Winter Diamonds

GORP's National Park Picks for Winter Snow Sports
map of U.S. showing our winter, snow national park picks: Crater Lake, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Acadia, and Denali

It's beyond alchemy. Nature changes everything she touches, and few changes are as magical as those wrought by snow and ice. If our national parks are the jewels in the crown of our public lands, in the winter many of these jewels become diamonds: clear white, prismatic, precious. Summer's crowds are a memory, and wildlife has migrated, hibernated, or slowed down for the winter. A hush descends, and you can be more alone than at any other time of year.

Even in this era of global warming, the strategy for finding snow in national parks is simple: head north, head higher. Generally, the further south you are, the higher you have to climb to find snow. For instance, at Yosemite National Park chances can be iffy of finding snow in the Yosemite Valley, which is below 4,000 feet. But climb to the park's Tuolumne Meadows at 6,000 feet, and you'll find dependable winter snow-cover. Higher and more northerly Crater Lake National Park in Oregon can be counted on for snow up to nine months of the year.

Heading east, Yellowstone National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park are high mountain parks that deliver winter snow, although snowfall on Rocky Mountain's dry eastern side is surprisingly moderate. Flurries can be few at coastal Acadia National Park in Maine. But when snow does hit Acadia, the park is definitely worth the trip.

You would think that Alaska would be a sure bet for finding snow. Yes and no. Surprisingly, interior Alaska is not that snowy, with depths reaching only up to two feet through much of the interior. But you can rely on Denali National Park, which usually remains accessible throughout the winter.

In winter, not only do you get a different vision of these national parks, you get a new palette of activities: skiing, snowshoeing, even dog sledding. And favorite all-year activities such as wildlife watching, camping, and hiking take on new dimensions and exciting challenges.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 7 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »