Tranquil Winter Escapes
Our recreation experts have scouted the country for excellent locations to enjoy peaceful winter activities. Winter is a great time to view bald eagles and other wildlife with blankets of snow creating contrast and fallen leaves providing open windows into their habitat. Glide, slide or tromp your way through the snow with our top picks for cross-country skiing, sledding, snowshoeing and other ways to experience your federal lands in the less-visited winter months.
If you would also like to mix in an adrenalin rush with your snow, be sure to check out our Downhill Thrills Go List, too!
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Winter is often the best time to view bald eagles! At Bull Shoals Lake, an easy walk along the Lakeside Trail will provide the best opportunity of spotting a bald eagle. The Lakeside Trail starts in Bull Shoals State Park picnic area just off Hwy 178 between Lakeview and Bull Shoals Dam. Visit during the second weekend in January for the lake’s annual Bald Eagle event, and you can join a park ranger to view bald eagles via pontoon boat!
Yosemite National Park is a magical place in winter, when you can ice skate beneath the magnificent rock walls of Yosemite Valley, ski or snowboard at Badger Pass ski area or snowshoe through the Giant Sequoias of Mariposa Grove. When it is time to warm up your toes, climb in your sleeping bag at Upper Pines campground or choose a comfortable room at one of the lodges in the park. Visit the park's website for more details about winter sports in Yosemite.
At Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge you can cross-country ski 6.5 miles of wide, largely flat ungroomed ski trails (4.5 miles on the auto tour road and 2 miles on a county road that joins it). From the elevated dike overlooking the refuge wetlands, you might see elk, white-tailed deer, Canada geese, and tundra swans. There is no fee.
Every year tens of thousands of people visit the shores of the Mississippi River to see bald eagles on the water, roosting or even nesting on the wooded bluffs overlooking the river. From mid-December through early March, the Mississippi River Project - Rock Island District provides 314 miles of great winter habitat for wintering bald eagles. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, “Up to 2,500 bald eagles winter along the Mississippi near the lock and dams,” and turbulence below the dams provides “a smorgasbord of stunned fish for eagles to feast upon.” Visit on your own or join one of the district’s annual Eagle Watch events in January and February where you will not only observe eagles in the wild, but can also attend environmental programs with live birds of prey and other animals. If you can’t make it to the Mississippi this winter, you can still check out the Locks and Dam Visitors Center’s Eagle Cam!
Monroe Lake is the largest lake in Indiana and the site of Indiana’s bald eagle re-introduction program from 1985-1989. January and February are great months to view bald eagles—try Fairfax, Paynetown, Cutright or Moore’s Creek State Recreation Areas (managed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources), where the daily eagle count is sometimes as high as 40.Salamonie, Mississinewa and Roush Lakes
You can take a walk along the beaches at Salamonie, Roush or Mississinewa Lakes almost any time of year and you might see a bald eagle, but during the winter, your chances greatly increase when as many as 150 migrating eagles come in each night to the largest documented bald eagle roost east of the Mississippi. Join the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Upper Wabash Interpretive Center for the annual Sunrise Eagle Watch or Eagle Watch Caravan Tour each January and February and you can learn a bit about Indiana’s bald eagles, visit the roosting site below Mississinewa Dam and check out an active eagle’s nest. For more information visit the Upper Wabash Interpretive Center website or call (260) 468-2127 to register.
Grab your binoculars and take a walk along the Veterans National Recreation Trail at Coralville Lake and you might see bald eagles from mid-December through March. Join the lake’s annual Eagle Watch event each January or February (visit the lake’s calendar of events or check out the great view from the Coralville Lake Eagle Cam anytime).
Acadia National Park offers just about every winter recreation option you can think of—from cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing, to winter hiking. The park’s 45 miles of carriage roads draw cross-country skiers and snowshoers. You can even find equipment rental information through the local chamber of commerce. For hardy types who want to stay overnight, primitive winter camping is free in the winter at Blackwoods campground. Does your dog love snow? Dog sledding, dog carts and skijoring (being pulled) with dogs is permitted on all closed motor roads and fire roads. Visitors can check out the Acadia Pets web page for more specific information.Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge
At Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge you can cross-country ski wooded trails along the upland edge of the saltmarsh on 5 miles of ungroomed trails shared by skiers, hikers and snowshoers. You might see white-tailed deer, moose and migratory waterfowl such as black ducks, mallards and Canada geese. One trail is flat and easy; two other trails have rolling hills. A trail map is available on the refuge website and there is no fee for trail use.
