6 of the best National Parks for winter sports
The best National Parks for winter sports provide peaceful places where you can cross country ski, snowshoe, downhill ski and sled all while enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery in the country
We’ve previously written about the best National Parks to visit in winter, focusing on the spots where you can still reasonably pull on your best hiking boots and hit the trails in mild temperatures, but what about those of you who actually want to play in the white stuff? If you love skiing you probably know that pricey downhill resorts aren’t always where it’s at, and you’ll be pleased to know that there are National Parks with areas that transform into winter sports havens during the snowy months. The best National Parks for winter sports provide peaceful places where you can cross country ski, snowshoe, downhill ski and sled all while enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.
1. Yosemite, California
Yosemite has a way of sneaking onto most of the “best of” lists and it’s no surprise, given it’s plunging waterfalls, majestic cliffs and tremendous trees. Yosemite protects an area of the high Sierra Nevada mountains so it should come as no surprise that certain areas of the park get loads of snow; so much, in fact, that the park once bid to host the winter Olympics. In fact, the park is home to the country’s oldest downhill ski area, Badger Pass, as a result of the failed bid, where you can take lessons, ski and snowboard on 10 runs or go tubing.
Beyond that, Tioga and Glacier Point roads both close in the winter, restricting vehicular access to much of the park, but if you pull on snowshoes or cross country skis, you can keep travelling and even enjoy overnights in the backcountry hut system. Crane Flat, home to the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias, as well as Mariposa Grove, both offer unique opportunities to snowshoes and ski amongst the giant sequoias.
2. Olympic, Washington
Gorgeous Olympic National Park up in Washington is another park with downhill skiing and snowboarding available. Head up to Hurricane Ridge in the northern portion of the park and most winters you’ll get twice as much snow than a lot of east coast ski resorts. With a lift, two rope tows, 10 runs to play on, and a terrain park, you can get some of the most memorable skiing and riding of your life with views of the Cascades and Vancouver Island if it’s clear. If you prefer off piste adventures, there’s plenty of backcountry to explore on cross country and backcountry set ups as well as snowshoes, too.
3. Grand Teton, Wyoming
Grand Teton National Park protects one of the most standout areas of alpine terrain in the country. The Teton Range is blanketed in tons of snow each winter, and the park offers cross country ski and snowshoe trails ranging from groomed, flat roads with views of the jagged Teton peaks to rolling hills as well as steep backcountry adventures, all of which you can enjoy in the relative peace and solitude of the park.
4. Yellowstone, Wyoming
Like most National Parks, Yellowstone is open year-round. However much of it is inaccessible during the snowy winter months – unless you want to rent a snowmobile or explore on skis or snowshoes, that is. Most of the roads transform into ski and snowshoe trails, which are supplemented by practically endless backcountry options so long as you’re experienced in backcountry snow sports. Another option is to take a guided snowmobile or snowcoach tour with one of dozens of local companies.
5. Acadia, Maine
Over on the east coast, the frigid temperatures at gorgeous Acadia National Park mean the snow and ice formations sometimes come right up to the edge of the Atlantic. The park does plow roads on the Mount Desert Island section in winter, but most other roads are open for snowmobile access only which means they are also available for cross country skiers and snowshoers, though do be aware of snowmobiles. The best terrain for skiing and snowshoeing however is on the 45 miles of carriage roads which provide tranquil cross country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities away from the whine of snow machines.
6. Voyageurs, Minnesota
Minnesotans are known for their love of cross country skiing – how else could they survive the brutal winters up there? – so it should come as no surprise that when watery Voyageurs freezes over, they make hay. No mountains here, but Voyageurs protects four large tranquil takes up near the Canadian border so in the summer it’s popular for water sports, but when those lakes freeze over, they’re a paradise for snowmobiling, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and, of course, getting your ice fishing rod out (with a license). There are equipment rentals at Rainy Lake Visitor Center and a new addition is the Sphunge Island Sledding Hill. One of the most popular winter sports here, however, is driving your car over the so-called Rainy Lake Ice Road, otherwise known as a frozen lake.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.