Winter is here and that means some time off is in your near future. Whether it’s one or two weeks off, you need to go somewhere.
Most people think of national parks as spring and summer destinations, but they can be equally as fun and beautiful in the winter. Listed below, you’ll find five national parks that are perfect winter vacation ideas. Whether it’s the untamed wilderness of Alaska or the desert of California, these are the places you need to be this winter.
Nestled in northern Montana, Glacier National Park is so beautiful it could be added to the new list of the Seven Wonders of the World. In the winter, snow blankets every inch of the park, creating not only a beautiful setting, but also endless possibilities for fun. Take a ranger-guided snowshoe walk along miles and miles of open trails. Or trade them in for a pair of cross-country skis. Head back to basecamp in nearby Kalispell—the gateway to Glacier National Park—at the Kalispell Grand Hotel. If you’re a card shark, walk a couple blocks down South Main Street and see how much money you can win at the Magic Diamond Casino. Do you feel lucky?
“Glacier is a special place in the winter. It can be very quiet and peaceful, but also requires more planning. Most services have stopped operating, and cold temperatures and avalanche conditions can take people by surprise. Stop by the park’s website to read up on safety, road conditions, and popular winter snowshoeing and skiing opportunities so that you can have a great trip.” – Lauren Alley, Glacier National Park
Feel like a wildlife seeking road trip of a lifetime? If your idea of a good time is viewing one the largest elk herds on earth from up close, the National Elk Refuge in Teton County, Wyoming, is tailor-made for you. The elk begin their migratory journey in early fall and spend their winters on the vast grassy plains of the national wildlife refuge. See the herd by taking a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the refuge’s grounds. It’ll be an experience you’ll never forget. When you’re ready for a hot toddy, head to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar in nearby Jackson. It’s only a few blocks from the Wort Hotel, making your walk home easy.
“Winter is the time of year when wildlife watching is at its peak at the National Elk Refuge. In addition to the thousands of elk that winter on the refuge, visitors frequently see bighorn sheep, coyotes, eagles, waterfowl, and even an occasional wolf or moose.” – Lori Iverson, National Elk Refuge
Colorado winters may be famous for their quality skiing, but there are other fantastic opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. Point your car in the direction of Rocky Mountain National Park, head to the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center in Estes Park, and get yourself a trail map for Upper Beaver Meadows (which is accessible by a 1.5-mile snowshoe hike). It’s arguably one of the most beautiful areas of the entire park and a must-do for any fan of snowshoeing. Drive back to town for a spooky stay at the Stanley Hotel, the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in “The Shining.” Yes, it’s just as creepy as you think.
* Note: The gate to Upper Beaver Meadows Road is closed at HWY 36. Guests can park on the highway and snowshoe right in.
Most, if not all, national parks are big. Like, really big. However, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is on a whole other level. It’s the biggest one in America and is the same size as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Switzerland combined for goodness sake! In the winter, it offers some of the best backcountry skiing on earth. St. Elias Alpine Guides use ski-equipped bush planes to put you into the best conditions on some of the best peaks in the park. After a day of creating new lines in untouched powder, drive to the city of Valdez for some much-needed R&R.
“Winter is a fun time to visit the park and Alaska, if you prepare for the cold temps (+20 to minus 30 degrees F). Winter activities include: riding snowmobiles/snowmachines, hiking, cross country skiing, snow shoeing and dog-sledding!” – Park Ranger Mike Townsend, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Reserve
Escaping snow-covered landscapes in winter has never been easier than with a trip to Death Valley National Park. The landscape resembles something you’d expect after landing on Mars and it is amazing. After you check in at the Oasis at Death Valley, make the 14-mile drive to the lowest point in the United States: Badwater Basin. Other notable attractions in the park include Dante’s View, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and the Red Cathedral. When you’re ready to return to civilization, Lone Pine, California, is a great place to recoup. We think woofing down a top sirloin is the perfect way to settle you for the night. Or you can make the 123-mile drive to Sin City and enjoy a steak from one of Vegas’s great steakhouses.
“Winter is a great time to visit Death Valley National Park for the obvious reason… it’s not 120 degrees like it is in the summer. Also, when the rest of the country is in snow and freezing rain, Death Valley is a great place to camp, hike, and view the Milky Way in the winter.” – Abby Wines, Death Valley National Park
Hopefully, one if not all of the destinations listed above will make it into your national park road trip itinerary. We predict this winter will be more adventurous than most.
Header image via Alexey Ulashchick/Shutterstock.com
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