At the Northern Hardwoods Cross Country Ski Area at Seney National Wildlife Refuge, you can ski more than 9 miles of trails groomed for classic cross-country skiing through mature stands of sugar maple, beech and yellow birch trees. Admire hardwood forests, marshes and the frozen Manistique River and maybe get a glimpse of a white-tailed deer, bald eagle, coyote or a red fox. Trails are usually groomed weekly and are rated easy to difficult. A map is available on the refuge’s website.
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge has an extensive cross-county ski trail network in the Minnesota River flood plain that allows you to explore parts of the refuge that are inaccessible most of the year. Refuge trails lead past forest, prairie and marshland where you might catch a glimpse of wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, bald eagles and woodpeckers! Some of the hundreds of miles of trails link with adjacent state and municipal trails, and you can borrow snowshoes free with a picture ID at the Rapids Lake and Bloomington visitor centers.Rydell National Wildlife Refuge
At Rydell National Wildlife Refuge you can cross-county ski, hike or snowshoe 7 miles of wide groomed trails along savannah, wetlands and maple basswood forest. Bring your binoculars or a camera—you may see white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, fishers (members of the weasel family), chickadees, goldfinches, redpolls, blue jays or nuthatches. A trail guide is available at the refuge.Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge
Cross-country ski 8 miles along scenic lakes through northern woodlands at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge. Occasionally groomed, the Pine Lake Ski Trail consists of two loops: a relatively flat 2.2 mile loop and a hillier and more challenging 5.7 mile loop. You might see white-tailed deer, wolves or otters. You can call the refuge for the latest grooming conditions and pick up a trail map at the refuge visitor center or information kiosk (or download one from the refuge’s map page).Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs National Park is a special place to enjoy the beauty of frozen lakes, sparkling snow and dramatic landscapes. The park keeps the Rainy Lake Visitor Center open Wednesday through Sunday during the winter months and offers a cozy fire, hot cocoa, free snowshoe loans and cross-country ski rentals. Whether you want to snowmobile, snowshoe, cross-country ski, ice fish or travel on an ice road by car, this park has it all. View the park website for more winter activities.
Ski Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge for flat, mostly wooded trails that circle a large marsh. You can choose between a designated cross-country ski trail (7.5 miles) and a hiking trail (2.5 miles) for snowshoers. Both are ungroomed and accessible to skiers and snowshoers through February. Wildlife viewing includes white-tailed deer, otter, songbirds, bald eagles, squirrels, chipmunks or chickadees. From February to July, the refuge is closed for nesting.
Here is your chance for an Introduction to Snowshoeing Day at Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge! Each January the refuge hosts snowshoe instruction along its 9 miles of ungroomed trails overlooking a lovely river valley. You might catch a glimpse of coyote, sharp-tail grouse, pheasant, Hungarian partridge, white-tailed deer, cedar waxwings, chickadees and blue jays, or even a moose. The instruction will be followed by hot chocolate and cookies. What could be better?
From early January to mid-February, the Kaw Lake Project has one of the largest wintering populations of bald eagles in the state of Oklahoma. Birders should try a walk on the Eagle View hiking trail that starts at Osage Cove, or visit Sarge Creek Cove or anywhere along the dam to sight the eagles. If you’re in the area around the third Saturday of January, you can join the annual Ultimate Eagle Watch. Kaw Lake Park Rangers lead eagle viewing tours throughout the day and speakers from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the Kaw Tribe and the Sutton Avian Research Center provide educational programs. Horse-enthusiasts can even join an eagle viewing tour along the Five Fingers Equestrian Trail on the east side of Kaw Lake. Contact the Kaw Lake Project Office at (580) 762-5611 for more information about bald eagles at the lake.
