7 exciting winter destinations
Tuesday, January 09, 2018
Winter travel usually brings to mind escaping the cold in favor of warm, sunny destinations. But as temperatures drop and snow swirls across much of the nation, we've found seven exciting destinations that are best served up cold. A big plus: You don't need to be a skier to enjoy any of these places.
1. Paradise Valley, Montana
Flanked by shaggy snowcapped peaks, Montana's Paradise Valley carves through some of America's most awesome scenery.
Cross-country ski and snowshoe trails thread the valley, but a much more exciting winter adventure awaits guests at Chico Hot Springs Resort near the town of Pray, about 25 miles south of Livingston. Here, under the direction of guides from Absaroka Dogsled Treks, you'll learn to mush a team of six rambunctious huskies as they gallop across a snowy wonderland. Half-day outings are standard but there’s also a Tenderfoot Trek for the youngsters and three-day mushing school for more serious sledders.
Later, relax at the elegantly rustic resort's 100-year-old inn — home to a pair of open-air geothermal hot spring-fed pools — and the area's hottest honkey-tonk.
2. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The world's oldest and most famous national park is swarmed by more than 4 million visitors each summer, but only a few thousand venture forth in winter to explore its geysers, hot springs, waterfalls and wildlife. A thick layer of snow renders Yellowstone a delightfully uncrowded winter wonderland.
The Gardiner, Montana, entrance (about an hour south of Livingston) remains open in the winter, as do a pair of excellent lodging options — Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hotel and Cabins. Savvy visitors rent a room at one of the lodges and spend their days cross-country skiing/snowshoeing or, better yet, taking in Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and other popular park features onboard guided snowmobile or snow coach tours.
Visitors can bring personal or rented snowmobiles into the park under a complex permit system, but the program is destined to be curtailed in the near future. See the park's website for details.
3. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Here's another national park that some say is at its beautiful best during winter.
Experience it in depth by checking into the historic 1925 Lodge at Bryce Canyon and then set out to explore the park's spectacular geological features by road or trail. Roads leading to the park's four most scenic overlooks (Bryce, Inspiration, Sunrise and Sunset Points) are kept plowed during the winter, while Fairyland and Paria Point Roads are left unplowed for skiing and snowshoeing.
Join a guided snowshoe hike (snowshoes/poles provided free of charge) during which rangers share information about the park's so-called "forest of stone," comprised of the world's largest concentration of hoodoos (odd-shaped stone pillars). Ranger talks, stargazing and a Junior Ranger program also are available.
4. Ouray, Colorado
Popular year-round among outdoor enthusiasts, this southwestern Colorado mountain town is home to the country's finest ice-climbing park. This man-made venue is operated in a spectacular natural gorge just a few minutes' walk from town and features 200 named ice and mixed climbs with options for beginners as well as experts with an ice ax.
Climbers can thaw out and relax at one of Ouray's numerous hot springs. Best time to go: Jan. 18-21 for the 23rd-annual Ouray Ice Festival, featuring climbing clinics, gear demos, kid's climbing programs and plenty of partying.
5. Lake Placid, New York
Site of the 1980 Olympic Winter Games (where your author served as a photographer for the U.S. Olympic Committee) and many subsequent winter sports events, the Lake Placid Olympic Sports Complex invites visitors for some high-octane, Olympic-style thrills on the facility's bobsled run.
Team up with a professional driver and brakeman and hang on tight as your sleek competition-ready sled rumbles down the icy track, plummeting through high-banked turns and rockets to the finish line. Adventurous bobsledders receive a lapel pin, T-shirt, photo, membership in the U.S. Bobsled Federation and a discount on future rides. Note: riders can be of any age but must be at least 48 inches tall.
6. Stowe, Vermont
Notable for its postcard quaintness and snow-covered New England charm, Stowe is a dream destination for winter travelers. Its ranking among the "Top 10 Best Ski Towns in America" by Forbes tells you that it's a great place for downhill skiing, but it also is renowned for other winter activities such as Nordic skiing, snowmobiling, dogsledding and sleigh riding.
There's no better time to go than during the celebrated Stowe Winter Carnival (this year's event runs Jan. 13-27). Cozy up to winter with some great food, craft beer and a full roster of festival events, including brewery tours, cooking classes, ice carving, moonlight snowshoe tours, and "snow golf" and "snow volleyball" tournaments.
7. Québec City, Canada
Situated within easy driving distance of the northeastern U.S., Québec City is home to the world's largest and greatest cold-weather festival — Carnaval de Québec. This annual event dating to 1894 can be seen as Canada's answer to Mardi Gras as it unfolds this year from Jan. 26 to Feb. 11.
Carnaval features parades, concerts, a gigantic "ice palace" painstakingly constructed each winter and an exuberant outdoor display of bacchanalian reveling. If you go, be sure to try a "Caribou," the traditional drink of Carnaval, containing vodka, brandy, sherry and port usually served in glasses made of ice. Be at the heart of things by taking a room at the historic, castle-like Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac.
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