Permit Alert: What to Know for February 2024

Yosemite’s annual spectacle. You’ll need a pass for Horsetail Fall Firefall.

Horsetail Fall Firefall is a natural phenomenon that occurs during the winter months, typically in February, when this small waterfall is flowing. The magic unfolds when the skies are clear and the setting sun aligns perfectly with the fall, creating a breathtaking spectacle that attracts photographers and nature enthusiasts from around the world.

The event has gained significant popularity in recent years, which means a reservation will be required to enter Yosemite National Park on the weekends of February 10–11, February 17–19 and February 24–25, 2024. Even if you’re not specifically visiting Horsetail Fall, a reservation is required on these dates. If you plan to visit on Mondays through Fridays (excluding the 19th) no reservation is needed.

Don’t miss this spectacular event – get your reservation at:  Yosemite Firefall at

Want to know what else you can do in Yosemite in winter? Follow Alice Ford through this winter wonderland.

For tips from some of our other creators on visiting Yosemite and planning a trip click here.

Grand Canyon by Raft

Have you ever wanted to raft the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park? Every February 1 the lottery opens to apply for a permit for a non-commercial trip. Keep in mind these are not trips guided by a company. Grab some friends to help you raft the boats, cook the food, and put up your tent. Alexandra Nevada took her first trip through the Grand Canyon in October 2023. “I didn’t know anyone on the trip prior to going, though they have become lifelong friends,” she says.

This section of the Colorado River is highly technical, and at least one member of your group must have the experience and skills required by the National Park Service. “My advice is to have experienced participants with you,” says Nevada. “Rafting, regardless of rapid classes, is a serious sport. Make sure you review your permit and know what you’re getting into. Call a ranger office to clear up any confusion.”

An avid rafter and Colorado resident, Nevada adds: “We all deserve to have a good time and a unique experience. Permits aid in this and help preserve an area, limit use, and keep our natural and human resources safe. Apply for permits, have patience, and don’t be disappointed if you don’t win a permit in a lottery system. You can always try again next year, or hopefully meet someone who has a permit and jump on their trip. Most importantly, all rafters should learn, live, and love Leave No Trace principles and respect our rivers, leaving them to be enjoyed in the future.”

Alexandra Nevada took “the trip of a lifetime” through the Grand Canyon in October 2023. (Photo courtesy of Alexandra Nevada @lexgocamping)

Learn more and enter the lottery for a rafting permit here.

Not ready to do it alone? A number of companies provide trips through the Grand Canyon.

Learn more about commercial trips here.

For tips from our creators on visiting the Grand Canyon and planning a trip click here.

Acadia: Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park is a classic spot to watch the sunrise. For part of the year, from October 7th – March 6th, it’s the first place in the continental US to experience sunrise. Acadia is also in the top ten most popular national parks in the US with 3.9 million visitors in 2022. If you’re planning a trip there this year, you’ll need a vehicle reservation for Cadillac Summit Road from Wednesday, May 22 through Sunday, Oct 27, 2024. Thirty percent of the reservations will be available 90 days in advance (beginning February 22); 70% of the reservations will be available at 10am (ET) two days in advance.

For more information, check here. To book a reservation, click here.

Waiting for sunrise on Cadillac Mountain, in Acadia National Park (Photo by Brendan Hall from "Out There: A National Parks Story")

For tips from our creators on visiting Acadia and planning a trip click here.

It's Snow Time! How to Layer Up for Cold-Weather Hikes

Winter is upon us, and while some view it as the season for bundling up in front of a warm fire with a hot cup of coffee, Kevin Morgan believes it’s prime time for spending time outdoors. Kevin is a filmmaker who started the Shenandoah 52 Hiking Challenge. Here, he lays out the science of layering to get the most out of winter hiking.

Some of the best outdoor activities can be enjoyed outside during the offseason. Just because it’s cold or snowing shouldn’t be a reason to avoid all the benefits of being outside. That said, it also comes with the need for some preparation. We encourage you to enjoy this less trafficked, beautiful time of year.

Rarely will you find a time absent from the crowds, but in many cases winter also provides exceptional views from various summits and overlooks, because the leaves have fallen and tree cover has opened up.

