Find A Winter Adventure in a National Forest

While many might already be planning their spring and summer adventures, there's still plenty of time for winter fun. Here are some recommendations from Carolyn Bucknall of the National Forest Foundation. Reposted with permission.


At the end of January, National Plan for Vacation Day reminded us to start looking for our next summer adventure. I fully support planning ahead (especially if you want to reserve a lookout tower), but I am also here to remind you to live in the moment. There is still plenty of time to have your next winter adventure before the snow melts!

From downhill skiing to ice fishing, National Forests are a great place to start looking for your next winter adventure.

Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding

If you have ever gone downhill skiing or snowboarding, chances are you were on a National Forest. Skiing is the second most popular activity on National Forests behind hiking and draws 23 million visits to National Forests every year (that is nearly half of all ski visits in the U.S.!).

National Forests host 122 ski areas across the country, including iconic resorts like Vail, Snowbird, and Mammoth, but there are plenty of quieter areas for visitors who want to avoid the crowds.

Skiing down the slopes of the White River National Forest. Photo by Ian Zinner.

White River National Forest

Nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado’s 2.3-million-acre White River National Forest is a skier’s paradise with 11 downhill ski areas to choose from. The Forest’s Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District is home to the state’s largest and most iconic ski resort, Vail. Known for its world-class accommodations, three distinct mountain areas, three terrain parks, and seven bowls, Vail has a winter adventure for every kind of skier from beginner runs to classic big-mountain skiing.

If you are looking for a spot that is a bit more affordable, but still has great snow and diverse terrain, try Arapahoe Basin or Copper Mountain in the Dillon Ranger District. Other popular ski areas on the White River National Forest include Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Aspen.

Skiing through the Snowbasin backcountry on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Photo by the U.S. Forest Service.

Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest

Home to “The Greatest Snow on Earth,” Uinta-Wasatch-Cache‘s powder draws millions of visitors to Utah’s Wasatch Mountains each winter. What makes the snow so great? Many believe Utah snow is the best for deep powder skiing due to the area’s frequent and predictable snowstorms.

Four of the Forest’s five alpine ski resorts are easily accessible from Salt Lake City: Brighton, Alta, Solitude, and Snowbird. Each offers a different experience – Alta is for skiers only, Brighton attracts more snowboarders, Solitude offers pristine terrain, and Snowbird is renowned for its luxury accommodations. With a good mix of beginner and expert terrain, Brighton is a great place to start.

Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing

If the crowds at ski resorts aren’t for you, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing can be a great way to enjoy the solitude of National Forests in winter. With everything from Nordic centers where beginners can find help with lessons and equipment, to groomed trails where experienced skiers can test their technique, National Forests are full of cross-country adventures for all ages and abilities.

Before heading out, always be sure to check with the local ranger district or avalanche.org for avalanche danger in the area (you can read more about avalanche safety here).

Snowshoer on the White Mountain National Forest. Photo by Andrew Skrabak.

White Mountain National Forest

Skiing on National Forests isn’t limited to the West. With an average of 150 inches of snow a year, New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest draws nearly one million skiers to its slopes and backcountry trails every winter. Hundreds of miles of trails crisscross the mountain range, providing skiers with endless opportunities for classic skiing, skate skiing, and unlimited backcountry skiing.

Six different Nordic centers across the Forest provide easy access to trails and offer lessons and rentals, making them a great base camp for beginners. Bear Notch Nordic Center will also allow dogs on their trails, making it the perfect place for skijoring with your furry friends.

Ski tracks with the Sawtooth Range in the background. Photo by the U.S. Forest Service.

Sawtooth National Forest

Home to the iconic Sun Valley Resort, many come to Idaho’s Sawtooth National Forest for alpine skiing, but stay for cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing, and snowshoeing.

In the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, the North Valley Trails system provides miles of groomed cross-country ski and snowshoe trails that feature diverse terrain and incredible views of the surrounding Boulder Mountains. If you are looking for a more secluded experience, try the Sawtooth Wilderness, home to some of the most epic backcountry ski terrain in the country.

Snow covered trail on Monongahela National Forest. Photo by Timothy Sergreti.

Monongahela National Forest

High in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia, the Monongahela National Forest gets more than enough snow each winter to transform into a skier’s paradise. Explore open fields and secluded forests on ungroomed trails, or traverse the gentle rolling hills and steeper slopes of unplowed, Forest Service roads.

