Forget hiking through wildflowers or exploring ocean shores. When it comes to outdoor expeditions, your sidekick prefers sledding, snowshoeing and wandering desert dunes. Winter can be a great time of year to explore the national parks as there are fewer visitors and you’ll get to see your favorite spots in a totally different light. Read on to find our favorite national parks to explore during the winter months!
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Rocky Mountain will push the limits of your carrier backpack in winter. Strap your sidekick in and then hit the trails in your snowshoes. Any trail you can get to is fair game. Or, use your pack while you cross-country ski around the park’s west side. If you’re new to either (or both) take your first steps during a ranger-led program (offered Jan. through Mar.), before fulfilling your mini-me’s need for speed on the Hidden Valley sledding hill.
Airbnbs Nearby: This gorgeous riverfront cabin in Estes Park is the perfect home base for your winter adventures. It sleeps 8 and if you’re lucky you might see some elk walking by!
Yosemite National Park, CA
There’s nothing like seeing your favorite peaks fully covered in snow. Winter in Yosemite is a very peaceful time of year. You can bring your sled to tackle the many snowparks and sledding hills. Snowshoe or cross-country ski Yosemite’s winter trails to catch stellar views and spot wildlife roaming through the park.
Airbnb Nearby: This cozy mountain home is only 30 minutes from the south gate of Yosemite, so it’s the perfect home base for your national park visit. There’s a town nearby where you can stock up on snacks for your adventures, too.
Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
Bryce Canyon’s iconic hoodoos take on an otherworldly feel when they’re covered in snow, like something you’d find at Hogwarts, not in the Utah desert. Snapping pics and marveling at these formations is a winter activity in itself. But we’re pretty sure your munchkin explorer will appreciate all the cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding the fam can do around the park even more. We love that night owls over the age of six can join parents for a full moon snowshoe hike from November through March, and that everyone can join in on the winter astronomy programs they also offer at Bryce Canyon.
Airbnb Nearby: You’ll have amazing views of the rim and you’ll be only 15 minutes to the park when you stay in this cozy cabin that sleeps 8.
Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
At the top of Mt. Rainier sits Paradise. And no matter what season it is, it’s the place to be when you hit the mountain with your crew. In the winter, your little speed demon can race down Paradise’s sledding hill or romp around in the snow play area once the snowpack is built up. Longmire’s winter trails are another place to check out when the snow’s deep. Plenty of shorter, novice-rated trails make this a great place for kidlets to test drive their shiny new snowshoes.
Airbnb Nearby: If the name alone doesn’t convince you this is the winter cabin you’ve been looking for, the Yeti Cabin’s aesthetic will. It’s modern and chic and has everything families need to hunker down on vacay. A cozy fireplace, a kitchenette, an outdoor fire pit for stargazing at night are all part of this spacious
Big Bend National Park, TX
If snow isn’t a prereq for your family’s winter adventure, check out Big Bend in west Texas. Its welcoming mild temps are a big part of its appeal. Floating the Rio Grande is another. Winter is a great time of year to book a half-day float through the deep canyons, where spotting critters, both in and out of the water, makes fun sport for your mini crew.
Airbnb Nearby: You’ll love to bring your whole crew to this eco hideout that’s modern yet off the grid. The expansive mountain views are best enjoyed at the outdoor firepit.
Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, Washington, D.C.
Bundle up and bring the binocs, it’s time to spot some wildlife at Kenilworth Park. The songbirds may have headed south, but hearty raptors and blue herons are still out and about, ready to be caught on film during a winter boardwalk stroll. You can also spot deer and foxes roaming the grounds if you take the short River Trail hike. It’s a wild, wild world to explore!
Airbnb Nearby: This 10-bedroom home is within walking distance of the aquatic gardens as well of loads of other landmarks nearby.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, HI
Two active volcanoes make a trip to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park twice the fun. Watching your preschooler giggle at their sulfur “burps?” Even better. There’s plenty of hiking, camping and biking to keep the fam busy on the mountain. And when your little wanderer’s wilderness quota is met, be sure to drive along Chain of Craters Road to explore the hot spots. After checking out the stunning overlooks, awesome arches and prehistoric petroglyphs your little will be overflowing with excitement.
Airbnb Nearby: Located 10 minutes away from the volcano, this family-friendly rental comes with a travel crib and a high chair. There’s a Koi pond, and the Volcano Golf & Country Club is down the road.
Acadia National Park, ME
The folks at Acadia National Park love winter so much and you will too. Here you’ll find 45 miles of snowshoe and cross country skiing terrain to travel, 27 miles of snowmobile-worthy roads and frozen lakes full of fish waiting to be caught on an ice fishing outing.
Airbnb Nearby: Minutes away from Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, this charming modern home sits on five acres of land. Grill out, cook lobsters and let the kids enjoy the great outdoors. Be sure to bring your bikes, too!
Death Valley National Park, CA
It makes sense that the best time to visit the hottest place on earth would be in the dead of winter. While other parts of the country are swimming in snow, the Death Valley mercury settles in around a pleasant 65 degrees most days, which makes for just-right hiking, biking or driving weather so you and your kidlet can seek out some of the park’s unusual sights, like Zabriskie Point, Dante’s View, The Racetrack or Ubehebe Crater.
Airbnb Nearby: Embrace the wild west at this cute cabin that’s just 7 miles from the park’s entrance. There’s also a second cabin if your crew is larger.
Voyageurs National Park, MN
When Minnesota’s magnificent lakes freeze over, they turn into icy roadways you and the fam can travel… by snowmobile! 110-miles worth of long icy stretches will take you where you need to go in Voyageurs. And hopefully one will lead your clan to the new Sphunge Island-Kabetogama Lake sledding hill, where they’ve set up a smaller sledding hill near the bottom for the babes, and a steeper one up top for more adventurous sibs or mom and dad.
Airbnb Nearby: This lakefront beauty has a dock that’s the perfect spot to enjoy morning coffee and hot cocoa. The cabin is nestled in tall white pines with south facing views into Voyageurs National Park
Everglades National Park, FL
Hit the tropics of the Everglades when the snow puts a damper on your spirit. The dry winter season here means more animals to spot (hello, alligators and manatees!), more ranger programs to attend (think: hikes, bikes and talks) and way less mosquitos than you and the kiddos would find any other time of year. Bienvenido a aventure!
Airbnb Nearby: This two-bedroom condo on a private beach has a pool, a hot tub, a playground and is a short drive away from the Everglades. We’re totally sold.
—Allison Sutcliffe & Kate Loweth