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10 Coolest Winter Places in America

By Sean O'Neill / BT Editor
November 28, 2022
Fairbanks Alaska in winter
Fairbanks in the winter - Courtesy of Gary Whitton/Dreamstime
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 10 destinations to hit before the snow melts.

Snowstorms used to mean long days spent making snow angels and having snowball fights followed by big mugs of hot cocoa topped with marshmallows. Alas, we're not kids anymore. But that doesn't mean we can't still get outside and play. There are lots of grownup winter activities, like, say, leading a pack of sled dogs across the Maine wilderness or snowshoeing over pathways carved back in the Ice Age (when it was considerably chillier). One thing that hasn't changed? That cup of hot cocoa still hits the spot.

Get the best view of the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, Alaska

The northern lights
The northern lights - Courtesy of chenahotsprings.com

Thanks to its proximity to the North Pole, and the lack of urban light pollution, this isolated area is one of the best places to take in the Aurora Borealis. The green ribbons of light are caused by charged particles from the sun interacting with the earth's atmosphere, and the crystalline skies here, about 360 miles north of Anchorage, come alive (the local university offers forecasts for viewing). If you're looking for some guidance, book an Aurora Viewing Tour. The trips depart from Chena Hot Springs Resort, about 60 miles from downtown Fairbanks, where guests take a military-style SUSV to the top of Charlie Dome. 907/451-8104, chenahotsprings.com/winter-activities, $75 per person.

Compete in your own Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York

Hockey in Lake Placid
Ice hockey in Lake Placid - Courtesy of roostadk.com

Ever watch bobsledders zooming down the track during the Olympics and think, "I could do that?" Well, in Lake Placid, you can. The town has hosted the Winter Games twice (in 1932 and 1980), and now caters to visitors seeking glory. Any reasonably fit person can take a bobsled run (with both a professional driver and a brakeman keeping things safe) at the Olympic Sports Complex. At the nearby Olympic Center, you can pretend you are Apolo Anton Ohno and speed skate around the oval. The center has activities for people of all ages, including a torch run, snowboarding race, and hockey slap shot contests. 518/946-2223, whiteface.com, prices for activities vary.

Relax with a glass of ice wine in Traverse City, Michigan

There aren't many places in the U.S. with the appropriate conditions to make ice wine (most of it is produced in Germany and Canada). This town, a four-hour dive from Detroit, is graced with panoramic views of Lake Michigan, and the cold air coming off the lakes is perfect for chilling grapes. The wine makers at Chateau Grand Traverse use Riesling grapes that have been left on the vine after the harvest to freeze in the chilly northern Michigan air. The winery offers free tours and tastings of its other wines, and you can also sample wine made from cherries, the area's other bounty. 12239 Center Rd., 800/283-0247, cgtwines.com.

Ski down untouched trails in Park City, Utah

Skiiing on untracked powder in Park City, Utah
Skiiing on untracked powder in Park City, Utah - Courtesy of pccats.com

Park City has three resorts and some of the country's best skiing, but the best way to get off the runs and really experience the countryside is on a snowcat. Small groups of skiers pile into trucks with tracked wheels that can handle the area's diverse terrain and travel to parts of the mountain with "virgin" runs untouched by other skiers. Park City Powder Cats will take you to Thousand Peaks Ranch in the Uinta Mountains for up to 12 runs through quiet bowls and glades. 435/649-6596, pccats.com, from $449 for a day trip.

Take a sleigh ride in the wilderness in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Sleigh rides in National Elk Refuge
Sleigh ride in National Elk Refuge - Courtesy of nersleighrides.com

Jackson Hole may be a premier ski destination, but a much less publicized highlight of a visit to the town is a sleigh ride at the nearby 25,000-acre National Elk Refuge. From mid-December to early April, visitors can enjoy a horse-drawn ride through the park to see thousands of elk. Guides with Bar T5 will also point out the park's other wildlife, such as eagles and trumpeter swans. Free shuttle buses depart from the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center, 800/772-5386, bart5.com, $18 for adults, $14 for children 5-12.

Zoom through America's first national park on a snow coach in 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 in Chetek, Wisconsin

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.wisconsin.gov.

Take the reigns on a dog sledding tour in Newry, Maine

Dog sledding in Mahoosuc
Dog sledding in Mahoosuc - Courtesy of mahoosuc.com

Located in Newry, Maine, and with over three decades of full-time, year round guiding, Mahoosuc is one of the most respected and experienced recreational guide services in New England and Canada. Day trips on Umbagog Lake or gentle trails in the Mahoosuc Mountains are available Tuesday through Thursday and some weekends, mid-December through mid-March, and depending on snow conditions. A hearty warm homemade lunch cooked over a campfire is included on day trips, as well as the use of their insulated winter parkas, warm boots and other cold-weather gear. Mush! 207/731-8888, mahoosuc.com, starting from $450 per person for day trips.

