20 Public Lands To Explore This Winter

Across the country, America’s public lands are becoming winter wonderlands. As snow falls and temperatures drop, these special places take on a whole new personality, revealing a spectacular wonder. While the days may be colder and shorter, they are still full of adventure — whether you like to ski, snowshoe, hike or just enjoy the frosty view.

Check out these awesome places to visit during the winter. Before heading out, be sure to check the latest weather and trail conditions. We hope you find time to explore this season! 

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin

A visit to the ice caves at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Accessible by foot when Lake Superior freezes over — which doesn’t happen every year — the caves are a fairyland of needle-like icicles. The formations change from chamber to chamber and from day to day. It’s a very cool experience.

Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri

One of nature’s most social and playful creatures, river otters have big personalities and even bigger appetites. Often seen in groups, they can be observed hunting and frolicking year-round at Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge. In winter, you might even catch otters sliding across the ice on their bellies.

Otters might look soft and cuddly but they remain dangerous wild animals. Otters have strong teeth and a powerful bite. So, whether you see an otter on land or at sea, be sure to maintain a safe distance of at least 5 kayak lengths or 60 feet from the otters. Learn more about staying safe around otters

Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland

Nestled within the mountains of Western Maryland, Catoctin Mountain Park provides a getaway from the hustle and bustle of nearby Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. The park has 25 miles of hiking trails, popular trout fishing streams, great camping spots, horseback riding paths and beginner skiing areas — making it as fun as it is lovely.

Crater Lake National Park in Oregon

No place in the world is like Crater Lake National Park, and there is no time better than winter to witness this park’s wild beauty. With an average of more than 500 inches of snow a year, Crater Lake offers wonderful opportunities for winter recreation. Here you can go snowmobiling, skiing, snowboarding and sledding. Snowshoeing around the rim of Crater Lake is the perfect way to experience this stunning volcanic feature — at nearly 2,000 feet, it’s the deepest lake in the United States!

Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho

In many parts of the country, it’s rare to catch a glimpse of a bald eagle, but imagine seeing scores of them in a single day. Welcome to Lake Coeur d’Alene in the winter! With a plentiful supply of spawned-out kokanee salmon, this lake is a favorite wintering spot for eagles. From November to February each year, the Bureau of Land Management records the eagle migration — a record 383 eagles were spotted in just one day in 2017. The spectacle becomes a regional attraction, with activities, tours and boat rides on the lake.

Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming

Snow clings to the jagged sides of Devils Tower National Monument. This astounding geologic feature is considered sacred to the Northern Plains Indians and other tribes, who call it “Bear’s Tipi” or “Bear’s Lodge.” Hundreds of parallel cracks make it one of the finest traditional crack-climbing areas in North America. Beyond climbing, other winter activities include hiking and cross-country skiing, but a word of caution: trails are not maintained during the winter months.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio

Three people on a toboggan slide down a snowy hill.

Winter weather can provide special opportunities for recreation in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Cross-country and downhill skiing, snowshoeing, snow tubing and sledding are just a few of the options.  

Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska

The Northern Lights swirl over Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve. From November to March, most activity ceases in Alaska’s ultimate wilderness while -20ºF to -50ºF temperatures persist. The dry interior climate sees little snow, but what does fall stays to wrap land and rivers in ice and silence.

Kulm Wetland Management Area in North Dakota

Kulm Wetland Management District is in the heart of a prairie landscape marked by numerous wetlands called potholes. The area’s wetlands and grasslands provide habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife species. In the winter, visitors can fish, bird watch or enjoy the dawning of a new day.

Lassen Volcanic National Park in California

Lassen Volcanic National Park has a lot to offer in the winter. Silent, snow-covered volcanoes hide magma beneath their calm surfaces. Clues to the park’s three million years of volcanic activity show up in steam vents, boiling springs and bubbling mudpots. Whether you are looking for a contemplative snowshoe trip, family time playing in the snow, or challenging cross-country skiing, Lassen Volcanic is a winter playground.

The park receives as much as 30 feet of snow in its winter season. You can check winter conditions on the Southwest Area visitor center webcam. The snowy winter and spring seasons offers numerous opportunities for oversnow recreation including snowplay, snowshoeing and skiing and snowboarding. To learn more about winter at Lassen Volcanic National Park, visit the winter activities at Lassen Volcanic page.

Great Basin National Park in Nevada

If you haven’t visited Great Basin National Park during winter, you are missing out. Frost delicately ornaments every feature of the park from high mountain peaks to low stream beds. Trails and roads are explored by a few adventurous visitors on skis and snowshoes, and the wildlife leave tracks in the fresh powder.

