Throughout the pandemic, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.
Visiting a national park in winter is like going to Disneyland in the middle of the night. All of the fantastic features and sights are still there but without any of the crowds. Some national parks even look more spectacular come winter, thanks to a fresh coating of snow and free-roaming wildlife. But staying inside the park boundary during this season, let alone in a pandemic, can be tricky—most park-operated hotels are limiting capacity, and many campgrounds are closed. So we rounded up some of our favorite Airbnbs located close to the gates of these popular NPS sites.
Yosemite National Park, California
Called the Sweetwater Lodge (from $582), this three-bedroom house in the coveted neighborhood of Yosemite West, near the El Portal entrance of Yosemite and only a 30-minute drive from the main sights of Yosemite Valley. Features include an open floor plan, a kitchen stocked with high-end appliances, a Ping-Pong table, a record player, and an electric-vehicle charging station. Many of the park trails are covered in snow this time of year, but those in the Valley are usually walkable. Try the five-mile loop around Mirror Lake or the flat 11-mile Valley Loop Trail, which passes by landmarks like El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall. This winter, the park’s ski area, Badger Pass, as well as the Yosemite Valley ice rink are closed due to COVID-19.
Acadia National Park, Maine
If quiet and solitude are what you’re after, you’ll find that aplenty in this one-bedroom, lofted garage apartment (from $128) in the Northeast Harbor neighborhood of Maine’s Mount Desert Island. From here you’re just a ten-minute drive from Acadia and well enough removed from the more touristy vibe of Bar Harbor, 20 minutes away. The best thing to do in this national park in the winter? Cross-country ski the many miles of groomed carriage roads throughout the grounds. Cadillac Mountain Sports rents cross-country gear.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
There’s not much in the town of Baker, Nevada, but stay in this charming three-bedroom house (from $154) and you’re just a 15-minute drive to the Great Basin entrance, a less visited park with some of the best stargazing in the country. The property’s kitchen has high-quality cookware, chef-approved knives, and plenty of space to prep your meals. In Great Basin, you can snowshoe the Upper Lehman Creek Trail, which is 3.4 miles one-way and open through the season.
Zion National Park, Utah
This one-bedroom, solar-powered A-frame cabin (from $150) is rustic, remote, and convertible—one wall lifts open to give you the feeling of sleeping under the stars. The best part? The location, right on the edge of Zion and within walking distance to the East Rim Trailhead. To get here, you’ll have to ditch your car and hike 150 feet along a ravine and over a bridge. The kitchen is simple and all outdoors, with a cooler, propane grill, battery-operated margarita maker, and s’mores fixings. This pad also has a telescope for viewing constellations and a guidebook to the most popular hikes in the area.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
You’re not traveling in big groups these days, so who needs a ton of square footage? The Little River Tiny House (from $145)—located about 30 minutes from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, outside the town of Maryville, Tennessee—is a perfect getaway spot for a couple or a small family. It sleeps up to four between a lofted bed and a pull-out couch. You may never want to leave the rooftop deck overlooking the Smokies or the riverside fire pit in the backyard, but if you do, the view from the top of Andrews Bald, reached via a 1.8-mile hike on the 5.6-mile Forney Ridge Trail, within the national park, is well worth it.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
If you’re venturing into Rocky Mountain, you cannot beat the convenience of the two-bedroom Eagle Cliff Escape (from $160) outside Estes Park, Colorado. Hike into the park from the recently remodeled cabin or drive five minutes to the Beaver Meadows entrance. Experienced backcountry skiers will find plenty of good ski terrain within the park’s Hidden Valley, and Colorado Mountain School leads guided outings (from $269 for a day trip). Hardy winter trail runners or trekkers can tackle a snowy five-mile out-and-back run on the Gem Lake Trail from the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. Estes Park has loads of take-out options, like Bird and Jim, Café de Pho Thai, and Kind Coffee.
Olympic National Park, Washington
Built by an award-winning tiny-house designer, this sleek mini home (from $127) has two lofted bedrooms and is located outside the town of Sequim, Washington, a good launching-off point for exploring the beaches and snowcapped mountains of Olympic National Park. The cedar-sided cabin is just 269 square feet, but you won’t sacrifice much: you still get a queen bed, a full-size fridge, and a not too cramped bathroom. There’s cell service but no Wi-Fi, so enjoy unplugging. You’ll need four-wheel drive to get here in the winter. Hurricane Ridge, the low-key ski area located within the park, will be open and operating in December (day tickets from $45).