The White Grass Ski Touring Center’s trail network provides access to the 17,371 acre Dolly Sods Wilderness, a plateau laced with backcountry trails that take adventurous skiers through 1,200 vertical feet of slopes and glades. Easily accessible by major highways and bursting with diverse and beautiful terrain, it is easy to see why Monongahela National Forest is one of the most popular Nordic skiing destinations in the East.

Ice Sports

Snow isn’t the only new surface for winter adventurers to explore – ice can transform lakes and waterfalls into new landscapes for climbing, fishing, skating, and other ice sports.

Before heading out on any ice, test the thickness with an ax, portable drill, or ice pick, unless you know for certain the ice is thick enough. If a single blow reaches water, stay off the ice (you can read more about ice safety here).

Superior National Forest

In northern Minnesota, the Superior National Forest sits at the southernmost edge of the boreal forest ecosystem. In the winter, the Forest’s thousands of inland lakes freeze into a winter wonderland for ice skating, fishing, and other ice sports.

The solitude and beauty of ice fishing on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) is hard to beat. Walleye, northern pike, and crappies are plentiful, while lake and brook trout are prized by skilled anglers for their fight. The BWCA is also an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. In the long, clear nights of winter you have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights.

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The National Forest Foundation’s Ski Conservation Fund gives ski areas and lodges an easy way for guests to be stewards of the lands they enjoy. Ski-related businesses collect small, voluntary donations from their guests to support conservation and restoration work on local National Forests. Together with businesses and forest visitors, we meet local conservation challenges—whether improving wildlife habitat, securing riverbanks, planting native seeds, or fixing trails.

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!

Cover photo of Custer Gallatin National Forest by the U.S. Forest Service.


Permit Alert: What to Know for March 2024

Rocky Mountain National Park: Wilderness Overnight Backpacking Permits

Planning to go backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park this summer? Now is the time to get ready! A wilderness camping permit is required year-round. Wilderness Camping Permits go on sale through Recreation.gov at 8 a.m. MST on Friday, March 1.

Your permit must be picked up at the Headquarters Wilderness Office (beside the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center on Highway 36 west of Estes Park, CO) or at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center (Highway 34, north of Grand Lake, CO). Note there will be no in-person reservations taken at the park’s Wilderness Offices from March 1 through April 1, for summer trips between May 1 through October 31, 2024.

Rocky Mountain National Park (Photo by National Park Service)

To get important tips and begin planning for your summer trip, visit the park’s Wilderness Overnight Backpacking page.

Follow Adam and Kathryn of Adventures of A+K on their Hike to Sky Pond. And always remember to Leave No Trace.

Glacier National Park: Going-to-the-Sun-Road

Going-to-the-Sun Road traverses Glacier National Park’s rugged terrain for 50 miles. This engineering marvel offers awe-inspiring views of snow-capped mountains, alpine meadows, and pristine lakes. Completed in 1932, it winds across the Continental Divide and showcases diverse ecosystems and wildlife and is a National Historic Place, National Historic Landmark and Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Due to heavy snowfall, it’s only open in the summer.

May 24 through September 8 vehicle reservations are required for the west side of Going-to-the-Sun Road and North Fork from 6 am to 3 pm. July 1 through September 8 vehicle reservations are required for Many Glacier from 6 am to 3 pm. A portion of vehicle reservations are available 120 days in advance, on a daily rolling basis. Next Day vehicle reservations will be available at 7 pm MDT for next-day entry starting on May 23, 2024 on a daily rolling basis.

Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park is an engineering marvel. (National Park Service photo by Tim Rains)

The park is open 24/7 and visitors may enter vehicle reservation areas before 6 am or after 3 pm without a vehicle reservation. For more information check the NPS website. You can book your reservation here.

To help you get started planning your trip to Glacier, Parks Channel creators have lots of tips on where to go, what to pack, where to eat, where to stay, and what to do if you see a bear. Which you will. It’s Glacier.

Haleakala: Sunrise from the Summit

Haleakalā, meaning “House of the Sun,” is a dormant shield volcano on Maui, Hawaii. Rising 10,023 feet above sea level, its summit hosts a starkly beautiful landscape of cinder cones and lunar-like terrain. Revered by Native Hawaiians, it’s a site for spiritual ceremonies and offers stunning sunrise views and unique biodiversity.

To view the sunrise at Haleakala, you’ll need a reservation to enter the park between 3am – 7am. This reservation ensures a parking space at one of the four sunrise viewing locations at the summit. April permits are now available at Recreation.gov. Please note: tickets are per vehicle, not per person, and tickets are limited to one per customer every three days.

