1. Grand Teton National Park, WY
Perhaps it is its proximity to Jackson Hole, but Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park (www.nps.gov/grte) is spectacular in winter. This year Grand Teton will run its popular ranger-led snowshoe hikes daily throughout January, February, and March, 2009. These two-hour excursions offer the chance for participants to learn about winter ecology while experiencing a classic, winter transportation mode -- wooden snowshoes. A trek into the Park's winter landscape begins each day at 2pm from the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center in Moose, Wyoming. All skill levels are invited and a donation of $5 for adults and $2 for kids aged eight to 12 is requested. Reservations are required so please call tel. 307/739-3399 to secure a spot.
Rendezvous Ski Tours (tel. 877/754-4887; www.skithetetons.com) is one of the few private companies licensed by the National Park Service to provide downhill, cross-country skiing, and snowshoe tours in the park. Tours cost $235 per person, $325 per couple, and $75 for each additional person and include a hearty lunch, plenty of snacks and hot drinks, avalanche transceivers, shovels, and a full day of guiding and instruction. You need to bring skis, boots and poles, climbing skins, and a day-pack with your personal items. All equipment can also be rented locally. Intermediate to advanced skiers who also like to climb can take on the challenge of skiing Maverick Ridge, 25' Short, or Mt. Albright, enjoying incredible views of the Grand Teton before the 3,000 foot descent back to the valley floor.
You can avoid the high price, resort-style accommodation of Jackson Hole and stay in the Moose area at the Dornans Spur Ranch Cabins (tel. 307/733-2522; www.dornans.com) located within minutes of the Grand Teton National Park Visitor Center. Winter rates range from $125 to $150 per night for a one bedroom log cabin and $175 per night for a two-bedroom log cabin. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are available right outside your cabin door.
2. Glacier National Park, MT
There are dozens of marked and unmarked winter ski and snowshoe trails throughout Glacier National Park (www.nps.gov/glac), offering access to spectacular scenery and plenty of recreational opportunities. Backcountry skiers and snowboarders looking for something different will have their choice of trails and slopes from gently rolling terrain to avalanche passes.
The remoteness of the area means that it is essential to take topographical maps and rescue equipment with you. Trail maps are available at www.home.nps.gov/applications/glac/ski/xcski.htm. It is recommended that you stop in at the ranger station at Polebridge to discuss your plans and check on the latest weather and snow conditions before heading out.
Upper Lake McDonald is one of the most popular ski areas in the park, with views of waterfalls and conifer trees on an 11-mile round-trip trail. Maria's Pass often has the best snow but it is only recommended for advanced skiers and there as several avalanche passes located there -- ski with caution. Other popular trails include "Big Prairie" which leads through meadows of trees to fantastic views of the mountain range, "Corey Meadow Loop," a round-trip trail of about three miles suitable for families with younger children and "McGee Meadow Loop," which is more suitable for intermediate and advanced skiers. Wildlife is still abundant in the winter season and you may come across wolves, coyotes, deer, elk and even mountain lions. The Park's winter entrance fees are $15 per car for a week.
The Izzak Walton Inn (www.nationalparkreservations.com/glacier_izaak.htm) offers accommodation in hotel rooms and cabins throughout the winter months with rates starting at $117 per night for a room with one queen-sized and one twin bed. Although located right on the edge of the south side of the park, it is a 30-minute drive to either the east or west park entrance. Through April 17, 2009, a standard double room at the Smokey Bear Lodge (tel. 800/555-3806; www.smokybear.com) located near the Glacier National Park entrances at West Glacier and Camas Creek, is priced from $100 per night plus tax, including breakfast.
