Our National Parks’ 2016 centennial celebration hasn’t ended yet — we still have a couple of seasons left. So, here are some ideas for late-season adventures at a few of our favorite destinations.
SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK
See the Spectacular Fall Colors
Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park is one of the best places
in the country to catch the bursting color of native trees.
Here are some places to get into, under and above the beautiful autumn colors.
1. Tour Skyline Drive. The main pathway of your leaf peeping journey will occur on Skyline Drive Scenic Highway—105 miles of paved road coursing through the park. Skyline Drive follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is surrounded by 500 miles
of hiking trails leading to peaks and valleys, stunning waterfalls and 75 overlooks.
2. Hike the Old Rag Loop. At the top of Shenandoah’s most challenging hike is a vista of dogwoods, hickories, maples and goldenrods in shades of gold, copper, mustard, and ruby. From the summit, the scene is reminiscent of an Impressionist painting. The trail is nearly nine miles of upward climb, but brings you, literally, into the clouds.
3. Stroll Stony Man. This three-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail is short and easy and takes you to the park’s second-highest peak. Stony Man Cliffs offers incredible overlooks onto the entire park, and Little Stony Man sitting just below the main peak is a favored spot for local climbers.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Winter Must-Do’s at the Outdoor Mecca
Yosemite may be the world’s most spectacular outdoor Mecca. Here are some ideas for adventures for a long weekend at one of our most magnificent National Parks.
1. Hike Half Dome. You need stamina for the steep 12- to 15- mile round-trip hike, but reaching the top of Half Dome is worth it. The elevation and slick, steep rock grade crank up the adrenaline; plus the views from the top are as stunning as you can imagine.
2. Stargaze at Glacier Point. One of the most commanding viewpoints on the continent, Glacier Point towers 3,214 feet above Yosemite Valley and is an ideal spot to soak up views of the night sky. For a real winter adventure, arrange a ski tour with a night in the Glacier Point hut.
3. Pedal Through Yosemite Valley. Hop on your bike for the ultimate freedom in exploring the relatively flat valley, which has 12 miles worth of trails.
What Else? There’s plenty more — a fancy brunch at the hotel most know as the Ahwahnee, a ski day at Badger Pass, watching the climbers on El Cap, or a visit to Camp 4 — so if you can take more time to explore, do so.
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
Discover Scenery & Solitude
Winter in Arches National Park delivers all of the classic
scenery without the classic crowds. Enjoy the solitude with
some winter hiking.
1. Double Arch. You’ve already seen pictures of this arch — you just didn’t think it could be real. It’s one of the park’s easiest hikes, less than a mile round-trip, along a sandy, smooth trail with minimal elevation gain.
2. Landscape Arch. Bridging 290 feet, and only 6 feet at its narrowest point, Landscape Arch is an absolutely ridiculous natural structure. The hike out is pretty straightforward — 1.5 miles of flat, well-worn trail.
3. Sand Dunes Arch. Sand Dunes Arch is an epic sight — the winter sun makes for crazy lighting here — and the hike out makes this one especially unforgettable. The walk traverses a mini-ocean of red sand that is softer and smoother than anything you’ll find on the beach.
4. Delicate Arch. This is one of Arches’ most classic arches. On the hike focus on the spectacular landscapes, otherworldly formations and the fact that you just might have one of the most epic spots in the country all to yourself.
MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK
Skis, Snowshoes & Sleds
Mount Rainier National Park is perfect for winter adventure. Take advantage — skis, snowboards, snowshoes or sleds — load them up and go have fun.
1. Snowshoeing. Beginners can choose a guided hike on the Nisqually Vista Trail, intermediates can go on their own on the Narada Falls-to-Paradise hike, and if you have the navigation skills and want to notch up the difficulty, there’s the whole rest of the park to explore.
2. Cross-Country Skiing. There are no groomed trails within the park, but there is the ski down Paradise Valley Road. Closed to traffic and covered in snow, it travels along the Paradise River and offers valley vistas and views of the Sawtooth Ridge.
3. Skiing & Snowboarding. Mount Rainier is a playground for experienced, icy-savvy backcountry skiers and boarders. Camp Muir, the 10,080-foot-high camp on the way to Rainier’s summit, is a popular touring destination, as is Van Trump Park on the mountain’s south side.
4. Sledding. No winter trip to Rainier would be complete without stopping by the snow play area at Paradise, where you can grab your saucer and slide down the groomed slope. The area is staffed with medically trained rangers on weekends, and open to use at your own risk during the week. Wheeee!
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Explore the Front Range
RMNP offers some of the best winter recreation in all of the National Parks. Try sledding, winter camping, snowshoeing and ski touring in the park’s high country and snowier west side of the Continental Divide.
1. Winter Hiking. The lower valleys and eastern side of the park offer trails that often remain clear of snow, especially below 8,500 feet. And, if it dumps, almost every trail on the east side of the park can be hiked with snowshoes.
2. Snow Camping. Snowshoeing in or car camping —
Timber Creek, Longs Peak and Moraine Park campgrounds are open year-round. And backcountry camping in winter is a real adventure. Check with the rangers, but be prepared for short days, cold temps, high winds and the potential for quickly deteriorating weather.
3. Backcountry Skiing. Rocky Mountain National Park is known for some of most authentic backcountry skiing and split boarding near the Front Range. The park’s abandoned ski area, Hidden Valley, remains one of the best options. If you want to earn turns, the basin sits at about 9,500 feet and delivers almost
2,000 vertical feet.
GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK
Travel the Snow
Winter in Grand Teton National Park is a quieter season without the crowds and commotion of summer. When the snow comes,
the park transforms and offers new adventures.
1. Guided Snowshoe Hikes. Let a ranger show you the way on a guided snowshoe hike. From mid-December through mid-March, hikes are offered several times a week from the Taggart Lake Trailhead.
2. Cross-Country Skiing. Kick and glide under the Tetons on the eight-mile round-trip journey to Jenny Lake. Begin at the Bradley and Taggart Lakes trailhead and enjoy spectacular scenery on this fairly flat route that features only 200 feet of elevation change.
3. Fat-Tire Cycling. Pedal the park roads on a fat-tire bike. Many miles are open to bikers; just reference the park’s map to see where bikes are allowed in winter. Bikes are not allowed to travel over snow in the park, so stick to plowed roads and be sure to observe winter wildlife closures.
4. Walk the Dog. Unless there’s been a recent heavy snowfall, you can typically walk along the snow-covered Teton Park or Moose-Wilson Roads. Cross-country skiers get a groomed lane, but another lane is open to walkers, snowshoers and leashed dogs.
Remember — enjoying adventure in winter takes prep and planning. Know the essentials of a winter outing, be sure to check the weather and avalanche forecasts and, if you’re heading into mountain terrain, be sure you have the skills, experience, knowledge and equipment to stay safe.
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