5 Top National Parks to Visit During the Off-Season

Explore America's prized parks on an outdoor adventure to remember.

By Amy Whitley, ContributorMarch 8, 2017
By Amy Whitley, ContributorMarch 8, 2017, at 4:00 p.m.
U.S. News & World Report

5 Top National Parks to Visit During the Off-Season

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Young woman with backpack sitting on an edge of cliff and looking to the sky.
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Expect few crowds, enticing travel deals and awe-inspiring scenery.

The silence of an early morning snowfall in an expansive forest. The crisp air during a ranger-led stargazing event. The lack of crowds and time for peace, quiet and solitude. If you haven't experienced America's national parks in the off-season, you've missed the chance to see this country's wild places with fewer crowds, low lodging rates and a fresh perspective. Take in stunning views, abundant wildlife and thrilling activities without swarms of visitors at your side at these national parks.
One of many pools of water leading down the Subway feature in Zion National Park's left fork of the Virgin River.
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(iStockPhoto)

Zion National Park

Utah

Few national park experiences are as otherworldly and as accessible as hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park. In summer, this path through the canyon cut by the Virgin River provides much-needed relief from warm temperatures, but crowds can make it challenging to enjoy the natural rock formations. In winter, Zion's crowds are nonexistent, and the Virgin River is decked with icicles and wintery waterfalls. As for accommodations, Cliffrose Lodge & Gardens is located just steps from the park entrance, at the edge of Springdale. Even in winter, taking in striking view of red rocks from Cliffrose's gardens is memorable, thanks in part to their outdoor hot tubs.
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Expect few crowds, enticing travel deals and awe-inspiring scenery.

The silence of an early morning snowfall in an expansive forest. The crisp air during a ranger-led stargazing event. The lack of crowds and time for peace, quiet and solitude. If you haven't experienced America's national parks in the off-season, you've missed the chance to see this country's wild places with fewer crowds, low lodging rates and a fresh perspective. Take in stunning views, abundant wildlife and thrilling activities without swarms of visitors at your side at these national parks.

Zion National Park

Utah

Few national park experiences are as otherworldly and as accessible as hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park. In summer, this path through the canyon cut by the Virgin River provides much-needed relief from warm temperatures, but crowds can make it challenging to enjoy the natural rock formations. In winter, Zion's crowds are nonexistent, and the Virgin River is decked with icicles and wintery waterfalls. As for accommodations, Cliffrose Lodge & Gardens is located just steps from the park entrance, at the edge of Springdale. Even in winter, taking in striking view of red rocks from Cliffrose's gardens is memorable, thanks in part to their outdoor hot tubs.

Olympic National Park

Washington

Known for its temperate rainforests with record-breaking annual rainfall, Washington's Olympic National Park also features Hurricane Ridge. This alpine destination rises more than 5,000 feet, providing opportunity for winter snow sports ranging from downhill skiing to tubing. After shredding powder, explore Olympic's rainforests and coastal areas, which draw nature lovers with moss-covered trails and windswept beaches. When you're ready to turn in for the day, Lake Quinault Lodge sits on the shore of Lake Quinault under a canopy of temperate forest and offers an inviting atmosphere after a chilly hike.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

California

Ranger-led snowshoe walks are available in Kings Canyon's Grant Grove and at the Giant Forest in adjacent Sequoia National Park. For a schedule of guided walks, stop at the Giant Forest Museum, which is open year-round. During the winter months, you'll find fewer park visitors at Wolverton Snow Park, where you can enjoy picnics, rent cross-country skis and even set out on a winter overnight, provided you've secured the necessary wilderness permit. At the end of each day, Sequoia's Wuksachi Lodge beckons with cozy fireplaces, along with a breakfast buffet. In Kings Canyon, the John Muir Lodge is a rustic alternative, with nightly interpretive talks by the fireplace.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Utah

During the summer months, Bryce Canyon brims with tour buses and RVs vying for space in the parking lots of scenic overlooks. But in winter, the roads are nearly empty, and Bryce's stunning vistas can be enjoyed in seclusion. Bryce Canyon can be explored by car and on foot, but during heavy snowfall years, it's a treat to traverse the park via cross-country ski. Pick up rentals at the winter sports center at Ruby's Inn, just outside the park boundary. Nearby, you'll find a well-maintained nordic track, which curves around Ruby's property in a 2-mile loop to overlooks of Bryce Canyon.

Crater Lake National Park

Oregon

Oregon's only national park is a stunner in any season, but in winter, the juxtaposition between water, snow and sky is even more defined. Drive the Rim Road for the best views, and stop at the visitor center to sign up for a snowshoe hike. If time allows, drive down to the Klamath Basin near Klamath Falls to enjoy the winter bird migration. For a stay to remember, book a room at the Crater Lake Lodge, and linger in the lobby by the roaring fireplace while waiting for your dinner reservation at the lodge dining room. If weather permits, sit outside on the expansive deck to take in striking lake views.
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Amy Whitley, Contributor

Amy Whitley is a family travel writer, editor, and columnist based in Southern Oregon. An avid ...  Read more

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