With that, here’s some advice to help you enjoy our family’s favorite time of year. When the cold fronts move in and the earth tilts away from the sun, you will often find us heading into the storm. After all, what good is owning a Jeep and extensive amounts of Gore-Tex if you can’t chase a few storms?

Now, heading into the storm sounds a bit over the top. Frankly most days are quite delightful in the winter, absent a storm. And not every adventure has to be a pilgrimage up the North face of a mountain seeking summit peaks.

Keeping Warm and Getting Out

Your local state park is just as enjoyable as the National Park that’s hours away. That trail that’s near the park behind your house – it’s fantastic to get outside during the winter months. We encourage you to check out those trails and parks that are lesser known or listed on the map. We have written extensively about using mapping tools to find unlisted trails and why certain trails may not be listed on your favorite mapping app.

Before I get too far into the preparedness, if you are curious about finding these trails, we have posted more about this on our blog. Finding the easier treks and areas that are more personal to you will ensure that you get outside – because any trail or outdoor activity is better than no activity at all.

Winter can be for everyone. Layers and equipment are important when it comes to enjoying a hike. For me, warmth is paramount and that includes staying dry. This is where your gear serves to change the trajectory of how you feel about being outdoors. We find that when we have a mishap with our planning in the field, it tends to create a sour taste for wanting to go on the next adventure. If you underestimate the weather or the wind chill, you could find yourself miserable on your trek.

Determining How to Dress for Winter Outdoor Adventures

One of the easiest ways to combat the change in temperatures is to dress in layers. This is no different than dressing for a business occasion or special event. For the outdoors, it’s easy to create layering that addresses the changes in climate and temperature.

Many enthusiasts that are new to outdoors in the off season look for the biggest or warmest jacket, and while that’s great if you’re going to Antarctica on an expedition, many times with hiking your number one source of heat is your own body heat. That also means, you need to divide your clothing into layers. This way you can shed the top layers on the portions of your adventure that are strenuous, and your body is generating more natural heat that can be added back when you are generating less. This also means that quality of gear is important. The reason most Gore-Tex and similar materials are expensive is that the fabric allows for retention of heat and dispels moisture. Gore-Tex holds in heat, and that moisture escapes preventing sweat.

Now you can work around that by layering and ensuring that perhaps that outer layer allows for moisture to “get out of that jacket” and the layers underneath are allowing you to stay warm.

For example, many times when you are hiking, you may have elevation change or a shift between a canopy and open sky that cause a temperature change. That, coupled with physical exertion, will change your body temperature.

  • Anticipate roughly a 2-degree temperature change for every 1,000 feet of elevation (e.g. if you hike up a mountain that has a 2,000-foot change from base to summit, you can anticipate the temperature changing by roughly 4 to 5 degrees) plus any wind that may be introduced as you’re trekking up the mountain.
  • Elevation change also increases your body temperature with physical exertion, causing you to sweat or release moisture that will, in turn, have implications on how you feel.
  • Changes in cloud cover, precipitation and the season will determine if temperature shifts are more or less as you travel on your hike. And if you have minimal elevation change, the temperature could minimally change.

Layering for Warmth and Change in Temperature

So where does that leave us? Layers allow you to remove and add garments as you adventure in the outdoors, but it’s not as simple as adding and removing clothing. We have found that there’s a science for which clothing is used, which layer it is, and how you piece them together. It sounds complex but it’s really about making sure that you have the right materials in the right place.

  1. Core Layer … T-Shirt, Underwear, Socks: This is the core layer. You wake up, you put on the core elements of your wardrobe; everything else stacks on top of this. Ensure that the fabric you’re wearing at the base also is designed for activity. Wicking is good for this layer. Cotton is not ideal in many cases.
  2. Base Layer: Think of this as the layer that may not come off at all during your trek. You want to make sure that you’re wearing materials that wick moisture away from you at this layer. Our preference is merino wool for this layer.
  3. Mid-Layer: The layer that serves as insulation and keeps you warm. By adding additional mid-layers, you can increase your warmth. Just as the walls of your house are insulated in the middle, you need to bolster the middle when it’s cold. Typically a puffy jacket.
  4. Outer Layer: The shell from the elements. If it’s raining, you may have Gore-Tex as your shell. If the sky is clear, you might just have a puffy jacket as the outside layer. Read the label closely and look at the brand’s website to determine how it handles “breathability.” We believe that this is one of the layers where you want to spend the most amount of money when buying equipment. It’s worth the investment.

