7 of the Best Day Hikes in North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park encompasses some of the most remote mountains in the lower 48 states…. and some of the best views

Known for the lack of roads, meaning long hiking distances to reach destinations, there are enough trails and hikes in North Cascades National Park to last a lifetime.

However, there are thankfully also plenty of beautiful hikes for a day’s walk.  Here are a few of my favorite day hikes in North Cascades.

The Best Hikes in North Cascades National Park

Cascade Pass

Mountain pass with pine trees and a few snow-covered peaks and a slightly cloudy sky.

Total Length: 7 miles
Hike Type: Out and Back
Elevation Gain: 1800 ft
Difficulty: Moderate

Driving Directions: Take highway 20 to Marblemount and then continue onto Cascade River Road (proceed straight when highway 20 takes a left). Follow Cascade River Road 23 miles to the end of the road, where you will find the trailhead.

The Cascade Pass trail is a moderate-level hike, but it is the most popular hike in North Cascades National Park for a reason: it’s worth the climb!

A hike up this trail will grant you with fields of heather, snow-capped mountains vistas, and glacial carved valleys. 

You may also find a marmot or two and some chipmunks along the way. Take care not to feed the chipmunks — they are already chubby enough.

Diablo Lake

Turquoise-blue lake with pine trees and peaks in the mountains with a few clouds.

Total Length: 7.6 miles
Hike Type: Out and Back
Elevation Gain: 1400 ft
Difficulty: Moderate

Driving Directions: Drive east along highway 20 from Marblemount. After crossing the Gorge Lake bridge, drive another 1.5 miles, then turn left on Diablo Dam Road toward the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. Cross the dam and drive to the end of the road, where you will find the trailhead

Diablo Lake is a brilliant blue lake featured in many pictures from people hiking North Cascades National Park. Views like this are what make many people say the North Cascades is one of the best hiking destinations in the USA.

Smaller than the nearby Ross Lake, but equally as beautiful (or more), this trail features islands, deep gorges, waterfalls, and the stunning mountain peaks of the North Cascades. 

This trail offers views of Diablo Lake throughout the hike and ends at a viewpoint overlooking Ross Lake and a picturesque bridge.

The trail begins with a beautiful walk through old-growth forest. When the trail emerges from the forest and crosses Deer Creek, there is a short side trail that offers a view of the lake.

From here, the trail reaches views of a waterfall and the surrounding peaks. The trail then reaches an overlook of Ross Lake and its Dam. You can continue down the steep trail to the suspension bridge or stop here and soak up the views. 

If you want a change of pace on the return trip, you can enjoy a ride on the Diablo Lake Ferry back to the trailhead to experience the lake from a different perspective (and save some walking!). The ferry is operated by Seattle City Light from June to October.

Sourdough Mountain

Sourdough Mountain, a gray and green mountain, on a foggy day with pine trees.

Total Length: 10.4 miles
Hike Type: Out and Back
Elevation Gain: 4870 ft
Difficulty: Hard

Driving Directions: Drive east along highway 20 from Marblemount for 22 miles. When you reach Diablo Dam Road, take a left. In 0.7 miles at cross the Stetattle River bridge, stay to the right, and reach the trailhead in 0.25 miles from the road split.

Sourdough Mountain is the site of one of the first fire lookouts established by the U.S. Forest Service, and the historic lookout building still stands at its peak.

To reach the lookout, you first begin with steep switchbacks in the forest. The first two miles of the trail gains 3000 ft of elevation with grueling switchbacks.

However, this effort will become worthwhile once you make it out of the forest, where you will be greeted with wildflower meadows and expansive views that get better as you go.

Although beautiful, this is not a beginner-friendly hike in North Cascades, and there are a few considerations to keep in mind.

Since this is a steep trail, occasionally narrow and loose, the trail will be easier with a pair of hiking poles. In addition, the trail is steep and there is no water access until a potential stream 4 miles from the trailhead. 

Stehekin River Trail

A view of Lake Chelan, a still lake with a small beachy area and dock, part of the hike in Stehekin.

Total Length: 7.6 miles
Hike Type: Out and Back
Elevation Gain: 100 ft
Difficulty: Beginner

Driving Directions: This trail begins in the remote town of Stehekin, and to access this town you’ll need to take the Lady of the Lake ferry from Chelan. From the ferry dock in Stehekin, take a bus up the Stehekin Valley Road for 4.5 miles. You will find the trailhead after crossing Harlequin Bridge, following Company Creek Road to the airport, and walking to the end of the airport runway.

Explore the Southern side of the North Cascades National Park Complex with a visit to the town of Stehekin on Lake Chelan.

There are plenty of trails from town, but this shaded trail along the river is ideal for the warm summer day.

Better yet, the trail ends at Weaver Point at Lake Chelan, a campground with a bit of a sandy beach and view of the town.

The trail begins by wandering through the valley floor, giving you views of the neighboring mountains. About a mile into the hike, you will be greeted with your first view of the river and surrounding meadows.

Continue on from here until you reach Lake Chelan and enjoy the peaceful walk through the beautiful landscape.

Cutthroat Pass

A fall hike in Cutthroat Pass, one of the best day hikes in North Cascades National Park, with yellow trees and fall colors.

Total Length: 10 miles
Hike Type: Out and Back
Elevation Gain: 2,000 feet
Difficulty: Hard

Driving Directions: Drive approximately 50 miles east on Highway 20 past Marblemount to Rainy Pass. Turn left (across from the road to Lake Ann), and drive down the road half a mile to the parking lot and trailhead for the Pacific Crest Trail.

You can’t go wrong with any hike on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a 2,650 mile trail that extends from the Mexican border in California to the Canadian border in Washington, but this hike to Cutthroat Pass is on one of the best sections.

To reach Cutthroat Pass, you will follow the PCT from its Highway 20 crossing, 5 miles north towards Canada.

The trail begins with small creek crossings that may be running high, so be sure to cross carefully. As the trail continues, the forest thins, and you can see the mountains across the valley, before crossing through the granite-filled, heather meadows of the alpine.

Upon reaching the pass, there are 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains to enjoy with your summit treats. This is also an excellent fall hike, as the larches will turn a brilliant yellow before winter comes.

Sauk Mountain

A view from Sauk Mountain with green grass mountain sides and a tiny brilliant turquoise glacial lake.

Total Length: 4.2 miles
Hike Type: Out and Back
Elevation Gain: 1200 ft
Difficulty: Moderate

Driving Directions: Take exit 232 off of I-5 to Highway 20, then after 35 miles, turn left onto Sauk Mountain Road (FS 1030). The trailhead is 8 miles down this steep, but generally passable road. It is worth reading recent trail reports on wta.com for an updated road report before you head out for this hike, as conditions vary throughout the season.

Sauk Mountain is one of my favorite hikes in the area because of the great variety you find along the trail.

Although outside the boundary of the national park, it showcases the best the region has to offer. It is never a slog, offering excitement throughout the entire trail, with views that grow continuously more impressive.

With the multitude of peaks that you can see from the trail, it is the perfect trail to bring along a map of the area for peak identification, or try out the PeakFinder app, an app that identifies visible peaks as you point your phone out on the horizon.

When you are not looking at the views, or if the clouds roll in, spend some time admiring the variety of wildflowers adorning the slopes, or listening for marmots squeaking as they run around the rocks.

Lake Ann

A small brilliant blue lake, Lake Ann, surrounded by wildflowers and mountain peaks at the base of a mountain valley.

Total Length: 3.4 miles
Hike Type: Out & Back
Elevation Gain: 700 ft
Difficulty: Beginner

Driving Directions: Drive approximately 50 miles east on highway 20 past Marblemount. Stop at the Rainy Pass trailhead on the right side of the road.

Not to be confused with Lake Ann near Mt. Shuksan, which is also a beautiful hike in the area, this Lake Ann is near Rainy Pass and the Maple Pass Loop.

Lake Ann is a crowd-pleaser for any season (besides winter, when the road closes), offering wildflowers in summer, larches in fall, and majestic snow-sprinkled mountains in early winter.

To find the trail from the parking lot, follow the “Lake Trail” signs. When you find a junction between a paved trail and a dirt trail, take the dirt trail to the right.

A mild hike through forest and wildflower meadows, this is a great stroll for any day.  Lake Ann is the perfect alpine lake, with beautiful blue water lined by talus fields.

From the lake, you can return back the way you came or continue up to Maple Pass for a longer hike. It is possible to do a loop hike on the Maple Pass Trail, but prepare for double the distance and double the elevation gain.

Pin This Guide to Best Hikes in North Cascades National Park!

Winter in Glacier National Park: 21 Things to Know Before You Go!

Towering peaks, lush meadows, alpine lakes, and abundant wildlife sightings await visitors in Glacier National Park no matter the time of year.

A well-known piece of the Crown of the Continent, Glacier National Park is home to over 700 miles of hiking trails, making it a paradise for outdoor adventures!

In the summertime, grizzly bear can be spotted grazing in the meadows and the tall peaks of the Northern Rocky Mountains reflect in the icy blue waters of Lake McDonald. The highest peaks in Glacier can hold deep snow all summer long depending on the year, but many of the hiking trails are accessible without snowpack between June and September.

Glacier National Park quickly begins to transform into a winter wonderland come late fall. Although the backcountry in Glacier National Park is more accessible during the warm season, there is still much to explore and see once the snow begins to fall.

However, a winter vacation to Glacier National Park still requires some forethought and planning due to challenges that snow and closures present. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Glacier National Park in winter!

Glacier National Park Winter Road Conditions

Going to the Sun Mountain from the East Tunnel of the Going to the Sun Road, the sides of the mountain are covered in a light snow, road has been plowed before the road closes in Glacier National Park in winter.

Going-to-the-Sun Road

The stretch of road between the Lake McDonald Lodge and St. Mary Entrance is closed throughout the wintertime. When the road closes is entirely dependent on weather and road conditions.

The Going-to-the-Sun road reopens again once the national park operators can plow the alpine section of road clear of snow and it is deemed safe for private vehicle traffic. Due to the somewhat unpredictable mountain weather, there are no set opening or closing dates.

This road is considered one of the best scenic drives in the USA, but in the wintertime, it is socked in under many feet of snow with even deeper snowdrifts!

Once spring approaches, the road sees various stages of reopening. Be sure to call ahead for an accurate and updated road conditions report.

West Entrance to Lake McDonald Lodge

This is the only section of road that stays open year-round, weather permitting. This ten-mile stretch of road from the West Entrance to the Lake McDonald Lodge is plowed throughout the winter to allow for private vehicle traffic.

Just beyond the Lake McDonald Lodge, the road is gated to prevent further travel.

Many Glacier Road

The road to the Many Glacier Hotel is closed between November and April due to impassable winter road conditions. Folks who wish to explore this section of the park in the snow must either snowshoe or ski down the road.

Two Medicine Road

This road also goes unplowed during the wintertime and is considered closed once the snow is impassable. Call to talk to a ranger at Glacier National Park for current road conditions.

Inside North Fork Road

The Inside North Fork Road travels the western boundary of Glacier National Park leading travelers towards the Canadian Border. During the summer, the road is bumpy and is best taken at a leisurely pace. Once the snow begins to pile up, the road closes to private vehicle traffic.

Camas Road

The Camas Road, which connects West Glacier to Polebridge closes due to impassable snow conditions. However, it does transition into a fun scenic snowshoe trail once the snow is deep enough.

Winter Weather in Glacier National Park

An empty bench with footstep tracks next to it, looking out over Lake McDonald and all the snow-covered mountains surrounding it.

Winter in Glacier National Park can be summed up in a word: cold. I mean, the word ‘glacier’ in the name should be a hint!

Here is the average temperatures for winter months in Glacier National Park (which I’ll call November through March)

November: Average highs of 33° F and average lows of 21° F, with approximately 19 days of rain or snow.

December: Average highs of 27° F and average lows of 14° F, with approximately 19 days of rain or snow.

January: Average highs of 30° F and average lows of 17° F, with approximately 19 days of rain or snow.

February: Average highs of 32° F and average lows of 14° F, with approximately 16 days of rain or snow.

March: Average highs of 39° F and average lows of 20° F, with approximately 18 days of rain or snow.

Winter Hours of Operation and Facilities in Glacier NP

Snow-covered evergreen trees next to a lake, in front of a pyramid-shaped mountain covered in light snow.

Although recreation in Glacier National Park is technically open year-round, some of the facilities undergo reduced hours of operation or close completely come wintertime.

However, note that restrooms and potable water are available at the Apgar Visitor Center year-round.

If you are planning to visit Glacier National Park during the off-season, which is between late September and early May, you will want to be aware of these changes to facility operations:

Apgar Visitor Center: Closed during the winter. Outdoor informational exhibits are open year-round.

Logan Pass Visitor Center: Closed during the winter.

St. Mary Visitor Center: Closed during the winter.

Apgar Village Camp Store: Open intermittently throughout winter.

Backcountry Permit Offices: Call to assure staffing.

Note: All in-park lodging is closed during the wintertime, so you will want to stay in a nearby town, like West Glacier, Hungry Horse, or Whitefish.

Since Glacier National Park is home to such a rugged winter environment, it is a good idea to begin your trip by calling ahead to talk with a park ranger.

Where to Stay near Glacier National Park in Winter

Since you can’t actually stay in the park in the winter, you’ll have to stay nearby. Luckily, there are plenty of great options: these ones are all in Whitefish, which has the most options in terms of accommodations, but you can also look at West Glacier, Hungry Horse, or Kalispell.

Luxury

Lodge at Whitefish Lake: This cozy 4-star lodge boasts a beautiful location, an on-site spa, cozy rooms, and an award-winning restaurant — what else could you want when visiting Glacier in winter? The Spa is a great place to relax after a day recreating in Glacier National Park, with massages, facials, treatments, a steam room, a hot tub, a relaxation room, and more in their wellness center!
>> Book your stay the Lodge at Whitefish Lake here

Mid-Range

The Firebrand: This chic boutique hotel is one of Whitefish’s newest offerings, and it’s a great place with tons of personality. Amenities include a fitness center, ski storage and ski pass sales, and on-site restaurants and bars. Cozy robes and luxe en-suite bathrooms make each room feel spa-perfect.
>> Book a stay at the Firebrand here

Budget

Grouse Mountain Lodge: This cozy lodge is no-frills, but it’s a lovely place to stay in the winter when all you want is a roaring fireplace, lovely log cabin vibes, and snow-covered scenery! It has some great amenities including an outdoor firepit and hot tub as well as an indoor pool and a Finnish-style dry sauna.

Winter Camping in Glacier National Park

The unfrozen surface of Lake McDonald in early winter in Glacier National Park, reflecting the snow-covered mountains with a patch of fog on a sunny winter day.
Lake McDonald, where you’ll find the only winter Glacier campground at Apgar Campground

Many national park travelers like to camp during their outdoor adventures. Glacier National Park is home to thirteen front-country campgrounds, which are spread throughout the one million acre park!

