Winter is fully upon us in the Northern Hemisphere, and though there may be snow and chilly temperatures, that doesn't mean outdoor exploring and adventures have to go into hibernation.
There are plenty of winter activities to do during these cooler months, and some of the best can take place in our national parks. Don your warmest parka, coziest hat and gloves and lace up your snow boots; here are some of the top winter activities in national parks.
1. Cross Country Skiing
In the summer, national parks have hiking trails full of lush trees that can sometimes lead to bodies of water. And in the winter, these trails are covered in snow and become perfect for cross-country skiing. Gliding through these winter wonderlands is excellent for exercise, and you can explore nature around you.
Parks like Grand Teton National Park close some roads to traffic and keep them groomed for skiing. Make sure to wear extra layers, and always bring a snack or two for fuel.
Some of the best parks for cross-country skiing include:
In exchange for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing is another great winter activity to help you get your steps in and take in some rare sights. Snowshoeing helps to keep you active and burns a lot of calories. It's a low-impact activity that can lead to great heights and stunning scenery.
Grab your trekking poles and your warmest, waterproof boots and take in the vast, snowy landscapes of these national parks:
3. Ice Skating
Forget Rockefeller Plaza: Instead, strap on your skates and glide around the crystal-clear natural ice rinks of the national parks. Surrounded by pristine forests and snow-capped mountains, the national parks offer a breathtaking skating experience. If you're feeling up to it, bring along a hockey stick and puck, and you may end up in a pickup hockey game.
Yosemite National Park also has an ice rink that is typically open until March. In 1929, with the prospect of hosting the 1932 Olympic games, the park constructed the rink. However, Yosemite wasn't picked for the games, but you can still skate under the famous Half Dome.
Some of the best parks for skating include:
4. Winter Hiking
Exploring nature is one of the best parts of hiking and hiking in the winter means fewer crowds. You'll still be able to see snow-capped mountains and masses of evergreens, but with fewer selfie sticks and tourists in the background.
Along with beating the crowds, you can hike trails in the winter that might otherwise be too difficult to do in the summer. Hiking through Death Valley National Park, the hottest spot in North America, is much more comfortable to hike in during the winter because of the temperature. And hiking out to the ice caves near Apostle Islands National Lakeshore becomes possible thanks to freezing temperatures.
Here are some winter hikes to check out at the following national parks:
5. Northern Lights
The aurora borealis — or northern lights — is a wonder to behold. These mystic lights dance across the sky and have enchanted our ancestors for centuries. A recent article in Nature Communications explains that disturbances from our sun that pull on the Earth's magnetic field form the northern lights. This creates Alfvén waves that scatter electrons at high speeds into the atmosphere, creating the light show.
While you can see the northern lights year round, winter offers longer and darker skies for more optimal viewing. You can see these multi-colored lights in some of our northernmost national parks, including: