Discover the 10 Best National Parks to Visit in December

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: April 2, 2022
Image Credit Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock.com
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Many people don’t like going out in the winter. It’s cold and snowy, and the days are short. However, there’s one thing you should do this December; go visit U.S. national parks to experience the beautiful winter scenery and the surreal landscapes covered in snow.

Winter is an excellent time to tour many national parks for many reasons. Unlike in summer, when many people flock to the parks, winter means fewer crowds, and you’ll feel like you have the whole park to yourself.

Whether you’re looking for glistening snow on top of the towering cliffs or cooler temperatures to explore the desert landscapes, December can be an excellent time to visit various national parks in the United States.

Here are the 10 amazing national parks that you can visit in December.

1. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park - Landscape
Joshua Tree National Park is home to a diverse range of wildlife.

Dennis Silvas/Shutterstock.com

Joshua Tree National Park

StateSouthern California
Size 790,636 acres
Animal to SeeWhite-tailed Antelope
Attraction to SeeKeys View

December in Joshua Tree National Park is fantastic due to high temperatures, fewer crowds, and abundant sunshine. Joshua Tree is the best place to be if you want to explore the best views of dusty hikes on a winter day, unique landscapes, and stargazing opportunities on chilly nights in the park. 

Joshua Tree is also home to a diverse range of wildlife, including 250 bird species, 46 reptile species, and 52 mammal species. Some of the common species are the desert tortoise, white-tail antelope, bobcats, coyotes, kangaroo rats, and ground squirrels.

Keep in mind that desert temperatures are all about extremes. Although it may feel warm throughout the day, it gets very cold at night (it’s even worse in winter!). So, make sure you dress warmly if you’re planning to camp at the park.

2. Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park - Hikers
Death Valley National Park provides a habitat for traditional wildlife such as cottontails, badgers, bighorn sheep, and gophers.

Dan Sedran/Shutterstock.com

Death Valley National Park

StateEastern California and Nevada
Size 3,373,063 acres
Animal to SeeMountain Lion
Attraction to SeeZabriskie Point

December is the perfect time to visit Death Valley National Park. Winter brings cooler and more manageable temperatures as compared to summer. The park also has the least crowds, making it perfect for exploring all outdoor activities. 

Death Valley provides a habitat for more traditional wildlife such as cottontails, badgers, bighorn sheep, bobcats, coyotes, and gophers. You may spot mountain lions in the surrounding mountains within the park. Mountain lions are the occasional winter visitors to desert oases.

Visit Death Valley National Park in California and Nevada in winter to see the best parts of this unique national park. The park offers abundant hiking and stargazing that should keep you active and entertained.

3. Zion National Park

Zion National Park - Winter
Zion National Park has temperatures ranging from 50℉ to 70℉.

Flystock/Shutterstock.com

Zion National Park

StateSouthwest Utah
Size 146,597 acres
Animal to SeeMountain Lion
Attraction to SeeAngels Landing

In the winter, Zion National Park is a popular place to visit because it has warm daytime temperatures that range from 50℉ to 70℉. The park is less crowded in December, allowing you to breathe in the fresh and crisp winter air all by yourself!

Experience the beauty and solitude of Zion in December through hiking, biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, photography, and many other amazing activities. In the process, you will see incredible landscapes dusted in snow.

Watch for mountain lions, peregrine falcons, canyon wrens, tortoises, eastern collared lizards, and northern Pacific rattlesnakes in the Weeping Rock Area. Thanks to its elevation, it makes it easier for you to spot the wildlife.

4. Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park in Winter
Grand Canyon National Park is located in Arizona.

Kobby Dagan/Shutterstock.com

Grand Canyon National Park

StateArizona
Size 1,218,375 acres
Animal to SeeBison
Attraction to SeeHavasu Falls

Get blown away by the unique snow-covered landscape at Grand Canyon National Park in winter. December is the best time to visit the park due to fewer crowds, the coolest temperatures, and very clear skies.

Visit viewpoints via the park shuttle to see the canyons. I recommend taking a walk to the shuttle point because it beats driving in the snow. Only two shuttle routes are operational during the winter: the Kaibab Rim Route and the Village Route.

Also, make sure to experience the herds of bison in the North Rim area of the park. It’s not easy to spot other wildlife at the park because they hardly get out of their hideouts during winter. But there is a chance you may see ravens, elk, Albert’s squirrels, and California’s condors in the nearby ponderosa pine forest and along the rim.

Spend your night at Phantom Ranch, where the cabins are heated on chilly nights.

5. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park Winter
Yosemite National Park has breathtaking high alpine hiking and amazing scenery.

Gleb Tarro/Shutterstock.com

Yosemite National Park

StateCalifornia
Size 759,620 acres
Animal to SeeAmerican Black Bear (season depending)
Attraction to SeeGranite Cliffs of El Capitan

December is an excellent time to visit Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada in California. Yosemite is less crowded in December, which means you will be able to explore a lot of wintery activities, ranging from cross-country skiing to ice-skating.

