Enjoying the national parks may be the highlight of summer vacations but visiting in the winter has its own perks. The crowds are long gone and depending on when you go, you might just feel you have the whole park to yourself.
If you’re brave enough to embrace the low temperatures with lots of snowfall and ice, you can be in for a real treat. Moose, elk, deer, and bison leave higher terrain for snow-covered meadows as they endure the harsh winter climate and have more possibilities of finding food. If you are patient and in the right place at the right time, you may see a pack of wolves or coyotes hunting or traversing through the snow. Or if you head to Florida, you can visit during the dry season, which is prime time for viewing reptiles, amphibians, and other mammals (and you’ll avoid being bitten by pesky insects).
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park, established in 1915, is considered one of the top parks for wildlife watching because of the variety of large mammals that inhabit the park. Elk and mule deer trade the tundra for the meadows and can often be seen while searching for food, usually around dusk and dawn. Coyotes can be spotted throughout the day, along with marmots and pikas (part of the rabbit family but look like a hamster). Bighorn sheep aren’t always easy to find but tend to be on the east side of the park, near the Fall River corridor. Home to over 270 species of birds, in the winter months, keep your eyes out for golden eagles, prairie falcons, black-billed magpies, steller’s jays, and Clark’s nutcrackers.
Recommended Hotel: The Ridgeline Hotel Estes Park
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Created in 1975, Voyageurs National Park is unique because of its interconnected waterways. The main way to access the park is via kayak, canoe, or boat, although there are roads and hiking trails. With 50 species of mammals and 100 species of birds, you’ll want to look up toward the trees and skies for a chance to see loons, double-crested cormorants, ravens, and warblers. Voyageurs is known for their population of gray wolves, also known as Timberwolves, which typically hunt in packs of four to eight in the winter. They avoid humans but you can often catch a glimpse of them during the day while hunting for food or walking along the shoreline of lakes. Agile hares can be more challenging to see in winter since their fur coat changes color from brown or gray to white allowing them to camouflage against the snow.
Recommended Hotel: Cantilever Hotel Trademark Collection By Wyndham
Glacier National Park, Montana
Glacier National Park, formed in 1910, was the 10th park to be added to the National Park System. Although the park is stunning in winter with mountains completely bathed in snow, it’s a challenging time for the 71 species of mammals who live there. White-tailed deer are the most easily noticed in winter. Adapted to traversing in the snow with their long legs, elk and moose are commonly seen foraging for food in the plains. Because snow and ice can be dangerous to many animals—injuring themselves, being exposed to predators as well having a limited food supply, many animals trade the rough mountain terrain for the meadows. Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep, marmots, snowshoe hares, coyotes, and even the bald eagle can occasionally be spotted but require more patience and a pair of binoculars.
Recommended Hotel: Glacier Park Lodge
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Snow blankets the jagged mountain peaks of the 40-mile Teton range and the northern valley floor of Jackson Hole, creating a quiet, winter wonderland in Grand Teton National Park. Established in 1929, the park is home to 61 types of mammals and 60 species of birds. During the harsh season, elk, pronghorns, moose, and bison leave the mountains for the valley floor for better success at surviving. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a pack of wolves or a moose with her offspring walking single file through the deep snow. Most roads are closed due to inclement weather but a few remain open if you want to sightsee from the comfort of your car. Up for a challenge? Strap on a pair of snowshoes or cross-country skis and traverse the snowy meadows to take in the scenery.
Recommended Hotel: Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa
Yellowstone National Park, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho
Yellowstone National Park may be well-known for its striking hydrothermal pools and geysers but the landscape changes significantly when covered in a blanket of snow. Over 67 mammals call the park home, including grizzly and black bears who hibernate in winter, along with the elusive wolverine and Canada lynx. Bison can often be seen roaming around the Old Faithful pools while Bald Eagles fly overhead. Wolves travel in packs in search of food and their brownish fur gives you the advantage to find them as they stand out against the white landscape. If luck is on your side, you may see foxes and coyotes in action as they search and hunt for prey. Most roads are closed in winter but you can hop on board the snowcoach or snowmobile offering a chance to see sights, such as Old Faithful, and wildlife from the comfort of a warm vehicle.
Recommended Hotel: Old Faithful Snow Lodge
Everglades National Park, Florida
Everglades National Park was established in 1947 and has 40 mammal species and 50 different reptiles, as well as birds and amphibians. Winter is the dry season, from December to April, offering comfortable temperatures, low humidity, and no swarming mosquitoes or biting bugs. This is the time when the majority of wildlife is visible, in part because water levels are low and animals congregate in waterholes and swamps. Manatees, dolphins, turtles, alligators, crocodiles, and birds are easily seen during this time of year. Panthers and Bobcats call this park home, though they are very elusive and sightings are rare. The diversity of animals who inhabit this park is due in part to the distinct ecosystems of cypress swamps, sawgrass marshes, mangrove forests, and the Atlantic water of Florida Bay.
Recommended Hotel: Port of the Islands Everglades Adventure Resort
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