoy all the same great beauty and connect with nature without the rush of tourists hitting the trails.
The winter months are pretty kind to Joshua Tree National Park in California. The days are typically in the mid to high 70s, with lots of southern California sunshine. Normally, in the summer, the park can reach swelteringly hot temperatures, but, in the winter, visitors find the same beautiful Cholla Cactus gardens, desert rock formations and famous Joshua trees with all the comfort of a warm, sunny winter day.
The normally hot, hot temperatures of Death Valley National Park are kind of unbearable in the summer — hence the name. Visit the park during winter and see the incredible natural landscape without the onslaught of hikers come April and May.
Over in Florida, Everglades National Park really shines in the fall and winter months. Some of the park’s more rare and beautiful birds come out in the winter and, with the lower humidity, it’s far more enjoyable hiking the trails and checking out the park’s incredible sites in winter than summer.
One park that can do no wrong, no matter what time of year, Yosemite National Park is just as majestic in the winter months as it is in summer. You can hit all the same must-see landmarks of the park on foot, including the towering Half Dome and Inspiration Point. Just dress warm and check the weather before your trip using the park app. Explore the park in your winter best or lean in to the epic slopes and trails, renting skis and snowboards.
The bright red-clay rock formations of Bryce Canyon National Park really pop against the white winter snow. The park boasts several hiking loops, weaving throughout the park as you explore further, but beginning at either scenic Sunrise and Sunset point. Add some spikes to your hiking boots, maybe a walking stick or two, and brave the ice and snow — the trails are so worth it.
Over in Canada, Banff National Park is a must see any time of year. Winter camping along the crystal-blue waters of Moraine Lake or skating across the frozen surface of Lake Louise — there are plenty of winter-centric activities worth the trip. Hop on a dogsledding tour or warm up at Banff Upper Hot Springs. There’s also the added perk of incredible accommodations, year-round, making your stay that much easier and more luxurious at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Back to warmer weather, the Grand Canyon is an iconic piece of Americana you just have to see — no matter the season. It may be the most-visited national park in the United States, but you wouldn’t know it in the winter months. The weather will be crisp and sunny, like an easy fall or early spring day. There may be closures, so check online, but the South Rim is (usually) open year-round.
Don’t let the weather hold you back. Use the quieter tourist season to your advantage and finally get out and visit all those parks you’ve been meaning to. Learn a new winter sport with a lesson or dust off your old skis in a new location. If warmer weather is what you’re after, now is the perfect time to check out all those desert parks you wouldn’t dare step foot in during summer.
Santa Barbara is perfect for couples. It’s no wonder the city nicknamed the American Riviera is a place to walk hand-in-hand through the urban wine trail, gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes over dinner at an award-winning restaurant or listen to the crash of waves and call of seagulls along the country’s oldest operating wharf. Yet, it’s also a great place to bring kids.
The wonderful thing about Italy, which evolved from a land of many kingdoms to a unified country in the 19th century, is its buildings have transformed into boutique hotels with fascinating past lives that guests can still explore and appreciate. Whether former farm houses, monasteries, castles or full-on estates, the stays not only provide atmospheric lodging and wonderfully executed regional food, but a means to immerse oneself into a different way of life — be it one of royalty or a simple existence living off the land.