Cameron Sabin of National Park Diaries explains how and why the endemic species of Hawaii are threatened with extinction.

 

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Washington DC: Cherry Blossoms on the National Mall

Peak Bloom is happening now! The Yoshino Cherry Trees along the National Mall and Tidal Basin in Washington DC, are open and revealing their beautiful, pink flowers. You don’t need a reservation or permit to enjoy them, but you will need to plan ahead and bring patience as you will be joined by tens of thousands of other people.

This year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival will run special events from March 20 – April 14 to welcome and educate visitors and celebrate the trees’ magnificent blooms. Check the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s website for full details.

The Trust for the National Mall helps the National Park Service all year long in its work to care for the iconic cherry trees, now celebrating their 112th year on the Tidal Basin. You can help protect them from the effects of ever-increasing foot traffic, the changing climate, and the rising sea level by making a donation here.

And if you can’t make it to DC this month, you can tune in to #BloomCam and track the progress of the blossoms on the National Mall with 24/7 views of the Tidal Basin, thanks to EarthCam and Salamander Washington DC.

Check out our Washington National Mall page for tips on visiting Washington.

Top photo of the Jefferson Memorial and cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin in Washington DC by Sean Paul/FreePik.


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 Recreation.gov

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.


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!


Photograph of a hot pool at Yellowstone

The Right Way To Experience Yellowstone...Slowly

Last time we went to Yellowstone it was in an aging borrowed RV with squishy brakes.

The good news is we never went that fast. There was so much to see, our fellow park goers kept the speed limit to a walking pace.


You’ll know immediately if there is a bear within a hundred yards. Cars will just stop, creating a “bear jam” that can last until the bears decide move on. Bison don’t seem to be bothered by cars and freely cross—and often linger—in the middle of the road. It’s a good decision to stay in your car when anything bigger and faster than you is in the vicinity. Best not to risk going viral on social media or worse, not living to regret it.

And why be in a hurry anyway? Nature’s greatest theme park is a spectacle of open plains, forested mountains, deep canyons, cascading waterfalls, explosive geysers, crystal clear hot pools, bubbling cauldrons of mud, scenic lakes and rivers.

Yellowstone is vast, almost 3,500 square miles and it attracts 4 million visitors a year. About half of them will visit between June and August. There are a lot of travel tips on how to avoid the crowds, but going in winter is a good bet to see the fewest people. 

Photograph of a hot pool at Yellowstone
Beate Dalbec / Nature's Best Photography

Alice Ford went on a bucket list trip to see the wolves of Yellowstone in below-zero temps and lived to tell the tale. Her great adventure is worth a watch.

Photo Credit: Alice Ford

No matter when you go, you’re going to have to make a plan about where to stay, where to camp, where to eat and what to do. You’ll need to purchase a pass, but you don’t need a reservation to get in. The grand lodges all require reservations up to a year in advance. If you are into camping, there are a dozen campgrounds in the park and you’ll need to make a reservation for them, too. For expert travel advice, Matt and Cheryl of We’re in the Rockies have the best trip planner with tons of useful information.

Yellowstone sits on one of the biggest calderas in the world, the remnant of a supervolcano that is still active but last erupted 70,000 years ago. Legends of dragons drew explorers to Yellowstone Valley, but the Crow believed there was another explanation for what killed the trees and scorched the earth. Grant Bulltail of the Native Memory Project tells the tale.

Photo Credit: Native Memory Project

Today, if you stay on the boardwalks and paths you’ll be fine, just know that in some places the ground below your feet is heated by magma that is turning glacier-temperature water into boiling hot tubs. This makes for quite a show in the upper geyser basin, where Old Faithful, the most famous geyser in the world, can be found. It goes off every 1.5 hours, and the predicted times of launch are posted by the NPS. Half the geysers in the world are here. For what to expect about Old Faithful and how to time your trips, check out Matt’s guide.

There’s plenty of history in Yellowstone, too. If you’re interested in a cautionary tale of what happens if you get lost, there’s the story of Truman C. Everts.

Photo Credit: The History Guy

His misadventure is legend, and the History Guy has the story. A gripping tale of a man who lost his bearings, scalded himself in a geyser, started a vast forest fire, hallucinated from hunger and ended up drinking a pint of bear grease to survive.

After a few days hiking through forests yelling “hey bear” to spook the grizzlies, following the Yellowstone River downstream, and crisscrossing the Continental Divide a dozen times, we finally made our way, slowly, out of the park.

Photo Credit: Author