15 outdoor places to visit this winter
There’s a chill in the air, fresh powder on the ground, and the temperature is downright frigid. So what are you still doing indoors? Ski slopes, ice walls, and mountain vistas await.
The winter terrain was meant to be explored, so we partnered with the off-grid energy company BioLite to bring you 15 of the best outdoor destinations this season. Leave the hot coco behind, bundle up, and venture out into these legendary areas to get your winter fix.
Sure, heavy alpine snow can shut down roads at Estes Park, but it also creates magical conditions for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Big snow storms mean days’ worth of sledding, tubing, and backcountry skiing, but even if there’s no powder, you can still have an epic time. Ice climb when the waterfalls freeze at Hidden Falls and Freezer Burn, or venture out on a winter hiking trek with a ranger. After playing outside long enough for your fingers to go numb, warm up at Twin Owls Steakhouse, and settle in for some elk medallions and smoked salmon.
When it snows, the world seems quieter. Soak up this silence with an overnight excursion at Crane Flat, where you can snowshoe around the trails and set up camp in the winter wilderness. Prefer not to venture far from the beaten path? Tune up your skis and explore the Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area, which opens December 16—weather permitting. The park has cross-country trails, alpine runs, and even a terrain park, so all styles of skiers and snowboarders can get their thrills. You’ve earned a nice meal after roughing it in the wild, so get cozy around the fireside at Embers Restaurant, where a glass of wine and a plate of pan-seared scallops have your name on them.
It’s going to be a while until you see the bare ground at this national park again, so you might as well enjoy it. Rev up a snowmobile and feel the frosty wind on your face as you cruise along the Westside Road, or sled down the hills in the Paradise snowplay area. As long as you’re around Paradise, go for a few snowboard runs or slip into some cross-country skis for an afternoon adventure. When you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Alexander’s Lodge, where soft pretzels with ale cheese, crispy pan seared duck, or hearty fish and chips are sure to warm you up. Don’t leave without slice of blackberry pie.
Sit on a bucket in the middle of a frozen pond, waiting for the fish to bite, and you’ll get a glimpse of pure solitude at Acadia National Park. Don’t consider yourself the patient type? Seek out your own adventure as you suit up for a skijoring excursion—yup, you guessed it, it’s a combination of skiing and dogsledding. Meanwhile, if your idea of experiencing nature is from the seat of your car, cruise along Ocean Drive or Jordan Pond Road, which are the two areas that remain open during the winter. When you’re ready to head back indoors, the Dog and Pony Tavern in Bar Harbor will welcome you with selections like creamy mac ‘n’ cheese, a real ale beef burger, or a cup of lobster bisque. Order a cold local beer and toast to a perfect day.
The summertime temperatures skyrocket in Joshua Tree, but come winter, they drop, especially at night. It’s rare to see snow here though, which means you can still do your favorite activities, sans the springtime crowds. With practically a sunny day guarantee, hike the Kelso Dunes at sunrise, hoof around the lengthy Boy Scout Trail, and then hop around rock climbing spots, like Hemingway Buttress and Indian Cove. Before heading out of town, make a pit stop at Joshua Tree Saloon for a cold brew and a coyote chipotle burger in this western-style joint—maybe even stick around for a round of darts or a go on the karaoke stage.
During the winter months, sometimes Zion’s famous red rocks are covered by white snow, but the park does tend to have fairly mild temperatures given its location. The beauty of this weather is that you can enjoy trails that are usually too hot to hike in the height of summer—and have some extra elbow room while you do so. Tackle the summit of Angels Landing, count how many mule deer and bighorn sheep you see, and snowshoe from the East Rim Trail to Observation Point. Once you fill up on some fresh mountain air, save room for an artisan panini and an espresso at Café Soleil on your way down to Springdale.
If you’re willing to put up with a higher chance of rain and slightly lower temperatures, Big Sur promises to marvel in the winter. With gray whales migrating along its coast and elephant seals lining the shores, how could it not impress? Virtually fog free during the winter, this area invites you to take on the trails and relish the coastal views. For a hefty 8-mile hike with a steep incline, step up to the challenge of East Molera Trail to Post Summit, or go to Manuel Peak for some spectacular views of the region. After all that hiking, feed your appetite with some red hot wings and a Fat Lip Amber Ale at nearby Big Sur Taphouse.