Sled around a high-country hamlet in Silverton, Colorado

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.

See freaky ice formations beneath the earth in Lava Beds National Monument, California

Crystal Ice Cave
Crystal Ice Cave - Courtesy of nps.gov

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, $25 per vehicle for a seven-day entrance.

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Discover 6 Perfect Florida State Parks

In Florida, a day at a park doesn’t always have to mean hanging out with The Minions, Mickey or Big Bird, though it often does. No surprise, considering the Sunshine State is synonymous with popular theme and water parks. But, Florida is also home to 175 state parks scattered from the Panhandle to the Keys, each offering an opportunity to experience the state’s myriad natural and cultural treasures, whether streams and rivers threading through a verdant landscape, a system of caverns peppered with stalactites, miles of undeveloped sandy beaches, dense tracts of forests dripping with moss, or historic forts and lighthouses. The entire compendium of state parks shows off Florida’s grand diversity of ecosystems, from mangroves to pinelands to dunes, as well as the resident and migrant creatures that call these vast expanses home or pay a seasonal visit. In the six state parks below, a grand array of enticing scenery and activities are on full display. (You can learn more at floridastateparks.org.) 1. Oleta River State Park Just 30 minutes from downtown Miami, Oleta is considered Florida’s largest urban park and one offering numerous water- and land-based activities. Inside the park, BG Oleta River Outdoors rents canoes and kayaks so visitors can paddle through dark, foliage tunnels along the mangrove-lined river and then on to peaceful Biscayne Bay and the Intercoastal Waterway with opportunities to spot river otter, and sea turtles. (This concession also offers full moon and one-hour Friday sunset kayak tours.) And, despite Miami’s perfectly flat topography, Oleta is considered one of Florida’s best mountain biking venues, with more than a dozen miles of interconnected, challenging single track coursing beside the park’s waterways. 2. Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park Bill Baggs Cape - Istock/lucky-photographer On the southern tip of Key Biscayne, Bill Baggs is most noted for its one-mile-some beach -- perfect for sunning and swimming -- that’s often named as one of the top 10 beaches in the U.S. by Dr. Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University, aka Dr. Beach. Bird watchers are also attracted to this park that’s a stopover on the Atlantic Flyway for migrating species, such as Cerulean and Bay-breasted wood-warblers. Anyone walking to the southern tip of the Pond Trail will be near the Cape Florida Lighthouse, South Florida’s oldest structure that provides stunning views of Biscayne Bay, Key Biscayne and South Beach. 3. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park Named for the tallest of the coastal dunes along the Gulf of Mexico that resembles a ship’s sail, rising over 25 feet high, Topsail Hill, located in the Florida Panhandle, preserves these white quartz dunes with lakes -- a unique ecosystem -- where fresh and saltwater mix. Those with a fishing license can try to snag catfish, bream or bass in one of these lakes, or cast from the beach for Spanish mackerel, pompano or red fish. The paved Campbell Lake Bike Trail -- named for this coastal dune lake, a popular picnic spot -- that’s shaded by tall longleaf pines appeals to cyclists. 4. Hillsborough River State Park Hillsborough River State Park - Istock/benedek Just a few minutes north of Tampa, Hillsborough is one of the few spots in Florida featuring whitewater rapids. Those who bring their own canoe relish the small section of Class II rapids. The park also rents canoes that can be put in just below the rapids on this blackwater river, the color deriving from the tannins leaching from fallen leaves. Growing along the shore, live oaks, magnolia and cypress trees provide for shaded paddling, with opportunities to see otters or alligators on the banks. History buffs often sign up on a guided tour of the reconstructed Fort Foster, a replica of the circa 1837 fort from the time of the Second Seminole Indian War. 5. Honeymoon Island State Park Having received its name after several dozen honeymoon cottages were constructed (and subsequently demolished) in the early 1940s, this barrier island remains a stunning day-trip from Tampa for nature lovers. Though beachgoers flock to the sandy and seashell/rock studded four-mile stretch, a wild landscape of tide pools, sand dunes and salt marshes await those walking past the last parking lot to the shaded Osprey Trail. Hikers will find monarch butterflies fluttering about and the ever-present scent of pine. A real treat is seeing osprey with their young. 6. Caladesi Island State Park A short ferry ride away from Honeymoon Island, Caladesi was once attached to its sister island prior to a major hurricane in 1921. Though now connected to Clearwater Beach after a land bridge formed, Caladesi feels like the Florida of another era, once visitors wander past the ranger station/concession, with nothing but the sounds of bird calls, and the tide lapping at the powdery beach. In 2018, Dr. Beach ranked Caladesi’s dazzling quartz sands as one of the country’s top 10. A network of sandy trails wind through the heart of this island where signs remind visitors that the dense interior is snake territory.

