11 Coolest Winter Places in America
Baby, it's cold outside—but that doesn't mean you have to stay indoors. From bobsledding like an Olympian to viewing the Northern Lights, here are 11 destinations to hit before the snow melts.
Zoom through America's first national park on a snow coach
West Yellowstone, Montana
Roads at the West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park are not plowed in winter. If you want access to this part of the park, populated by bison, pronghorn antelope, and bighorn sheep, you'll need to rent a snowmobile or book a snow coach tour. Some vehicles come equipped with handlebar warmers and you can even rent cozy layers if you didn't pack enough for the frigid air. The park's abundant animal population doesn't seem to mind the chill. destinationyellowstone.com/play/snow-coach, from $105 for trips not including park fees.
Snowshoe the Ice Age Trail
Don't be intimidated: Snowshoeing on Wisconsin's nearly flat Ice Age National Scenic Trail is totally doable. The state's National Scenic Trail encompasses about 620 miles of marked pathways that feature landscapes left behind when glacial ice carved the earth more than 12,000 years ago. In winter, a section of this trail is open to snowshoers at Chippewa Moraine State Recreation Area. Rent your snowshoes from the visitors' center (free, but donations are encouraged) and loop the 6.5-mile trail, studded with frozen mini-lakes and countless five-foot-tall boulders. 13394 County Hwy M, 888/936-7463, dnr.wi.gov.
Take the reigns on a dog sledding tour
This paper-mill town, a three-hour drive north of Portland, has charm to spare. Among its most popular winter sports is dog sledding, but this isn't just a simple guided ride. Maine Dog Sledding Adventures at Nahmakanta Lake is actually a training program. Here, guests learn how to harness and drive a team of five to six Alaskan huskies. Mush! 207/731-8888, mainedogsledding.com, from $375 for half-day trips for up to four people.
Cross-country ski by lantern light
Silver City, Michigan
The Porcupine Mountains of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, affectionately known as the Porkies, offer 92 square miles of terrain for cross-country skiing. But you haven't really experienced the beauty of this pristine wilderness until you've traveled the trails by lantern light. Every Saturday through February 2012, a mile path will be lit by kerosene lanterns, with a comfort station at the midway point for a warm-up. 906/885-5275, skitheporkies.com, $30 for ski rental.
Sled around a high-country hamlet
Forget cars. In winter, residents of Silverton prefer to get around on kicksleds (essentially chairs placed on six-foot-long steel runners). The townsfolk are so committed to winter fun that they refrain from plowing after the first bountiful snowfall so that the fresh powder will pack into a perma-crust for smoother sledding. Guests and non-guests can rent sleds (as well as skis, snowshoes, and other equipment) from the Wyman Hotel, and take advantage of the area's average annual snowfall of 150 inches. 1371 Greene St., 970/387-5372, thewyman.com, doubles from $125, kicksled rental $10 for guests and non-guests.
See freaky ice formations beneath the earth
Lava Beds National Monument, California
Winter temps in this part of northern California average in the 40s during the day and the 20s at night. Not chilly enough? Go underground into some of the local caves, where the air hovers at the freezing point year-round. To safely journey into the caves at Lava Beds National Monument, rent a helmet and headlamp from the visitors' center. Then go 100 feet beneath the earth's crust into the Crystal Ice Cave, where freaky ice formations include a 20-foot-high crystal curtain. 530/667-8113, nps.gov/labe, $10 per vehicle for a seven-day entrance.