For hikers, Yosemite is a dream come true. The park has breathtaking high alpine hiking and amazing scenery. Take some of the steepest trails, such as Snow Creek, which runs through Yosemite Valley, and the North Rim, which has the best views of Half Dome. Snow Creek is open year-round, and it has become a more popular trail for backpackers in winter.

The park is home to diverse species of animals, which are a natural part of the Yosemite landscape. Catch a glimpse of mountain lions in Yosemite’s mountains and valleys. American black bears, skunks, coyotes, and a dozen species of butterflies can be spotted in the Pine Campgrounds and meadows.

6. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Winter
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located between the Borders of North Carolina and Tenessee.

Shane Shelley/Shutterstock.com

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

StateBorders North Carolina and Tenessee
Size 522,427 acres
Animal to SeeBlack Bear (season depending)
Attraction to SeeCades Cove

One of the best times to visit the Great Smoky Mountains is in December. The most stunning phenomenon in the park is the snow and crystallization of the water. Hiking in winter in the Great Smoky Mountains is incredible.

All the trails are mantled with snow. The majority of these trails lead to breathtaking views of the snow-covered mountains. Other trails may lead you to stunning frozen waterfalls. 

Black bears, woodchucks, raccoons, elks, white-tailed deer, and other animals can be seen in open areas such as Cades Cove and Cataloochee. Spotting wildlife in spring and summer is not easy because most of the park is covered by dense forests. However, you can easily spot non-hibernating animals in winter since deciduous trees have lost their leaves.

7. Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park - Airboat
Everglades National Park hosts many wildlife species.

GagliardiPhotography/Shutterstock.com

Everglades National Park

StateFlorida
Size 1,508,976 acres
Animal to SeeFlorida Panther
Attraction to SeeTheater of the Sea

December is a magical time at Everglades National Park. The temperatures drop to comfortable levels in Florida during December. This is why Everglades is a popular tourist spot during this time of the year.

Take a wild ride in an airboat at Everglades. It’s more like a rollercoaster than a slow boat tour. You can plan on spending an entire hour out on the water and get 60 minutes of pure excitement.

The diverse landscapes of forests, pinelands on flat sandy terrain, and lakes provide excellent habitats for wildlife in Everglades National Park. Everglades hosts many wildlife species, including endangered ones like the Florida panther, West Indian manatee, and loggerhead sea turtles.

8. Denali National Park & Preserve

Denali National Park - Glacier Plane Landing in Winter
Denali National Park & Preserve is located in Alaska.

jolciad/Shutterstock.com

Denali National Park & Preserve

StateAlaska
Size 4,740,911 acres
Animal to SeeMoose
Attraction to SeeWonder Lake

Head to Denali National Park & Preserve for the perfect winter getaway in December. Much of the park’s roads are closed, and the only way one can explore the park during winter is through cross-country skiing and snowshoeing along numerous trails. 

While enjoying the winter activities at the park in December, you will also get a magical view of the snow-covered landscapes in a serene environment.

It’s possible to view wildlife at Denali National Park during winter. Most of these animals are well-adapted to life in the subarctic. Dawn and dusk are usually the best times to view caribou, wolves, moose, and Dall’s sheep during winter.

9. Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park in Winter
Glacier National Park is a haven for many species of animals like grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and wolverines.

Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock.com

Glacier National Park

StateMontana
Size 1,013,322 acres
Animal to SeeBighorn sheep
Attraction to SeeLake McDonald

Experience a snowy-white adventure at Glacier National Park in December. Winter is a perfect time to see the Going-to-the-Sun Road under temperatures that aren’t bitterly cold and less crowded conditions.

Most roads are closed during the winter, making them available for country-cross skiing. During your time on the trail, you will be able to enjoy the park in a less crowded way, as well as the beautiful scenery. Highs in December average about 29 degrees.

Glacier National Park is a haven for many species of animals. You can see grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and wolverines if you spend some time around Logan Pass early in the morning and late in the evening.

10. White Sands National Park

Best National Parks to Visit in December - White Sands National Monument
White Sands National Park provides habitat for around a dozen species of mammals, most of which are nocturnal.

sunsinger/Shutterstock.com

White Sands National Park

StateNew Mexico
Size 145,762 acres
Animal to SeeBobcat
Attraction to SeeSand Dunes

December is a great time to visit White Sands National Park if you want to explore wintry holiday activities in a less crowded place. There is plenty of sun and warmth during the day for perfect hiking activities. Walk through the gypsum field for a unique experience of the dunes.

White Sands National Park provides habitat for around a dozen species of mammals, most of which are nocturnal. You may spot porcupines, rabbits, coyotes, badgers, bobcats, and rodents at the edge of the dune fields in highly vegetated areas. 

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