The Best National Parks for Skiing

Photo: courtesy Badger Pass Ski Area

Experience national park splendor amplified by chairlift-accessed ski and snowboard terrain—plus a few recommended parks for all-time backcountry ski tours.

Our national parks aren’t just for sightseeing, camping, hiking and biking during the summertime. Come winter, there are multiple reasons why the off-season makes a magical time to explore America’s 63 national parks. But a select few (three to be exact) have an added draw: They have lift-serviced ski areas. (A fourth, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, had a ski area from 1955 until 1991.) You’ll get the parks’ obvious nationally significant natural, cultural, or recreational resources, plus the unique amenity of small resorts with chairlifts, which let you take in their sights while accessing skiing or snowboarding runs. Want more? There are numerous parks with outstanding chairlift-free, backcountry skiing options for alpine tourers and splitboarders. So, if you want to notch ‘ski a national park’ off your bucket list, here’s how and where to do it.

Badger Pass Ski Area - Yosemite National Park, California

Not only is Badger Pass Ski Area located in one of the oldest national parks in the country, it’s also one of the oldest ski areas in the nation, opening in 1935 (just after losing its bid to host the 1932 Winter Olympics, to Lake Placid, N.Y.). The historic resort is located at a higher elevation, to the south of the famed Yosemite Valley, within easy striking distance from the park’s lodges and nearby towns. Choose from five lifts, a terrain park, 25 miles of groomed cross-country skiing trails (plus access to 90 miles of marked trails, including the 10.5-mile epic to Glacier Point), a tubing area, and more. With 80% of its runs rated beginner or intermediate, plus equipment rentals and a ski school on-site, it’s perfect for the whole family and especially those just learning to alpine ski or looking to hone their skills. The resort is generally accessible via vehicle, but chains are required when it storms. Staying elsewhere in the park? All Yosemite in-park lodging options offer complimentary shuttles to and from the resort. More info:

Boston Mills/Brandywine Resorts - Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio 

Yes, Ohio does, in fact, have a national park. And yes, even with a high-point elevation of just 1,170 feet, that national park harbors a ski area. Located along the Cuyahoga River between Cleveland and Akron, Cuyahoga Valley National Park includes the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail, a restored section of the canal’s original towpath, as well as towering Brandywine Falls, one of several waterfalls in the park. But come winter, skiers and riders set their eyes on Brandywine Ski Resort and Boston Mills Ski Resort, two separate but jointly operated ski areas. What the topography might be lacking in tall mountains it makes up for in valleys, whose slopes are perfect for beginners and intermediates. Owned by Vail Resorts, meaning they’re part of its heralded Epic Pass, the resorts pride themselves on offering something for everyone. As well as forgiving beginner terrain, they also have a complete equipment rental center and ski school. And you won’t get bored with the terrain: Boston Mills offers six chairs, a handle tow and a magic carpet, while Brandywine includes five chairs, two handle tows and a carpet. More info:

Hurricane Ridge - Olympic National Park, Washington

If ever there was a national park scripted for a ski area, it’s Washington’s Olympic National Park, whose 922,651 acres and jagged mountain peaks—including 7,983-foot Mount Olympus—trap storms rolling in from the Pacific Ocean. Enter Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area, which sits nearly a mile high at 5,240 feet and gets over 400 inches of snow each year. Just three hours from Seattle and 17 miles south of Port Angeles, it’s easily accessible but sees few crowds and lift lines, but plenty of powder that stays fresh long after the storm. Its towering vistas are augmented by everything from groomers to glades, steeps and hike-to bowls. Operated by the Hurricane Ridge Winter Sports Club and open on weekends from mid-December through March, it includes two rope tows, a poma lift, and a tubing park, plus available lessons and rentals. Note: Pay attention to the weather. Getting there isn’t always easy, with storms often closing the road (all vehicles are required to carry tire chains), hours varying according to weather and limited from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Fun fact: Hurricane Ridge is the farthest west ski area in the contiguous United States. Bonus: Single-day lift tickets are just $38, which you purchase from a trailer in the parking lot. More info:

Top National Parks for Backcountry Skiing 

Prefer to earn your turns in a national park? Explore the following top parks where you can use an uphill skin track to lay your powder tracks. (Note: Check the current avalanche conditions and weather, and always travel in the backcountry prepared with the right safety equipment and the knowledge how to use it.) 

Mount Rainier National Park - Washington 

This Pacific Northwest landmark is a mountaineer’s dream, offering everything from glacier travel (and overnights at Camp Muir) to day-tours. Bonus: Daily time slots keep crowds at bay. Popular trailhead: Longmire parking lot, where you can work your way toward Camp Muir. 

Crater Lake National Park - Oregon 

At Crater Lake National Park, most lines won’t have you climbing up but rather skiing down to a lake, and then climbing back out. Lake views come with the territory no matter where you go, with a variety of terrain for all types. Favorite tours include Garfield Peak and West Bowl.

Grand Teton National Park - Wyoming  

Located just outside the ski Mecca of Jackson, Grand Teton National Park has a wealth of backcountry lines for ski tourers of all walks, from tree-lined glades to full-on peaks and couloirs. Popular trailhead: Taggart Lake, which provides access to such shots as 25 Short and Maverick’s. 

Rocky Mountain National Park - Colorado 

In the heart of Colorado lies Rocky Mountain National Park, just a half-hour drive from Boulder, which offers ski terrain for everyone from beginning to seasoned tourers. Popular trailhead: Hidden Valley (actually, a former ski area), where skin tracks lead you to a variety of terrain options. Note: Drink plenty of water to combat the high altitude. 

Glacier National Park - Montana 

Glacier National Park has some of the most sweeping views in the country and seeing them from your own power makes them even better. Several passes serve up access for backcountry skiers, including Two Medicine and Maria’s Pass, offering everything from trees to steeps. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.