Editor’s note:Between COVID concerns and park closures both seasonal and weather-based, the status of each of these parks can change overnight. We strongly recommend checking-then double checking-each park to ensure you’re traveling safely to a place you can actually access. We’ll continue to intermittently update this list throughout the winter. Winter is traditionally the quietest time at the national parks-and some would say the best. Most are open during this time of peak solitude, though there are many restrictions and closures to consider. As we ease into 2021, that hasn’t changed. Just look at California, where parks continue to teeter between day-use and all-access as COVID restrictions evolve.
We’ve been keeping track of the status of all 63 parks all year, offering up a baseline of what’s open, whether you can camp, and what you can do inside. This list is current as of February 2, 2021, and includes the newest park, New River Gorge. Use it as a guide before you go-then double and triple check your park’s status online before you head out. It’d be a shame if you had to turn back because the bears woke up early.
Maine Status: Open Camping: No Amenities: Yes Arcadia’s trails and roads are open, but the park is also in the midst of a long winter’s nap. This time of year is about as socially distant as you can get in Maine’s natural wonderland. Just keep an eye on closures related to storms, which can see roads close with short notice. For current info, check in with rangers at the Bar Harbor chamber of commerce.
Utah Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Limited It’s largely business as usual at Arches, and winter is a time to visit with relative peace and quiet. It’s also probably the best time of year to stargaze and see what the park’s Dark Sky designation is all about, so dress warm, look out for ice-related trail closures, and get ready for a light show.
South Dakota Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes The South Unit of the park is currently closed, but the rest of this badass South Dakota icon and its rugged geologic beauty is mostly open for business as usual. Be sure to stop off for ice water at Wall Drug while you’re here: Now that all the Smash Mouth fans have gone home, you’ll likely find smaller crowds at the scheduled T-rex show.
Texas Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes Day-use hikes, RV parking, and backcountry camping are available at this Texas paradise and roadtripper magnet along the Rio Grande. Limited lodging is available too, so stake your claim: It gets deceptively cold here at night.
Florida Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes Most of Biscayne is underwater anyway. You can feel pretty ok with paddling around this overlooked gem of a park with minimal risk, provided you pay attention to (and actually respect) the weather.
Colorado Status: Open Camping: Limited Amenities: Limited Much of this highly underrated western Colorado treasure located about two hours north of Telluride is off limits to vehicles in the winter, including the North Rim and East Portal Roads, plus much of the South Rim. Plan ahead, and maybe have a backup plan.
Utah Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes Bryce Canyon essentially looks like Mars after an ice storm during the winter, in case you’re looking to reenact key scenes from Total Recall. Expect seasonal trail closures, but also expect to see more stars-and maybe even Mars, actually-than you’ve ever witnessed with the naked eye.
Utah Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes This oft-overlooked Utah gem (the least visited of Utah’s famous “big five” parks) is stretching is back and going strong: You can now hit up the winding roads and endless trails of Canyonlands, then bed down at campsites or in the backcountry, provided you have a permit and some serious thermals.
Utah Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes This International Dark Sky Park combines the best of Utah’s more famous national parks into one lesser-visited package of surprises. And it’s fully open for all activities, including camping, canyoneering, and loitering in the visitor centers.
New Mexico Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: No Carlsbad’s open, sure, but this is also that magical time of year when snow and ice can result in full-blown closures. Currently, they’re allowing 1,000 people to go into the cave on a timed basis.
California Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: No This breathtaking collection of islands is back in business, much to the chagrin of the rare birds who had the run of it when only private boats were shuttling visitors to the middle of the Pacific to experience the US’s answer to the Galapagos.
South Carolina Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Limited The nation’s oldest hardwood bottomland didn’t keep its 500-year-old Cypruses alive through multiple plagues, yellow fever, and the Twilight saga by taking chances. The park opened slowly, and now most of it’s in play: That means you can hike in most of the park, canoe and fish, and camp if you scored a spot.
Oregon Status: Open Camping: No Amenities: No Snowshoeing around the blue waters of America’s deepest lake is one of those bucket-list activities that too few people experience. Maybe this is your year. If it is, “prepare to be self-sufficient,” as the NPS site says. You won’t have access to any amenities, the North Entrance and Rim Road are closed, and other roads experience intermittent closures due to snow.
Ohio Status: Open Camping: No Amenities: Limited A peak Midwestern leaf-peeping destination, Ohio’s expansive 33,000-acre treasure is open, but some of its more stunning attractions are still off limits, including the Brandywine Falls boardwalk. Station Road Bridge, too, is closed through March for maintenance purposes.
California Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes Winter is the best time to visit America’s hottest national park, but just to keep you guessing, watch out for backcountry road closures due to ice at higher elevations.
Alaska Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes Those looking to bask in stunning views of the wild landscapes surrounding North America’s tallest peak are free to do so, and some campsites are currently open, in case you’re particularly hardcore. Which, if you’re even contemplating an overnight trip to Denali right now, you probably are.
Florida Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes Seaplane tours, ferries, campgrounds, marine waters, and the gardens outside of one of America’s largest 19th-century forts are open. And you’re now welcome to enjoy sunrises and sunsets on Loggerhead Key. Basically, there’s more open than closed at this point.
Florida Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes Much of the Everglades is currently open. Feel free to camp, kayak, book a tour, canoe, clean fish, get gas, and poop with wild abandon in Everglades’ many public restrooms. But steer clear of Shark Valley, which is currently closed due to flooding.
Alaska Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Limited While America’s most remote and least-visited national park remains open for the most part, the hard part is getting there-especially in the winter. There are no roads to the park and most visitors access this massive wilderness (roughly the size of Switzerland) by plane. This place required a lot of planning to visit in the beforetimes. If you’re really committed, you already allotted time to jump through hoops to plan a safe stay.
Missouri Status: Open Camping: No Amenities: Yes The Arch is smack in the middle of St. Louis, and grounds around the architectural icon have been accessible to socially distanced walks and biking all along. Now, the visitor center, museum, cafe, and store are open now, and you can take the tram to the top. The Old Courthouse is still closed, and you can’t camp. Ever. Because, again, it’s in the middle of St. Louis.
Montana Status: Open Camping: Limited Amenities: Yes Considered by many to be America’s most beautiful park, this mountainous wonderland/UNESCO World Heritage site is taking very careful considerations to keep the local Blackfeet community safe from transmission. In addition keep a close eye on road closures, as Montana’s weather can shift unexpectedly and often, and many pathways are closed for the season.
Alaska Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Limited Look, if you’re hiking around the glacial wilderness of Alaska, you’re already pretty socially distant. And if you do happen to see some other folks traipsing through one of the best glacier hikes in America, we’re pretty sure you’ll be able to abide a six-foot buffer zone.
Wyoming Status: Open Camping: No Amenities: Limited Campsites and most amenities are closed for the winter, but if you’re a snowshoer, cross-country skier, snowboarder, or snowmobiler, there is perhaps no better place to be in the lower 49 this winter… especially if you can score a limited spot in a lodge.
Nevada Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Limited Great Basin and many of its amenities are open for hikers and explorers (no cave tours though), and now that several campsites are open, its legendary stargazing-some of the best in the US, period-is back in full swing.
Colorado Status: Open Camping: Limited Amenities: Yes This high-alpine sandboarding paradise is back in the swing of things, with trails open and dunes ready to be tumbled down. Of note, the Piñon Flats campground is currently closed. For the backcountry set, you can score permits at the visitor center, which is also now back up and running.
North Carolina, Tennessee Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes The nation’s most popular park (on a technicality, but whatever) allows access to most of its sprawling trails, though this has always been a park most utilized as a scenic drive, so go forth and peep those leafs, but keep an eye on their site for closures. If you’re looking to stay overnight, several campgrounds are now open, though the majority are still on lockdown.
Texas Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Limited The home of Texas’ four highest mountain peaks and the world’s most expensive Permian fossil reef has re-opened campsites, along with many trails and roads. You can also hit up the Frijole Ranch area. Just be mindful of winter storms and keep an eye out for closures.
Hawaii Status: Open Camping: No Amenities: Limited Maui’s massive, ethereal treasure is letting visitors trickle in to hike its stunning overlook trails-all the way up to 10,023 feet in elevation. If you make it up that high, social distance shouldn’t be a problem.
Hawaii Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes This ancient, mind-boggling wonder is for the most part open to bikers, hikers, equestrians, campers, and looky-loos. The Kīlauea Crater is back in business, too, as are galleries and Volcano House, in case you need a cocktail with your view.
Arkansas Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes Hot Springs’ status as an urban national park means that a lot of the cafes and restaurants in its orbit are currently open, along with trails and outdoor areas. You can now camp and hit up the bath houses that contain the namesake hot springs. Spas and salons are open too, in case camping isn’t camping until you get a blowout.
