unique winter adventures in national parks - snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park
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Yellowstone National Park Announces Winter Adventure Lottery

Soaring temperatures amid an intense heat wave have many Americans thinking about a winter escape. Timing is everything. This past week, Yellowstone National Park announced a unique cold-weather adventure lottery. 

The statement leaves many excited and curious about which other national parks may offer unique winter experiences.

Yellowstone National Park Lottery

Beginning August 1, 2023, people may apply to the 2023-2024 winter lottery for a permit to snowmobile in Yellowstone National Park without a commercial guide. The lottery is open throughout August on the National Park Service recreation site

Lottery winners get notified in early September. Any unclaimed or canceled permits will be available on the same website on a first-come, first-served basis beginning in October.

Snowmobile season in the park runs from December 15 to March 15. Most of the park’s roads are closed in winter but open to a limited number of snowmobiles and snow coaches. 

Successful applicants may explore the park by snowmobile for up to three days. The maximum group size is five people. 

It is essential to note the application fee is $6, and the permit costs $40 per day. Regular park admission fees also apply. 

The group leader must be at least eighteen years old. All group members must have valid driver’s licenses and complete a free online snowmobile education certification program.

The National Park Service advises cancellations are typical throughout the winter, and those not initially selected should regularly monitor the site for openings.

There is another option for those interested who do not own a snowmobile. Yellowstone has an approved list of tour companies that offer guided snowmobile tours in the park.

Unique Winter Recreation Across the United States National Parks

Many of America’s national parks offer winter recreation, including snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and sledding. Some of the national parks provide unique winter experiences.

Denali National Park & Preserve

Although open year-round, most people visit Alaska’s Denali National Park & Preserve from late May to mid-September. Alaska is practically synonymous with frigid temperatures and snow. Many bristle at the very thought of going to Alaska in winter. However, winter offers two compelling reasons for people to visit.

Mushing

Denali National Park & Preserve has working sled dogs. In summer, the dogs live in the park kennels, greet visitors, and perform demonstrations. In winter, the sled dogs travel thousands of miles patrolling the wilderness. 

Beyond observing the park’s sled dogs, guests can try mushing. Denali National Park & Preserve partners with a local business so visitors can explore the park with a sled dog team.

Northern Lights

A bucket list item for many people, Alaska is renowned for displaying the dreamy northern lights. Winter’s longer hours of darkness yield better odds of a sighting in Denali National Park & Preserve. Stargazing in the area is excellent, even if the northern lights do not appear.

Voyageurs National Park

Minnesota’s Voyageurs National Park offers a variety of winter activities, including snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and sledding. The park rents snowshoes and cross-country skis. 

An International Dark Sky Park, Voyageurs is an excellent place to stargaze and look for the northern lights. For something different, visitors can go ice fishing or drive on the park’s ice roads.

Icebox Days

Each winter, International Falls, Minnesota, hosts a festival full of wacky events called Icebox Days. Many of the events occur in and around Voyageurs National Park. 

Activities include frozen turkey bowling, “smoosh” races, moonlight skiing, a nightlight snowshoe hike, a scavenger hunt, a snowman contest, and their infamous Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

unique winter adventures in national parks - ride the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in winter. Photo credit: NPS

Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park offers many winter sports, including cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, sledding, snow tubing, and ice fishing. However, two activities stand out for many visitors.

Ledges Trail

Hiking the Ledges Trail is one of the park’s most popular activities, regardless of the season. The forested path houses beautiful foliage, mossy rocks, and sandstone cliffs. Rock formations culminate in a plateau where guests gain an excellent overlook for sunsets.

In winter, dramatic icicles regularly form on the rocks. Although lovely year-round, the stunning beauty of the icicles creates an entirely different experience for visitors.

North Pole Adventure

Guests can enjoy a train ride through the park on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. The relaxing ride yields views of woodlands, wetlands, small towns, and the Ohio & Erie Canal.

Instead of taking you through Ohio’s history, the train ride is a North Pole Adventure from early November through late December. It is an excellent immersive experience for families.

The train passes through charming towns that proudly display their bright Christmas lights. Riders can enjoy the holiday decorations while sipping hot chocolate, nibbling tasty cookies, and singing holiday carols. Kids will delight in a visit from Santa.

Bryce Canyon National Park

One of five Utah national parks, Bryce Canyon National Park boasts red rocks, pink cliffs, and endless vistas. The park is famous for having the world’s largest concentration of hoodoos or irregular rock columns. Although beautiful year-round, a contrasting blanket of white snow against the surreal red and pink rock formations is breathtaking.

Snowshoeing is a popular activity in winter. If the weather and lunar cycle cooperate, guests may get the rare opportunity of a full-moon snowshoe hike.

Bryce Canyon is an International Dark Sky Park. The dark winter skies provide the perfect black canvas for sparkling white stars to shine.

Christmas Bird Count

Bird enthusiasts can participate in the Christmas Bird Count. It typically occurs in mid-December and allows citizens to assist rangers by observing and counting birds in the park. 

The annual event started in 1900 and is administered by the National Audubon Society. Birding novices are welcome to participate.

Bryce Canyon Winter Festival

Ruby’s Inn sponsors the Bryce Canyon Winter Festival each year on President’s Day weekend. The family-friendly event offers something for everyone. 

Indoor and outdoor activities include cross-country ski tours, archery clinics, snowshoe tours, cookie decorating, crafts for kids, photography clinics, watercolor painting, stargazing, hiking, biking, health clinics, and wildlife tracking. It is an excellent way for families to experience winter outdoor recreation and educational programs in a national park.

Experience Winter in a National Park

Although summer is still here, planning a winter escape may provide some relief from the heat. Whether or not you win the Yellowstone National Park winter adventure lottery, many national parks offer unique winter adventures.

Featured image credit: Nate Johnston

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