During the busy season between May and most of September, many of the popular campgrounds are on an online reservation system and are full each night.

Out of the thirteen front-country campgrounds, Apgar Campground on Lake McDonald is the only one that stays open year-round.

The campground sees reduced site availability and primitive camping only during the cold season. Primitive camping in Glacier National Park means there are vault toilets open, but no potable water available.

Luckily, if you are unable to snag a site inside the park, there are plenty of camping opportunities and lodging accommodations ranging in levels of luxury nearby in West Glacier and Hungry Horse.

Winter Safety in Glacier National Park

A man wearing weather-appropriate clothing hiking through the snow, exhibiting winter safety guidelines in Glacier National Park in the snow.

Hypothermia

When your body temperature falls to dangerously cool levels, you begin to experience hypothermia. Wet clothes combined with freezing outside temperatures can create a high-risk environment.

To avoid hypothermia, the park service recommends wearing non-cotton clothing and doing everything possible to avoid submerging yourself in water.

According to the National Park Service, water is the number one cause of fatality in Glacier. If you are recreating near water, avoid walking on slippery rocks and crossing over moving water on thin snowbridges.

Staying Found

Trails covered in a fresh layer of snow can become difficult to follow. As you snowshoe, ski, or hike along, pay close attention to trail markers and junctions signs. Cell phone coverage is spotty to nonexistent in most areas of Glacier National Park. If you do become lost, stay where you are, and wait for rescue.

Always pack a map with navigation tools, and remember to tell someone where you are going before departing for the trail. If you are unsure of your abilities, always go with companions.

Avalanche

The deep powdery snow combined with the steep mountain terrain in Glacier National Park is the perfect formula for avalanches.

If you plan to recreate in the backcountry during the winter season, you should be professionally trained in avalanche safety and know how to use the appropriate safety gear.

Snowbridges

The thin layers of snow and ice covering water, crevasses, or massive snow caves can be difficult to detect. The fragile ice can give way to your body weight and leave you victim to the hazards below.

Before recreating on glaciers, in snowfields, or near bodies of water in the winter, be sure to talk to a park ranger about snowbridge safety.

Wildlife

Glacier National Park is home to diverse and magnificent wildlife. Although there will be many great opportunities to view wildlife, always make sure you are doing so safely. If it is a hoofed animal, such as moose, elk, sheep, and goats, keep back 75 feet. For grizzly and black bears, always try to maintain a distance of at least 300 feet.

Although bear hibernate in the wintertime, Glacier National Park is still grizzly country. Carry bear spray and follow appropriate bear aware protocol while recreating.

Things to Do in Glacier National Park in Winter

Go for a Scenic Drive

Icy surface of Lake McDonald as seen in winter, wth snow and ice on the banks of the lake, with snow-covered mountains in the distance.

As you have learned, many of the roads in Glacier National Park shut down due to impassable snow in the wintertime. However, there is still enough roadway open to private vehicle traffic for a fun drive through the snowy mountains!

The section of road between the West Entrance and the Lake McDonald Lodge remains open year-round due to the exceptional plow operators. The 10-mile stretch of road winds along the scenic and picturesque shore of Lake McDonald.

Although you may not get to see the lake’s colorful rock shores in the wintertime, you can still appreciate the towering peaks, such as Stanton Mountain, McPartland Mountain, and Heavens Peak, in the background.

This drive is perfect for photographers hoping to capture the beauty of Glacier National Park’s front country. As you drive along, use the frequent turnouts to access the lake’s shore and capture every accessible angle.

It is common to spot whitetail deer roaming along the roadway, but keep an eye out for other wildlife like moose, elk, fox, and coyote.

The bear may be fast asleep during your visit, but if you’re coming during the late fall or early spring, it is possible to spot bear grazing along the shore.

Go cross-country skiing and snowshoeing

Female hiker in snowshoes with trekking poles wearing a black jacket and baby blue pants, looking over a snow-covered mountainous landscape in Glacier National park in the winter time.

Winter is the dominant season in Glacier National Park and all of northern Montana, since all the other seasons are so short-lived!

To make the best of the snowy months and continue exploring, strap on a pair of snowshoes or cross country skis.

The Apgar Village has a variety of ski and snowshoe trails for everyone to enjoy. For a short 3-mile outing, consider exploring the Lower McDonald Creek Trail.

Those who are looking for something a little longer in the Apgar Village area might like the 6-mile round trip trail to Rocky Point, which offers multiple viewpoints featuring Lake McDonald and surrounding peaks!

Take a scenic snowmobile ride

Snowmobile tracks on the frozen lake at Whitefish Lake in Whitefish, MT with houses and lodges in the background.

For those looking for a little high-octane adventure, rent a snowmobile and explore the backcountry areas around Glacier National Park for yourself.

While snowmobiling is not permitted within the park itself, you can snowmobile just outside of the park’s limits. Snowmobiling is one of the most popular winter activities for visitors to Northern Montana, with snowmobile tours departing from common bases like Whitefish and West Glacier.

I recommend traveling with Action Rentals, who offer independent and guided snowmobile rentals departing from Whitefish, MT.

Book a snowmobile rental here!

Go ice climbing

A woman in a pink jacket and red pants climbing up the icicles of a frozen waterfall with climbing equipment and harness.

Winter’s answer to rock climbing is ice climbing!

This fun activity allows you to scale up beautiful, otherworldly landscapes like frozen waterfalls and icy, snow-covered cliff edges, equipped with little more than ice picks and a harness.

Ice climbing is dangerous to do solo, so make sure you go with a trusted guide like Whitefish Vertical Adventures.

What to Pack for Glacier National Park in Winter

Baby blue and pastel pink sky at sunrise over the trees and mountains of the Montana winter landscape in Glacier National Park

Waterproof Parka: In the snow of Glacier in winter, you’ll want a really warm winter jacket, like this ultra-insulated North Face parka. I admit it’s a bit pricy, but it comes with a guarantee that it’ll last a lifetime.. and I tested this guarantee by sending in a zipper to be fixed which got damaged after 4 years of abuse wearing it every winter day to cycle 15 miles — my jacket came back like new and better than ever.

I’ve had my North Face parka for literally 10 years, and it’s held up from winters biking through New York City to multiple trips north of the Arctic Circle in places like Tromso and Abisko. It’ll serve you well in Glacier in winter!

Get the exact jacket I have here! 

Waterproof Pants: If you’re cross-country skiing or snowboarding or doing some winter hiking, you’ll absolutely want waterproof pants. Jeans put you at risk of hypothermia if you get wet, so avoid at all costs.

Snow Boots: Since you’ll likely be trudging through quite deep snow both in Glacier National Park and wherever you set up your base, you’ll absolutely need proper snow boots for a trip to Glacier in winter. I love these stylish and warm Sorel boots for women, which are waterproof and warm but also have plenty of traction. For added steadiness on your feet, throw on some Yaktrax to the bottom for grip on icy surfaces and pathways. These are a godsend (they saved me from eating it many times when I was in Tromso!)

Warm Leggings: There are two choices when it comes to a cozy base layer for your bottom half: fleece-lined for people with sensitive skin like me, and merino wool for people who don’t find wool itchy like I do. I own several pairs of these fleece-lined leggings in a variety of colors (I have black, gray, and maroon). Be sure to wear waterproof layers over this if you’ll be out in the snow, though! For people who like wool, merino wool leggings are the way to go – the absolute warmest you can get. However, it’s too much wool for me to handle, but I have particularly sensitive skin.

Fleece-Lined Knit Hat: If you enjoy fashion, winter can be a bit of a drag because you basically commit to one jacket (typically in a neutral color) for an entire season. I absolutely live for livening up my look with tons of different colors of knit hats. I have one in virtually every color, but I love red and yellow best for the best ‘pop’ of color against the snow. Since I have so many hats, I don’t really have anything special: just a snug knit hat lined in fleece and with a pompom that does absolutely nothing to add warmth but I love them anyway.

Thermal Top Layer: Again, what kind of thermal you go for will definitely depend on whether or not you have any skin sensitivities and if you can handle wool. I hate wool on anything but socks, so instead, I go for thin performance thermals like this Heat Plus layer from 32 Degrees. However, if you’re a fan of wool, a merino wool base layer will keep you insanely warm. Better yet, wool doesn’t trap odors the same way other materials do, meaning you can re-wear it several times before your under-layers will need to be washed — great for people who pack light!

An Enormous Scarf: I go for big, warm, and infinite-style scarfs. I tend to opt for bright, bold colors to liven up my look. I love these ones — they’re cheap and feel cashmere-soft, but they aren’t pricy like it.

Touchscreen Friendly Gloves: You’ll likely want to have your hands out of your pockets at times when you’re navigating on Google Maps, looking up something you’ve bookmarked (maybe this blog?), etc.! Most gloves these days tend to be touchscreen-friendly, but check before you buy. These gloves are cute, smartphone-compatible, and inexpensive.

Waterproof Gloves: You’ll also want to layer waterproof gloves over your touchscreen gloves if you’re snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, or anything where you are out and about in the snow and need your hands out for balance or gripping poles, etc.

Headlamp (and Extra Batteries): Glacier National Park in winter can get dark early — and quickly! — due to the early sunset time that naturally occurs in winter… plus the mountains making it get dark long before that! Bring a headlamp in case any outdoor excursions take longer than expected. You don’t want to get lost after dark in the snow. This Petzl headlamp is highly-rated and affordable.

Waterproof Backpack: You’ll want to keep your belongings dry, especially if you’re doing long treks on cross-country skis or snowshoes in the snow or freezing rain. Bring a waterproof backpack — you won’t regret it, especially if you’re carrying pricy camera equipment.

Snowshoes (optional): Many trails in Glacier National Park in winter will require proper snowshoes (different than snow boots — these allow you to ‘float’ on top of snow instead of sinking through it!) as well as trekking poles if you want to do some winter exploring. You can also rent them, but they’re pretty cheap to buy and will last you for future winter trips, so I recommend investing in them if you are a fan of snow travel.

Camera: You’ll want a camera to capture all that Glacier National Park winter beauty. I use and love my Sony A6000! It’s mirrorless, so it’s lightweight and perfect for a high-quality camera that won’t weigh you down. Be sure to bring a handful of extra batteries! Trust me, I’ve learned from many an experience in the cold photographing the Northern Lights that batteries burn out sooo much faster in the cold.

Battery Pack: Going off of what I said above, extend that to your phone as well! Cold weather depletes cell phone batteries extra quickly, so if you’re using your cell phone as your primary camera and navigation device (and who doesn’t these days?) you’ll absolutely want the ability to power up without a wall outlet while you’re out enjoying nature. I rely on an Anker battery pack to keep all my devices charged in the cold — and as a blogger who takes frequent winter trips to the Arctic and beyond with way more gear than a normal person needs, it’s served me very well!

Winter in Zion National Park: What to Know Before You Go

Many outdoor enthusiasts argue that winter in Zion is the best time to visit this beloved national park in southwest Utah!

Home to Angels Landing and the famous Emerald Pools, Zion National Park is often ranked as one of the most visited national parks in the United States.

However, in the winter, Zion’s tall canyon walls become accented in powdery white snow, and the crowds of summer become a distant memory. 

Although the shift in seasons may change the scenery, there are still many fun activities in Zion National Park in the winter! However, there are a few things you should know about visiting Zion in winter, first.

Zion Winter Road Closures

Curve in the road going through a snow covered section of Zion National Park in the winter on a sunny day

Zion Scenic Drive

During peak visitation in the summertime and between December 24th – January 2nd, the Zion Scenic Drive can not be accessed by personal vehicle.

All visitors wishing to explore the Zion Scenic Drive by vehicle must use the park’s shuttle bus system.

The wintertime buses generally run between 8 am and 5 pm and can be used to access trailheads for hikes like Emerald Pools and the West Rim.

When the shuttle bus is not operating in Zion National Park, visitors can use their personal vehicles to access the trailheads and attractions along the Zion Scenic Drive.

The park service recommends arriving at trailheads early in the day because trailheads do fill up. Once a trailhead is full, there will be no more parking allowed, so it is a good idea to have a secondary plan in place.

Zion Mount-Carmel Highway

For visitors traveling from Springdale, UT to the eastern side of the park near Mt Carmel Junction, the Zion Mount-Carmel Highway is the shortest route. This drive does pass under the famous Zion Mount-Carmel Tunnel, which is just over 1 mile long!

Passenger vehicles can pass through the tunnel at any time, but oversized vehicles do have a few prerequisites and restrictions.

All vehicles 11’4” tall or taller or 7’10” wide or wider, including attachments and accessories, will require a tunnel permit. Tunnel permits can be obtained at the entrance stations and cost $15 in addition to park entrance fees.

The final obligation of oversized vehicles using the tunnel is that the vehicles must use the tunnel during operating hours, which are between 8:00 am and 4:30 pm in the winter.

Semi-trucks, vehicles over 13’1”, and single vehicles over 40’ long are prohibited. For more information on prohibited tunnel vehicles or using the tunnel, contact Zion National Park at (435) 772-3256.

Kolob Canyons Road

Wintertime conditions such as impassable snow and icy roads can cause frequent temporary closures on Kolob Canyons Road. The road is maintained throughout the wintertime and is open to private vehicles year-round.

Kolob Terrace Road and Lava Point Road

The Kolob Terrace Road is open year-round. However, 4-wheel drive and tire chains may be required to pass safely through the winter driving conditions.

West Rim Road

The West Rim Road closes during the winter season.

Zion Winter Hours of Operation and Facilities

Snow on the valley floor of Zion National Park, next to a small river, with snow-covered trees and red cliff rock faces showing a winter Zion landscape

Although Zion National Park is always open to the public, some of the facilities do undergo reduced hours of operation come wintertime.

If you are visiting Zion National Park in the winter, you will want to be aware of these facility hours and seasonal closures:

Zion Canyon Visitor Center: 8:00 am – 4:00 pm

Zion Canyon Wilderness Desk: 8:00 am – 10:00 am and 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm

Park Store: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm

Kolob Canyons Visitor Center: 8:00 am – 4:30 pm

Zion Human History Museum: closed

Zion Nature Center: closed

It is always a good idea to begin a national park trip with a stop at the visitor center. This is a great way to make sure you have the most up to date information, and it allows you to review your itinerary with professional park staff. They may even have some insider tips to share with you!

Winter Camping in Zion National Park

Snow-covered mountain near the Watchman Campground, with a partly cloudy sky in the background. Red rock showing behind the snow.

Many who come to Zion National Park choose to camp during their visits. During the summer months, there are three different campgrounds: Watchman Campground, South Campground, and Lava Point Campground.

However, Lava Point and South close in the fall leaving Watchman Campground as the only front country year-round camping option in Zion National Park in winter.

