Go Snowshoeing at One of These Spectacular Spots Around the Country
Skiing and snowboarding may get all the glory in the arena of winter sports, but there's a third activity that deserves a stake in the game: snowshoeing. Perhaps less adrenaline-pumping than its popular counterparts, it can be every bit as awe-inspiring, particularly if you venture to some of the country's most stunning snowy regions. And it wins the award for ease, too. Snowshoeing requires no lengthy instruction, and the gear (footwear and, in some cases, poles for balance) costs less than skis or a snowboard and is easily rentable. Not to mention, you won't need to buy a lift ticket or wait in line for a ride to the top of a slope. Just strap on a pair of the special shoes, and you're ready to pounce on fresh powder. Here, you'll find our favorite places to go for it.
Bar Harbor, Maine
Unplowed sections of the Park Loop Road in Acadia National Park offer something you won't find on most of the country's snowshoeing trails: Sweeping views of the ocean below. Rent snowshoes at Cadillac Mountain Sports, and follow this road all the way up to the store's eponymous peak; you'll be rewarded with a picturesque overlook of Frenchman Bay. Or pivot inland and trek along Acadia's system of carriage paths, crushed-stone pathways originally built by the area's landowners to spare it from cars—and they're still free from motor vehicles today. You'll just share the routes with cross-county skiers (avoid any set ski tracks). They're regularly groomed by volunteers of the Acadia Winter Trails Association, making it a breeze to skirt along their tightly snow-packed surfaces.
As a result of its high elevation—a cloud-grasping 2,400 feet to be exact—Woodford State Park is subject to frequent flurries, which paint a winter-white backdrop for viewing the area's majestic wildlife. Moose, deer, fox, and mink have been known to roam near the Woodford Trail, a 2.7-mile loop around the park's reservoir and campground. Rent shoes and poles at Woodford Mountain General Store, and navigate through spruce, fir, and birch trees on the eastern part of the route before nearing the shoreline on the west. And don't forget to direct your gaze upward: You could catch a grosbeak or cardinal perched in the dense foliage or flitting among it.
Bayfield County, Wisconsin
In frigid temperatures, giant icicles hang dramatically from the sea caves lining the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and heavy lake-effect snow blankets the whole region in white. While adept snowshoers are occasionally granted entry to the caves themselves—that is, when the conditions of Lake Superior are sufficiently frozen to allow walking right on top of it—even novices will enjoy traipsing along the Lakeshore Trail. Set above the cliffs that ring the lake, this route starts off in deep forests winding along little streams and ravines, and at about 1.8 miles, opens up to a magnificent view of the caves below. Rent the gear for your journey from nearby Howl Adventure Center.
Custer, South Dakota
Mount Rushmore may be the most common reason why tourists find themselves in the lush Black Hills National Forest, but it's certainly not its only draw. As its name implies, a cluster of rolling hills shrouded by ponderosa pines separates this region from the surrounding grasslands and turns it into a serene setting for all sorts of winter activities. You can pick up a pair of snowshoes at most South Dakota State Parks (they're free to rent for the day), then join the vast 109-mile Mickelson Trail at one of its 15 trailheads, located in spots like Custer and Hill City. For the most part, it's a delight for snowshoers of all levels—but be warned about the 19-mile stretch from Deadwood to Dumont: It's the trail's longest continuous incline.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
When winter reaches Jackson Hole each year, Teton Park Road in Grand Teton National Park is closed to cars, transforming into a wide-open trail regularly groomed by organizers with the park foundation and Jackson Hole Nordic Alliance. Beloved by snowshoers and cross-country skiers alike (it's wide enough to have clearly delineated paths for each), it stretches the 14.4 miles from the Taggart Lake Trailhead to Signal Mountain Lodge. Wending along the base of some of the tallest mountains in the region—like Grand Teton, Teewinot, and Nez Perce—it serves up breathtaking views for practically its entire length. If you're new to the area or would prefer a guided trip, join a naturalist with the Hole Hiking Experience for a two-, four-, or six-hour trek, and you'll learn about local ecology and wildlife on the journey.
The signature orange-colored hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park are all the more spellbinding covered in snow. See them sparkle on the Rim Trail, which follows the edge of the Bryce Amphitheater area of the park and encompasses Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point. If there are 16 or more inches of packed snow and a full moon, you can also join a special ranger-guided nighttime trek (gear provided) and see the park's spire-like structures in eerie silhouette. Day-of sign-ups start at 8 a.m. at the visitor's center, and winners of spots on this unique experience are announced at a lottery drawing at 4 p.m. If the stars don't quite align on your visit, you can also sign up for a ranger-guided afternoon hike at the visitor's center, which departs at 1 p.m. on days when the snowpack is ample.
Hydrothermal features are the literal (and figurative) hotspots at Lassen Volcanic National Park—and they're all the cooler to witness in below-freezing weather, when the temperature difference creates billowing clouds of steam. Rent gear at Mineral Lodge, and snowshoe one mile along the park highway route from the visitor center to reach Sulphur Works, the park's only hydrothermal area that's fully accessible in the winter months. If you're up for a challenge, begin the climb to the Ridge Lakes Route, which follows West Sulphur Creek to the Ridge Lakes basin, and serves up stunning views of Mount Diller.