For a budget winter vacation with world-class views, visit a national park this season. Many offer cross-country skiing, ice fishing, snowshoeing, and sledding, as well as scenic hikes, walks, and drives. Savor forests thick with fir trees laced with icicles, snow-capped mountains and canyon ridges covered with a dusting of white.
In winter, attendance at the parks drops by more than 500,000. With fewer crowds, it’s easier to enjoy the spectacular views. Lodging prices are low too. Throughout 2016 the National Park Service, which oversees the 409 facilities throughout the US, celebrates its 100-year anniversary. Enjoy free park admission on January 18, 2016, Martin Luther King Day, and on February 15th, Presidents’ Day. It’s wise to book lodging ahead of time and to check the parks’ websites for road closures and conditions.
Five great parks for a winter getaway:
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park’s 47,000 acres offer the classic Maine landscape of sea-splashed rocky coasts, granite cliffs, and mountains.
• Cross-country ski and snowshoe on 45 miles of carriage roads.
• Snowmobile along 27 miles of routes.
• Ice fish on ponds, typically available January through March.
• Take a scenic drive along parts of Ocean Drive and Sargent Drive to the Bass Head Lighthouse.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
With few crowds, the spectacular canyon—277 miles long, 10 miles wide, and 1 mile deep—looms even larger. Watch the canyon’s walls and pinnacles, wheat-colored during the day, change at sunset to rose, magenta, and rust.
• Walk the South Rim without hordes of people.
• Hike parts of the Bright Angel Trail although beware of ice and snow.
• Take a scenic drive along 25-mile Desert View Drive.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Jagged, snow-capped, and glistening in the sun, Grand Teton National Park’s mountain peaks, rising as high as 13,770 feet, fulfill the vision of the west as both rugged and beautiful.
• Cross-country ski and snowshoe.
• Learn about the park’s wildlife and geology on naturalist-led, guided snowshoe hikes December through mid-March.
• Snowmobile in designated areas.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Admire the “hoodoos,” rock spires formed when ice and rainwater wear away the limestone.
• Hike and snowshoe through the park.
• Go on a ranger guided Full Moon Snowshoe hike, available November through March.
• Cross-country ski along the Bryce Canyon Rim.
• Check to see if the park offer’s a winter astronomy program.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
The park’s 415-square miles features towering mountain peaks, lakes, woods and meadows.
• Cross-country ski and snowshoe through forests.
• Sled, saucer or tube down the hill at Hidden Valley but be prepared to walk back up.
• Drive the roads on the park’s west side where you are likely to spot elk, moose, and deer.