America’s national parks take on a different atmosphere in winter. Gone are the crowds that jam many of the most popular parks from April through October. Yet while travel conditions can make it more difficult to get to some of these parks, and some roads and sites are closed for the winter, the season has its charms. The scenery that looks stunning enough in the July heat is often more breathtaking with a coat of snow or frozen waterfall or pond. The wildlife that can be hard to spot in warm weather often stands out in sharp contrast against the snow.
10. Grand Experience
A hiker prepares for a winter descent into the Grand Canyon. While the canyon’s popular North Rim is closed to vehicles in winter, the canyon is accessible to hikers year-round; many hikers trek from the South Rim to the North Rim on multi-day excursions. It’s far easier to get backcountry permits in the winter.
9. Frozen Food
An American bison forages for food in the snow in Yellowstone. Bison have large neck and shoulder muscles that allow them to move their head from side to side to clear snow as they forage.
8. Red Dawn
A December sunrise highlights the frosty conditions around Mesa Arch in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park.
7. Winter Wonderland
Yosemite’s famous Bridalveil Fall presents a much frostier side than visitors see during the summer. Although Yosemite is open year-round, less than 10 percent of guests visit during the winter months.
Bighorn sheep are on the move across Mount Carmel Highway in Zion National Park.
5. Last Snowman
A final symbol of winter melts as temperatures warm in early March at Grand Canyon National Park. However, snow has fallen in mid-June before in the park.
4. All Clear
The road is clear after a snowfall in Shenandoah National Park.
3. Wizard of Ahs
Sunrise colors the lake and Wizard Island in Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park.
2. Day of the Eagles
A trio of bald eagles feasts on an elk carcass, while ravens wait their turn, in Yellowstone National Park. As an aside, photographer Howard Ignatius noted that the two eagles on the left arrived as a pair, and soon chased off the eagle on the right.
1. River Run
A kayaker negotiates the Sinks on the Little River in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in early March. Yes, that water is frigid, but fall and winter are the best time to run because of the water level.