On an average year Crater Lake National Park receives 44 feet of snow! All of this snow provides a dazzling white cover that makes the vibrant blue water of the lake stun your senses. Those that are well prepared for the cold will find cross-country ski trails along the Rim Drive which circles the lake. The park also offers ranger-led snowshoe walks on weekends throughout the winter months.
Tioga-Hammond Lakes, Cowanesque Lake are open for winter activities! Try a winter walk on the Moccasin, Stephenhouse Loop or C. Lynn Keller Trails. For all around great birding try Ives Run, or find snow-covered (but ungroomed) fields for skiing (snow cover permitting) at Lambs Creek Recreation Area. The lakes, in partnership with the Tioga County Step Outdoors Network, also offer "Winter Outings 2013" which include a Winter Birding Walk at the Ives Run Recreation Area or a Crosscountry Ski Clinic and Tour at the Lambs Creek Recreation Area. Loaner equipment will be available. For more information contact the Lake Project at (570) 835-5281.
Dale Hollow Lake is a great place to find bald eagles in the winter, and during the annual Eagle Watch on the third and fourth Saturday of January, eagle seekers are transported by open barge in search of wintering bald eagles. The eagle watch tours are free, but advance reservations are required.
Imagine red rock hoodoos wrapped in snow and standing under crystal clear blue skies. This is Bryce Canyon National Park in winter. This park in southern Utah offers many winter outdoor activities for the cold weather enthusiast. There are a variety of routes available for cross-country skiing within the park and many more groomed ski trails in Bryce Canyon City just outside the park boundaries. Plan your visit when the moon is full and enjoy a ranger guided full moon snowshoe hike.
Ball Mountain Lake’s lovely Winhall Brook campground is closed for the season, but the lake offers 7 miles of free cross-country skiing and snowshoeing from January through March on groomed trails around the camping area. On a frosty morning, try the Main Trail or the 4 mile Southside Trail that runs along the West River to Pratt's Bridge Road, or for a 3 mile loop, try the North Side Trail. The Winhall Brook campground is at the end of Winhall Station Road in South Londonderry.Townshend Lake
Townshend Lake offers 5 miles of multiuse trails for snow lovers. Begin your journey at the trailhead located at the entrance to Old Route 30 in West Townshend. The trail follows Old Route 30 to the West River Trail and runs to east Jamaica and back. Snowshoers, hikers and snowmobilers are asked to stay off the groomed cross-country ski tracks.
Mount Rainier National Park transforms into a snow covered wonderland each winter as thick snow and icicles cover the meadows, forests, glaciers and historic buildings of the park. Cold weather adventure seekers will find opportunities to winter camp, sled, ski, snowboard or go on a ranger-guided snowshoe walk. Each winter in the Paradise area, park rangers designate a family friendly snowplay area for fun sledding and sliding. Check the park website for more details on winter recreation at Mount Rainier and read our Spotlight on Snow Play at Mt. Rainier National Park.
At Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, you can choose between cross-country ski trails that cross flat, open meadows or climb steeply through the woods. You may see white-tailed deer, rabbit, snowshoe hare, rough legged hawks or songbirds. The refuge offers 31 miles of ungroomed trails plus 10 miles of groomed trails maintained by the privately owned White Grass Ski Touring Center. White Grass also offers equipment rentals. You can download a trail map from the refuge website or call (304) 866-3858 for a refuge trail brochure that combines a trail map with trail descriptions and levels of difficulty.
Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge offers 4 miles of ungroomed trails for skiing, snowshoeing or hiking along wooded edges of prairies and wetlands, where you might see white-tailed deer, wild turkey, fox, otter, bald eagles or beaver. Snowshoes are available free for use on site. The refuge offers some guided snowshoe tours and cross-country ski tours so check the refuge website for a schedule or to download a ski trails guide.
A visit to Yellowstone National Park inspires exploration, especially in winter! View steaming geysers, bison, wolves, moose, elk, eagles, coyotes and a unique landscape while riding a snowcoach or cross-country skiing one of the groomed trails. Check out the park website for more information on winter activities and be sure to prepare properly for the extreme cold of Yellowstone in winter.