The Christmas season can be stressful if you spend every moment shopping, cleaning, cooking, running frantic errands, and hosting out-of-town guests. Or... the holidays can be a joyful celebration of beauty and peace on earth if you plan an escape to one of America's splendid national parks. This year, make merry memories with your family at one of these picturesque winter wonderlands, or escape to warm islands you might not have even realized are protected by the National Park System.
Dreaming of a white Christmas? Yellowstone, the country’s first national park, is the epitome of a winter wonderland. Your family can enjoy a secluded getaway at Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins, accessible only by snowcoach. Sit by the fire with hot cocoa and look out at the vast wilderness that surrounds you. Daily hikes and exploration of the park will reveal ghost trees, which form when the steam from Old Faithful freezes on nearby pine needles. Try snowmobiling, photograph bison and other wildlife on a winter photo safari, marvel at starry night skies. Yellowstone sparkles with Christmas beauty and is an unforgettable destination for the holidays.
If you really want to get away from it all over the holidays, plan a trip to a park less traveled in the winter, where every tree's a Christmas tree decorated by nature. Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is quiet and uncrowded, but the wildlife is still active, and it's easy to spot tracks in the snow. Seeing an elk or moose in its natural habitat is an experience you won’t forget. The park offers free ranger-led snowshoe tours to view coyote, elk, deer, and snowshoe hares. Sledding, cross-country skiing, and backcountry skiing are also exciting possibilities.
Hiking Grand Canyon National Park during Christmas vacation may never have crossed your mind, but rest assured, it is amazing. Not only is this popular Arizona destination almost empty, hiking the trails with only the sound of snow crunching under your boots is one of the most stirring experiences you can have in the park.
Grand Canyon also offers a fun holiday experience for families with the Polar Express. Families can board a train that runs from Williams, Arizona, to the South Rim of the park through early January and enjoy a scenic ride complete with hot chocolate and cookies. When you reach the "North Pole," Santa Claus and his reindeer are waiting with a gift for each child. It's the best way for your kids to see the glory of the Grand Canyon and enjoy the magic of Christmas. It’s also a way to pass on to children the importance of protecting nature and preserving our parks.
As the snow drapes a wintry blanket across the Teton Range, this area of Wyoming feels peaceful: a sharp contrast from the busy summer season. While some of Grand Teton National Park is closed in winter months, there are ways to enjoy a Christmas season escape. Ranger-led snowshoe tours are a great way to experience Grand Teton in the winter and appreciate Mother Nature's gifts. Cross-country skiing is also a popular activity in the park.
Your kids have never seen a frozen world quite like this. With a summit over 16,000 feet, Mount Rainier in Washington is actually one of the nation's most stunning active volcanoes. As it grew, 25 major glaciers carved beautiful valleys and formed the largest collection of permanent ice on a single U.S. peak. The park is truly stunning in December, and it offers plenty of outdoor activities. Visitors can cross-country ski, sled, and snowboard. The best way to experience the park over the holidays is on snowshoes, with a ranger guide to teach you about winter ecology.
If snow isn’t your thing, don’t worry. America's national parks also offer great getaways to escape winter. With white, sandy beaches surrounded by turquoise water, Virgin Islands National Park provides opportunities for a paradisiacal vacation. In fact, with more than 800 subtropical plants, coral reefs, and mangrove swamps, you will feel like you traveled outside the U.S. to a tropical getaway.
Be sure to visit Trunk Bay, considered one of the world's most beautiful beaches. With a 225-yard-long snorkeling trail, there is no shortage of unique marine life and underwater beauty to explore. Cinnamon Bay is also a prime spot for Christmastime visitors looking for water sports like sailing, scuba diving, and snorkeling.