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Get your Yellowstone Fix in Wyoming!

Wyoming is the last bastion of the West, where bold, independent and curious spirits are encouraged to forge their own way to adventure both big and small. Wyoming is home to many firsts, including the country’s first national park (Yellowstone), first national monument (Devils Tower) and first national forest (Shoshone). In addition, Wyoming was the first government in the world to guarantee women their inherent right to vote and hold office. These special places, along with other natural wonders like Grand Teton National Park and the Bighorn Mountains as well as Wyoming’s heartfelt cowboy hospitality, welcome millions of visitors annually. As the weather cools down and blankets of snow begin to cover pristine landscapes, Wyoming becomes a winter wonderland for all types of travelers. With fewer crowds, award-winning ski-resorts, new direct flights and winter events, the Cowboy State offers endless winter experiences. Here is a selection of new and notable this season: Winter EventsSkijoring at the Sheridan Winter Rodeo - Photo Credit: @sprouseandneuhoffSkijoring Rodeo may be Wyoming’s official sport, but skijoring is the state’s unofficial winter sport. It is a uniquely Western athletic and cultural phenomenon combining two of Wyoming’s favorite pastimes: skiing and horseback riding. Travelers can spectate competitive Skijoring at the Sheridan WYO Winter Rodeo, Sundance Winter Festival, Saratoga Skijoring Races, Skijor Wars (Buffalo) or Pinedale Winter Carnival. Most Skijoring competitions are held in February with 2023 to be announced.Pinedale Winter Carnival Join Pinedale in February as they host their annual winter carnival. Enjoying skijoring, a blizzard bash and more. Enter the Cardboard Classic, where you can create your own sled out of cardboard, duct tape, glue and paint. See if you can build a sled worthy of the course and snag a prize in the process.Sundance Winter Festival For a fun twist on skijoring, join Sundance for their Wild Horse and Tube Race every February. While you can still catch traditional skijoring at the winter festival, you can now register for the tube experience. On this take of the sport, the horse and rider pull you in a tube instead of on skis. For more information on Wyoming’s annual winter events, click here.Ski DestinationsJackson Hole Mountain Resort- Courtesy of jacksonhole.com Jackson Hole Mountain Resort New Lift (Jackson, WY) - Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR) will replace its Thunder quad chairlift with a faster and more powerful detachable quad chairlift ahead of the 2022-23 winter season. The speed of the new lift is 1,000 feet net per minute, twice the velocity of the original Thunder, and will cut riders’ time down from just over 7 minutes to 3.6 minutes. Grand Targhee Resort's New Terrain (Alta, WY) - For the first time in over 20 years, Grand Targhee Resort is opening new terrain with the construction of the Colter Lift on Peaked Mountain. Construction is underway and the opening is slated for the start of the 2022/23 winter season. The Colter Lift will transport up to 2,000 people per hour and gain 1,815 vertical feet in just five minutes. The brand-new six-pack will give skiers and riders access to over 600 skiable acres of fall line skiing, open glades, world-class side-country, and extraordinary views of the Grand Tetons. Snow King Mountain Expansion & Improvements (Jackson, WY) - Located in the heart of Jackson, Snow King Mountain unveiled a new, 8-passenger Leitner-Poma gondola and zipline, the steepest in North America (available in the summer months). The new gondola offers spectacular views of the Grand Tetons, the National Elk Refuge and the town of