18 Beautiful Outdoor Winter Escapes
BY RACHEL CAVANAUGH
Whether it’s walking in the woods, strolling through the mountains, or curling up by the fire as ocean waves crash outside your window, being in nature is a great way to reset your spirit and give yourself the rest and relaxation you deserve.
We’ve listed some of the most beautiful outdoor spaces in the country, sorted by region so you can stay close to home. Between soaking up gorgeous scenery and sipping beverages by the fire, you’ll never want to leave.
With snow-capped mountains, lush green rainforests, and crashing ocean shores, the Olympic National Park boasts a beautiful range of landscapes in the wintertime. Most of its trails remain open this time of year so you won’t be short on activities such as hiking, snowshoeing, backpacking, and wildlife viewing. In addition to camping, the park offers lodges, log cabins, and several small resorts where you can stay to soak up the scenery.
Few places offer more stunning winter panoramas than the quiet and secluded backcountry of Bear Lake State Park. Nestled in southeastern Idaho, visitors can explore more than 350 miles of snowmobile trails that are home to elk, moose, and other wildlife. In addition to hiking and snowshoeing, the lake is known for ice fishing for the Bonneville cisco, which can only be found in that region along the Idaho-Utah border. The area also has lots of cabins and rental properties for friends and family to enjoy.
The Wallowa Mountains—sometimes called “Little Switzerland”—are one of Oregon’s untouched wonders. Whether you camp in the cozy yurts at the Wallowa Lake State Park or trek farther into the wilderness to visit the backcountry huts (complete with wood stoves and primitive saunas), you’ll be dazzled by the natural scenery.
Waves crash down on snow-frosted ocean rocks while the forests morph into winter wonderlands in Acadia National Park. Visitors can enjoy things like winter hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing over 45 miles of scenic carriage roads. Winter camping options are limited, but there are plenty of inns and hotels along the harbor nearby, including some vacation rentals.
The Adirondacks are filled with miles and miles of beautiful snowy trails for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, backpacking, and other winter adventures. The pristine mountains around Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center offer glimpses of wildlife, along with ice skating, snow tubing, and backcountry accommodations that some call “Finland in the Adirondacks.” You can also stay in rustic cabins, hotels, spas, and resorts nearby.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find many winter destinations that are more beautiful than the breathtaking Berkshires in Massachusetts. Between Mount Greylock State Reservation and Beartown State Forest there’s a wide range of opportunities to unwind in nature. And the nearby town of Lenox, with its scenic Kennedy Park, offers adorable inns, bed-and-breakfasts, hotels, and event luxury resorts, depending on your preferences.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula boasts more than a dozen gorgeous national forests and scenic state parks that are at their snow-capped best in the wintertime. Check out places like Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Hiawatha National Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, or Tahquamenon Falls State Park, to name a few. The state’s coastline is dotted with all types of lodging opportunities, along with plenty of camping for people who want to stay closer to nature.
Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks provides a surprising array of winter activities to choose from that will help you get away from the crowds and enjoy its picturesque landscapes. Explore mysterious cave formations, go blue catfishing, or hike through the scenic Ha Ha Tonka State Park. There’s a versatile assortment of winter cabin rentals, lodges, resorts, and vacation properties to choose from.
The Badlands are spectacular any time of year and winter is no exception. Except during major blizzards, the park stays open year-round, and although temperatures become icy cold, it draws a handful of adventurous winter explorers. Best of all, the cold weather keeps the bigger crowds away. There’s winter camping at Cedar Pass Campground and a number of cozy lodges and cabin options outside the park nearby. Just keep in mind that extreme temperature changes occasionally occur (sometimes dropping to -40° Fahrenheit), so if you’ve decided on a winter excursion be sure to plan appropriately and check with the National Park Service for updated safety information.
While Big Sur tends to crawl with tourists in the summertime, the winter months offer a more secluded glimpse of California’s rugged central coastline. Stare at the stormy cliffs in awe as ocean waves crash or sip hot beverages by the fire. There are plenty of inns, motels, and vacation rentals to stay in along Highway 101. The region offers winter hiking trails too; however, parks may close due to the summer wildfires, so check for park closures first.
Big Bend National Park is one of the most spectacularly wide-open spots in the Southwest—and in the wintertime, it’s a lot more secluded. The park’s versatile landscape includes the rugged Chiso Mountains as well as the sprawling Chihuahuan Desert with its postcard-like mesas rolling in the distance. It boasts hot springs, hiking trails, horseback riding, and even some action sports like mountain biking and whitewater rafting. Lodging options range from primitive camping to luxury resorts.
The Grand Canyon isn’t a place that one normally associates with the word secluded. However, wintertime tamps down the crowds significantly and it’s easier to find a peaceful spot to clear your head. The park is usually busy during the December holidays but settles down by early January, when the canyon often gets dusted with snow, making for beautiful snapshots. Just be sure to check the National Park Service for winter storm alerts, which can periodically shut down sections of the park.
Whether it’s wolves howling in the mountains or water lapping at the snowy lakeshores, Glacier National Park is a sensory experience, especially in the quiet of winter. It’s not difficult to find seclusion for things like hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, or other cold-weather adventures. Winter lodging isn’t available inside the park, but there’s backcountry camping, along with several inns and motels outside the park’s boundaries. Just note that most of the roads are closed in the winter, so it is hiking and backpacking only—check with the National Park Service for up-to-date information.
Although the ski resort draws crowds in the main part of town, Steamboat Springs is surrounded by secluded cabins and vacation rentals where you can go to escape the hustle and bustle. Places like Rabbit Ears Pass offer amazing snowshoeing paths and Steamboat’s winter trail system provides opportunities for things like snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and other winter sports. The region also showcases nearby hot springs, along with a host of spas for rest and relaxation.
Wyoming is full of beautiful natural places for winter retreats and Sinks Canyon State Park is among the prettiest. Visitors can trek to the park’s heated backcountry yurts via snowshoes, cross-country skis, or simply a backpack and pair of winter hiking boots. There, you’ll find gorgeous canyon views with the Popo Agie River in the background. If you’d rather stay in less rustic accommodations, there are also several motels and small inns outside the park.
Elk Knob State Park in North Carolina is a wonderful place for a hidden getaway. The park is open in the winter for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, where you’ll find blanketed trails of snow beneath a spectacular hardwood forest canopy. Wander down Beech Tree Trail or trek along the Maple Run Trail, where you’re likely to spot glimpses of wildlife. Nearby is a selection of beautiful log cabins for rent as well as a number of cozy lodges.
Tennessee is home to a wondrous selection of scenic waterfalls that become mesmerizing when frozen in the winter months. Stillhouse Hollow Falls, one of the more impressive waterfalls in the area, boasts intriguing ice formations and there are lots of picturesque hiking trails on the way there. It’s located in a day-use area and parking is limited, but it’s not typically crowded this time of year. The surrounding area is rife with bed-and-breakfasts and cute accommodations.
Surrounded by majestic cypress trees, this nature preserve in Florida’s Everglades is full of alligators, manatees, and more than 200 species of birds. Visitors can go canoeing through the winding estuaries, book a nature tour with park rangers, or take a scenic drive along Florida’s beautiful open prairies—there are lots of ways to find seclusion in this pretty part of the world. Camping is permitted at regular sites with hookups as well as in the expansive backcountry, where you’ll find several miles of multi-use trails throughout the 729,000 acres of reserve land.