Escape the cold: 6 beautiful (and warm) public lands getaways

Need a break from the snow and cold weather hitting much of the U.S.? You don’t need to leave the country to visit to a tropical getaway. Take the chill off of winter and escape to six of America’s beautiful (and warm) public lands.

Virgin Islands National Park

Virgin Islands National Park is an American paradise with breathtaking hills, valleys and beaches. With 7,000-plus acres on the island of St. John, Virgin Islands National Park offers snow-white sand dotted by palm trees, coral reefs, prehistoric sites and Bay Rum Tree forests. Its Trunk Bay is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and features a 225-yard long underwater snorkeling trail.

white sand, blue water, green vegetation
Pictured here is Leinster Bay and Waterlemon Cay from the park’s Johnny Horn Trail. Photo by Kerry Childers (www.sharetheexperience.org).

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge

Florida’s Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge preserves the last unspoiled and undeveloped spring habitat in Kings Bay. The springs in the bay, with their constant 72-degree Fahrenheit water, provide an essential warm water refuge for the manatees that congregate there in the winter months, when people come from all over to see the manatees. 

manatee
A manatee resting at Three Sisters Springs (one of the most popular spots at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge) while shading over a school of mangrove snappers. Photo by Keith Ramos, USFWS.

National Park of the American Samoa

Located in the heart of the South Pacific, National Park of American Samoa offers an escape from the everyday and is one of our most remote parks. It includes sections of three volcanic islands -- Tutuila, Ta’ū, and Ofu -- most of which are rainforest. With a bit of explorer's spirit, you can discover secluded villages, snorkel coral reefs, observe tropical forest plants and wildlife, and explore the magnificent island and sea vistas.

white sand beaches
With a secluded sand beach and fringing reef, the park’s Ofu Island is an ideal place to snorkel or simply enjoy the solitude. Photo by National Park Service.

Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park is close to the California mainland, yet worlds apart. The park encompasses five islands and their surrounding one mile of the ocean, offering a wide variety of recreational opportunities -- from hiking and camping to kayaking and sea lion watching. World-renowned kelp forests, sea caves and coves await the adventurous swimmer, snorkeler and diver.

diver with lobster
Channel Island's Park Dive Officer, Kelly Moore, with a spiny lobster that thrives under the protection of the Marine Sanctuary. Photo by Brett Seymour, National Park Service.

Baldwin County, Alabama

Tired of cold weather and mounds of snow? Then head to the pristine white sand beaches in Baldwin County, Alabama, where you’ll find six small beachfront tracts made almost entirely of quartz grains washed down from the Appalachian Mountains thousands of years ago. This area provides access to recreation activities on the Gulf of Mexico and its many beaches. With winter daily average temperatures in the 60’s, these beaches make the bucket list if you wish to trade snow drifts for sand dunes, seagulls singing, and waves crashing. And, if you're lucky, you might get to observe sea turtle nesting.

baby sea turtles
Two baby sea turtles make their way from the nest to the ocean. Photo by Bureau of Land Management. 

Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park on Hawaii’s Maui island is a special place with stark volcanic landscapes and a subtropical rain forest. You can watch the sunrise above the clouds at Haleakala Summit, or come for sunset and stick around for some of the best stargazing in the world. A visit to the park isn’t complete without a hike to Oheo Gulch in the park’s Kipahulu District. Also called the Seven Sacred Pools, the area is known for its beautifully tiered pools fed by cascading waterfalls that are surrounded by vibrant, lush vegetation.

tiered waterfalls surrounded by green vegetation
The Seven Pools of Heaven after a recent rain. Photo by Devon Schweizer (www.sharetheexperience.org). 

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