10 Fun Adventures
to Try This Winter
Depending on where you live, winter can feel like a never-ending slog. Early evenings, gray skies, and laughably low temperatures all conspire to take their toll on the even the staunchest outdoor adventurer.
Yet, that sometimes daunting weather can also mean plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure, including many that go beyond skiing and ice skating. Whether you’re looking for a local adventure or a far-flung trip to check off your bucket list, here are 10 exciting ways to get through the winter doldrums.
1. Snowshoe at Crater Lake
Every year, more than a half million tourists crowd Crater Lake National Park, most of them during the peak of summer. Yet the sapphire lake, the deepest in the country, has plenty to offer for visitors willing to brave winter’s chilly temperatures and immense snowfall (Crater Lake receives, on average, more than 40 feet of snow every year).
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are among the park’s premier attractions once the snow blankets the land surrounding the lake each year. Rangers lead snowshoe tours between November and April (advance registration required), though experienced snowshoers are free to explore the full 30-mile trek around Crater Lake.
Pro tip: Looking for an Instagram-worthy wake-up call? Winter camping provides your only opportunity to camp within eyesight of the deepest lake in the United States; backpackers (such as those on the Pacific Crest Trail) are forbidden from camping near Crater Lake’s rim each summer.
2. Take the Polar Bear Plunge
Every winter, thousands of thrill-seekers around the world cast aside common sense for a few frigid minutes, wade into near-freezing bodies of water, and dive into their local Polar Bear Plunge. A longtime New Year’s Day tradition in Canada, polar plunges are gaining traction throughout the United States, with annual events in Seattle, Portland, Kentucky, Chicago, Maine, Boston, and Maryland (among other locales).
Some brave souls do it for the excitement and experience, while others take pride in fundraising for a good cause. (Many plunges benefit a local chapter of the Special Olympics.) Whatever the case, brace yourself for a shock—and plan to reap some serious bragging rights.
3. Splitboard on Mount Rainier
Debating between backcountry skiing and a day of snowboarding? With splitboarding, which debuted in the mid-1990s, you don’t have to choose. The growing sport gives boarders additional freedom and lets them explore terrain that might have been otherwise inaccessible or difficult to navigate. Boarders simply ascend a slope or trail on two ski-like halves of a detachable snowboard (with help from trekking poles), reassemble the board at their turnaround point, and snowboard back down.
It sounds simple enough, but would-be splitboarders should have backcountry experience (and join someone familiar with the sport before setting out on their own). Avalanche training, like that offered by the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education, is also recommended.
Those looking for a challenge could do worse than Mount Rainier, the tallest peak in Washington. Rainier offers a myriad opportunities for backcountry exploration and enjoying scenic views.
4. Chase the Sun at Dry Tortugas National Park
Maybe winter’s wind, rain, sleet, snow, and stormy weather has you longing for somewhere warm and sunny. Get the Vitamin D you crave with a trip to Dry Tortugas National Park, nearly 70 miles west of Key West, where ample island adventure awaits. Visit seven islands accessible only by boat or seaplane, snorkel with turtles and among shipwrecks, go kayaking in the jade-hued waters, and watch the sunset from your stand-up paddleboard each evening. Eight campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis just south of the monolithic Fort Jefferson.
And since Dry Tortugas only notches about two inches of rain per month throughout the winter—January, February, and March are typically the park’s driest months each year—you’re virtually guaranteed sunshine, with temperatures consistently in the 60s and 70s each day.
5. Try Your Hand at Mushing
Every winter, the Iditarod Great Sled Race captures our attention with its longstanding tradition, rugged nature, and grueling pace. Adventurous types interested in getting a firsthand taste of the action—sans the Arctic conditions and frosty competition—can try the sport in backcountry settings throughout the United States.
Minnesota’s Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge bills itself as the only lodge in the nation dedicated exclusively to dog sledding. Newbies and experienced sledders can sign up for one of the lodge’s day trips or overnight tours, which includes all food, lodging, and the chance to take the reins of a sled. Visitors can also help harness, feed, and care for the lodges’ purebred Canadian Inuit dogs.
Or find a sled dog outfit closer to home: Rides and tours are offered in numerous states, including Alaska, California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Michigan.
6. Ride a Fat Bike in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Jackson Hole has long been known as a year-round destination for outdoor aficionados and thrill-seekers, and as of late, the town has developed a reputation for top-notch wintertime fat bike trails. Only a 10-minute ride from downtown, the Cache Creek network offers a series of well-maintained trails, with the Tetons providing a scenic backdrop along the way. Meanwhile, the Grand Targhee Resort in nearby Alta boasts nine miles of Nordic trails and four miles of singletrack for avid fat bikers.
7. Savor a Soak at Steamboat Springs
Steamboat Springs is known for its scenic ski resort and world-class outdoor scene, but how do you warm up after a day on the slopes? A pair of hot springs—one in the heart of downtown, the other just a few minutes outside of town—provide decadent options for relaxation and warmth.
Old Town Hot Springs, located in the heart of downtown Steamboat Springs, hosts eight all-natural pools between 102°F and 103°F, as well as waterslides, a rock-climbing wall, lap pool, fitness center, and more. Fifteen minutes from downtown Steamboat Springs, Strawberry Park Hot Springs offers 104°F pools in a scenic forest setting.
8. See the Northern Lights at Denali National Park and Preserve
Every year, the aurora borealis (Northern Lights) enchants viewers with dancing displays of green, blue, red, and purple against the starry night sky. With its remote locale and dark night skies, there are few better places to see the Northern Lights than Denali National Park and Preserve. Alaska’s long hours of darkness and lack of light pollution create the ideal conditions for witnessing the strange display, and the Northern Lights are most prominent each winter. (Silver lining: Even if you don’t see the Northern Lines, Denali makes an ideal stargazing outpost.)
Head’s up: Denali celebrates its 100th birthday as a national park on February 26, 2017; a birthday party and winter festival will are planned for February 25 and 26 to commemorate the occasion, complete with guided skiing and snowshoe tours, childrens’ activities, dog sled rides, and more.
9. Gawk at some serious snow-carving skills
What happens when you turn artists loose on 12-foot-tall, 20-ton blocks of snow? Find out at the International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge. Over the course of five days, artists will carve and sculpt hulking blocks of snow with only hand tools; the works of art will then be on display for a week or so after the frigid event. In addition to the spectacle, visitors can learn about the process of snow sculpting and dive into the history of the popular event.
10. Try your hand at curling
Every four years, curling briefly enjoys its moment in the sun as (seemingly) everyone’s favorite sport at the Winter Olympics. We may have more than a year until the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, but it’s never too early to get ahead of the bandwagon and try curling yourself.
The U.S.A. Curling Association has clubs in more than 40 states throughout the country (yes, even in Arizona), so odds are good there’s a club near you. They welcome newcomers every February to learn about the sport and try it out.
So whether you’re looking to ante up your adventure this winter with a bit more than skiing, or just craving a warm-weather escape, you’re sure to find something that appeals with these 10 ideas. Along the way, you can count on a good workout, a memorable trip—and maybe even some bragging rights.
Originally written by RootsRated for ExOfficio.
Featured image provided by Seattle Parks