Although there are many other lodging accommodations and campgrounds in the town of Springdale, UT, winter visitors with their hearts set on camping at Watchman Campground should plan to arrive early for first come, first serve camping beginning in December.

The campground capacity does reduce for the winter season in Zion!

Winter Safety in Zion National Park

Icy Trails

With limited daylight and cold nighttime temperatures in the wintertime, one of the greatest cold season hazard in Zion Canyon becomes icy trails and icy chains.

Many of the most popular trails, including Angels Landing, remain open year-round. It’s not uncommon to have clear dry trails.

However, ice may be lingering in the shady sections of high elevation trails, which can be especially dangerous on trails like Angels Landing which have sheer-face drops and require the use of chains for leverage!

To combat icy trails, many hikers choose to carry along Yaktrax or spikes. These handy accessories will help you keep your footing on slick surfaces.

Hypothermia

A woman in a lavender top and leggings hiking the ridge of Angel's Landing covered in a light snow, looking over a snow-covered valley in Zion in winter.

When your body temperature falls to dangerously cool levels, you begin to experience hypothermia.

Although Zion National Park is well-known for its mild wintertime temperatures, wet clothes combined with lower temps found in the narrow canyons can create a high-risk.

To avoid hypothermia, the park service recommends wearing non-cotton clothing and eating high-energy foods before chill takes effect.

Thermal layers and leggings will keep you a lot warmer than cotton, and be sure to also bring a waterproof jacket in case of rain, sleet, or snow.

Rockfall

Rock formations covered in snow, surrounded by fog on a wintry day in Zion national park

Rockfall is a year-round hazard in Zion National Park. When recreating within the steep canyon, be aware and alert.

If a rockfall occurs, the park service advises visitors to safely move out of the way. If it is not possible to move out of the way of falling rock, seek shelter behind a large and stable rock feature and place your backpack over your head.

Although rockfall can occur at any time, the risk can become increased due to water freezing behind the cliff walls. When the water freezes, it can cause the cracks behind rocks to expand occasionally lodging the rocks out of place.

Rain is also a big risk for causing rockslides, so even if it’s not freezing or snowing, you do have to be aware when visiting Zion in the winter!

Things to Do in Zion in Winter

Snowshoe to Observation Point

Kolob Canyon walls covered in a light snow which shows from underneath the red rock, a stormy sky with dark clouds above.

If you are fortunate enough to visit Zion National Park after a fresh snowfall, you may be able to cross country ski or snowshoe on some of the park trails! The higher elevation areas in Zion can hold snow from late October until March.

Kolob Canyons’ high  elevation makes it a great place to have fun in the snow all winter long. However, if you are looking for a snowshoe adventure in the main part of Zion National Park, you must check out the trail to Observation Point!

Beginning from the Weeping Rock Trail, hike up the switchbacks and out of the deep canyon. You may not need snowshoes at the beginning part of the hike, but the East Rim is known for holding deep snow. Check current conditions with a ranger before departing!

The trail to Observation Point is much wider than the trail to Angels Landing, but it has quite a bit more elevation gain. From Observation Point, you will be 700 feet higher than the summit at Angels Landing! This 8-mile round trip hike includes a look at Echo Canyon as well as one of the most iconic views in all of Zion National Park.

Take a Scenic Drive Through Zion Canyon

Snow-covered canyon walls with a sunny sky with some clouds, a plowed road that is empty winding through Zion in winter.

Parts of the Zion Scenic Drive are closed to private vehicles during the summer season. Once the crowds disperse, the shuttle bus shuts down, and visitors are allowed to travel through this section of Zion National Park in their own vehicles.

Traveling this scenic route in your personal vehicle allows for the opportunity to stop as needed and take in the gorgeous canyon views. This 57-mile scenic drive is well worth the trip with chances to see wildlife and the ability to stop frequently for photographs. The drive takes about 1.5 hours depended on the number of detours you choose to explore!

Most travelers begin the drive near St. George, UT, and continue through Zion National Park toward Mt Carmel Junction.

Try for Wildlife Viewing

Two goats or sheep with horns looking at the camera, perched on some snow on a red rock landscape in Zion National Park in winter.

There is no better season than winter to spot some of Zion National Park’s wild turkeys roaming the canyon.

Although some of the park wildlife hibernates during the wintertime, it is still possible to spot mule deer, bighorn sheep, and even eagle along the Virgin River!

Binoculars and a keen eye may be necessary to spot some of these well-camouflaged residents. Roaming the park after a fresh snowfall may make it easier to spot deer and bighorn sheep.

Practice Your Wintertime Photography

View of Zion's red rock cliff landscape juxtaposed with bits of white snow in the higher elevation crevices of the canyon on a blue sky winter day in Zion National Park

Zion National Park’s beautiful landscape becomes something even more picturesque once the snow begins to fall. The tall cliffs become dusted with powdery white snow and the wall’s red colors begin to pop.

Visitors hoping to capture Zion’s winter landscape can travel the Zion Scenic Drive while using turnouts and designated parking areas to find the perfect angle. Since many of the trails stay open year-round, photographers can also hike to scenic vistas like Angels Landing and Observation Point.

Pin This Guide to Visiting Zion in Winter!

The 10 Best Grand Teton Day Hikes

Many people travel to Grand Teton National Park to get a glimpse of the iconic Teton Range, scout out some of the area’s diverse wildlife, and go on a scenic hike in the Tetons.

With over 200 miles of beautiful hiking trails in Grand Teton National Park, there’s no shortage of choices.

Every experience level and age group can find a trail they will enjoy from a family-friendly nature walk in Colter Bay to challenging mountain passes that offer rewarding views of the pristine landscape below.

Load up your backpack, grab your camera, and don’t forget to pack the bear spray. These are the best day hikes that Grand Teton National Park has to offer!

Best Day Hikes in Grand Teton National Park

Taggart and Brady Lakes

Still lake at Taggart Lake reflecting the Teton range above it, surrounded by trees, rocks, and foliage.

Distance: 6 miles

Elevation Gain: 585 feet

A trip to Grand Teton National Park is not complete without a hike to Taggart and Brady Lakes. These lakes are nearby each other and are both worth visiting.

Being such a scenic hike, this is a well-well-trafficked trail. With that said, there is limited parking at the Taggert Lake Trailhead, and arriving early is highly recommended so you can find a parking spot easily.

Take in the stunning views of Grand Teton, the tallest mountain in the Teton Range, from the parking area. When you are ready to get your blood flowing, depart from the trailhead and hit the trail. When you come to the first trail junction, veer right and follow the sign toward Taggart Lake Trail.

A little farther down the trail, you will come to yet another junction. The trail is very well marked. Just remember you are following the signs to Taggart and Brady Lakes! A map helps too!

Next, cross the sturdy footbridge over Taggart Creek. Look upstream to get a glimpse of the cascading waterfall. The trail begins to climb a bit starting here. Make your way through the forest of lodgepole pines and thick aspen groves.

After you’ve hiked about 1 mile, you will come to another trail junction. Heading left will take you to Taggart Lake. However, if you wish to visit both of the lakes keep right and check out Brady Lake first. Just a little way farther, and you will be rewarded with multiple scenic overlooks of Taggert Lake!

Once you come to the Valley Trail Junction, keep right and you will shortly arrive at the shores of Bradly Lake. When you are finished soaking up the Teton views, head back to the Valley Trail Junction and take the Valley Trail this time to get a closer look at Taggart Lake and complete the loop back to the trailhead.

String and Leigh Lake

Narrow footbridge crossing a section of String Lake surrounded by green trees at the start of this Grand Teton hike.

Distance: 4 miles

Elevation Gain: 50 feet

Begin your hike at the String Lake Picnic Area. At the trailhead, you will find stunning mountain views from the sandy beach at String Lake. This is a great spot to refuel with some lunch or cool off with a dip in the chilly lake.

The trail wraps around the shore of String Lake until you come to a junction that will lead toward Leigh Lake. Unlike String Lake, accessing the shore of Leigh lake can be a little trickier. Keep an eye out for a well-used trail down to the lakeshore.

From Leigh Lake, continue back the way you came and complete the loop around String Lake. For a much longer hike, you can choose to hike to Bear Lake from Leigh Lake. This would add an additional 4 miles to the hike.

Jenny Lake: Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls

Giant boulders in front of the view from Inspiration Point, showing lots of evergreen trees in front of a brilliant blue lake with some clouds on the horizon but an otherwise clear sky.

Distance: 2.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 330 feet

If you make a visit to hike in Grand Teton National Park, definitely plan for a stop at Jenny Lake! There is so much to do at Jenny Lake, it is well worth dedicating a half-day to.

Who doesn’t love a waterfall hike? The hike to Hidden Falls is one of the most beautiful in the park. This trail is short enough that it is considered a novice and great for families. Hop on the boat shuttle at the docking area. This will cut off about 5 miles from the hike and offer beautiful mountain views as you cross the lake. There is a small fee for taking the boat shuttle.

Once on the other side of the lake, begin your hike on the Cascade Canyon Trail. The trail climbs quite a bit before reaching Hidden Falls and the viewing area. Hidden Falls is a towering 100’ and is often regarded as the most scenic waterfall in Grand Teton National Park!

Continue on your way up to Inspiration Point. Since it is less than a half-mile from Hidden Falls, it’s worth the climb, but if your legs are exhausted, you can always choose to turn back to the boat dock. Inspiration Point offers a great view of Jenny Lake and the distant mountains.

Jenny Lake Loop

Hiking in Grand Teton National Park along the perimeter of Jenny Lake, a brilliant sapphire blue lake surrounded by rocks and pine trees.

Distance: 7.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 275 feet

This scenic loop around Jenny Lake offers countless photo opportunities and chances to gaze up at the stunning peaks known as the Cathedral Group in the Teton Range!

The loop begins at the Jenny Lake Trailhead and stays fairly close to the lake throughout the entire hike. This is a great long hike for those hoping to avoid super strenuous hills or elevation gain.

Along the way, you can choose to veer off to visit Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, which are mentioned previously.

If you were hoping to experience solitude while hiking in Grand Teton National Park, this may not be the ideal trail for you. Although scenic and rewarding, this is a very popular trail. The road is nearby part of the trail too, and it can interrupt the quiet of nature at times.

Phelps Lake Overlook

View over the sapphire blue Phelps Lake surrounded by pine forest on a clear, cloudless day with mountains on the horizon.

Distance: 2 miles

Elevation Gain: 400 feet

The Phelps Lake overlook is a fairly easy hike that wanders through a pine forest and aspen groves before opening up to a scenic viewpoint. This hike begins at the Death Canyon Trailhead, which is located at the end of a rutted dirt road.

From the trailhead, you will enter the forest and follow the well-maintained trail for 1 mile. Phelps Lake sits at over 7,000’ in elevation and is a common place to spot moose and waterfowl.

Surprise and Amphitheater Lakes Trail

Still lake reflecting back the mountains and foliage above it, covered in some light snow that hasn't yet melted.

Distance: 10.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,900 feet

This hike is perfect for anyone looking for a low-mileage overnight backpacking trip or a challenging day hike! At just over 10 miles round trip, you can expect the first half of the trail to be an uphill slog. However, the dessert of this rugged incline is two pristine alpine lakes surrounded by beautiful rocky cliffs.

Begin the trek at the Lupine Meadow Trailhead and head toward Glacier Gulch. After many switchbacks, you will first reach Surprise Lake. A little farther down the trail awaits Amphitheater Lake.

Lake Solitude

Green and brown grass, with some pine trees sparsely populating the landscape, and a tiny blue lake at the foot of mountains on a remote Grand Teton hike.

Distance: 7.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,350 feet

Another hike that begins at Jenny Lake is the beautiful hike to Lake Solitude. Surrounded by mighty peaks, Lake Solitude is a great challenge for anyone looking to experience an alpine lake, possible wildlife sightings, and seasonal wildflowers.

The hike to Lake Solitude begins just like the hike to Inspiration Point, with a boat ride across Jenny Lake. This time, when you make it up to Inspiration Point, you will continue climbing on the trail instead of turning around.

The trail will level out a bit after Inspiration Point as you enter into Cascade Canyon. In the early summer, you will see a variety of colorful wildflowers. As you always should while hiking in Grand Teton National Park, be bear aware as you make your way deeper into the canyon.

The trail passes by a series of ponds before the scenery transformed into a pine forest. Keep trekking along until you finally arrive at the lake!

Lake Solitude sits just above 9,000’ in elevation and should only be tackled by experienced hikers that are prepared for a challenge.

Christian Pond Loop

A blue river or pond surrounded by yellowing grass with some low mountains behind it

Distance: 3.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 250 feet

This easy loop is well-known for wildlife and wildflowers!

Begin your hike to Christian Pond from the trailhead parking next to the horse corrals at the Jackson Lake Lodge. As you approach the pond, be on the lookout for moose and elk grazing as well as trumpeter swans gliding through the shallow water.

The trail leads to the shores of Emma Matilda Lake before looping back toward the trailhead. Take a little detour and hike along the lake’s edge. Another great spot for wildlife viewing! When you’ve taken in all in head back to the Christian Pond Loop and back to the trailhead.

Colter Bay Lakeshore Trail

A mostly still lake reflecting the mountains of the Teton Range beautifully in its glassy, slightly rippled surface.

Distance: 2 miles

Elevation Gain: 150’

The Lakeshore Trail in Colter Bay is a perfect walk for families or anyone new to hiking in a national park! The trail is made up of two scenic loops and can be shortened as necessary to meet your experience and comfort level.

From the Colter Bay Visitor Center, walk toward the marina and find the trailhead for the Lakeshore Trail. From the trail, hikers can easily access the rocky shore of Jackson Lake to take photos or scout for wildlife.

Pin This Guide to Grand Teton Hikes!

National Park Gift Guide: 30+ Thoughtful Gifts for National Park Lovers

view of swiftcurrent pass in glacier national park with beautiful views

If you’re wondering what to get someone who loves National Parks, this is the perfect gift guide for you!

Here are all the best national park gifts, from Acadia to Zion!

How Do I Gift a National Parks Pass?

Easy! REI sells the America the Beautiful Annual Pass online. 

If you want to get a great gift for someone whose park pass is expiring soon, or who doesn’t have one yet, this is a great and thoughtful gift!

For just $79.99 for the year, your giftee will get access to all of the National Parks and over 2,000 unique NPS-managed sites! 

Best of all? They donate 10% of proceeds from sales to the National Parks Foundation!

US National Park Board Games

There are a number of board games dedicated to national parks!

If you’re looking for a gift for a kid who loves national parks — or a family — this is a great NPS gift!

PARKS Board Game

This strategy game is a great choice for families.

The game works a little similar to Settlers of Catan in that you collect resources, but the gameplay is a lot more simplified. Players traverse different “trails” and collect resources in order to exchange their resource tokens for different national parks! 

