Untracked glades. Nary a human. Wolf tracks weaving through the snow—and not an RV in sight. If you ask us, now’s the time to hit up your nearest national park. Here are our top 10 picks for winter:
1. MOUNT RAINIER, WASHINGTON
Wanna ski 6,000 feet—in one run, for free? Drive to the Paradise parking lot, climb about 5,000 feet to the top of Van Trump Park, and whoosh. From here it’s a straight shot down to the lower Nisqually Glacier, past Paradise, and on to Nisqually Bridge. This is serious avalanche country; take a course with Mountain Madness if you’re unsure of your skills.
2. ACADIA, MAINE
This coastal park is peppered with little peaks that are ripe for day hikes. Exhibit A: Cadillac Mountain, a 1,532-footer on the park’s eastern side (ascend via the three-mile South Ridge route). It’s also a natural classroom for ice climbing and you can learn the ropes with Acadia Mountain Guides.
3. GLACIER, MONTANA
You don’t have to cut you’re own track but you’ll feel like you’re at the ends of the earth nordic skiing out to Bowman Lake. Karsten Carlson, a guide with Glacier Outdoor Center ranks this 12-mile groomed out and back as one of his favorites, with spectacular Livingston Range views.
4. SEQUOIA/KINGS CANYON, CALIFORNIA
New to AT? The Pear Lake region is an excellent place to learn, with mellow-ish terrain and typically stable snow. “Chances are you can find a slope that would be stable and appropriate,” says Lyra Pierotti, the lead guide for California Alpine Guides. You’ll also find plenty of wide, open runs and some steeper gullies too.
5. CRATER LAKE, OREGON
A nordic circumnavigation of the park’s glorious namesake is no easy feat—you’ll cover about 35 miles and 4,000 feet of elevation gain—but oh, the payoff! “In the winter, you can get to the back side of the lake and you’re it—nobody else is there,” says Niel Barrett, the director of Crater Lake Ski Patrol. Give yourself three days of skiing and two nights of winter camping (avalanche skills required).
6. YELLOWSTONE, MONTANA & WYOMING
You might hear wolves in the Northern Range, but never a snowmobile. This region of the park is machine-free—and loaded with Nordic opportunity. MacNeil Lyons, a resident instructor with the Yellowstone Association, recommends the 10-mile Chittenden Loop (accessible from the Roosevelt Lodge area), where you’re more likely to see wild canine prints than another human being.
7. GRAND CANYON, ARIZONA
If you thought it looked good the first time, try seeing it now: “I love that contrast of blue sky and white snow and red rock,” says Wildland Trekking co-owner Brad Ball, who confesses winter is his favorite time to hike the canyon. Take it all in from the South Kaibab Trail, which drops 4,500 feet from the South Rim to the canyon floor.
8. GRAND TETON, WYOMING
The best place in the park for backcountry skiing? All of it. “Basically, just about any peak in the Tetons, we guide in the winter time,” says Exum Guides‘ Christian Santelices. Whet your appetite with 25 Short, the aptly named 9,975-foot peak just off Teton Park Road. It’s a 3,300-foot climb up, and miles of glades and bowls down.
9. ROCKY MOUNTAIN, COLORADO
Ice climbing, mountaineering, ski touring—this park packs as many winter adventures as the Serengeti does wildebeest. But if you had to pick one? Longs Peak, the park’s only 14er, is a true alpine adventure route, and you can also climb it in a day—albeit a very long one. Go with a guide from Colorado Mountain School.
10. YOSEMITE, CALIFORNIA
Now here’s a fun fact: Yosemite has some of the best chute skiing in the world. At least according to Jason Torlano, the assistant mountain manager for Badger Pass Ski Area and an intrepid skier with nine first descents under his belt (all last year and within park boundaries). Such as? Lecont Gully, off the front of Glacier Point Hut: 4,000 feet in less than a mile—and epic views.
Photos (from top): Jason Torlano, Jeremy Allen/Mountain Madness, Amy Vanderbilt/NPS, NPS, MacNeil Lyons Images, Steve Casimiro, Jason Torlano.