Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Six National Parks to Enjoy the Holidays

Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Yellowstone National Park
The following article originally was written for and appeared in the December 2016 Coach-net newsletter.

A little secret: Among the best ways to escape holiday stress is a national park trip. Though often thought of as a summer destination, only a couple of the parks close in winter, and almost all offer warm, cozy and peaceful holiday experiences. A bonus is that almost all parks are less crowded during winter.

Here are six great holiday-themed must-do’s at our national parks:

Winter wonderland
Yellowstone National Park
Book a getaway at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, which can only be reached this time of year by snow coach or snowmobile. The Christmas-decorated lodge keeps its fireplace burning with plenty of hot cocoa for visitors. During the day, hike past “ghost trees,” formed when the steam from the Old Faithful geyser freezes on pine tree needles. Bison with snow-covered manes often feed across the geyser valley.

Polar Express train ride
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Each December prior to Christmas, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s Polar Express chugs through the scenic Ohio park. Among the highlights on the refurbished passenger train is a reading of the children’s book “Polar Express,” which inspired a movie and this trip. Many passengers ride the train in their pajamas! If in the Southwest, a private company also runs a Polar Express to Grand Canyon National Park.

Luminaria-lit skiing
Denali National Park
Every December, rangers light the small paper lanterns that line ski trails at the Alaska park. Visitors also can snowshoe or stroll the route, which leaves from the Murie Science and Learning Center, Denali’s Winter Visitor Center. Several other National Park Service sites offering luminaria displays and hikes including Florida’s De Soto National Memorial and Arizona’s Tonto National Monument.

Snowshoe wildlife hike
Rocky Mountain National Park
Ranger-led snowshoe tours lead visitors of this Colorado park to a variety of wildlife, including elk, coyotes, deer and snowshoe hares. The trail is utterly quiet as snow-capped mountains and evergreens rise around you on all sides.

New Year’s Eve Candlelight Walk
Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
Bonfires, roasted marshmallows, and miles of candlelit trails can be enjoyed throughout the National Park Service area surrounding North America’s longest river. The festivities are centered on historic Fort Snelling State Park, which sits in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area’s national river and rec area.

Caroling in a cave
Mammoth Cave National Park
In early December each year, the Kentucky park holds Christmas carol singing in the world’s longest cave system. It’s a tradition that goes back to 1883 when local residents held the first Christmas celebration in the cave’s passageways. Though this year’s caroling has passed, mark it on the calendar for 2017’s must-do’s!

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.