The resource tokens are made of wood, representing the unique flora and fauna of the parks, and the cards feature unique illustrations from dozens of artists.

The game can be played solo or with a group of up to 4 people, and it’s perfect for families with kids over the age of 10.

Buy it on Amazon here.

Trekking the National Parks Board Game

Here’s another great strategy game perfect to give to a parks-loving family!

This game functions really similarly to Ticket to Ride, which is one of my favorite board games of all time!

It’s not as educational about the national parks as the PARKS board game above, but it will certainly spark curiosity and nostalgia when you play. 

It’s a great gift to teach kids a bit of USA geography and inspire them to travel to more parks. It’s suitable for kids aged 10+.

Buy it on Amazon here.

Trekking the National Parks Trivia Game

This is a trivia game that is the most educational of the bunch, but it’s also a lot of fun even if you have very little national park knowledge.

The cool thing about the game is that the answer to every question is a number, and you don’t have to be exactly right to win! You just have to be the closest to the correct number without going over (Price is Right rules, anyone?) to win the round.

The focus on “guesstimation” makes the game a little more inclusive for families with young kids and gives them a shot at taking on family members who may have a little more knowledge than they do.

Buy it on Amazon here.

Monopoly National Parks Edition

If you are getting a gift for someone who loves national parks and board games, the classic park-themed Monopoly game is a great gift idea!

This doesn’t necessarily break any new ground, but does it need to? Monopoly is tried and true and classic for a reason. 

The gameplay is the same, so no need to learn a whole bunch of new rules, but there are updates like park-themed tokens, battlefield parks and historic sites cards instead of the ‘community chest’ and ‘chance’ cards, and NPS sites instead of streets. And instead of houses and hotels, you can build campsites!

Buy it on Amazon here.

National Parks Playing Cards

You can never have enough playing cards, and I’m a sucker for a beautifully illustrated deck designed around a theme.

This set of national park playing cards is just that, with each card dedicated to a retro ‘poster’ like quality image, with the traditional suits and cards marked in the corners. 

They have a high-quality heavy weight and look stunning. They come in a sturdy box and are the perfect gift for minimalists because they’re super useful and don’t weigh a lot — easy to throw in your bag for any parks trip or an RV vacation!

It’s also a great stocking stuffer!

Buy it on Amazon here.

National Park Posters

National Parks Scratch Off Maps

This National Park scratch-off map by Mappinners is so cute! 

It has a handmade feel to it, and each little “letter” you scratch off reveals a beautiful illustrated postcard of the national park.

It’s a great gift to someone who has “visit all the national parks” on their bucket list, as they can add to their national park map as they explore and see more.

It’s also a romantic gift to give your partner if your goal is to visit more of America’s national parks together!

Buy it on Amazon.

National Park Themed Gifts & Stocking Stuffers

National Park Bucket List Keychain

This keychain with tokens is one of the easiest way to keep track of your National Park bucket list!

You can customize this exactly to fit the national parks you want, and you can buy as many tokens as you want… from 1 to 63!

National Park Stickers

These beautiful Anderson Group-designed National Park stickers are a great gift for a parks collector! 

This complete set includes 62 stickers — one for each National Park Service site* — printed on high-quality die-cut vinyl. 

*Note that it’s missing one national park, New River Gorge, the newest park that was just added in 2020.

Stick them on your water bottle, notebooks, journals, laptops — whatever you like!

Buy it on Amazon.

National Parks Passport Book & Journal

If you know a hiker who loves to take notes after their trail excursions in the National Parks, this is a fantastic gift idea.

It’s also great to give to a young person who is just starting their parks exploration, as it can serve as a memory bank for the future!

It has spots for passport stamps from the different parks as well as notes on all different aspects of their park experience.

Buy it on Amazon.

Pocket-Sized National Parks Journal

This is another cute journal that is ultra-customizable. If you’re artistic, you can draw, if you’re not, you can just add park passport stamps!

It’s done in a “bullet journal” style where it has spreads for things like hikes you’ve taken, as well as notes for each park you’ve visited.

It’s ultra-cute and well-designed, and it would be a fantastic gift for someone whose goal it is to visit every one of America’s beautiful national parks!

Buy it on Amazon.

Home Decor for National Park Lovers

National Parks Postcards

These postcards could very well be mailed, but I think they’re really cute as a simple home decor item!

Hang them up on a clothesline with clothespins for a super cute, low-cost way to add a lovely design element to your favorite national park enthusiast friend’s home!

Alternately, buy a few frames and frame them for your gift recipient — pick the parks you’ve been to together and it’ll have a memorable, customized touch.

Buy it on Amazon here.

National Park Coffee Table Books

Nothing is more inviting to dive into than a beautiful coffee table book full of gorgeous imagery and fun facts.

Here are the most beautiful coffee table books about the national parks!

Atlas of the National Parks

Created by National Geographic, it should be no surprise that this is all about the beautiful photography! 

It is full of information, maps, infographics, text, and photography about 61 of our national parks! 

Note that it doesn’t include our newest NPS, White Sands in New Mexico, which wasn’t made a national park until the end of 2019 — this book was published earlier in 2019.

Buy it Amazon here.

Parks

This beautiful coffee table book is a great gift for those who merge their love of design and nature.

This nearly 400-page coffee table book contains all sorts of beautiful graphic design from over 100 years of National Parks maps, brochures, and other printed parks memorabilia.

Buy it online at the Parks Project. 

National Park Guidebooks

There are a few great national park guidebooks that offer a super in-depth and detailed guide to all the parks.

Here are the ones I recommend!

Moon U.S. National Parks

Moon is one of my favorite brands of guidebooks. This National Parks travel guide book covers all the national parks and features the best outdoor adventures in each park. 

It notes what the park is best for (ex: scenic drives, hikes, family-friendly, etc.) and gives road trip itineraries for linking several parks back-to-back (and where to stop in between the parks!

It also comes with a section for your NPS stamps and a foldable poster map to track your travels!

Buy it on Amazon here.

National Geographic Guide

There’s no brand more trusted when it comes to wildlife and nature photography — and so is it any surprise that National Geographic hit it out of the park (pardon the pun) when they created this guide?

This is the 2021 edition so it’s the most up-to-date, with 62 national parks covered within its 500+ pages.

This book is a behemoth resource your favorite parks enthusiast will love for years to come!

Buy it on Amazon.

Experiential National Park Gift Ideas

Sometimes, one of the best gifts you can give someone is an experience they would maybe never purchase for themselves.

For example, a helicopter ride over their favorite national park!

National Park Gifts for Hikers

Pendleton Socks

These cute Pendleton socks are dedicated to different National Parks, and they’re cozy and thick so they won’t rub or chafe.

The colors represent the parks so it’s a subtle reference to the parks without being overly covered in insignia.

Buy it on Amazon here.

National Park Gifts for Kids

Junior Ranger Activity Book

This fun activity book is perfect for the future park ranger in your life!

A great gift for a niece or nephew who loves the parks, it’s educational, fun, inexpensive, and guaranteed to include hours of fun. 

It’s a great gift for a little one who knows they have a national park road trip coming up!

Buy it on Amazon here.

Gift Ideas for Specific National Parks

Did you visit a specific park together and you want to give a gift that commemorates that particular national park adventure? 

A park-specific gift is a great idea, as it feels a lot more personal. Add a little note to it for an extra perfect national park gift!

Read through this carefully because if you have a specific park in mind, it might be available even if it’s not listed. For example, there are candles for many different national parks, and the Pendleton boots come in several park themes.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Candle

This beautiful candle is dedicated to Yosemite National Park. It’s a thoughtful, potentially romantic gift option for people who have left their heart in Yosemite!

It’s part of the Elsewhere Candle Company’s National Parks collection. Each candle is handmade in Boulder, Colorado and is dedicated to a specific place.

For the Yosemite candle, it’s an earthy blend of cedar, oak moss, sandalwood, and juniper berries.

They also have several other national park-themed candles: Olympic National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Acadia National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and more!

Buy it on Etsy here.

Yosemite Sweatshirt

This cute printed Yosemite sweatshirt is the perfect gift for someone who loves coziness and hikes in Yosemite!

It’s an affordable option and best of all, it’s unisex so it would be perfect gift for her or for him!

Buy it on Etsy here.

Yosemite Valley Topographic Map Carving

This gift is truly unique, and it’s a little insider-y and abstract, as not everyone will be able to tell right away that it’s a topographic map of Yosemite Valley.

It’s beautifully crafted from wood and would make the perfect gift for someone who is always California dreaming.

Buy it on Etsy here.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park T-Shirt

This charming Glacier National Park illustrated T-shirt is a great gift to commemorate a special time in Montana’s beautiful national park.

It’s a simple design but the illustration does capture the magic of this jewel of a national park!

Buy it on Etsy here.

Glacier National Park Ornament

This cute Christmas ornament is the perfect Christmas gift for a Glacier NP fan!

The ornament is in the shape of Montana and it’s made of a beautiful ceramic on a piece of Paracord. Each is hand-fired to order and unique!

They also make this ornament for other national parks, including Denali, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, etc.

Buy it on Etsy here.

Yellowstone National Park

Pendleton Short Rain Boots

This charming gift is as practical as it is personal! 

I’m a big fan of the Yellowstone yellow color — they would pop so beautifully on a rainy day! — but there are all sorts of different colors and decals on this group of National Park themed boots.

There’s also Acadia Black, Crater Lake Navy, Olympic Smoke, Rainier Red, Rocky Mountain Olive, Yosemite Icy Blue, Glacier White, and Grand Canyon Navy!

Buy it on Amazon here.

Yellowstone Glasses

These pretty glasses have a print of a topographical map of Yellowstone on it!

It’s at once artistic and subtle and pretty cool for a friend who can’t get over their trip to Yellowstone.

Buy it on Etsy here.

Grand Canyon National Park

Coordinates Necklace

Another super-customizable national parks gift, you can pick your favorite place in the park system and have its coordinates engraved on a metal necklace!

This one includes the Grand Canyon’s coordinates, but you can customize it to whatever park you like.

Buy it on Etsy here.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Pendleton Tall Rain Boots

The same range of cool rainboots also come in a tall size!

I’m partial to the Rocky Mountain Olive, personally, as the tall size calls for a more muted color in my book!

Each rain boot comes with some stripes in a color pattern that speaks to the park as well as a small, subtle decal of the park featured. 

It’s definitely not too loud a statement: it’s very well designed in that regard!

Buy it on Amazon here.

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton Necklace

There are few mountain ranges as distinctive as the Teton Range… so why not commemorate that with a beautiful necklace?

This gorgeous silver necklace embraces the simple beauty of the Tetons with a very minimalist design on one of three kinds of metal, so you can customize it to your taste.

Buy it on Etsy here.

15 Best Grand Canyon Airbnbs & Vacation Rentals: Glamping, Tiny Houses + Beyond

The Grand Canyon is one of those places that figures highly on nearly everyone’s U.S. bucket lists.

This stunning natural wonder was one of the first national parks in the United States, the result of erosion from the Colorado River over 6 million years.

At a whopping 277 miles long and a maximum depth over a mile (6,000 feet) at its deepest points, the Grand Canyon defies explanation. It’s a place that must be seen, not merely described.

One way to get an idea of the scale of the Grand Canyon is this: archaeologically speaking, looking at the Grand Canyon is looking at the past, the past 2 billion years of Earth’s geological history through all the different layers of rock and earth.

The Grand Canyon is part of the National Park Service, which means that accommodation options are strictly controlled and limited within the park. There are some campsites and some official lodging within the park, but they are expensive and tend to sell out months upon months in advance/

As a result, many people stay in Airbnbs near the Grand Canyon, or other similar vacation rentals which offer the best combination of price point, ease of access, and amenities!

Note: All these Grand Canyon options are located by the South Rim, not the North Rim, because there are far more accommodation options down south!

Here are my top choices for the best rentals near the Grand Canyon!

Best Grand Canyon Rental for Budget Glamping: Nomad’s Pad

Nomads Pad
Image via Nomad’s Pad

Price: From $130/night and up
Guests: 3
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Williams
Book via Instagram or find this property on Hipcamp. First time booking with Hipcamp? I have a bonus for you! Get $10 off your first stay using my code: ALLISONG61751E or booking through my link.

Located a mere 30 minutes (by car) from the Grand Canyon South Rim, Nomad’s Pad Glamping Tent offers the unique experience of turning an open Arizona landscape into your own personal kitchen and living room, as long as you don’t mind getting a little dirty.

The nomadic-style tents has the only ‘indoor’ amenities you really need – a bed and a heater. With that said, the tent is quite resistant to the elements and there are insect screens to protect you from unwanted guests, so you can truly immerse yourself in nature and not worry about pests or unforeseen weather changes ruining your outdoor vacation.

The tent is about as environmentally friendly as it could be, as everything on the property is powered by solar energy, propane, and batteries.

The property has multiple tents which are well spaced-out, so you can expect absolute privacy without feeling completely alone in the wilderness.

The only things that are shared among the tents are the toilet and shower (which has an unending supply of hot water).

Each tent area has its own seating, fire pit, stove, and hammocks. This location is ideal for people who want to forget that their phones exist for a few days and just want to experience the great outdoors with family or friends, distanced from others.

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Best Grand Canyon Rental for Eco-Friendly Glamping: Shash Dine’ EcoRetreat

Image via Shash Dine’ EcoRetreat

Price: From $248/night and up
Guests: 5
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Page
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Striking the perfect balance between eco-friendly and well-furnished, Shash Dine’ EcoRetreat features accommodation with free private parking for all glamping units.

Every tent or hogan include a terrace, a seating and a dining area, comfy camp beds, and a log burner. Moreover, it’s possible to enjoy a vegetarian or a gluten-free breakfast too.

The eco-friendly lodgings also feature a garden with a barbecue at this property and guests can go hiking and fishing nearby.

The limited space is utilized to its maximum potential, and there’s room for up to five people to sleep in the tent, making it a great place to visit if you’re traveling with friends.    

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Best Grand Canyon Rental for Families: Under Canvas Grand Canyon

Under Canvas Grand Canyon
Image via Under Canvas Grand Canyon

Price: From $300/night and up
Guests: 4
Bedrooms: 2
Nearest City: Valle
Find it on Booking.com: Under Canvas Grand Canyon

If you’re looking for a vacation house near the Grand Canyon and you’d like to go there with your family or friends, Under Canvas Grand Canyon is just the place for you.

There are different tents for you to choose from. And when you compare the Stargaze tent, the Safari tent, and the Deluxe tent with a Kids tent, it’s not easy to make up your mind! They’re all gorgeous.

This is the perfect Arizona getaway spot for up to four people, with spacious interiors enough for everyone to be able to sit and get around.

Located in the wilderness, the property offers plenty of interesting sightseeing options. The suites are super comfortable and it’s even possible to use the barbecue facilities. Vegetarian or American breakfasts are also served to guests.