Iditarod National Historic Trail in Alaska

The Iditarod National Historic Trail encompasses a 1,500-mile system of winter trails that first connected ancient Alaska Native villages, opened up Alaska for the gold rush and now plays a vital role for travel and recreation. Maintained by the Bureau of Land Management, the trail is now most closely identified with the famous annual sled dog race. The race, which starts in March every year, challenges the racer and the 21-dog team with harsh conditions across rugged but beautiful terrain.

Acadia National Park in Maine

The park's historic carriage road bridges are just as scenic with a little snow on top.

Acadia National Park protects the natural beauty of the highest rocky headlands along the Atlantic coastline of the United States, an abundance of habitats and a rich cultural heritage. There’s a lot to do and enjoy during winter in Acadia. When the snow is good, the park's 45 miles of carriage roads offer the perfect setting for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Visitors can also enjoy 130 miles of hiking trails, but hikers need to be prepared for snow and icy conditions that vary throughout the park. Learn how to get the most out of your winter visit.

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Site in Vermont

Skiiers in front of the The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Mansion, a large brick building.

At Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Site, winter is the longest season of the year. All the better for playing in the snow! Experience wintry conditions and bracing temperatures along both groomed cross-country ski trails and natural snowshoe trails in the folded hilly landscape of the park. Reflect on the story of stewardship, of people taking care of places — sharing an enduring connection to the land — as you observe the tall trees, wildlife and experience the peacefulness of the woods. Snow, sled, ski and snowshoe through the peaceful forest as it is blanketed in white.  

Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular winter activities in the park. In Woodstock the average winter snow fall is 80 inches. Winter is Vermont's longest season and temperatures in winter vary more than those in summer. It is common to experience freezing temperatures from November to March, with many locations observing sub-zero days on a regular basis so please come prepared for cold weather

Curecanti National Recreation Area in Colorado

Curecanti National Recreation Area is a series of three reservoirs along the once-wild Gunnison River. The reservoirs that make up Curecanti today are a destination for water-based recreation high in the Rocky Mountains. Best known for salmon and trout fishing, Curecanti also offers opportunities for hiking, boating, camping and bird watching.

Mount Rainier National Park in Washington

Early morning light paints Mount Rainier in golds and pinks.

The landscape at Mount Rainier undergoes a dramatic transformation in winter. Its colorful subalpine meadows and lush old growth forests are draped with a thick blanket of snow for much of the year. The sometimes-dusty appearing glaciers are freshly covered in white, and the snow-covered roofs of the rustic historic buildings are rimmed with icicles, creating a picture-perfect setting.

In winter, recreation opportunities are numerous. A winter visit to Mount Rainier can include: ranger-guided snowshoe walks, paradise sledding, winter camping, snowboarding and skiing and snowmobiling.

Lake Clark National Park in Alaska

Winter wraps Lake Clark National Park & Preserve in white and blue. Ice fishing and biking are popular activities in winters when the lakes freeze. It’s also the perfect place to see wildlife in their natural habitat.

Adventures in remote and isolated areas require self-sufficiency and preparation. Preparation can make the difference between the adventure of a lifetime and tragedy.

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is an oasis for waterbirds and wildlife. The wildlife refuge protects the marshes found at the mouth of the Bear River — the largest freshwater component of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem — and provides critical habitat for over 250 species of migratory birds that move through the area annually by the millions to rest and feed. If you visit here in the winter, you can see prairie falcons, bald eagles and hawks searching the frozen landscape for prey.

Saratoga National Historical Park in New York

Skiier treks along snowy trail at Saratoga National Historical Park.

Winter is a great time to discover the beauty of the battlefield, bird watch, look for deer or enjoy the stillness of a snow covered walk in the 3,000-acre Saratoga National Historical Park. Grounds are open sunrise to sunset for hiking, walking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. You can explore the battlefield several ways. To learn more, visit Winter Fun at Saratoga.  

Voyageurs National Park 

The Aurora Borealis, consisting of shades of green, over Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park has miles of winter trails to enjoy. Winter visitors can venture out with country skis or snowshoes on any groomed park trail, or in any direction they wish on the frozen lakes. The beauty of the park can also be explored by snowmobiling across groomed open lake surfaces and trails that wind through snow-covered forest. Voyageurs is also a certified International Dark Sky Park, so don't forget to look up for some spectacular night sky viewing, and a chance to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights!

Where will you explore this winter?