We may be in the middle of summer, but now is an excellent time to plan your winter escape to avoid the cold weather blues.
Recreation.gov, the official website used by the National Park Service to book campgrounds, works six months in advance. That means campsites are now open through January, and we’re a day away from campgrounds opening for February.
Visiting a U.S. National Park in the winter is a great way to beat the crowds, even in parks where the temperature are ideal in the winter.
So where are you headed this winter?
Let’s take a look at some popular U.S. National Parks to visit in the colder months:
Joshua Tree National Park
One of the most popular parks in the NPS system is Joshua Tree, and for a good reason. The park gets its namesake from a tree that grows in the desert area, along with incredible rock formations and miles of desert trails.
The winter months in Southern California are a great time to beat the extreme temperatures the park sees in the summer. However, don’t be fooled, as the park can see snow in the winter, so be prepared to bring a jacket.
The park offers five campgrounds where a reservation is required. There are also an additional three campgrounds that follow the first-come, first-serve model.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is an even more unforgiving climate in the summer than Joshua Tree. The other California desert park is known for some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded in the world.
However, February is one of the best times to visit. Low winter temperatures can get close to freezing but usually stay pretty mild. Plus, abundant sunshine gives visitors plenty of time to hike further on trails without the deadly heat that ends most hiking in the summer by 10 AM.
The park has multiple campgrounds, some only open in the cooler months, giving visitors more options. However, be sure to book early, as some fill up months in advance.
Big Bend National Park
Heading east to Texas but staying in the desert will bring you to Big Bend National Park.
The park sits on the Rio Grande, where the river divides the U.S. and Mexico. When it comes to camping, the diversity of Big Bend is hard to beat. With desert campgrounds and its mountain range, you can pick multiple climates to set up your tent.
Like the other desert parks, Big Bend’s winter weather can be all over the place. Most of the time, you’ll find pleasant temperatures, but occasionally the mountain parts of the park will see a dusting of snow.
Dry Tortugas National Park
If you want to ditch the jacket and cold temperature, heading to the Florida Keys is the best way to do it. Dry Tortugas sits just west of Key West, and the only way to get there is by boat.
The park may appear small, as most of it sits underwater. Only 1% of the park sits on dry land, making this a popular destination for snorkeling and diving. Visitors can see coral reefs and shipwrecks.
As you can imagine, with such a small amount of dry land, camping is very limited, and reservations do book months in advance, so definitely plan ahead for this park.
Hot Springs National Park
A unique way to warm up from the winter blues is heading to a bathhouse near Hot Springs National Park. No springs are safe to swim in at the park, despite the name. However, the nearby town pipes in the water, and you can soak in their natural pools.
The Arkansas state park is a busy spring-through-fall destination but is fairly quiet in the wintertime, making a winter visit preferable for avoiding crowds.
For camping within the park, Gulpha Gorge Campground is your only option.
Congaree National Park
Heading to a lesser-known park is another great option to avoid crowds, especially one with mild winter temperatures like Congaree National Park.
The park protects a floodplain forest, meaning one of the best ways to explore is by canoe or kayak. As you can imagine, the South Carolina heat mixed with all that water is a hotbed for mosquitos, but luckily, visitors see a lot fewer of them in the wintertime. Camping reservations for the park include only two campgrounds, one of which you have to hike into, so if you plan on car camping, be sure to grab a campsite soon.
What are your winter camping plans?