Most importantly, the house is a 45-minute drive from Flagstaff, yet because it’s quite isolated, you’ll be able to get to one of America’s greatest natural landmarks without worrying about crowds and tourists along the way.

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Best Grand Canyon Rental Close to the Park: Grand Canyon Bungalow

Image via Grand Canyon Bungalow

Price: From $250/night and up
Guests: 6
Bedrooms: 3
Nearest City: Grand Canyon Village
Book it on VRBO

Grand Canyon Bungalow 3 is conveniently located 1 mile from the Grand Canyon National Park — meaning you don’t need to sweat parking at the often crowded South Rim parking lot!

This simple yet cozy house can accommodate up to 6 guests, and its minimalistic design and tastefully chosen furniture make it feel like a genuine home. The large amount of indoor space and the relative seclusion of the location make the house great for unwinding and enjoying the peaceful environment.

There’s plenty to be done outdoors, too – the perimeter of the house is covered in trees, so exploring the forest may lead to some interesting discoveries, and visitors can expect a beautiful morning view from the windows.

Additionally, the Arizona trailhead is nearby, adding to the already long list of locations of interest in Grand Canyon NP, and the front porch makes for a beautiful place to look at the sunset and the night sky if you just want to sit back and relax after a long day of hiking.

There are plenty of beautiful things to be seen in these parts of Arizona besides just the Grand Canyon main viewing area, and those who choose to stay at Grand Canyon Bungalow will really be able to make the most of their trip.

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Best Grand Canyon Rental for the Nostalgic: Sheep Wagon

Image via Hipcamp

Price: From $203/night and up
Guests: 2
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Page
Find it on Hipcamp: Sheep Wagon. First time booking with Hipcamp? I have a bonus for you! Get $10 off your first stay using my code: ALLISONG61751E or booking through my link.

Have you ever wanted to sleep in a covered wagon in the middle of nowhere under a brilliant starry sky? This unique and beautifully restored sheepherder’s wagon from the early 1900s will make your dream come true!

Remember that water is a precious commodity in the desert, so for your comfort, bathing water is provided in a container heated by the sun. Note that there is no running water on the Navajo nation.

This stay is very minimalist, but it will definitely help you relax and connect with nature, surrounded by outstanding natural beauty.

The property provides a breakfast of fresh fruit, breakfast bars, and your choice of coffee or Navajo Tea. Cooking of other meals can be done over open fire at the outdoor fire pit. Small wood bundles of firewood or charcoal to cook can be purchased at any outlet in the town of Page.

If what you’re looking to get out of your trip is an unforgettable stay in a dreamy lodging, then this beautiful wagon is for you.

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Check availability and book on Hipcamp here
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Best Rental for Hipsters on a Budget: Rustic Airstream

Image via Rustic Airstream

Price: From $45/night and up
Guests: 4
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Williams
Book it on VRBO

Those in the market for an off-the-grid experience near the Grand Canyon will appreciate what the Rustic Airstream has to offer – conveniently located around 35 minutes from the GC National Park (by car), this camper makes for a great hub for resting in between hikes and trips.

A heater is provided for winter visits, and you’ll have access to a fire pit for evening relaxation. 

Up to 3 people can sleep inside the camper, but the hosts can provide you with tents in case you want to come with a larger group, making this place a great pick for a family of seasoned outdoorsmen

As is typical for open-field camping, you can expect all kinds of beautiful sights and an amazing view of the night sky. The outside property is communal, as other travelers and campers frequent locations near the Grand Canyon, but you can expect absolute peace, quiet, and privacy inside this cozy domicile.

The Rustic Airstream is best suited for those who are looking for basic protection over luxury, and who just want to ensure that their camping trip won’t be ruined by unforeseen forces of nature.

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Best Grand Canyon VRBO for Nostalgia & Western Lovers: The Old West

Price: From $142/night and up
Guests: 4
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Williams
Book it on VRBO

Want to feel like you’re staying on the set of a Clint Eastwood movie?

Aficionados of the Wild West period and aesthetic will certainly enjoy staying at The Old West Loft – with a style reminiscent of the kinds of lofts you’ve seen in cowboy movies, this property is certainly one-of-a-kind!

The interior combines modern furniture and retro decorative elements, all while retaining the old-school flooring – this gives the place a lot of character and a rustic ambient without detracting from its coziness. It’s also very spacious, so it makes for a great spot to gather a group of people and relax. 

Another draw of The Old West Loft is its relative isolation, as it’s about 30 minutes from Williams with practically no one else in the vicinity, making it the perfect spot for an isolated vacation.

Also, it’s only about a 20-minute drive to the from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, so you get to relish in the peace and quiet of the location while still being relatively close to the region’s trademark tourist attraction.

As far as the simpler pleasures go, if you’ve ever wanted to see a Western-style sunset looming over the Arizona cliffs, the porch of the property offers an amazing view.

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Best Grand Canyon Airbnb for Camper Comfort: Grand Canyon RV Glamping

Image via Grand Canyon RV Glamping

Price: From $298/night and up
Guests: 4
Bedrooms: 2
Nearest City: Williams
Find it on Booking.com: Grand Canyon RV Glamping

Grand Canyon RV Glamping goes above and beyond what the average camper experience can offer.

The camper is about one hour from the Grand Canyon National Park and only 20 minutes from the center of William. This is a perfect choice for tourists and sightseers in groups of up to 4 people.

The interior has everything you would expect a full-fledged house to have, including a fully furnished kitchen and dining area, air conditioning, a seating area, a flat-screen TV with cable channels, and a private bathroom with free toiletries.

The interior is stylish but minimalistic – the sleek combination of black furniture and silver kitchenware give the camper a very luxurious feel,

That said, if you’re traveling to this part of America, you aren’t likely to be spending a lot of time inside the RV anyway, so whenever you’re not out and about exploring the Grand Canyon NP, you can spend the day off on the lawn chairs by the picnic table outside or by having a relaxing barbecue with family and friends.

People looking to isolate themselves for a vacation of peace and quiet will really appreciate the location.

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Check availability and book online here
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Best Grand Canyon Airbnb For Digital Nomads: Legends RV

Image via Legends RV

Price: From $149/night and up
Guests: 4
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Williams
Find it on Airbnb: Legends RV with High Speed WiFi

The Legends RV truly lives up to its name – the layout of the interior puts a lot of large houses and apartments to shame.

Recreational vehicles can often be an eyesore inside and out, but this particular camper doesn’t have that problem, as its eye-catching interior is colored in every shade of brown under the sun, and the reflective wooden surfaces are beautifully accentuated in the Arizona sunshine.

It can fit up to four guests, and on top of being cozy, it has its own water and power supplies, high-speed WiFi, as well as a modern kitchen.

Aside from being a top-of-the-line camper, another feature of note is that Legends RV is only a 20-mile drive from the south rim of the Grand Canyon National Park.

Once you make your way back, you can relax on the outdoor seating and fire up the barbecue grill for a tasty dinner and a night of stargazing – needless to say, the vast expanse of land makes for a beautiful nighttime view.

Alternatively, if you’ve had enough of the outdoors for one day, you can relax inside by watching a Netflix show on the smart TV and relaxing on one of the futons. Now that’s a camper with comfort!

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Check availability and book online here
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Best Grand Canyon Rental for Experiencing Indigenous Culture: Navajo Hogan Earth House

Image credit: VRBO

Price: From $124/night and up
Guests: 4
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Cameron
Find it on VRBO

The Navajo Hogan Earth House is unlike any rental you’ve probably ever seen – it’s a one-room hut made of earth, built in the style of Navajo Indian dwellings.

Positioned by the Little Colorado River, around 30 miles from the Grand Canyon, this little Native-owned haven is ideal for a couple looking to explore the National Park and to truly become one with nature.

The complete lack of electricity and running water, in conjunction with the minimalistic design of the interior, are in fact the selling points of this particular property, as going all-natural lets visitors truly soak in the beauty of their surroundings.

You can even bring your pet along if you suspect you might get lonely, as long as you keep it off the bedding.

This is not to say, however, that the hogan is insufficiently furnished – the beds are comfortable, and a stove is provided for outdoor cooking and to keep warm if you’re visiting when it’s colder.

You can use the outside stove and firewood for cooking, and you will be provided with a supply of water to use at your discretion. This house is ideal for people who want to immerse themselves in the Navajo culture or are just looking for something completely different.

IMPORTANT: Note that this property is located in Navajo Nation. Please follow all local laws and respect tribal sovereignty, and check current restrictions here before planning a trip, as at the time of writing, Navajo Nation is closed for tourism (as per Executive Order 2020-021).

Please also familiarize yourself with the protocols of staying on Navajo land so you can treat your Indigenous hosts with respect for their culture, religion, and customs.

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Best Grand Canyon Rental for Hogans: The Hogan

The Hogan
Image via The Hogan

Price: From $190/night and up
Guests: 4
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Cameron
Book it with VRBO.

Located on Navajo Nation land, this beautiful homestead hosts hogans (Navajo one-room dwellings — learn more about them here) for all kinds of travelers.

The Hogan is an eight sided traditional Navajo dwelling that can host up to 4 people. It is owned by Native American family and it is located in a large acreage working sheep ranch and off grid glamping hotel. for your comfort, a traditional breakfast is included in the price.

The places offers guests a unique stay on the Navajo Nation. Immersion in nature, near zero light pollution and unparalleled views.

IMPORTANT: Note that this property is located in Navajo Nation. Please follow all local laws and respect tribal sovereignty, and check current restrictions here before planning a trip, as at the time of writing, Navajo Nation is closed for tourism (as per Executive Order 2020-021).

Please also familiarize yourself with the protocols of staying on Navajo land so you can treat your Indigenous hosts with respect for their culture, religion, and customs.

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Book it on VRBO
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Best Airbnb for Couples on a Budget: The Majestic – Historic Mini Motel

The Majestic Historic Mini Motel
Image via Hipcamp

Price: From $69/night and up
Guests: 2
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Meadview
Book it with VRBO or Hipcamp. First time booking with Hipcamp? I have a bonus for you! Get $10 off your first stay using my code: ALLISONG61751E or booking through my link.

If you’re looking to explore the Grand Canyon with your significant other and on a budget, then this historic mini motel is the place for you. 

This room is The Majestic, a historic motel room that used to be used to house the workers of Route 66. The place has been completely restored but still maintains a unique vintage charm.

You will be able to rest in a full-sized bed with a gel memory foam mattress topper. The room also features a desk space, a dresser, and a full bathroom with a vanity area and closet space.

The campground just 10 miles from Lake Mead and 17 Miles from the Colorado River. Here you can enjoy top-notch stargazing, bird watching, fishing, off-roading, and more. There are also kayaks available to rent.

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Check availability and book online here
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Best Rental for Romance: The Bell Tent Suite

the bell tent suite
Image via The Bell Tent Suite

Price: From $235/night and up
Guests: 2
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Williams
Book with VRBO or Hipcamp. First time booking with Hipcamp? I have a bonus for you! Get $10 off your first stay using my code: ALLISONG61751E or booking through my link.

Nothing complements a nature trip quite like a tent in the desert, and the Bell Tent Suite is no exception.

The tent is very well appointed and fully furnished. Outfitted with all the amenities for a pleasant stay, including bedding, linens, and wool blankets.

You will also find candles, candle lanterns, a flashlight, and a solar light. Books, games, snacks, juice, and water. This tent is equipped with just about everything you could reasonably expect, and more.

It can comfortably fit two guests, and a small child as well. The stay is very minimalist, to be immersed in outstanding natural beauty. Cooking can be done over an open fire at the outdoor fire pit. There is also a grill for the open fire. 

As is the case with any other tent, you are highly incentivized to spend as much time outside as possible, and The Bell Tent Suite location really allows for that. Furthermore, the view of the night sky is simply beautiful.

The tent is an ideal basecamp for Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell, and the Grand Canyon!

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Best Grand Canyon Rental for Animal Lovers: Nest in a Retro Wagon

Image via Hipcamp

Price: From $82/night and up
Guests: 3
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Williams
Book with Hipcamp. First time booking with Hipcamp? I have a bonus for you! Get $10 off your first stay using my code: ALLISONG61751E or booking through my link.

The retro wagon is a great off-grid recreational vehicle for a pair of travelers passing through northern Arizona and looking to visit the Grand Canyon.

The inside is incredibly cozy thanks to the futon mattress, and you’ll have access to a nearby community bathroom, shower (where, thanks to the water heater, you have a guaranteed supply of hot water in the summer), and kitchenette (equipped with supplies for a healthy organic breakfast).

The Retro Wagon is about a 30-minute drive from the Grand Canyon. Having worked in the GC National Park, the hosts would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about the park.

You’ll see a wide assortment of animals on the property, including cats, a donkey, chickens, an alpaca, and a dog, and you’re encouraged to interact with and feed them (except for the dog who is on a special diet).

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Find this property on Hipcamp.
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Best Grand Canyon Airbnb for Minimalists: The Kyoob

thekyoob

Price: From $310/night and up
Guests: 3
Bedrooms: 1
Nearest City: Williams
Find it on VRBO: The Kyoob

Only 5 minutes to Horseshoe Bend, the Kyoob is a modern architectural cabin at Shash Dine.

The idea of the house is to provide you with a basic level of comfort and to let you immerse yourself in nature by getting out and exploring the beautiful terrain. However, the cabin was designed for light, openness, and immersion in nature through the fantastic windows.

The view from the outside is beautiful, and you can expect to catch some unforgettable sunrises, sunsets, and constellations. Also, the house is only eleven miles from Antelope Canyon.

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Your Perfect Arches Itinerary: 2 Days in Arches National Park

The perfect desert adventure is waiting for you in Moab, Utah, at Arches National Park!

This outdoor playground is home to the highest density of natural sandstone arches in the world: we’re talking over 2,000 documented to date!

Full of breathtaking red rock features and scenic hiking trails, Arches National Park is sure to impress every US national park enthusiast. 

But there’s a lot to see here, spread across 50+ miles of roads, and it can get overwhelming to plan the perfect route to hit all of the bucket list musts in Arches National Park.

Don’t sweat (save that for when you hit the trails!) — we’ve broken down the top things to do in Arches National Park, day by day, into this easy two-day Arches itinerary!

Travel Tips for Arches National Park

Allison exploring Arches National Park on a sunny day

Go early. This is one of the most popular national parks in the Southwest, so don’t expect solitude. Usually, there is a line to enter the park starting as early as 9 AM. 

Try to get an early start on both days, since you only have two days in Arches. Aim for at least one day where you wake up early enough for a sunrise hike!

Be sure to have a car. Arches National Park does not have a bus or shuttle system, so you’ll need a car to access the trailheads and viewpoints in this itinerary. If you’re not driving to Arches from your home state, you’ll likely want to fly into Salt Lake City and rent a car there — flights to Canyonlands Regional Airport are expensive and rentals are limited there.