If helpful, reference our Gear List Page for a recommendation of brands that we choose to wear. This list is not the end-all, and everyone has their preference, but we hope that this will help with direction.

Layering by Temperature Range

This is my rule of thumb. You may need to test and learn based on how you operate. I would rather be hot than cold, and my core body temperature is always slanted toward being cold. So adjust for your own needs.

For each of these diagrams, use them as a compass and not a map for yourself. We don’t outline the base or basement layers – the shirt that you may be wearing, the socks, etc. Assume that you will want that layer. This is everything on top.

Cool and above mid-to-upper 40s.

Basic layers are typically good for temperatures that are above mid-to-upper 40s without any inclement weather. This allows you to remove the jacket if it gets too warm or remove the base layer and keep the mid-layer. That base layer is typically merino of some sort, and most of the time I am hiking absent the mid-layer jacket.

Cool and above mid-30s with inclement weather

Good for those days where it is not cold, but there’s inclement weather like rain or wind. The shell will help to break the wind. At certain temperatures, you may choose to add a beanie or gloves. This is also where it’s important to look at the “breathability” of that outer layer.

Sub-30s and below, with or without inclement weather

With the more substantial mid-layer jacket, you’re going to be much warmer and need to see which jacket is best for you. As it gets colder, I add heavier beanies and layer my gloves.

Below 20-25s, with or without inclement weather

Adding a second base layer will increase your warmth significantly, and especially if it’s a wicking material that moves the moisture away from your body. Same as before, as it gets colder, I add heavier beanies and layer my gloves. At this point, I might swap the gloves for heavier duty gloves.

These recommended configurations are based on the Gear List that we have published. And each of these configurations is also based on the temperature that we feel comfortable with. My wife may be wearing two more layers than me at the mid-layer in the form of merino (she likes Icebreakers over SmartWool – it’s splitting hairs). You may be wearing two layers less than me. All preference.

The point with this is to think about adding and removing as you trek up and down the mountain. Absent a mountain, think about cloud cover and if you’ll be hiking in the sunlight or shade. It’s incredible how much the temperature feels significantly colder when the sun is not present.

Good, Better, Best: What’s Right for You With Gear

Brand of equipment is very personal decision for many, while others may pick up the first thing in the rack at the local outfitter. We have very specific opinions. However, the easiest way to think about this is by price point. There is an entry, mid, and high-end price point for all gear.

The house brands are often the entry point and for many stores that are outfitter specific, they are actually pretty good products. If you’re going to be outside frequently throughout the year, it’s worth spending more on gear. And if you can’t afford new, buy used. You might need to recharge the weather resistance on the equipment, but that’s no reason not to buy used. There are plenty of YouTube videos that can guide you through recharging DWR.

House brand to expedition grade, any of these are great for getting outdoors to start. Each will have a different level of performance when hiking. If you hike frequently, you may consider getting the more expensive gear. If you are infrequently on the trails, you’ll need to decide if the high-end gear is necessary.

This same comparison will work for all the components of your apparel. Thinks of it this way:

  • Gore-Tex jackets are made from a material that allows moisture to escape and warmth to be retained. It’s a modern marvel. The North Face has a new technology that’s equal, BUT the point is that if you buy a cheap jacket that does not allow moisture to escape, you will be cold from sweating and you will feel damp. If you run up the trail and exert a lot of energy, all bets are off for ALL fabrics.
  • Waterproofing is not waterproofing forever. Many of the jackets have a time rating on them. For example, Gore-Tex v. Gore-Tex Pro vs. Gore-Tex Paclite all have different ratings. Don’t expect waterproofing for more than an hour in the rain with Paclite. On the other end, Gore-Tex Pro will give you quite a bit of time, but it’s stiff as a board.
  • Merino wool has a wicking capability that is not the same as other fabrics. You may be well-intentioned to buy something that is performance or cheaper, but you could end up being cold because the moisture has not been wicked from your skin and hasn’t been wicked out of your mid-layer and outer shell.