Indiana Status: Open Camping: No Amenities: Limited While one of America’s newest national parks remains open “for the most part,” it did have issues with crowd control in the age of COVID. Being the dead of winter on a Great Lake has probably mitigated these issues.
California Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Limited This gloriously trippy desert playground has reopened its campgrounds on a first come, first served basis. But fair warning: this is the busiest time of year at the popular park, so the in-roads often look like LA’s 405.
Alaska Status: Open Camping: Limited Amenities: Limited Katmai’s more a park for animals than people-seriously, check out these bears just yukking it up-and has less than 5 miles of maintained trails. If you’re headed into the wild backcountry, chances are you’re pretty well equipped to survive without visitors centers, running water, or, you know, other people.
Alaska Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Limited This sprawling land where 40 glaciers dot the landscape and green contrasts with the white snow has opened up its public spaces, though don’t expect to get inside any buildings. Also, given it’s winter in Alaska, road closures can happen at any time due to sudden floods, ice flow, and general Alaska-ness.
California Status: Open Camping: No Amenities: No This criminally under-explored park wedged between Yosemite and Joshua Tree is open to day use, but San Joaquin Valley’s stay at home orders mean that you’ll have to be gone come sundown until at least February 9.
Alaska Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: No You are free to roam the dunes and traipse through the river among the many, many caribou in this Alaskan wilderness, provided you don’t want to stop in the main visitor center after you’re through.
Alaska Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Limited Lake Clark only reachable by boat and air taxi. If you’re planning to go, expect to abide by rigid quarantine rules beforehand. That said, if you’re visiting this place, chances are you didn’t just kind of wander out for a scenic drive in the woods, so you probably already know this. And if you didn’t, well, you probably didn’t know Lake Clark was a place to begin with.
California Status: Open Camping: Limited Amenities: Yes This remarkable park in Northern California’s Shasta Cascades has shut down the majority of its roads, and backcountry camping is off limits… not because of COVID restrictions, but because of increased bear activity. Winter road closures are also in effect. If you’re looking to explore just a small portion of this overlooked marvel-and really, maybe you should-prepare to rough it.
Kentucky Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes The surface world’s been open all along, but now folks can resume descending into the world’s longest underground cave. Camping is also now an option, though not inside the cave itself, which horror films tell us is a very bad idea.
Colorado Status: Open Camping: Limited Amenities: Yes America’s largest archeological preserve (and top Colorado attraction) has been around since 7,500 BC, and is more or less in full swing at this point, though you still can’t tour the cliff-dwellings. Otherwise, go nuts, and feel free to stay, either in a tent or the lodge.
Washington Status: Open Camping: Backcountry only Amenities: Yes Park lands in one of America’s oldest national parks are pen at this point, though campsites are now closed for the season (backcountry campers are still cool/kind of hardcore). But you can book a room at the National Park Inn, which is a pretty great place to hunker down while the mountain starts collecting snow in the most visually spectacular way. Just be sure to pack tire chains.
American Samoa Status: Open Camping: No (camping’s never an option here) Amenities: No The bad news: If you’re a mainlander planning to visit this isolated paradise renowned for its snorkeling, beaches, night sky, and solitude, you have to quarantine in Hawaii for 14 days. The good news is, if you’re a mainlander planing to visit this isolated paradise renowned for its snorkeling, beaches, night sky, and solitude, you have to quarantine in Hawaii for 14 days. And if you’re already on American Samoa, bad news is probably pretty relative, largely because you’ve been going to the park all along.
Camping: Yes Amenities: Limited As America wound down a chaotic 2020, one good thing managed to go relatively unnoticed: West Virginia’s New River Gorge officially became our 63rd national park. And as of now, the park-all 70,000 acres of it-is open, if pretty damn cold. Feel free to camp, hike, climb, and explore the eerily beautiful abandoned mining towns scattered throughout.
Washington Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes Why people continue to overlook this spectacular expanse of glorious nature porn near the Canadian border continues to befuddle experts. Currently, heavy snowfall means that many roads and trails are closed for the season, so this is probably best reserved for the most experienced explorers.
Washington Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes With mountains, beaches, and rainforests, this ridiculously diverse park needs to be seen at least once by every American. At this point, winter closures mean visiting requires some extra planning, but if you play your cards right you’ll feel like you have the place to yourself. In addition to seasonal closures, some areas remain closed-off out of consideration to the residents of the Makah and Quileute reservations. (That extends to nearby La Push, in case you were here to reenact pivotal scenes from Twilight.)