Not sure where to get the best deal on your rental? I’ve rented cars dozens of times through various search engines and have settled on Discover Cars as the best car rental search engine – it searches over 500 trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for car rental from Salt Lake City here.

If you don’t have a car, plan tours. It is possible to do Arches National Park without a car, but you’ll want to book some tours of the National Park and some Moab activities in order to fill up your itinerary.

Slather on the sunscreen. Arches National Park is hot, hot, hot in the summer! Be sure to apply sunscreen at least 10 minutes before a hike, and reapply every two hours or so (or more if you’re sweating a lot). 

Don’t forget exposed skin on the back of your body, like the back of your next, behind the knees, lower calves, etc! This is where I typically end up burned when I’m not diligent.

Bring a lot of water. As mentioned in the previous point, Arches gets quite hot in the summer season and it can be quite easy to get dehydrated. 

In every road trip packing list, I make sure to impress upon how important it is to have a large supply of water in your car just in case of an emergency. 

Define your accessibility needs. Not all of the park is accessible to people with mobility limitations. The following places are wheelchair accessible: Park Avenue Viewpoint, Balanced Rock Viewpoint, Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint, and Wolfe Ranch Cabin. 

There is an accessible campsite at Devils Garden (#4H) and the Visitors Center and the restrooms are accessible all throughout the park.

It’s best not to bring your pet. Arches National Park is not a particularly dog-friendly national park. Dogs are not permitted on hiking trails or at overlooks, nor in the backcountry, which basically eliminates all of this itinerary! 

Dogs are only permitted at the Devils Garden campsite, picnic areas, and along paved roads. If traveling with a pet, check out these other dog-friendly hikes in Moab.

Where to Stay when Visiting Arches National Park

Glamping tent lit up from within with starry sky behind it

We give some details on campsites below in the itinerary, but if you’re not planning to camp — or the campsites in Arches are all full — here is where we suggest you stay in Moab!

GLAMPING | Not into full-on roughing it and camping? Glamping is the perfect middle ground where you can experience comfort and ease while also being in nature. Under Canvas Moab knocks it out of the park in terms of comfort, style, and entertainment, and is frequently cited as one of the best glamping lodges in the entire United States.

Book your stay at Under Canvas Moab here!

BUNGALOWS | The charming Moab Springs Ranch has private bungalows that are the perfect place to stay in Moab if you want more privacy than the typical hotel. Each bungalow has its own little terrace, and each room has A/C, TV, a kitchenette and dining area, and a private bathroom. The property also has a restaurant, garden, and BBQ facilities on-site.

Book your stay at Moab Springs Ranch here!

INN | For a rustic stay that nonetheless has all the amenities you need, Red Stone Inn is a fantastic choice. Rooms all come with a kitchenette, AC, TV, and en-suite bathroom. In terms of shared amenities, there is a hot tub and free WiFi throughout the property.

Book your stay at Red Stone Inn here!

5 Things Not to Forget to Pack for Arches

man standing below delicate arch in utah wearing hiking boots

Sunscreen. I’m weaning myself off of chemical-based sunscreens, especially if I’m doing any water activities like rafting or swimming. I love SunBum SPF 50 with Vitamin E as it’s all-natural and moisturizing without feeling icky and sticky.

Hydration backpack. You’ll want to rehydrate a lot while hiking in Arches, especially if visiting in the summertime! I recommend bringing a hydration pack like this Camelbak which you can wear on your back and sip water from, totally hands-free. It has a zipper pocket so you can throw in other essentials — car keys, cell phone, granola bars, etc. and use it in place of a day pack.

Hiking boots. This Arches itinerary includes a number of hiking trails that are rather rocky and uneven, and having ankle support is really key in these instances if you don’t want to roll an ankle and ruin your trip. 

I love my pair of Ahnu hiking boots (for women) and for men, I suggest these similar Keen boots. Whatever boots you pick, be sure to break them in with a hike or two before heading to Arches.

Hiking socks. Don’t forget to pack hiking socks! Regular old cotton socks in hiking boots can lead to massive amounts of blisters — I’ve learned this lesson firsthand, unfortunately! Moisture-wicking hiking socks are cheap but can save your vacation. These DriTech socks are a great and inexpensive option, or you may want to invest in some merino wool quick-drying socks.

Headlamp. Because this Arches itinerary includes some sunset hikes and sunrise hikes, you’ll need a headlamp like this one. Trust me, as someone who hiked back from a sunset hike at Corona Arch in the dark without a headlamp, you’ll absolutely want one! A smartphone flashlight won’t cut it.

Day One of Your Arches National Park Itinerary

Start the day at the Arches National Park Visitor Center.

the rugged landscape of arches national park, starting at the visitor center

Time to get ready for a full day exploring the beautiful red rock landscapes of Arches. 

However, the rugged landscape that makes up the 119 square mile park is more fragile than you may think!

Luckily, the Arches National Park Visitor Center near the entrance station is well-equipped to provide information about park stewardship. 

They also offer important insider details on how to access and appreciate the park’s many famous attractions.

Also, they’ll let you know of any important closures. For example, on my last visit, unfortunately, the Devil’s Garden was temporarily closed.

The visitor center is also a great place to top off all your water bottles! Although there are fill stations sprinkled throughout the park, it’s important to carry plenty of water at all times.

Summertime temperatures often exceed 100ºF/38°C, so proper hydration while tackling this Arches itinerary is extra important — especially if you’re hiking a lot!

Begin your exploration at the Moab Fault Overlook.

view from the moab fault overlook viewpoint over the red rock landscape of this beautiful utah national park.

As you continue into the park from the visitor center, you will begin to gain elevation.

Look around at the sandstone features as you make the switchbacks above the park entrance.

To the left, you will see three pinnacles called the Three Penguins. Can you make out the penguin shapes?

The turnout for the Moab Fault Overlook will be one of the first viewpoints in the park on the right side of the road. 

Check out the impressive fault and read through the helpful interpretive signs to understand the tectonic plates and how they have impacted the beautiful Utah landscape.

Hike the scenic Park Avenue Trail.

red rock formations seen from a hike on this arches national park itinerary.

From the Moab Fault Overlook, continue on the main road to the Park Avenue Trail and Viewpoint

The views are epic right from the parking lot — this stop makes a great backdrop for a group photo, even if you’re not planning to do a hike!

Park visitors that are unable to hike long distances can enjoy an amazing lookout here. The first section of the hiking trail is paved to be wheelchair and stroller accessible.

For those who wish to continue past the paved section, the trail leads toward the astonishing Courthouse Towers in the distance. 

The 2-mile out-and-back trail takes hikers to the canyon floor for a close-up of the various towers and fins!

The trail connects with the main road at the 1-mile turnaround point, so it’s possible to arrange for a private shuttle.

If you want to arrange a shuttle, be sure to do it in advance, especially if you don’t want to hike back to the Park Avenue Trailhead or if you are trying to save time on this Arches itinerary to maximize your trip!

Gaze at the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint.

the famous 'three sisters' rock formation seen from the la sal mountains viewpoint in arches national park

After a nice walk through the sandstone monoliths, head back to the main road and stop at the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint.

There’s not much of a trail here, but it’s a nice place for scenic views with some interpretive posters to read through. 

You’ll also be able to spot the Three Sisters rock formation here, one of the most beautiful landmarks in Arches National Park!

The La Sal Mountains that you can see in the distance are about 20 miles south of Moab and are the second-highest mountain range in Utah.

They offer great recreation opportunities for locals and visitors with skiing in the wintertime! But in summer, boy, do they make one beautiful backdrop.

Visit Arches’ very own ‘Great Wall’.

large red sandstone 'wall' next to a road with a car on it driving in arches national park on a sunny partly cloudy day.

This feature isn’t quite the same as the great wall you may be thinking of on the other side of the globe. It is, however, really beautiful and impressive!

The Great Wall in Arches National Park is a towering row of naturally formed sandstone cliffs and towers.

Take in a drive-by view of this phenomenal feature or stop at the Petrified Dunes Viewpoint.

From the designated viewpoint, you can see the Great Wall in the distance and the petrified dunes with the La Sal Mountains in the background. It’s picture-perfect!

Hike to the viewpoint at Balanced Rock Trail.

hoodoo holding up a rock that looks like its balancing. mountains capped with snow in the distance at sunset.

This next tower is going to blow your mind! If you’re looking closely, you can even spot it as you drive to the trailhead…

Continue past the Great Wall on the main road until you see the well-marked parking area for the Balanced Rock Trail on the right.

Near the trailhead, there are bathrooms and a nice picnic area. Take some time to regroup, hydrate, and refuel with a well-deserved picnic lunch before you head out on a hike to Balanced Rock.

Feeling rejuvenated? Good!

Now, it’s time to get a closer view. The short and easy 0.3-mile scenic loop will take you around the base of the iconic feature.

This rock formation, known as a hoodoo (the likes of which you’ll see all over Utah, in particular, Bryce Canyon National Park) appears to be balancing a bolder that is 55 feet in diameter.

The total height of the structure is 128 feet!

Explore the Windows Section of Arches National Park.

a giant rock with an arch showing blue sky behind it in arches national park

Not far past the Balanced Rock Parking Area is a side road marked with signs leading to The Garden of Eden, Double Arch Trail, and The Windows Section.

The first hike takes off at the very end of the side road. Park in The Windows Section Parking Area and look for signs that lead to The Windows Trail. 

The Windows Trail is an easy 0.65-mile loop that takes hikers to the North Window and South Window (nicknamed ‘the Spectacles’ for its unique shape)

The hike finishes off with an up-close view of Turret Arch. You can take epic photos of Turret Arch through the North Window for a beautifully composed shot.

As another option, hikers can take Windows Primitive Loop Trail for an alternate view of the North and South Windows. 

Truth be told, all the trails are all scenic in this section of Arches National Park!

Hike the Double Arch Trail.

low angle shot looking up to the double arch off the trail in moab.

The second trail that you must hike on this side road is the Double Arch Trail.

The Double Arch Trailhead Parking area is just a short drive from the Windows Section, so it’s great to pair these two Arches activities back-to-back. 

Set aside ample time to explore this next arch and don’t forget your camera!

This easy 0.25-mile hike begins in a cool desert forest of juniper trees. Continue on the trail until you come to the unmistakable Double Arch! There’s nothing quite like it.

Set up camp at Devils Garden Campground, if camping.

the campsite at arches national park, devils garden, surrounded by trees and red rocks.

A fun-filled day in Arches National Park is best rewarded with an overnight at Devils Garden Campground. It’s also the only campground in Arches proper.

As the only campground in Arches, you’ll want to book it well in advance online at recreation.gov

Bookings open six months in advance ($20 site fee), and so you’ll want to book as far in advance as time allows if you are trying to camp within the park. 

There are only 50 sites in all of Arches National Park for camping, and it is full pretty much every day between March 1 and October 31, when it is by reservations only.

If Devils Garden is all booked up, you may want to check out the Slickrock campground outside of the park.

Not trying to camp? Refer back to the top of the post where we suggest places to stay in Moab, and skip forward to the sunset hike in the next section. After that hike, you’ll return to your hotel.

Located right inside the park, this campground makes a perfect starting point for your next day’s adventures. The sites in this campground are all well laid out providing some shade and red rock views.

It’s also a great place for stargazing in Arches!

Take in the sunset at Skyline Arch.

skyline arch seen with brilliant colors and red rocks.

Did you think you were done for the day? No way! Arches National Park is famous for its glowing golden hour!

Right from the campground, take the short and easy walk over to the Skyline Arch. The round trip walk will be less than 0.5 miles from the trailhead.

If you have extra time, you could also tack on the short 0.3-mile hike to Sand Dune Arch, located just a short walk from the Skyline Arch. 

However, if you have to pick one, Skyline is better at sunset.

If you brought your headlamp along, stick around for the star show. The uninterrupted night sky is sure to reveal some stellar views of the Milky Way.

That’s officially all for day one. Now, it’s time to rest up for an early start!

Day 2 of your Arches Itinerary

Catch sunrise on the Broken Arch Trail.

view of an arch that looks partly broken, with a small crack in the rock, seen at sunrise.

Rise and shine!

Grab your headlamp, camp stove, instant coffee, and a breakfast bar for the trail, because this is a sunrise you will not want to miss. Mornings are hard, I know, but this will be 100% worth it.

Right from the campground (or driving in from your hotel), hop on the Broken Arch Trail

The arch is located less than a mile from the trailhead, and it offers a perfect spot to sit and brew some morning coffee as you watch the sun come up over Arches National Park. 

This is one of those great short hikes with an epic reward, especially if you time it for sunrise.

From Broken Arch, you can complete the loop to pass by Sandstone Arch on your way back to the campground or go back the way you came. The distances are about the same.

Trek through Devils Garden on one of Arches’ best hikes.

two hikers walking down a trail in the devils garden section of arches national park.

Take your time breaking down your campsite as you prepare for another day of adventure in this desert playground! 

Don’t forget to top off on water here, as refill spots can be few and far between in Arches National Park.

No trip to Arches is complete without a hike on the Devils Garden Trail. Within only 2 miles of hiking, you will pass by a dozen natural sandstone arches, including Landscape Arch.

Landscape Arch is the longest sandstone arch in the national park, stretching nearly 300 feet across. 

It looks impossibly thin at points — its thinnest section is only 6 feet across — which is wild when you consider its size!

This is a good hike to do earlier in the day before temperatures become too hot (hence the name Devil’s Garden!).

With detours to grab a closer look at some of the arches, the total distance on this hike becomes about 5 miles — so it’s not for the faint of heart. 

Be prepared to tackle this hike and bring lots of water, preferably in a Camelbak for easy access.

To amp up the difficulty, you can tack on the Double O Arch, also accessible off the Devils Garden Trail. 

However, this is on the hard side of moderate difficulty, so be sure to be prepared with proper footwear and water. 

Note that this is not for the faint of heart as there is quite a bit of drop in some sections of the hike, as well as some sections where you need to scramble and do some wayfinding.

Whatever hiking adventure you choose, return to the parking area to find some shade and a cool drink of water!

Take a scenic drive to the beautiful Fiery Furnace Viewpoint.

lots of beautiful red rocks at the fiery furnace viewpoint in arches

On the main road headed toward the park entrance, there is a parking area for the Fiery Furnace Viewpoint. 

From here, you can get an epic view into the thick fins, hoodoos, and arches of this area.

To hike in Fiery Furnace, you must obtain a permit from the visitor center or join in on a ranger-led hike (I recommend this latter option). 

You can book a ranger-led hike on recreation.gov: note that you need to book at least 4 days in advance, and it’s suggested to book several weeks ahead if possible as these are all small groups of no more than 25 people.

Note that since there are no maintained trails through Fiery Furnace, it’s easy to become disoriented and lost — another reason a ranger-led hike is a fabulous idea.