3. Yosemite National Park, CA
Yosemite (www.nps.gov/yose) has the distinct advantage of having a downhill ski resort located within the park itself, a beautiful outdoor ice skating area and a selection of other winter activities including snowshoeing, snow tubing, cross-country skiing, and back country ski tours. The Curry Village Ice Rink (tel. 209/372-8319) located at the Curry Village Recreation Center, has been a Yosemite attraction for over 60 years. Located beneath Half Dome and Glacier Point with outstanding mountain views, the rink also boasts a warming hut, a fire pit, skate rentals, and a retail shop. This outdoor ice skating rink is open days and evenings through mid-March - on weekends and holidays from 8:30am to 9:30pm (with ice maintenance closures three times a day) and from 3:30pm to 9:30pm on weekdays. Skating costs $8 for adults, $6 for children under 12 and $3 for skate rental.
Although there has been some discussion of late as to the validity of having a ski resort located within a park (ski areas in other National Parks have been closed down over the past few decades), Badger Pass ski area has been a popular destination for skiers since it opened in 1935 and its ski school began even earlier, in 1928. It has a small footprint, covering just 80 acres, and is relatively far removed from the Yosemite Valley. 80% of its runs are rated either for beginners or intermediates.
The Badger Pass Stay N Play package (www.yosemitepark.com) includes passes for recreational activities, valued at $148, for each mid-week night that you stay at one of the Yosemite properties (The Ahwahnee, Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, Wawona Hotel, or Curry Village). The Pass includes a one all-day lift ticket, one all-day rental (skis, snowboard, or cross-country skis), one group lesson, one tubing session, one ice skating session including skate rentals and one Valley floor tour per person for each night that you stay. Additional passes may be purchased for people staying at the hotel for $35 per adult and $20 per child (aged 12 and under) at the hotel front desk. The Stay 'N Play package is only available for guests staying through March 29, 2009 and is priced from $169 per room per night staying at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. Use the booking code "staynplay8" when making reservations.
4. Yellowstone National Park, WY, MT and ID
Yellowstone (www.nps.gov/yell) in winter is a combination of scenic landscapes, abundant wildlife, and plenty of outdoor activities such as cross-country skiing, ice skating, and snowshoeing. Except for the road from Gardiner to Cooke City via Mammoth Hot Springs, transportation within the park is limited to snowmobiles and snowcoaches during the winter.
Only two in-park accommodation options operated by Xanterra (www.travelyellowstone.com) are open during the winter but they offer a variety of winter activities and packages. The "Winter Wildlife Expedition" gives participants an opportunity to observe and learn about bison, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, coyotes, wolves, and other wildlife. Available Wednesday through Sunday until March 4, 2009, this program features four nights of lodging at the Mammoth Hotel, breakfasts, lunches, welcome gift, in-park transportation for field trips, snowshoes, one-hour hot tub usage, unlimited ice skating and optional evening programs. Rates start at $579 per person, plus tax, based on double occupancy and $747 for single occupancy. "Yellowstone on Skis" features five days of cross-country skiing with daily trips to the Blacktail Plateau, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone's Grand Canyon, and the foot of the Gallatin Range.
The program is led by a naturalist/guide and a professional cross-country skiing instructor who accompany the group on two days to help participants improve their skills. Offered Saturday through Thursday on January 17 and 31 and February 14 and 28, 2009, the package includes three nights of lodging at the Mammoth Hotel and two nights of lodging at the Snow Lodge, four breakfasts and four lunches per person, welcome gift, in-park transportation for field trips, one-hour hot tub usage, unlimited ice skating and optional evening programs. Rates start at $1,059 per person, plus tax, based on double occupancy and $1,335 for single occupancy. Ski rental is available but not included.
"Winter in Wonderland" is designed as a comprehensive introduction to Yellowstone in winter. Guests receive four nights of lodging at the Mammoth Hotel and two nights at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Guests explore the park via snowcoach, skis, and snowshoes and learn about wildlife in the Lamar Valley and geology in the Old Faithful region. In addition to instruction, transportation and lodging, the packages include welcome gift, five breakfasts and five lunches, in-field snacks, ski and snowshoe rentals, one-hour hot tub rental, unlimited ice skating and evening programs. This program runs Monday through Sunday through March 2, 2009 with rates starting at $1,209 per person, plus tax, based on double occupancy or $1,527 for single occupancy.
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