Who doesn’t love a winter wonderland? Mugs of hot cocoa, skiing through fresh powder, the perfect snowman… Okay, we admit, sometimes it’s nice to shed your puffy jacket and step into the sun! Your federal lands have a little something for everybody this winter, including these six warm-weather destinations where you can warm up and recharge after a long hibernation.
Head south for winter at these wonderfully warm destinations
Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument (Bureau of Land Management)
Rising abruptly from the desert floor, the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument reaches an elevation of 10,834 feet (3302 m). Providing a picturesque backdrop to local communities, visitors can enjoy magnificent palm oases, snow-capped mountains, a national scenic trail, and wilderness areas. Its extensive backcountry can be accessed via trails from both the Coachella Valley and the alpine village of Idyllwild.
The best time of year for enjoying lower elevation trails is November through April, making this area a perfect destination for a winter getaway. If you are planning an overnight visit, our Helpful Tips for Planning an Overnight Backpacking Trip article can be a great resource. Remember that conditions can change quickly in the backcountry; be sure to check the weather and agency webpage for the latest conditions before you set out.
Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area (Bureau of Land Management)
Standing tall on the bustling, urban Treasure Coast of Florida, the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse is one of the only eastern sites managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Designated an Outstanding Natural Area (ONA) in 2008, Jupiter Inlet is known for its remarkable historical, cultural, and natural resources, including 26 special status species, and an archaeological record providing evidence of human occupation dating back over 5,000 years.
Come for the lighthouse and stay for the views along trails though native and restored Florida coastal habitats, or participate in exciting interpretive programs recounting the site’s unique military history and its important role in World War II. Winter is an ideal time to visit South Florida, with temperatures averaging between 60-80°F (15-26°C), so check out local programs and events that get you outside and on the water during your visit!
El Yunque National Forest (Preston Keres, US Forest Service)
Just a 2.5-hour flight south of Jupiter Inlet, the vibrant, resilient El Yunque National Forest awaits you with open arms, friendly faces, and amazing destinations, culture, and traditions to explore. This 29,000-acre (11,736 ha) tropical rainforest is packed with breathtaking scenery, clear mountain rivers, biological diversity, and unmatched outdoor recreation opportunities.
Begin your journey at the newly reopened and redesigned El Portal Visitor Center. There are so many unique activities and experiences for you to enjoy before you even hit the trail, including interactive Ranger and Junior Ranger programs, art installations, a bilingual film, and dining opportunities. Swimming is allowed at several places throughout the forest, including Puente Roto Recreation Area along the Rio Mameyes Wild and Scenic River.
Extra planning may be required when visiting such a unique location, so be sure to read the El Yunque’s activities and experiences pages on Recreation.gov for more information about reservations and weather conditions that may impact your visit.
US Virgin Islands
Virgin Islands National Park (Parag Bedekar, Share the Experience)
When you picture the Virgin Islands, you probably see yourself relaxing on endless white sand beaches and diving into tropical blue waters. But did you know that two-thirds of the island of St. John is actually Virgin Islands National Park? Sunbathing may be your go-to activity, but don’t miss the natural and cultural resources waiting for you to discover within the park. Hike to historic plantation sites to learn about a challenging past when sugar and enslaved labor dominated life on the island. Visit the Indigenous Taino's ancient petroglyphs or snorkel coral reefs to discover hidden marine life.
If St. Croix is your destination, there are several unique locations to explore, including Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve, where you can scuba dive, snorkel, kayak, and hike to connect with the natural history of the island. If you’re not afraid of a little learning on vacation, Christiansted National Historic Site should be on your list. The park tells stories about the Danish economy and ways of life, and the interactions of people in Europe, Africa, the West Indies, and North America during the Danish era of occupation of the Virgin Islands.
Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge (US Fish and Wildlife Service)
Headed to New Orleans for Mardi Gras or to soak up the sights and sounds of New Orleans jazz? Spend some of your time exploring Louisiana’s wild side at Bayou Sauvage Urban National Wildlife Refuge, just a 30-minute drive northeast of the city.
This urban refuge is one of the last remaining marsh areas adjacent to Lakes Pontchartrain and Borgne and contains a variety of habitats, including bottomland hardwood forest, freshwater, brackish and estuarine tidal marshes, lagoons, canals, and natural bayous. Keep your eyes peeled for migratory waterfowl, wading birds, crabs, crawfish, and of course, American alligators.
Whitney Lake (Recreation.gov)
Located in the Prairies and Lakes region of Central Texas, Whitney Lake boasts seven campgrounds and day-use areas for camping, boating, fishing, picnicking, swimming, hiking, and more. Most sites are open year-round. Winter on the lake can still be a little chilly, but if you decide to brave the water, make sure to wear a life jacket!
Even equestrians can enjoy this location – the McCown Valley Equestrian Area offers access to a 12.5-mile (20.1 km) multi-use trail through the forests along the lake. You can even stay overnight with your horse at Plowman Creek Campground.