Visit Delicate Arch for sunset.

sunset at the scenic and iconic delicate arch with sunset colors and mountains in the distance.

We saved the most iconic arch in Arches National Park for last! You will probably recognize Delicate Arch from the many social media snaps of it, and even from Utah’s license plate!

To reach the trailhead, continue on the main road toward the park entrance until you reach the turn for Wolfe Ranch / Delicate Arch Viewpoint Road on the left. 

Continue down the side road and park at the Wolfe Ranch Parking Area — this is where you’ll start your hike to Delicate Arch.

The hike to Delicate Arch is a little challenging and requires hikers to follow the cairns marking the trail to avoid getting lost. 

However, there are usually a fair number of hikers here, so it’s hard to get too lost.

Take your time and be observant. At 3 miles round trip, this hike is well worth the close-up view of the arch!

Say goodbye – for now – to Arches at the pristine Panorama Point.

one last look at arches national park before finishing up this itinerary

Take one last good look at Arches National Park from Panorama Point.

This is the perfect place to reminisce and plan your next Utah adventure — trust me, there will be another one!

Take one last good look at Arches National Park from Panorama Point.

This is the perfect place to reminisce and plan your next Utah adventure — trust me, there will be another one!

Have More Time in Arches National Park?

the red rocks of tower arch in a more remote park of arches national park, seen shortly after sunrise in the morning light

This is already a fairly ambitious Arches National Park itinerary, but if you’re a fast hiker who doesn’t spend a lot of time soaking up views or photographing, you may want to tack on a few additional hikes in the park where it makes sense.

You may also want to keep these in your back pocket in case the crowds of Arches start to get to you: these are lesser-visited and a bit off the tourist path, though they are by no means a secret.

Here are a few additional arches in the park worth the hike!

Tower Arch: A moderate 2.7-mile roundtrip hike in a more secluded section of the park — this is great if you’re tiring of the crowds on the more on-the-beaten-path part of Arches and want to make a detour to shake off the crowds.

Pine Tree Arch & Tunnel Arch: These can easily be added onto a hike to Landscape Arch while hiking the Devils Garden section of the park. These are less-visited than some of the other arches in the section, but the Devils Garden area is still rather popular, so don’t expect total solitude.

Additionally, you can add some more fun activities in Moab, like this sunset cruise on the Colorado River, a half-day rafting tour, or a 4WD tour in Hell’s Revenge.

Where to Go Before or After Arches National Park

Allison visiting Mesa Arch in Canyonlands national park sitting in the middle of Mesa Arch

Arches National Park is often visited in conjunction with other incredible Utah bucket list destinations.

If you base yourself in Moab, you’ll likely also want to visit Canyonlands National Park (where you’ll find Mesa Arch — contrary to popular belief, this arch is not in Arches!).

You’ll also want to spend at least a half-day exploring Dead Horse Point State Park, where the Colorado River bends beautifully in a way similar to Horsehoe Bend in Arizona.

People often spend a few days in Salt Lake City before making their way to Arches, but you can also do this in reverse.

Other stops people often make include Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park. 

I’ve included all of these on my one-week Utah Mighty 5 road trip itinerary, so if you are planning a longer stay, be sure to read that post!

I also have a post that combines all the best Utah attractions with some stops in Arizona like the Grand Canyon as well as Nevada in this Southwest USA itinerary.

9 Fun Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter

Rocky Mountain National Park is a winter wonderland located outside the adorable mountain town of Estes Park, Colorado.

The park is 415 square miles and only a two-hour drive from Denver, Colorado, making it an excellent day trip from Denver or an easy addition to your Denver itinerary.

Rocky Mountain is known for its snowy winters and massive peaks. Snow normally begins in late October and ends well into the middle of May.

This pattern attracts ski bums and winter enthusiasts to the area each year. Ice climbing, cross country skiing, and winter hiking are the most sought-after activities here, in this national park that is known for being a winter playground with stunning views of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains.

The activities are limitless and this guide to visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in winter will help you navigate them all!

Rocky Mountains Winter Packing List

Landscape view of Rocky Mountains National Park in Colorado with trees in the foreground and mountains in the background.

Locals joke that you need to pack for every season when visiting or hiking in Colorado… well, that joke is actually true!

Sometimes you might start your hike with the weather being sixty degrees and sunny, but as you climb, the higher your elevation is, putting yourself in more extreme weather situations.

The temperature can drop to single digits, with added wind chills on top of it. Layers, layers, and even more layers are the key to staying warm!

Your first layer should be your base layer. Merino wool is known to keep you the warmest and is very comfortable and breathable — we suggest these ones by Merino.tech (leggings + top layer), which use 100% merino wool from farms in New Zealand.

Your middle layer is your insulation layer, which helps you retain body heat. Using fleece (like this one from North Face) as your middle layer is highly recommended and extra comfortable.

Your outer layer is your final layer and where you will be spending most of your money. Heavy winter jackets with protective layers and a hood are preferred — I also use North Face for this layer, in particular, their insulated Metropolis parka (which I’ve had for 15 years and loved!).

In Colorado, you want to make sure you have a reliable windshield in your outer layer, as the wind chill above the treeline or mountains cuts you totally differently. If you also get caught in a snow or rainstorm, this will help keep you dry and protect your other layers.

It is okay if you do not wear all three layers at the start of your adventure — just have them available, as the higher you get, the colder it will get.

That is why it is recommended to have all of these options in your backpack, so you can easily add or remove layers, depending on the weather.

Happy family with arms around each other enjoying beautiful mountain view on winter hiking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park.

A warm winter hat and insulated, waterproof gloves are a must-have. Use fabrics that will not get soggy when wet.

Multiple pairs of socks (preferably wool socks) should always be in your backpack. This is important in case you step into a heavy snowpack or puddle when hiking.

Your socks could become frozen, risking hypothermia or frostbite. Having multiple pairs of socks you can layer up with if you get wet or extra cold is key. It is an extremely lightweight but important hiking hack for winter.

Always remember that when it comes to playing in the winter snow, you must prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. Being over-prepared could save your life — or others around you.

Microspikes and/or snowshoes (depending on the amount of snow on the ground) are needed when attempting any winter hiking.

Microspikes help keep your grip with chains or small spikes that slip over your hiking boots. They help you stay grounded on icy trails and will prevent you from falling. I used and loved these Yaktrax while hiking in Arctic Norway.

They are a lifesaver and it is rare to spot hikers without them! There is nothing worse than losing traction and sliding down an icy mountain.

In addition, after a heavy snowfall, you will need snowshoes. The mountains get pounded with multiple feet of snow and it takes a while for it to become packed down.

In these conditions, one wrong step could have you post-holing, covering your body in the snow!

Snowshoes will keep you above the soft snow instead of having you fall through it out.

Most of the time, you will start off with microspikes until you reach a higher elevation. That is when you swap them out for the snowshoes. They are a dynamic duo for winter mountain hiking and will make your life ten times easier!

Most hiking trails are not even accessible without them. It is ideal to always bring them with you, even if you think you won’t need them.

Snowshoes can be expensive — you can get a cheap-ish pair on Amazon, or invest in a heavier-duty pair from REI — so many people choose to rent a pair in Estes Park if they don’t plan to hike in the snow frequently.

Avalanche Awareness

Sign reading "avalanche area: no stopping or standing next two miles" with snow in the background

According to reports from the CAIC, Colorado Avalanche Information Center, there are over two thousand avalanches in Colorado every season.

It’s important to be avalanche-aware whenever you head out into the winter backcountry.

If you see an avalanche heading towards you, do not try to run away from it. The best thing you can do is move to the side, grab something sturdy, and hold one arm up.

If you have one arm up and get buried, the rescue team will be able to locate you faster, increasing your chances for survival. 

Even though getting caught in an avalanche is slim, it is very important to be prepared!

Having an avalanche transceiver (and more importantly, knowing how to use it) may save your life.

If you stick to more traversed areas of the park, this is likely not necessary, but if you want to go into the backcountry, it is essential.

You are probably wondering how avalanches even start. Simply put, an avalanche occurs when a layer of snow collapses and slides downhill.

There are four factors that cause this natural wonder: a steep slope, heavy snow cover, a layer of snow that is weak, and of course (as all the movies have shown!) a trigger.

Backcountry skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobilers are the biggest cause of avalanches, due to the vibrations from machinery and boards. Some other causes are earthquakes or even rain and wind combined with heavy snowfall.

Warming temperatures can be a common factor, causing the melted snow to become heavier.

The CAIC has a map on their website that shows the Rocky Mountain Range, including Rocky Mountain National Park.

It is updated every day in the winter months to display what level of threat is in the area: 1 being the lowest and 5, extreme, being the most dangerous.

It is highly recommended to make this website your winter tool before any outdoor activities in the Rocky Mountains. You can view the conditions map here

Winter Road Closures

Snow Covered Trail Ridge Road in  Rocky Mountain National Park in winter before the closed part of the season starts

Trail Ridge Road is 48 miles with an elevation of 12,183 feet at its highest point.

It is one of the most talked-about and famous roads in all of Colorado, and a popular Colorado scenic drive, drawing over 900,000 visitors each month in the summer.

This drive is not for the faint of heart and can be downright terrifying to most people! This is caused by the lack of guard rails and very steep drop-off.

In the summer, you can take the road from Estes Park which is the east entrance of the park, all the way to Grand Lake, which is the west entrance of the park, allowing you to visit both of these Rocky Mountain towns.

Driving the road is allowed in the summer months, depending on when the snowfall declines. It normally reopens around late May to mid-June. 

Don’t worry, you can still explore it during the winter months, but only by foot and by ski! 

The road is plowed up the viewpoint section of Many Parks Curve; cars are not allowed past this point.

Trail Ridge Road is the only road that officially shuts down every winter from October until Memorial Day weekend. The other roads in the park are very well maintained, even after heavy snowfall.

All of the roads are paved and plowed throughout the park, keeping winter visits popular and safe to visitors.

Winter Weather in Rocky Mountain National Park

People walking on the frozen surface of Dream Lake in winter on a sunny day in Colorado

Weather can be tricky at Rocky Mountain National Park in winter!

Colorado is known for its 300 days of sunshine and also snowy destinations, an odd combination for knowing what to expect.

Weather can — and does — quickly change from fifty and sunny to blizzard conditions frequently!

Checking the weather before your departure is always recommended. Being prepared for all weather conditions is a must.

Snow typically begins falling in October and doesn’t stop until late April to mid-May., but keep in mind that every year is different. 

You can call the Rocky Mountain National Park information line at 970-586-1206 for the latest conditions and snow reports.

Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter

Ice climb the frozen waterfalls.

Ice climbing is a hard but popular mountaineering activity in Colorado. This fun winter activity includes climbing frozen waterfalls or large rocks covered with ice.

Luckily, Rocky Mountain National Park is home to a remote and scenic ice climbing area, making it a bucket list winter destination for ice climbers.

In the Wild Basin area of the park, you’ll find Hidden Falls, located twelve miles south of Estes Park near the Longs Peak Trailhead.

There will be signs for the horse trail about one hundred yards from the ranger station: that is where the trailhead begins.

If you are interested in ice climbing but don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered!

This waterfall freezes in mid-winter, drawing skilled climbers to the region. The trail to Hidden Falls can get very snowy and icy at times. It is recommended to be prepared and have the correct equipment before taking on this challenge.

The American Alpine Institute provides technical climbing education to new students.

This mountaineering school offers courses in ice climbing, rock climbing, glacier skills, and more. They even have an Introduction class to Alpine Ice Climbing, a six-day course led in different locations all around the country.

Whether you want to take on the hobby long-term or just try it out, they are there to ensure you are doing it safely. Check out their courses on their website here.

No time for a long course? The Kent Mountain Adventure Center in Estes Park offers one-day intro classes that get you started on ice climbing.

Man with climbing equipment, ice axes and rope, hiking at a frozen waterfall

Have winter fun in the Hidden Valley Snow Park.

Once a ski resort in the 1950s until the 1990s, Hidden Valley was a popular spot for locals to ski and snowboard.

Initially, chair lifts were not available at the resort, causing the skiers to hike up the runs and ski down. Later, lifts were built, creating a full ski experience.

However, the National Park Service eventually closed the slopes in the early 1990s.

Today, the lifts are gone and it has become a backcountry skiing and snowboarding destination. The runs are narrow, allowing skiers to alternate turns down the slope.

In order to get there, enter from the Estes Park entrance and drive to the Hidden Valley picnic area. You will see signs for parking, and a lot of people getting ready to enjoy the area!

If snow tubing is more your speed, then Hidden Valley has got you covered. The bunny hill from the old ski resort is now used for sledding and tubing!

After heavy snowstorms, families and large groups flock to this area. Be sure to bring your own tubes and sleds (or rent them in Estes Park before entering Rocky Mountain National Park) as there are no rentals inside the park!

Children riding on an inflatable snow tube in Rocky Mountain national park in winter

Go cross-country skiing.

Cross-country skiing is a fun sport that involves gliding across the snow while getting a fantastic workout.

Cross-country skiing requires skiers to use a back and forth motion with their legs, as if they are running with skis on. No wonder it’s such a good workout!

In Rocky Mountain National Park in winter, Trail Ridge Road closes to vehicles, allowing cross-country skiers to use the road as their playground, with a stunning workout view at 12,000 feet in the air.

The road is a steady uphill climb on the way up — which makes it even more enjoyable coming back!

Cross-country skiing is a great winter activity in Colorado, and there are lots of options to choose from in RMNP in winter.

If Trail Ridge Road is a little out of your league, you can try Glacier Basin Campground Loop: a beginner-friendly 2.7-mile loop through a forest with stunning views of the surrounding lake!

Tackle some winter hikes.

Dream Lake – Easy

One of the most photographed locations in Rocky Mountain National Park is the famous Dream Lake.

The name fits the scenery and this spot is perhaps even more stunning in the winter! The snow falls around the crevices in the mountain, creating a dreamscape of a winter wonderland.

In cold temperatures — typically by around January — the lake freezes over and is covered with snow, allowing you to walk out to the middle of the lake for that perfect photo opportunity! Note: Be sure to ask a park ranger if the lake is safely frozen over before embarking on this hike

The hike itself is rated as easy and only two miles long. Due to the high elevation of the park, the elevation gain of 426 can be moderate for those sensitive to uphill gain.

Either way, seeing this view in person is worth the extra effort!

You even pass Nymph Lake on your hike back to Bear Lake parking lot, which is another gorgeous place to extend your hike if you want more winter scenery.

Keep in mind that the Bear Lake Parking lot fills up relatively quickly in both the winter and summer months. It is important to get there early as the park rangers will close the road off once it fills up!

The snowy landscape of a frozen-over Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in winter in Colorado

Emerald Lake – Moderate

About a mile after Dream Lake is Emerald Lake, making it a great addition to your winter hike in Rocky Mountain National Park if you want to get some extra mileage in with even more gorgeous views!