Each layer aids in the process and when one layer is not performing with the rest, you experience discomfort with your outdoor experience.

I hope that this helps with providing a little more information for you to decide about your layering when out hiking or photographing outdoors. Don’t be deterred by the cold. Get outside and Happy Hiking!

Do you live near Shenandoah National Park? Take the SNP52 Hiking Challenge: 23 trail loops, 52 trail segments and just over 150 miles.

A Pixels and Pointers partnership with the Shenandoah National Park Trust.

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National Forests to Visit This Winter

Parks might get more headlines, but our national forests offer incredible adventures in winter. Here are five to visit, recommended by our friends at the National Forest Foundation. Reposted with permission.

Raise your hand if adventuring in the winter months can feel like too much work. No, really! Even as a self-proclaimed outdoor enthusiast sometimes the thought of layering up to go on a hike during the chilliest months of the year has me snuggling even deeper under the covers and hitting snooze for the third time in a row.

The key though?

Packing your bag the night before, insanely strong coffee, and knowing that these five National Forests are even more beautiful in the winter season.

Photo By Matt Hobbs

White River National Forest

White River National Forest currently receives more than 10 million visitors per year. Covering 2.3 million acres in the heart of the Colorado Rockies this National Forest is home to iconic destinations such as Maroon Bells and Hanging Lake. While this National Forest tends to be a hotspot for some of the best backpacking trails in the summer, what you didn’t know is that it is even more magical in the winter season. White River National Forest is home to 11 ski resorts, so, strap in and hit the slopes to see parts of the forest you wouldn’t see in the summer months!

Photo by Chelsea Murawski

Hiawatha National Forest

Year-round this National Forest boasts dramatic shoreline cliffs and classic lighthouses, but Hiawatha is home to a seasonal winter treat known as the Eben Ice caves. While not technically caves, ice stalactites have formed underneath the bedrock creating massive walls of ice which you can walk alongside and admire. To see this winter trail you need to plan accordingly and check weather conditions as the hike to this unique location requires traction in the winter months.

Photo by Rick Williams

Coronado National Forest

Have you heard of Sky Islands? Sky islands are isolated mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona and northern Mexico. These mountains rise over 6,000 feet above the surrounding desert floor creating a stark contrast between the lowlands and high peaks. The extreme elevation and habitat variations of these geological variations result in a greater diversity of plants, and wildlife. When visiting Coronado National Forest, you can experience all four seasons during a single day’s journey! From hiking amongst desert giants like the saguaro cactus to playing in the snow in the mountains, Coronado is one of the most biologically diverse National Forests in the nation.

Photo credit: Ryan Rishken

Ocala National Forest

Somewhere around March, I begin to tire of my handy snowshoes. The thought of trudging through a snowbank feels way less exciting in spring than it does in December. If you also find yourself wishing for sun, Ocala National Forest is just the spot for you! President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Ocala National Forest in 1908 making it the oldest National Forest in Florida. With over 600 lakes and rivers that boast crystal blue water this National Forest is a secret oasis. So pack a bathing suit, bring some sunscreen, and make your way to the tropics this winter to visit Ocala National Forest.

Photo by National Forest Service

Umpqua National Forest

Where can you find cascading waterfalls views even in the winter season? You guessed it! Umpqua National Forest is nestled on the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains and is home to plenty of waterfalls, wildlife and so much more. During the winter season, Umpqua National Forest becomes an idyllic winter wonderland complete with snow-covered trees, and icicles. Bundle up and head out to explore the over 530 miles of beautiful trails and when you are done you can warm up at Umpqua Hot springs. Please plan accordingly as the gates leading up to the hot springs are likely closed for the winter months which will result in needing to hike up to the springs.

As you’ve just read, the National Forest System is large and varied. Your unrestricted support enables the National Forest Foundation to work across the entire National Forest System so we can apply funds to the highest priority projects. Please consider making a general gift today to support this critical work by clicking here. Thank you!