- Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota, and Sequoia National Park in California are great destinations for winter hiking in December.
- These parks are not in peak season during December, but they offer stunning scenery with fresh snow.
- Visitors can enjoy snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and other winter activities in these parks, making them ideal for outdoor enthusiasts.
With 63 national parks in every corner of the United States (and a few floating in the waters nearby), there is no doubt that these natural wonders are the perfect year-round destination. Depending on the park in question, each has its own peak season, where the weather is at its best and the scenery is a little extra magical.
Winter is perhaps the trickiest time to plan a hiking adventure through the national parks of the US. While there are a number of national parks that offer scenic winter hiking options in December, many of the most famous trails around the country are inaccessible by December. Thankfully, three of the national parks are not only open in December, they are at their absolute best.
Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota, and Sequoia National Park in California are considered three of the best places to hike in the US during December.
None of these parks are in peak season during December, which is part of what makes them so great to explore during this time of year. All three parks begin to get their winter coats, so to speak, enjoying a fresh blanket of snow through December.
While hiking through these parks in winter is going to take some extra planning and gear, there is no doubt they will reward travelers with some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. Read on to explore the best scenic national parks for winter hiking.
The National Park Service website is one of the best resources for up-to-date information on winter weather conditions, individual park road and trail closures, and permitted seasonal activities. The information in this article has been pulled from each park’s individual page, but visitors should always check for current conditions and allow a certain degree of flexibility when planning a December visit.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Crystal clear waters surrounded by snow and evergreens create beautiful scenery for a December hike
Crater Lake National Park covered in snow in Winter, Oregon, USA
One of the best national parks on the West Coast, there is no denying that Crater Lake is a true bucket-list destination. Considering that Crater Lake sits over 6,000 feet above sea level, with Mount Scott, the highest point in Crater Lake National Park, rising over 8,000 feet, it’s no surprise that Oregon’s only National Park gets downright frigid in winter. It also creates one of the most beautiful winter scenes in the country.
Crater Lake National Park Winter Details
- Average Annual Snowfall: 44 feet
- Popular Winter Activities: Winter Backcountry Camping, Cross-Country Skiing, Snowshoeing, Ranger-Guided Snowshoe Walks, Snowboarding, Sledding, Downhill Skiing, Snowmobiling
- Major Seasonal Closures: Rim Road (closed to vehicles), North Entrance Road
- Entrance fee: $30 per vehicle
Crater Lake has some incredible hiking trails around the deepest, bluest waters in the US. Surround those alpine blue waters with a blanket of snow-covered evergreens, and guests may just feel like they are in another world.
While some of the traditional hiking trails of Crater Lake National Park are closed in winter, there are a number of trails that visitors can snowshoe along for a winter hike. Rim Drive, one of the most popular scenic drives in the park, is closed to vehicles and opens as a snowshoeing trail, becoming one of the best winter hikes in Crater Lake National Park.
Popular Winter Hike In Crater Lake National Park
Winter snowshoe hiking in Crater Lake National Park, Portland, Oregon
- Trail: Raven Trail
- Distance: 2.5 miles
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Time to Hike: ~3 hours
- Best Ways To Hike: Snowshoeing, Cross-Country Skiing
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
As the acres of water turn to ice, new trails become accessible and perfect for a snowshoeing adventure
Trees covered with snow in Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
When it comes to winter destinations, Minnesota may not make many lists, but those afraid of the cold are missing out on one of the best national parks to hike through in winter. Voyageurs National Park stands out among the national parks of the US for having acres and acres of waterways, meaning that much of the park can only be explored by boat.
Despite the watery landscape, Voyageurs National Park is also full of exceptionally scenic hiking trails.
Voyageurs National Park Winter Details
- Average Annual Snowfall: 55–70 inches
- Popular Winter Activities: Snowshoeing, Cross-Country Skiing, Ice Road Scenic Drive, Ice Fishing, Snowmobiling, Sledding
- Major Seasonal Closures: Rainey Lane Visitor Center (until January), Kabetogama Lake, Ash River, Crane Lake Visitor Center
- Entrance Fee: None, though fees are required for camping and special use
There are also a number of amazing winter hiking trails that make it easy to explore this winter wonderland. Since much of the water is frozen over, some trailheads are actually more accessible in the winter months.
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are so popular in the park, in fact, that equipment rentals are available through the park for those interested in exploring. Snowshoes underfoot, guests can make their way through a variety of trails, from the easy Sullivan Bay Trail to the more intensive multi-day Kab-Ash Trail.
One more reason to explore Voyageurs National Park in December? Winter (November-April to be exact) is the best time of year to see the Northern Lights in the park. This means that those hiking at dusk or enjoying an overnight adventure may have more than one reason to call Voyageurs National Park the best national park to hike through in December.
Popular Winter Hike In Voyageurs National Park
Smoothed Winter Trail for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota, USA
- Trail: Black Bay Beaver Pond Trail
- Distance: 1.2 miles
- Difficulty: Easy
- Time to Hike: ~1 hour
- Best Ways To Hike: Snowshoeing, Cross-Country Skiing
Accessing the Black Bay Beaver Pond trailhead requires driving the Rainy Lake Ice Road. Check the ice conditions before planning this hike.
Sequoia National Park, California
Fewer crowds, bright redwood bark, and up to three feet of snow create the perfect backdrop for a national park December hike
Snow in the winter in Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, USA.
Many of the vacationers headed to California in December are snowbirds fleeing the cold weather. For those okay with a little chilly mountain air, the giants of Sequoia National Park stand ready to impress.
Sequoia National Park Winter Details
- Average Annual Snowfall: 37 inches
- Popular Winter Activities: Snowshoeing, Cross-Country Skiing, Sledding, Scenic Drives
- Major Seasonal Closures: Cedar Grove and Mineral King
- Entrance fee: $35 per vehicle
There is no denying that Sequoia National Park and General Sherman, the largest tree in the world by mass, are worth exploring any time of the year. The contrast of colors between the redwood bark, green pine needles, and shimmering white snow, however, makes Sequoia National Park genuinely unique in December.
Unlike some of the more northern national parks in the US, a majority of the roads and hiking trails are available throughout winter, making this an excellent choice for hikers looking for a variety of trails to explore.
Popular Winter Hike In Sequoia National Park
View from a trail of Sequoia National Park in Winter, California, USA. Hikers can explore Sequoia National Park year-round thanks to well-maintained trails and manageable snowfall.
- Trail: Congress Trail
- Distance: 2.9 miles
- Difficulty: Easy
- Time to Hike: ~1.5 hours
- Best Ways To Hike: Hiking Boots, Snowshoeing
With a variety of trails and some of the most beautiful winter scenery in the country, there is no doubt that Crater Lake National Park, Voyageurs National Park, and Sequoia National are three of the best national parks to visit in December, particularly for those looking for the perfect winter hike.