The trail is 3.2 miles and starts at the Bear Lake parking lot, similar to the previous hike mentioned. Once you get to Dream Lake, you will continue north on the trail around the shore of the lake, bringing you through a very lush pine forest.

You will then arrive at Emerald Lake, where you will be able to see the views of Flattop Mountain! The views become even more breathtaking around sunrise and sunset.

Emerald lake in rocky mountains national park, CO in winter with frozen ice sheet on the lake and snow

Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail – Hard

This is a winter hike that is rated as hard but makes it on most visitors’ bucket lists — only tackle it if you are an experienced winter hiker!

Making it to Sky Pond in the winter months is a great achievement for hikers: this 9.4-mile trek through the snow and ice is only recommended to be taken on by hikers with some experience.

If you’ve never hiked in the winter before, stick to one of the previous two hikes, and add this to your Rocky Mountain National Park winter bucket list for future years!

Start at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead parking lot, then begin your journey through the snowy forest.

Eventually, you will reach Loch Lake, which is normally frozen over in the winter months. You can either walk on the lake or around it, depending on how thick the ice is (you may want to ask a ranger before embarking on this hike).

From there, continue on until you reach Lake of Glass. You may think your hike is almost over once you reach this lake, but it is not!

You will then have to climb the falls to the top where Sky Pond is. This can be especially difficult in the winter, but it is doable. It is important to go slow and make sure you have proper hand and footing.

Due to the slipperiness of the icy rocks, it is important that you bring your microspikes!

This hike may be difficult, but the views are breathtaking for the whole 9.4 miles. Be sure to pack some lunch and enjoy it at Sky Pond before heading back.

Hiking Trail to a Frozen Lake Beneath "The Spearhead" in Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park

Long’s Peak – Extremely Difficult

This is a Colorado 14er that is rated dangerous and sometimes deadly — so only undertake this with sufficient experience.

Be sure to follow all safety guidelines, let people know where you are going, and have an GPS-enabled SOS device on you such as the Garmin InReach Mini, which can send out an alert in case you get injured or lost without cell reception (which you will most definitely not have out on this hike!).

For the uninitiated, a 14er is a mountain peak that sits at 14,000 feet or more. Colorado has 58 of them located all over the state.

For those trying to tackle all 58 of Colorado’s 14ers, Long’s is a staple in Rocky Mountain National Park, one that is only encouraged to be taken on by mountaineers who are properly trained — especially in the winter.

20,000 people come to Rocky Mountain every year in an attempt to summit this mountain, but only half of those climbers make it to the top and back down. It is rumored to be the most tried and failed fourteener in the state!

Unfortunately, there have been 58 people who have died while trying to complete this hike since the year 2000, so it is not without its risks (hence our suggestion for a SOS safety device).

The difficulty is due to the distance of 14.8 miles and the scramble at the top. The hike turns into a climb accompanied by very steep drop-offs.

One wrong move can become fatal, so experience in climbing is a must. Since the distance is so long, most hikers get an overnight camping permit to break it up. This can also be dangerous due to the quickly changing weather, especially in the winter months.

Long’s Peak is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it takes most people that long to accomplish it. Even though it can be scary, it is a beautiful peak and a good goal to have for those who take it seriously.

View of Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Go snowshoeing.

Hiking trails become snowshoeing trails in the winter in Colorado, and Rocky Mountain National Park in winter has plenty of trails to bring them on!

It is common to see the above trails filled with snowshoers in the winter. After heavy snowstorms, hiking the trail without them becomes impossible.

Sometimes the snow is too fresh and can be as high as your chest! The snowshoes allow you to stay above the powder, keeping you safe from falling through.

If you are visiting the area you can rent snowshoes at local mountain shops in the town of Estes Park, Colorado for the day.

Explore the cute mountain town of Estes Park.

The east entrance of Estes Park is the most popular entry point in the winter season.

Since Trail Ridge Road connects you to the west entrance, and it is closed in the winter, there are not many winter activities available on that side of the park.

As a result, the already bustling Estes Park gets even more lively in the winter, as it’s the primary access point into the park.

In the winter, Estes Park resembles a picturesque snowy postcard, filled with mountain views and wildlife. Moose are commonly spotted roaming the streets downtown and outside lodging facilities!

Restaurants and shops line the streets of their quaint downtown area to enjoy after your action-packed day.

Estes Park downtown in winter with plowed streets and the city covered in snow

Enjoy accommodations in the area such as cozy winter cabins or their spooky Stanley Hotel.

The Stanley Hotel is famous in the area, known for its haunting encounters. Author Stephen King stayed at the hotel, which inspired his book and (that was later turned into the famous movie) The Shining.

You can even tour the Stanley Hotel during the day if staying overnight is out of your comfort zone!

Local ranches and farms offer horseback riding activities, even in the winter.

You will drive through the downtown area of this town when leaving and entering Rocky Mountain National Park.

Even if you’re just passing through, it is a convenient place to grab snacks or gear prior to spending the day in the park.

End your adventure by spending some time at Lake Estes, a 185-acre lake with views of Rocky Mountain National Park from afar.

It’s also a great place to visit in the holiday season when the lights are up all over town!

Park Bridge Holiday Illumination in Winter Season. Estes Park, Colorado.

Rocky Mountain National Park Tips

With endless winter activities and stunning views, Rocky Mountain National Park is a winter lover’s paradise!

Making sure you have the proper equipment and gear for winter activities is beyond important in Colorado. A well-stocked hiking backpack will be your best friend in these adventures!

There is a $25 vehicle entrance fee into the park, but if you are planning on visiting multiple times over the course of the winter or multiple national parks, I suggest you buy an America the Beautiful Pass.

It’s just $80 for an annual pass (good for one entire vehicle!) for all the national parks and 2,000+ federally-managed sites!

Buy your America the Beautiful pass online at REI!

Finally, Rocky Mountain National Park is requiring reservations from May 28 to October 11, with their new timed entry permit system. If you are visiting in that time frame you will need to make a reservation online.

It is not stated if they will be extended into the winter months as of yet, but be prepared for that to be a possibility.

The Rocky Mountains are waiting for you to explore their snowy peaks. Come see this real-life winter wonderland for yourself.

Complete Guide to the Avalanche Lake Hike in Glacier National Park

Nestled on the west side of Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful hikes in the country: Avalanche Lake, sitting pretty at an elevation of 3,905 feet.

This Montana park draws over two million visitors a year, most of them being hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Avalanche Lake is known for its impressive beauty and is rated one of the top attractions in the whole park. It’s a must-see when you are visiting Glacier National Park.

Keep reading to find out what you need to know about the Avalanche Lake hike before you go!

PLANNING YOUR AVALANCHE LAKE HIKE AT-A-GLANCE:

Mileage: 5.9 miles roundtrip

Elevation Gain: 757 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Getting Around: Most poeple who travel to Glacier National Park use a car, whether that's their own personal car or a rental from a nearby airport. There is also a shuttle that stops at Avalanche, you can read more here.

Gear: Be prepared for all manner of weather on this hike! You'll want layers that can adjust to variable temperatures, waterproof layers (like this rain jacket), proper hiking boots (I love my Ahnu boots), and you'll probably want some trekking poles to help you on the descent.

Need To Know: If you plan to visit multiple national parks in a year, the America the Beautiful Pass will save you a bundle! It costs $80 for an annual pass (for an entire vehicle traveling together) to all US national parks and federally managed site. 

You also need a separate ticket to access Going-to-the-Sun Road. This is different than your general entry into Glacier National Park.

How To Get to Avalanche Lake

Photo Credit: Leah Bilquist

Note: Access to Avalanche Lake is only possible via Going-to-the-Sun Road via the West Entrance of the park, which requires a separate ticket to enter.

Once you enter the park, you will drive towards Apgar Campground. You will begin to see signs for Going-to-the-Sun-Road. Make a right onto Going-to-the-Sun-Road and begin your drive towards the trailhead.

You will first pass Lake McDonald on your left. Once you get to the end of Lake McDonald, you will be a little over nine miles from the trailhead.

You will then see signs for Avalanche Lake. Keep in mind, the main parking area holds about ten cars and is normally full, unless you get lucky and see a hiker leaving the parking lot.

It is recommended to loop around and wait for someone to leave if there is no availability. Popular times are 8:00 AM, 10:00 AM, and 12:00 PM.

There is additional parking about a half-mile north of the trailhead where another five to ten cars can be parked.

You can walk the road back to the trailhead if you find a spot there. This will add mileage to your trip, but it is well worth it once you see the beauty of the lake.

Keep in mind the reservation system is currently in place at Glacier National Park. You will not be able to access this trailhead unless you have a Going-to-the-Sun-Road entry ticket.

History of Avalanche Lake

You are probably wondering how Avalanche Lake got its name… well, you’re looking at it!

The lake’s turquoise blue waters are due to the abundance of avalanches that fall down the Sperry Glacier, the mountain that sits behind the lake.

Avalanche Lake got its name in 1895 from Dr. Lyman Sperry, who is the namesake of Sperry Glacier. The glacier itself provides the water for the lake, from its constant avalanches.

Dr. Lyman was in awe of how many avalanches he witnessed during his short time visiting the lake — hence its name.

Avalanche Lake is also unique because it is one of the few lakes of its size that still has fish in it! It is rare to have fish in the area due to its size and elevation. Yellowstone cutthroat trout are the most popular fish found here in the lake.

The lake itself is a mile and a half long with a depth of 54 feet in some sections, which is an impressive depth for its relatively smaller size.

The Avalanche Lake Hike: Step by Step

Photo Credit: Leah Bilquist

Hiking to Avalanche Lake via the Trail of the Cedars is an unforgettable trek! The reason it is so distinctive is that it is two top-rated hikes in one.

First, you will begin your hike at the start of Trail of the Cedars, which is 0.9 miles long.

This hike starts you out in a wooded forest filled with green trees and mossy rocks. There is a wooden boardwalk that goes through the woodland which you will follow along.

Wildlife such as deer and moose walk the trail freely here and are commonly spotted. The sound of flowing rivers will surround you. Small cascading waterfalls line the trail.

You will even pass over a wooden bridge that provides astonishing views of the bright blue waterfalls!

Photo Credit: Leah Bilquist

This part of the hike is for all skill levels and is even wheelchair-friendly due to the boardwalk.

The trail lives up to its name: you will be surrounded by enormous cedar trees throughout your whole walk! The Trail of the Cedars hike is recommended on very sunny or hot days due to the amount of shade the cedars provide.

Surround yourself in the majestic wilderness while enjoying a much-needed hike in Glacier National Park that will bring you back to nature.

Halfway through the Trail of the Cedars is the start of the Avalanche Lake Trail. Avalanche Lake is two miles from Trail of the Cedars, with an additional two miles back.

This makes the hike in total around 5.9 miles with a 757-foot elevation gain, since you only do half of the Trail of Cedars’ length. This trail is rated as moderate and can be quite the workout, especially on hot summer days.

As soon as you follow the signs to the left on Trail of the Cedars, you will begin your ascent to Avalanche Lake.

The first part of the hike is completely uphill on a dirt trail. There are large wooden steps built into the trail in certain sections, making it an intense workout!

Stop and enjoy the views during this uphill battle whenever you need to catch your breath. You will be surrounded by icy blue rivers and vibrant green mossy trees. It is a very peaceful hike with background sounds of birds chirping and running water over the rocks!

Once you get about a mile and a half up, the trail begins to level out, making the last half mile pure excitement. You will continue your way through the trees until you spot a crystal blue image in the distance, peeking through the trees.

Another wooden boardwalk appears and you will follow that to the lake. The trees will part and the incredible Avalanche Lake will sit before you: a tranquil oasis of clear water merging with turquoise blue water.

Photo Credit: Leah Bilquist

The stunning mountains behind the lake showcase rivers flowing down the sides. A lush green forest fills the surrounding areas. When the sun hits just right, you can see the snow still sitting on the top of the peak. It’s an absolutely scenic and beautiful visual.

Most hikers spend their day here on the sandy beaches of Avalanche Lake. Visitors take off their shoes and soak their feet in the cold glacier water.

Some even become brave enough to swim in it, which is allowed but not commonly seen due to how cold the water is, even in the heart of the summer!

It is recommended to bring lunch and a small blanket to sit on, as this is a remarkable spot to have a bucket list picnic. Hikers lounge out on the beach and enjoy the views.

The hike can be crowded, but there is enough room for everyone to have their space at the beach.

If you want a less crowded area, continue on the boardwalk for ten minutes to reach the other side of the lake. This side is rumored to be just as beautiful with fewer people around!

If you are lucky enough, you can even find your own secluded beach on this side. A lot of people think that the main entrance is the only stop off of the lake, but the trail continues all the way around. I would recommend spending some time at both beaches for optimal views.

When you are ready, begin your descent back down another two miles following the same route you used earlier. The wooden steps are high in some parts, making it a bit strenuous on the knees.

If you have knee issues, plan on bringing a brace or using a walking stick for the hike back down.

Once you reach the bottom of Avalanche Lake Trailhead, you will continue on the Trail of the Cedars to the left. This will eventually loop the Trail of the Cedars trail and provide some new scenery.

The trail ends in half of a mile and brings you back out to the parking lot where you started.

Final Things to Know About the Avalanche Lake Hike

Photo Credit: Leah Bilquist

Due to its popularity, this hike to Avalanche Lake can get very crowded!

Just take your time and use hiker etiquette. If you’re descending the trail, step aside and give space to the people climbing up.

Also do not go off-trail and be respectful of the marked trail signs…. yes, even (and especially) for photos!

If you encounter wildlife, give them enough space and do not approach. Glacier National Park is grizzly bear country, so always be bear aware. You may want to bring bear spray or bear bells.

The hike itself can take anywhere from two to three hours depending on your level of fitness. Add on an additional two hours to spend at the lake. Plan for a total of five hours to fully enjoy this gorgeous day hike!

Remember to pack a delicious lunch and yummy snacks to eat at the top. Most importantly, bring extra water. It may be cooler at the lake with a slight breeze but your body needs additional water for those hot summer days.

If you don’t want to bring a lot of water, you may want to bring a filtering water bottle like the Grayl so you can fill up on delicious glacier water that is filtered so as to be safe to drink!

***

There is a reason why Glacier National Park has gained so much popularity over the past three years. Avalanche Lake shows the secret as to why: a mix between glaciers, waterfalls, and a lush forest makes the beauty surreal.

After driving all over this park, the Avalanche Lake hike took my breath away the most, becoming one of my favorite hikes of all time. 

If you have one day or five hours in this park, drop everything else and hike the famous Avalanche Lake: a view that is often only seen on computer screensavers will come to life before your eyes.

Lace up your hiking boots and visit this Montana hotspot — Avalanche Lake is waiting for you to visit!