Jackson. In addition, Snow King will expand its operations with a new summit restaurant, observatory, planetarium and 100 acres of ski terrain. Outdoor AdventureSandsurfing at Killpecker Sand Dunes - Courtesy of tourwyoming.com Sandboarding on 2nd Largest Sand Dunes in the World (Rock Springs, WY) - With sand dunes reaching up to 100 feet high, the landscapes of Killpecker Sand Dunes are punctuated by towering rock formations in the form of buttes and spires, like the famous Boars Tusk spire, making it a can't miss experience. Visitors can visit the new attraction located in Southwest Wyoming on their very own sandboard or sled. The boards are like snowboards, with two-foot holds and curved edges, while the sleds are like winter downhill sleds. While surfing the dunes, keep an eye out for the desert elk. The area is home to one of the largest desert elk herds in the world.Lodging & CampingReid Creek Lodge - Courtesy of wagonhound.com/reidcreeklodge Luxury Property, Reid Creek Lodge, Opens in Central WY (Douglas, WY) - Reid Creek Lodge, a luxury property, opened in the summer of 2022. Reid Creek Lodge features an 8,000 square foot lodge with seven beautifully appointed bedrooms accommodating up to 22 guests and one group at a time. The exclusive experience includes a personal chef, curated programming, cozy gathering spaces and rustic mountain design. Little America Hotel Unveils New RV Park (Green River, WY) - Featuring 42 spacious sites, including back-in and pull-through spots, Little America RV park provides a variety of hotel-like amenities, including marble showers, a heated outdoor pool, a kid’s playground, a fitness center, a fuel center and a 24-hour convenience store. Rates start at $55 per night. Snow King Resort to Open New Spa (Jackson, WY) - Snow King Resort is close to unveiling its new Grand View Spa in December 2022. The resort’s new addition will feature six treatment rooms including a couple’s suite, locker rooms with experiential showers, hot tubs and eucalyptus-infused steam rooms, men’s and women’s private lounges, an infrared sauna, a boutique retail shop and scenic outdoor deck with a large hot tub. 2023 Milestone Anniversaries: Carissa Mine at South Pass City - Courtesy of southpasscity.com 30th Anniversary of the National Bighorn Sheep Center (Dubois, WY) - July 3, 2023 - The National Bighorn Sheep Center operates in Dubois, Wyoming. The Center features dioramas with full-scale taxidermy mounts that recreate bighorn habitats, interactive exhibits about wildlife management and special adaptations of wild sheep, and wildlife films the whole family will enjoy. 30th Anniversary of International Climbers’ Festival (Lander, WY) - July 13-16, 2023 - The 30th Anniversary of the International Climbers’ Festival (ICF) is the longest-running climbers’ festival in the world and has stayed true to its grassroots origins 110th Annual Fremont County Fair (Riverton, WY) - July 29 to Aug 5, 2023 - A celebration for those near and far that showcases all that Wind River Country has to offer. Plenty of things to do and see for all ages, such as children’s activities, entertainment, food and merchandise vendors, livestock and agriculture competitions, midway rides and much more. 10th Anniversary of the Grand Opening of the Carissa Mine for Tours at South Pass City (South Pass City, WY) - May/June TBD- The Carissa Mine was the largest gold mine in the Sweetwater Mining District. The history of the Carissa Mine is tied to the hopes and dreams of many men starting in 1867, but it never truly took off. What remains today is one of the best-preserved historic mining operations in the world. Tours include a walk-through of the historic structures, a live demonstration of milling equipment, and a great story of life in a gold town.

