Your National Park Guide to a Winter Scavenger Hunt

Icicles from within a cave at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore frame two people walking a dog over the frozen water of Lake Superior.
Wan Shi, Share the Experience

Are you ready for a nationwide winter scavenger hunt? Our national parks are spectacular during the colder months, as ice and snow transform these iconic American landscapes into otherworldly wonderlands. Get your checklist ready, and use this national park guide to find each of these incredible winter sights.

Winter Wildlife

Bison searching for food in the snow at Yellowstone National Park
Raymond Lee, Share the Experience

Wildlife put on a spectacular show in Yellowstone National Park during winter as bison seek out food beneath several feet of snow, lynx hunt soundlessly in the forest, and the howl of wolves often echoes across the landscape. Hydrothermal areas become prime places to see wildlife in winter, as birds and mammals of all kinds are drawn to warm, flowing water.

Frozen Waterfalls

Water cascades down a gentle fall surrounded by snow at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Some waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park stop flowing in winter, while others continue going strong. Others freeze over but still trickle away beneath a layer of crystalline ice. The Ouzel Falls Trail is one of the best places to see frozen waterfalls in the Rockies, and this 5.4-mile route is open all winter for a great snowshoe trek.

Red Rocks and Blue Sky

Snow dusts the red rock formations at Arches National Park

The air is crisp and clear at Utah’s Arches National Park in winter, with a flawless blue sky that contrasts sharply with the red sandstone of the park's rock formations. A dusting of snow on the desert floor is a common sight in winter, making the park's stone arches, eroded monoliths, and spires even more prominent.

An Iconic Peak

Winter sunset at a snow-covered landscape at Mount Rainier National Park
Doug Shearer, Share the Experience

Mount Rainier is the 14,410-foot centerpiece of Mount Rainier National Park in Washington, rising sharply above the surrounding peaks of the Cascade Range. An active volcano and the most glaciated mountain in the lower 48 states, it's a stunner in any season, but winter takes it to a new level as snow settles silently on the surrounding forest and the sky beautifully frames the mountain's profile.

The Serenity of a Maine Winter

Sunrise on a snow-covered coastline of Acadia National Park
Kevin Davis, Share the Experience

Acadia National Park is probably best known for its fall foliage, but the park adopts a much more somber palette in winter. Waves roll in along the rugged coastline — sometimes violently, sometimes without a sound — and the trails and carriage roads of the park’s interior become the domain of dog-sledders and cross-country skiers. 

Freshwater Ice Caves

A cloudy blue sky appears through the icicle-covered mouth of an ice cave at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Dawn LaPointe, Share the Experience

As the waters of Lake Superior crash onto shore during the frigid winter months, they create breathtaking formations that have come to be known as ice caves. These form along the rocky shoreline of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin, and can be reached by hiking about a mile north along the frozen coast from Meyers Beach. 

The Northern Lights

The glowing green Northern Lights fill the sky over a snow-covered scene at Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve
Susan Kim, Share the Experience

There may be no more forbidding winter in the United States than in Alaska's Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve. There are no man-made roads or trails, and the park lies so far north that on the days surrounding the winter solstice, the sun never rises at all. The Aurora Borealis is simply stunning on these bitterly cold winter nights.

A Warm Oasis

Pelicans gathered on a sand bank at Everglades National Park
Amy Bartling, Share the Experience

Nothing freezes in Everglades National Park, making it one of the best parks to visit if you're not big on cold. Winter is the dry season in the Everglades, so this time of year is great for wildlife viewing as animals congregate at year-round watering holes. Many migratory birds can only be seen in Florida during this time of year, and as an added bonus, there are fewer mosquitoes. 

Thanks to fewer crowds and some of the most exquisite scenery of the year, going on a winter scavenger hunt might just be the best way to visit our national parks. This national park guide will take you all over the U.S., giving you a chance to experience some of the world's greatest winter landscapes.

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