Did you make a New Year’s resolution to get more exercise? Are you determined to enjoy the outdoors, even when the weather is brisk? These eight parks are great spots to stay active and work up a healthy sweat, even—or especially—with a January chill in the air.
1. Walk through ice caves at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin.
The sandstone coastline of the park’s Devils Island Formation features extensive sea caves with arches, chambers, and passageways formed over centuries by waves and weather. In summertime, visitors can kayak the caves, but for a striking winter experience, walk out on Lake Superior after it has fully frozen in late winter and see these spectacular formations on foot.
2. Hike the geysers at Yellowstone National Park in Montana.
Yellowstone’s famous geothermal activity is one of the most popular tourist attractions at one of the most-visited national parks in the world. Seeing the geysers in winter, however, provides a calmer, less-crowded experience, while the hot water against the crisp air creates an even steamier, more dramatic effect and the rainbow of colors in the Grand Prismatic Spring are even more vibrant against the snow cover.
3. Ski cross-country at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington.
The road from Longmire to Paradise is open every weekend Friday to Sunday throughout the winter. With an average snowfall of more than 53 feet (641 inches) at Paradise, the cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are hard to beat. Wide-open meadows at 5,400 feet offer dramatic views of the Pacific Northwest and are easily accessible in this winter wonderland.
4. Ride a dog sled at Denali National Park in Alaska.
Denali in winter is not for the faint of heart, but for those who aren’t afraid of temperatures reaching 40 below, exploring the park by dog sled is a long-standing mode of local travel. You don’t need to bring your own mush team—though you can, if you have one. Experienced concessioners like EarthSong Lodge in Healy, Alaska, will arrange a custom trip for the whole family, specially suited to your interests and experience. They even provide the outer layer of clothing to make those frigid temperatures feel comfortable.
5. Snowshoe at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.
Many national parks offer ranger-led snowshoe walks during the winter, including Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Mount Rainier, Crater Lake, Rocky Mountain, Theodore Roosevelt, and Sleeping Bear Dunes—so if you’re traveling to a park with a good snow cover, it’s worth calling ahead to ask. Why go to Bryce Canyon specifically? First, snow and ice only enhance the otherworldly beauty of the site’s famous hoodoos. Second, the park offers a limited number of snowshoes free to participants who don’t have their own.
6. Ice fish at Acadia National Park in Maine.
Only a few national parks allow ice fishing, but for those that do, the experience is more challenging than casting a line from the luxury of a boat. Visitors to Acadia can choose to drop a hook at any of the park’s larger lakes and ponds, including the popular Eagle Lake. Be sure to bring warm clothes and proper gear for measuring and cutting the ice, and only go out when the ice is thick enough to support your weight. The reward? Trout, salmon, and all kinds of bragging rights.
7. Ski or sled at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan.
Sleeping Bear is best known, of course, for its giant sand dunes. When winter transforms the landscape, those dunes become a snowy wonderland. Two particularly good spots for cross-country skiing are the Alligator Hill Trail and the Dunes Overlook; both have great views of Lake Michigan. Not into skiing? Bring your sled to Dune Climb (the only part of the park where sledding is permitted) and take your inner child on a thrilling ride down the slope.
8. Snorkel at Biscayne National Park in Florida.
That’s right—in South Florida, snorkeling and diving are winter sports! And what better place to enjoy underwater adventures than the largest marine park in the National Park System, home to hundreds of colorful fish species, turtles, and even manatees? Try exploring the shallow reefs at Long Reef, Elkhorn Reef, and Bache Shoal, or explore the Mandalay shipwreck along the park’s Maritime Heritage Trail.
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About the author
Jennifer Errick Managing Editor of Online Communications
Jennifer co-produces NPCA's podcast, The Secret Lives of Parks, and writes, edits and moderates online content.