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Five Fun, Affordable Fall Adventures in Fort Collins, Colorado

Leaf peeping is a great way to explore Fort Collins, Colorado, and the surrounding Northern Colorado area during its most beautiful season: autumn. Fort Collins proximity to the Cache la Poudre River canyon and Rocky Mountain National Park makes it a leaf-peeping magnet, and the perfect basecamp for fall adventures to Lory State Park, the Roosevelt National Forest, Rocky Mountain National Park and more. While the peak season for fall foliage typically runs from the last week in September to the second week of October, experts anticipate the leaves will peak slightly early this year, perhaps closer to mid-September. Here are five affordable fall adventures in Fort Collins: 1 - Take a Hike Courtesy of Caramie Petrowsky While there are myriad hikes in and around Fort Collins, one stands out as perfect for a sunny fall day paired with a picnic lunch. Greyrock Trail is a 7.1-mile moderate-to-strenuous loop hike that is gorgeous in the fall (and a bit quieter), with sweeping views of Greyrock Mountain and the Poudre Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park and the Comanche Peak Wilderness Area. 2 - Drop a line Horsetooth Reservoir Between the Cache La Poudre River and Horsetooth Reservoir, Fort Collins offers paradise found for fishermen and fisherwomen. The Poudre is perfect for fly-fishing, though there are a few spots where you can bait fish. At Horsetooth, try your hand catching smallmouth bass or walleye from the shore or a boat. Fort Collins also has 15 Natural Areas that allow fishing, including Riverbend Ponds, a popular fishing spot with easy access from the trailheads. It’s one of two Natural Areas where gizzard shad (part of the herring family of fish) are found. 3 - Road trip to Red Feather Lakes Who doesn’t love a good road trip? Red Feather Lakes, located an hour drive northwest of Fort Collins, is a secluded, hidden gem that’s less populated than many Colorado outdoor destinations. Surrounded by 612,000 acres of Roosevelt National Forest, the Red Feathers Lakes area is a year-round outdoor playground, but fall is stunning. Hike or fish in one of the eight lakes in the area, four of which are open for public fishing. You may also fish in the nearby Cache La Poudre River, Colorado’s only designated Wild and Scenic River and the area’s best spot for whitewater rafting and kayaking. Nearby Beaver Meadows Resort Ranch offers lodging, fishing, horseback riding and more. 4 - Attend a festival Pumpkins on Parade - Courtesy of Caramie Petrowsky Festival season doesn’t slow down come fall in the Fort; here are three to check out. Tour de Corgi (Oct. 1) brings a sea of cute corgis in costume to one of the most quirky festivals in town. Pumpkins on Parade (Oct. 20 - 23) is a fun-for-all-ages celebration at The Gardens on Spring Creek complete with hundreds of locally grown pumpkins and fun and festive activities for the whole family (tickets are $10 for adults/children 12+; $5 for children 5-11 and free for under age 4). Día De Los Muertos (Oct. 28) includes a spectacular alter, mariachi band and tributes in picturesque Old Town Square. 5 - Celebrate the harvest There is no shortage of local pumpkin patches and farms offering all sorts of fall fun: The Bartel’s Farm – Stop in for a huge selection of pumpkins, corn mazes, and hayrides. The Farm at Lee Martinez Park – Visit the farm animals and take a hayride. There’s also a pumpkin patch to pick out the perfect future jack-o-lantern. Northern Colorado Corn Maze – Jack Lantern’s Corn Maze is a Colorado favorite. Something from the Farm – This family-owned farm features an organic pumpkin patch, hay bale maze, hayrides, a pumpkin catapult, and more. Fritzler Farm Park – Located in nearby LaSalle, attractions at the farm include a corn maze, pumpkin patch, pedal go-carts, barrel train, pumpkin cannons, slide mountain, and more. Spooky’s Pumpkin Patch — Choose from a variety of pumpkins, gourds, carving kits, and even straw bales and corn stalks for your fall decorating needs at this patch, located on South College Avenue. Colorado native Caramie Petrowsky is a former daily newspaper arts and entertainment editor who loves exploring new places with her husband and their two children. As a CSU alum, Fort Collins holds an especially dear place in her heart.

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Top Attractions in All 50 States

From north to south and from coast to coast, America is packed with diverse landscapes that are worth exploring for every type of traveler. Each state has its own culture and landmarks that make them unique. Courtesy of musement Outdoor enthusiasts have a plethora of places to choose from. National parks and outdoor attractions make up almost one third of the most popular attractions in the United States. From the greats like The Grand Canyon (Arizona) and the urban oasis Central Park (New York) to lesser-known gems like Blackwater Falls State Park (West Virginia) or the Gulf Islands National Seashore (Mississippi) and its beaches, you can get a taste of cultural activities while enjoying Mother Nature. Hersheypark: Hershey, Pennsylvania - Istock/ gsheldon Thrill seekers and families with young ones will be glad to see that ten states across the country have amusement/theme parks as their number one attraction. Snap pictures with Mickey and your favorite Disney characters at Walt Disney World (Florida) or Disneyland Park (California). Otherwise, you can escape to the east to Busch Gardens Williamsburg (Virginia). Got a craving for chocolate? Head to Hersheypark (Pennsylvania) and see what the hype is all about. The Alamo - San Antonio, Texas History buffs will be able to turn the clocks back at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation (Michigan) where they can witness some of America’s most historical items, discover what life was like in the 1830s at The Alamo (Texas), or jump on board the World War II battleship turned museum at the USS Alabama (Alabama). Jellyfish at the Georgia Aquarium: Atlanta,Georgia - Istock/Gau Souza Animal lovers across the states have the opportunity to visit some of the world’s best zoos and aquariums. From Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium (Nebraska) and its one-of-a-kind exhibits to the world-renowned Georgia Aquarium (Georgia), one of the largest in the world, to the west coast’s Oregon Zoo, the United States offers plenty to admire. Research done by Musement, the digital discovery and booking platform for travel activities and experiences around the world. To see the full list of all 50 attractions click here.

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