There are some national park secrets that are only revealed in the winter. And each park offers different adventures to discover. Yellowstone National Park, for example, is a snow-lover’s paradise with a host of active options. Zion National Park’s hiking trails are world-renowned, and they lure every style of hiker, from challenge-seekers to slow-walkers. And history buffs will enjoy learning about the Grand Canyon’s significant role in establishing the American Southwest as a major tourism destination. Here are some suggestions for a winter-season visit to a national park:
A trip to Yellowstone in winter is more adventurous with over-the-snow transportation required, but planning a trip only requires a single phone call.
Yellowstone National Park receives between 50 and 200 inches of snow each year with snowfall generally much higher in the interior of the park than at each of the park entrances. The National Park Service closes roads to wheeled vehicles the first Sunday in November and begins plowing roads in late April. The only road open year-round is from the north entrance at Gardiner, Montana to the northeastern entrance at Cooke City, Montana.
Winter visitors may drive to Mammoth Hot Springs where one of two hotels is open in winter. From there, it is an easy drive to Lamar Valley where it is prime season for watching wolves, elk, bison, big horn sheep and more.
Most visitors opt to take a snowcoach – vehicles outfitted with tracks for over-the-snow capabilities – on a day tour or an overnight trip to the second winter lodging, the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.
The park is a Nordic skier’s paradise, with miles of skier-tracked trails and trails groomed by Xanterra Parks & Resorts. Concessioner Xanterra Parks & Resorts offers an array of scheduled ski drops at trailheads, guided tours and ski lessons and posts a daily update about trail status. Ice-skating rinks and complimentary use of skates are offered at both lodges.
The park’s winter season begins Dec. 18, 2013 with the opening of the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel opens Dec. 20. The lodges provide the only wintertime accommodations within the park. Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel will close for the season March 3, 2014, and Old Faithful Snow Lodge will close March 2, 2014.
Situated in one of Utah’s most breathtaking areas, Zion National Park is on a must-see list for national park aficionados who prefer to visit when crowds are minimal but beauty is not.
Winters are generally mild with light snowfall on the lower plateaus. Higher plateaus often receive snow accumulation making the area good for cross country skiing. Most hiking trails are open throughout the winter although some may be closed due to ice accumulation.
Zion National Park features some of the most spectacular hiking in the world. The trip to Angel’s Landing requires an elevation gain of close to 1,500 feet past a series of switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles and a final approach along a ridge that is not for someone who cannot handle heights.
For those who prefer to remain on the floor of the canyon, a trip up the Narrows of the Virgin River is perfect.
From early November through late March, visitors may drive their own vehicles in the canyon as opposed to the summer months when a shuttle ride is required. Guests of Zion Lodge – the only lodging in the park – may drive to the lodge year round.
At Grand Canyon National Park it is not unusual for visitors to go for the geology and stay for the history.
The Grand Canyon Village Historic District provides a complete picture of the Grand Canyon’s natural as well as human history.
The History Room in the Bright Angel Lodge features exhibits and information dating back to the late 1800s when famed restaurateur Fred Harvey helped to open the region to tourism by serving good food and offering comfortable accommodations staffed by refined eastern women who came to be known as the “Harvey Girls.”
A walking tour of the village features nine stops and includes fascinating information about the architecture and the people who were instrumental in the village’s development.
The more renowned structures in Grand Canyon Village include:
El Tovar, a 78-room hotel that cost $250,000 to build and opened Jan. 14, 1905 and the Hopi House designed by famed architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter and featuring authentic, top-quality American Indian artwork. Scattered along the South Rim are other Colter buildings such as Bright Angel Lodge, Lookout Studio, Hermit’s Rest and Desert View Watchtower.
In winter, special reduced rates and packages are available at select lodges.
Travel Idea and images provided by Xanterra Parks & Resorts.