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You’re probably pretty familiar with the idea of national parks, especially if you’ve been looking for somewhere to travel within the last few years. But if you generally stick to summertime excursions, you may be missing out. So why not break the mold and visit a national park during winter?
Here’s our list of the best national parks to visit in December and nearby places to stay when using your hotel points.
1. Zion National Park
A perennial favorite, Utah's Zion National Park is great to visit year-round. With its stunning vistas and a great wealth of hiking trails, there’s plenty to do no matter when you arrive. Although the weather isn’t the best during December (the rainy season and below-freezing lows are a risk), there are two special perks for visiting during this time: the lack of crowds and the ability to drive yourself around.
As one of the most popular national parks, you’ll often find yourself jostling for space within Zion’s busier months. But during the winter, the park is so empty that its shuttle service shuts down, allowing you to drive through the park yourself. This will give you more freedom and allow you to park near the hiking trails rather than being ferried up from the entrance.
Where to stay near Zion National Park with points
There are quite a few hotels clustered around the entrance to the park, including some options from major hotel chains such as Hilton, Marriott and Wyndham.
2. Yellowstone National Park
The 12th most-visited National Park in 2021, Yellowstone saw 4.9 million guests wander through. So if you’re looking for one of the best national parks in the U.S. to visit in December, you may want to try Yellowstone.
Is it frigid? Yes, with temperatures ranging from zero to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, you can bet that you’ll need your cold-weather gear. However, you’ll also be treated to uniquely wintery activities, such as snowmobiling, guided snowcoach tours, cozy lodge fires and skiing. What’s not to like?
Where to stay near Yellowstone National Park with points
Your best bet for redeeming hotel points near Yellowstone is with Marriott; Springhill Suites in Idaho is located just down the road from the park’s entrance.
» Learn more: How to visit national parks for free this year
3. Everglades National Park
If freezing temperatures aren’t your idea of fun, consider heading south instead — to Florida’s Everglades National Park. Winter is the best time to visit this park, with its dry season extending from November to April.
Not only will you skip the rain, but you’ll also experience milder temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to the high-70s. So if you’re snowbound at home, visiting Everglades could cure those winter blues.
Where to stay near Everglades National Park with points
Everglades National Park spans a massive 1.5 million acres and has three entrances. For ease, consider staying a little further away; Miami is within driving distance and has a wealth of hotel offerings from all major hotel chains and across all travel budgets.
4. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
We all love a good Hawaiian vacation, don’t we? And if you’re looking for the best national parks to visit in December, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park should be at the top of your list.
You’ll get to mix the temperate weather on the island of Hawaii (also known as the Big Island) with its snow-capped mountain peaks. Get your fill of the ethereal beauty within the park — including its active volcanoes — before heading back to your resort for warmth and relaxation.
» Learn more: The best Hawaiian island for a first-time visit
Where to stay near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with points
You’ll need a car (or a tour) to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is just as well since most chain hotels are located near the water. Although the Big Island isn’t as popular as some of Hawaii’s other islands, you’ll still find a wide variety of hotels from which to choose, including Hilton, Marriott and IHG.
Active duty military and veterans receive free entry to national parks. Learn about other military travel discounts.
5. White Sands National Park
One of the newest national parks in the U.S. was established in 2019, though you probably haven’t heard of it. White Sands National Park is in New Mexico and contains the world’s largest gypsum dune fields. Aside from its unreal scenery, visitors can also enjoy activities such as hiking, camping and — best of all — sledding down the dunes.
The park generally sees moderate weather during winter, with daytime temperatures reaching about 60 degrees.
Where to stay near White Sands National Park with points
The nearest options for using your hotel points are nearby Alamogordo, about a 15-minute drive from the park. The town itself isn’t large; with a population of just over 30,000, you wouldn’t expect much in the way of accommodation. However, you’ll find redemption options from Hilton, IHG, Marriott and Wyndham in this tiny town.
» Learn more: The best hotel credit cards right now
6. Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado offers the quintessential winter experience: deep snow, sledding, snowshoeing and excellent wildlife viewing. For the more adventurous, winter camping is also available. Just don’t forget to bring hot chocolate.
Where to stay near Rocky Mountain National Park with points
While there are tons of homey lodges located around the park’s entrance, you’ll find fewer choices for redeeming your points. Your nearest option is a Choice hotel, though you can also stay at a Hilton property just over an hour away from the park.
Best national parks to visit in December recapped
Don’t skimp on the national park visits just because the summer’s over. With a wide variety of available activities and plenty of options for warmer weather, do yourself a favor and head out to a national park this December.
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