The Grand Canyon is incredible all year-round, but the winter season brings an extra sense of majesty. Take a jaunt along the rim trail for views into the canyon dusted with snow, and when the conditions aren’t too icy, explore the South Kaibab trail. If you’re up for the ultimate adventure, embark on a 5-day Winter Rim to Rim to Rim hiking tour with the Wildland Trekking team. Prefer to stay warm and toasty indoors? Gaze out over the canyon from behind the panoramic windows of the Yavapai Museum of Geology. With one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World under your belt, cheers to the victory with a local brew at the Yavapai Tavern.
Of course, the local ski slopes are Jackson Hole’s prize possession when the snow starts falling, but there’s more to this winter wonderland than black diamonds and chairlifts. Between taking sleigh rides through the National Elk Refuge and practicing your ice climbing skills at Teton Ice Park, you have endless opportunities to revel in Wyoming’s great outdoors. Spend the day Nordic skiing along the trails at the summit of Snow King Mountain, and then swing by nearby Spring Creek Ranch for a dinner sleigh ride. Your horse-drawn sled will trot through the winter scape and bring you to the doorstep of Granary Restaurant, where you’ll be met with a divine dinner and views of the Tetons.
Once it gets frosty on the shores of Lake Tahoe, it’s time to swap out your water skis for snow skis. Heavenly Mountain Resort to the south and Diamond Peak Ski Resort in the north eagerly groom their trails for the onset of skiers and snowboarders, but it doesn’t stop there. Adventure Mountain has endless sledding and snowshoeing trails, while South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena is the prime spot to practice those figure 8s. Grab a snow tube and shoot down the hills at Hansen’s Resort before chowing down at Evans American Gourmet Café. Here you’ll warm right up as you dine on grilled pork chop in a vintage cabin setting.
11. Sedona, Arizona
You’ll be pressed to find anyone who complains about cooler temperatures after the scorching summer heat in Arizona. Come wintertime, snow might lightly blanket the dramatic red rocks, but that shouldn’t stop you from visiting your favorite summer trails. The air will be crisper, and the views are just as lovely along West Fork of Oak Creek and Bell Rock Pathway. Head off road on a wild excursion with the Pink Jeep Tour guides and then complete your desert day with some homemade cornbread, cactus fries, and rattlesnake cakes at the local Cowboy Club.
There are so many winter activities to do in the Adirondacks that our fingers get cold just thinking about them. In fact, this region loves the chilly season so much, it hosts a month-long Lake George Winter Carnival in celebration. Cheer on the dog sled races at the festival, and then take a guided snowshoe to the entrance of Stone Bridge Cave or tap into your inner powder hound at Gore Mountain. But if you’re in town during Lake Placid World Cup Bobsledding, drop everything and attend. Wind burned and happy, cozy up at Lake Placid Pub and Brewery for a local IPA and some slow-cooked barbecue.
Do you hear that? It’s silence. When snow falls down on the Grand Tetons, it brings with it an air of peacefulness to this wild frontier. Experience the serenity for yourself by cross-country skiing through the backcountry with Hole Hiking guides, or mushing some sled dogs along the snowy trails. Meanwhile, if you’d rather stay shielded from the frigid mountain air, view the wildlife and terrain from the comfort of a heated snowcoach. Looking for a hearty meal before your adventures? Fill up on all-you-can-eat sourdough pancakes at Doman’s Moose Chuckwagon on your way to the park.
Winter invites you to see Yellowstone in a whole new way. Suit up for Scenic Safaris’ Old Faithful snowmobile tour, where you’ll travel 45 miles through snow-packed trails to the park’s famous geysers, or join a Yellowstone Association ecologist on a snowshoe tour of Lamar Valley to spot the roaming wild ones. If nature is calling your name, pitch a tent at Mammoth, the park’s lowest-elevation campground, and make yourself at home for a day or two. Before you start your exploration though, stop by Snake River Brewing, Wyoming’s oldest brewery, for an authentic taste of the backcountry.
When the temperatures drop in Hanover, don’t even think about going inside. Embrace the chill in the air; sled the hills around Occom Pond or shred the trails at Oak Hill. You could even take a page out of the BioLite team’s book, and rent an off-grid cabin just outside of Hanover and spend the weekend in a snowy oasis. Once you’ve had your fair share of wintery goodness, defrost at Molly’s Restaurant and Bar with a heaping plate of spicy caramel chicken or IPA short rib.
Where do you like to venture in the winter?