Arizona Status: Open Camping: No Amenities: No The park road, trails, and very hard wilderness areas are now open at this stunning park that suddenly pops up along both sides of Route 66 in eastern Arizona. Even if you’re just on an epic old-school road trip, you should make it a point to cruise through.
California Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes The site for this Central California park boasts about it being “Born of Fire,” and now that the wildfires have subsided, it’s been reborn again. Sleep under the stars, gawk at the rock formations, and find out what you’ve been missing.
California Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Limited Redwood has spent the last year yo-yoing between various states of closure due to COVID restrictions, billowing smoke from wildfires, and other maladies. It’s currently operating like its former Pete Seeger-baiting self. Just make sure to check in before you plan a visit, and cross your fingers that 2021 is a lot more reliably normal in this magnificent park.
Colorado Status: Open Camping: Limited Amenities: Limited Much of America’s third most-popular was ravaged by fires this fall, but the healing has begun. Sections will remain closed, and some of the wintry paradise is off limits for the season, including most of the campsites. Use caution and be respectful of the recovery process if you choose to visit.
Arizona Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes Located right outside of Tucson, this cacti-laden gem is currently allowing campers, though groups are limited to 10, which gives you a good excuse not to invite that one friend who always insists on bringing his fucking acoustic guitar.
Virginia Status: Open Camping: No Amenities: No Renowned for its fabled Skyline Drive, this national treasure encompassing part of the Blue Ridge Mountains is largely shut down for the season. Still a hell of a drive though!
North Dakota Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Limited Look, it’s not like they named this ultra-underrated park James Buchanan National Park. This is named after the Bull Moose, a place where the prairies and the Badlands converge, forests stand petrified, buffalo roam, and the sky’s one big panoramic light show. Welcome to winter camping season. Don’t expect a lot of company.
US Virgin Islands Status: Open Camping: No Amenities: Yes Things are pretty much back to normal. If you’re here, go forth and enjoy some of the world’s most pristine beaches. As of late October, you can once again take advantage of rental sites and food-service at Trunk Bay.
Minnesota Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes Known for its rugged waters and wild landscapes that make it a paradise for kayakers and canoeists, this park near the Canadian border is so underrated it doesn’t even make underrated parks lists. It’s also very, very cold. Unless you’re into snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling, it’s likely to remain underrated until northern Minnesota thaws.
New Mexico Status: Open Camping: No Amenities: Limited Transitioning from a national monument to a national park in the final days of 2019, White Sands park was forced to shut down just a few weeks later, and was among the last to reopen. But hey, it’s open now! No, you can’t camp or hang out inside. Yes, you can rent a sled and go rocketing down the dunes. Seems like a fair tradeoff.
South Dakota Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: No Wind Cave is like the national park equivalent of some ultra-hype speakeasy: a massive cave system hidden beneath the prairie. And like a hyped-up speakeasy, you probably can’t get in. At this point, the cave tours are a bust. You can now camp, and wander the trails of the prairie aboveground, but honestly, you can already do that in the majority of South Dakota without being sad that the good stuff’s all under your boots.
Alaska Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: No Ok, so technically the largest national park-all 13.2 million central Alaskan acres of it-has been open for most of the pandemic, though mostly to folks working to preserve the park. Now, it’s open to Alaskans and quarantine completionists, who can camp in sites or in the backcountry and even access the park’s remarkably preserved ghost town, which has been practicing extreme social distancing for a century.
Montana, Wyoming, Idaho Status: Open (kind of) Camping: Backcountry only Amenities: Limited The majority of Yellowstone’s roads are closed through April 16, with the exception of the North Entrance through to Cooke City. Amenities are extremely limited for those who opt to visit. For all but the most committed backcountry explorer, Yellowstone’s hibernating along with the bears.
California Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Limited The good news is that Yosemite is largely back to normal. The bad news is that normal in the winter means road closures. Lots of them. Check here before you set your heart on seeing Mariposa Grove, the Mist Trail, and Half Dome.
Utah Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Yes One of America’s most beloved parks has eased back into public life, with the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and many park trails currently open, though shuttles are off limits until mid-February.
Jay Gentile is an award-winning freelance journalist specializing in travel, food & drink, culture, events and entertainment stories. In addition to Thrillist, you can find his work in The Washington Post, The Guardian, CNN Travel, Chicago Tribune, Lonely Planet, VICE, Outside Magazine and more. Follow @thejaygentile.
The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’. Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health.
Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid.
Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park. As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor.
To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power.
Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.
You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks.
It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties!
An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:
‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.”