People looking for outdoor adventures and excitement could hardly do better than visiting Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. Although the canyon’s North Rim is closed for the winter, the South Rim remains open for hiking along scenic trails, as well as trips to the canyon bottom, where wintery conditions are relatively mild. In fact, many hikers prefer the canyon’s winter weather to that of summer, when conditions are too often uncomfortably hot and sweaty.
Winter fun can also be found in several other national parks besides the Grand Canyon. Winter activities may not be quite as numerous or diverse as summer activities at the national parks, but hiking, camping, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, guided walks, and even astronomy programs are available at some parks. And many visitors find the snowy winter scenery incomparably more beautiful than the landscape’s appearance at any other time of the year. So winter can indeed be worth the extra energy and extra clothing required to make a trip. The national parks of the Western United States are especially gorgeous during winter.
For people hesitant to drive on icy highways, many travel agencies offer special packages for winter vacationers to national parks. Organized trips via bus, train, or plane can easily be arranged to most parks. Among the most scenic western national parks welcoming winter visitors are the Great Basin in Nevada, and Zion, Bryce Canyon, and the Canyonlands in Utah—in addition to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. At Nevada’s Great Basin, visitors can find warm shelter in the underground Lehman Caves, where climate conditions stay comfortably mild throughout the year.
Travelers should keep in mind that access to any of these western parks may be limited somewhat in winter, especially when heavy snow or ice is on the ground. Also, some lodges and trails may be closed. For example, the main lodge at Utah’s Bryce Canyon is closed in winter, but several motels along Highway 12 remain open—and they are generally less expensive in winter than during the peak visitor season.
Exploring the western national parks in the off-season can be an unforgettably awesome experience for those bold enough—and bundled-up enough—to give it a try.