10 outdoors winter trips
Alaska Railroad

10 Outdoor Winter Trips to Make the Year Memorable

Winter is a great time of year to take a trip, see some new scenery and experience the beauty of the best Jack Frost has to offer.

Now is an excellent time to consider taking a winter vacation.

Holing up in your home with a mug of hot cocoa and feet be the fire is certainly acceptable. But why not enjoy that evening cocoa and fireplace somewhere that might also qualify as a winter wonderland during the day?

Here are 10 winter trips that should warm up your spirit of adventure, if not your toes and nose.

Grand Teton National Park

Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park is one of the country's most beautiful national parks, at any time of the year. But in winter it becomes practically ethereal.

The Grand Teton park website says, "As the snow drapes a wintry blanket across the Teton Range, a peace settles over the landscape, offering a sharp contrast to the busy summer season. Winter recreational activities abound, as the park becomes a popular destination for cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and photographers who wish to capture the beauty of a Teton winterscape."

Hiking trails cover Grand Teton, and in the winter hiking takes on a whole new character. You'll definitely want to bring your camera to capture some winter beauty.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

As long as you're visiting Grand Teton you may as well drive over to Jackson Hole, especially if you're into fine dining and downhill skiing or snowboarding.

If you're not into those sorts of outdoor activities you could take a sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge and engage in some wonderful wildlife photography. Or, visit the fantastic Jackson Hole town square for any of the city's winter festivals, including the Stage Stop Sled Dog Race, an annual dog sledding race that starts in the square and hits eight communities over a 10-day time period.

Jackson Hole knows how to make the winter months interesting, lively and fun...and delicious; the town is known for its exceptional dining opportunities.

Siesta Key, Florida

I suppose if you're looking to forget about winter for a spell, you might want to consider the balmy Florida coast as a winter getaway. Siesta Key is a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Sarasota. It's known for its fine white sand beaches and gentle gulf breezes. It's also a little less crowded than Daytona or Palm Beach, making it an ideal romantic destination.

But what should really pique your outdoor adventure interest is the opportunity to do some gulf fishing. You can drift fish, surfcast, bridge fish or wade the grass flats. You could also rent one of several charter boats to put you onto snapper, redfish, snook, trout, cobia, grouper, flounder, pompano, mackerel, kingfish, sheepshead or jacks.

If you're not a northern hard water angler, this could be just the trip to help you get through those long post-Christmas months.

Midwest Ice Climbing

Ice climbing is the winter equivalent of warm weather rock climbing. If you want to climb year-round this is the activity for you. Plus, it will increase your climbing skill set considerably. Both man-made and natural ice falls are waiting to be climbed across America during the cold weather months.

There are plenty of ice climbing destinations outside the American border, but for this list we're staying inside America. While you can find great locations to climb in the east, west and far north, let's look at two right in the upper middle of the country: Minnesota and Michigan.

Sandstone, Minnesota is home to the Sandstone Ice Climbing Park, just over an hour north of the Twin Cities. Situated within a former sandstone quarry, dugout canyon walls freeze with water, effectively creating an ice-climbing mecca in Minnesota. Installed night lights make climbing after dark a unique experience.

Then, over in Fenton, Michigan, the Peabody Ice Climbing Club features two iced-over towers, ideal for climbers to train and practice on. The school has certified climbing instructors and gear on site to handle any experience level. There's also a warming hut and a heated bunk house for overnight adventures. In addition to that they have an indoor dry-climbing wall and a simulated high-altitude workout chamber.

These two winter adventure destinations are perfect for the adventurously spirited who may only have a day or a weekend to get away.

Yellowstone National Park

I know, I know. Yellowstone this, Yellowstone that... But the truth is, you just can't beat our National Parks and Yellowstone continues to be a diamond-level park all year-round. If you haven't been there yet, or haven't been there in the winter months, it is a place most worthy of being on your bucket list.

If you happen to be in Wyoming for our first two winter destination spots (Jackson Hole and Grand Teton), a trip to Yellowstone isn't far off the path. But the park is a big one, spreading into parts of Montana and Idaho, and with a diversity of landscape features and opportunities for wildlife watching that is simply astounding.

Stay at one of the mountain resorts in the region and hit the park to view bison, elk and maybe even some wolves during the day. If you go during the winter months you'll find that the crowds are considerably smaller. You may even have the park at least partly to yourself if you're lucky.

Utah Hot Springs

Before folks had indoor plumbing and hot running water, bathtime often took place in a hot spring, if you were lucky enough to have one close at hand. Hot springs are natural pools filled with geothermally heated groundwater. Not every hot spring is safe for soaking—some are dangerously hot—but the ones that are often become destinations for their restorative and relaxing powers.

Many states have a number of hot spring destinations, but Utah is surprising rich with them.

Here are just a few of Utah's well-known hot springs:

  • Crystal Hot Springs was once a campsite used by the Shoshone-Bannock American Indians during the winter months.
  • Meadow Hot Spring has hiking trails surrounding the spring.
  • Fifth Water Hot Springs is nestled within snow-clad mountains, these springs consist of several pools of differing temperatures along with a scenic waterfall.
  • Homestead Crater Hot Spring is a geothermal hot pool encased within the 55-foot-high beehive shaped Homestead Crater.
  • Pah Tempe Hot Springs is a beautiful natural feature tucked inside the Zion Canyon.
  • Mystic Hot Springs are rich in minerals that have accumulated over time form beautiful rock formations.

Engage in some cross-country skiing, ice skating or snowshoeing before rewarding yourself with the ultimate in natural healing for both mind and body.

Grand Canyon, Arizona

The Grand Canyon is without a doubt one of the most spectacular natural geologic formations on the planet. It offers unparalleled scenic beauty, extraordinary hiking opportunities and inspiring wildlife viewing. It's the kind of place that makes you proud to be an American.

There are a lot of great reasons to make a winter trip to the Grand Canyon. For one, crowds thin out to a fraction of what they are during the peak season. Everything is quieter, more peaceful, more zen-like. Daytime temperatures are also milder in the winter. Winter canyon temperatures hover around 30 or 40 degrees, making hiking much more enjoyable than during the sweltering heat of summer.

Also, the sunrises and sunsets are more beautiful during the winter months. The skies are generally clearer, the sun sits lower in the sky and the shadows and color it paints on the rocky canyon walls creates a decidedly different feel than during the summer months. The Grand Canyon is another winter bucket list destination.

Colorado skiing and more

Perhaps no other winter sports activity defines snow-covered mountains as downhill skiing. But I have to confess, I'm not a skier. I've only been downhill skiing once in my entire life. But if you are a skier and you're looking for a downhill-centric vacation, Colorado is the place to go. The state has Breckenridge, Vail, Snowmass, Telluride ski resorts that are a downhill skiers paradise.

For me, I prefer hiking and snowshoeing, with a bit of cross-country skiing thrown in every now and then. Colorado is perfect for those activities as well.

One great place to do a bit of winter hiking is Red Rocks Park, outside of Colorado Springs. If you're fortunate enough to hit the park after a fresh snow you are in for a treat. The red sandstone formations covered with wintry whiteness are a dazzling site. Plus you'll get plenty of exercise hoofing up and down the many hiking trails.

Red Rocks Park is just one of many beautiful hiking destinations on the state. But truth be told, Colorado is a mecca of winter recreation. There are tons of opportunities for downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, hiking, ice skating, ice climbing, snowshoeing and more, scattered all across the state. And you will be hard pressed to find a more picturesque locale, wherever you go.

Alaska by train

Travel to the land of the midnight sun for a truly unforgettable winter vacation. I have a buddy who heads to Alaska with his wife every winter to enjoy the annual Iditarod Sled Dog Race. One of these years I'm going to go with them. It looks like a blast.

But one entry on my bucket list is to experience Alaska by train. If you've ever seen Rick Steves travel show, you may have seen the program he did on traveling through Alaska by rail. What a unique experience and mode of travel. It was fantastic!

The Alaska Railroad offers several packages, durations, locations and price ranges.

For example, the Winter Escape package is a 2-day, 1-night deal that takes you from Anchorage to Fairbanks "for an unforgettable journey across this land of aurora borealis, arctic blue skies and Denali."

It costs $409. Denali in a Day is a "full day experience includes a guided nature walk or snowshoeing, and a return journey to Fairbanks aboard the Aurora Winter Train." Cost: $255-$275.

The Aurora package covers the best of winter in Alaska. This 8-day trip includes "two nights in the charming town of Talkeetna, where you'll enjoy a guided sled dog tour with an Iditarod champion kennel." Price: $1,479.

There is surely something to fit every budget and desired railroad experience. I just can't help but daydream over the idea of gently bouncing along a rail line while viewing some of the most beautiful landscape this side of paradise.

Devil Lake in North Dakota

Ok, I just have to include at least one ice fishing excursion in a list of outdoors winter trips. North Dakota's Devils Lake is the one I'm most high on right now. If you're a hardcore ice angler, Devils Lake could well qualify as an ice fishing bucket list item.

Jumbo perch, big walleys and monster pike and even musky and large numbers of white bass are all attainable in this massive lake, which is more than 95,000 acres. There are plenty of places to fish, large numbers of big fish and a welcoming community of businesses, restaurants and hotels around the lake.

Just go online and check out some of the pictures and videos of anglers with monster pike or belly-sagging perch pulled from Devils Lake. I can't think of a better reason to take a winter trip.

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