You’ll be missing lots of adventures if you hide inside this winter. New escapades are available for visitors to many national parks in the winter. If you enjoy winter sports, there are parks for that. If you want to escape the winter, there are parks for that too. Here is a sampling.
Death Valley National Park is open year-round, but most visitors avoid the fiercely hot summer months and schedule a visit in the milder winter. The 61st annual Death Valley ‘49ers Encampment is the unofficial season kick-off and a big crowd-pleaser with activities like a pioneer costume contest, wagon train parade, western-style music, craft show, and much more. It just took place November 10-14. With average August highs around 115 and January highs in the 60’s, winter is the time to hike, camp, explore and enjoy the Mojave desert environment.
Big Bend National Park encompases the Chisos mountains to Chihuahuan desert, so depending on where you go, winter temperatures range greatly. Generally, winter is the dry season, but storms can blow in suddenly with snow or cold rain. November to April is the popular season, peaking in March and April. Because of this diversity and latitude, birding any time of year here is fantastic. Over 450 bird species have been recorded. Hiking and camping and all sorts of activities are great here in the winter.
Grand Canyon National Park is also open for various winter activities. November 28th marks the seasonal close of the visitor center, campground, roads, and services at the North Rim, however primitive group campsites are still available to hikers and cross-country skiers with a backcountry permit. The South Rim’s amenities stay open year-round.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park reveals even more vistas in the winter when deciduous leaves are absent. The summer crowds are gone and locals enjoy this time of year most in the park where solitude is easy to find. Clingman’s Dome Road closes to vehicular traffic in winter, and becomes available to cross-country skiers or hikers. Periodic closures of other roads, especially Newfound Gap road is likely to occur due to snowy or icy conditions.
Acadia National Park offers a playground for winter enthusiasts. If you are looking for scenic drives in your car, better come in summer. Most of the Park Loop Road is closed to car traffic in winter, except two short sections. Sargaent Drive and Route 102A are also available to cars and take you to some scenic views.
Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing – The forty-five miles of carriage roads and the unplowed park roads provide fantastic opportunity for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Be aware that snowmobilers can also use the Park Loop Road.
Snowmobiling is permissible on the 27-mile Park Loop Road as well as the road up Cadillac Mountain. The carriage roads are for the skiers and snowshoers, with the exception of two miles as connector trails only.
Winter Camping – Blackwoods Campground is available for primitive winter camping from December 1 to March 31. A camping permit is required.
Winter hiking, ice fishing and even dog sledding and skijoring are winter sports enjoyed by Acadia visitors in the winter.
Shenandoah National Park is always open. Now when the deciduous leaves don’t obscure vistas and the cool temperatures improve visibility, it is a great time for some hiking and backcountry winter camping. That said, December through March you’ll find services such as lodging, food services, campgrounds, and visitor centers closed. Four picnic grounds: Elk Wallow, Dundo, Pinnacle and South River are open year-round. Inclement weather will occasionally close portions of Skyline Drive, which is normally open 24 hours a day. Even so, you can still enter the park on foot. Skyline Drive is also closed dusk to dawn mid-November to early January due to deer hunting season.
Don’t let winter close you inside. Your parks are still there awaiting your visit.
And, remember to download your NaturePod before you go. Northern parks with winter closures don’t have ranger programs available, so you’ll want to get the scoop from your own iPod or iPhone.
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