Five Great National Parks to Visit During the Holiday Season - Page 2

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Snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming  (Medioimages/Photodisc)

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho
If your only experience with Yellowstone was a summer vacation, you’ll find the park in winter is the polar opposite. Gone are the “animal jams” of traffic caused by roadside wildlife and the souvenir-seeking throngs. In their place is a generous dollop of snow atop the familiar landscapes of Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and Mammoth Hot Springs. The roads are closed to automobile traffic and open only to snowmobiles with licensed guides and snow coaches (essentially a van with tank treads). Days are best spent cross-country skiing or snowshoeing on the trails, and nights are best spent in front of the fireplace at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge or the Mammoth Springs Hotel, the only lodgings in the park open in the winter season. If you catch a snow coach from Flagg Ranch on the south side of the park, you can tie on a few days in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, cross-country skiing in Grand Teton National Park or bombing the steep-and-deep downhill runs at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

Big Bend National Park, Texas
The last American frontier in the lower 48, Big Bend is a swirling confluence of ecosystems. Here, the Rio Grande snakes below the Chisos Mountains amid a lonely landscape of West Texas desert. The population density is close to zero, and the same goes for the hustle and bustle. The gateway town of Terlingua is a perfect mix of quirkiness and solitude, and a good base for exploring the park. Spend your days hiking the Chisos trails, paddling the Rio Grande, and gawking at the jaw-dropping canyons, and then spend your nights eating and drinking at colorful local eateries like La Kiva and the Starlight Theatre. No matter where you stay, you’ll marvel at the night sky—this is one of the best places in the United States to see the Milky Way in its full splendor—a vivid display of twinkling lights way beyond your neighbor’s best holiday efforts.

Everglades National Park, Florida
Nothing says holiday cheer quite like a swamp expedition, and nothing screams swamp quite like, well, the Everglades. Winter is the dry season here, with mild temperatures and notably less bothersome mosquitoes. But, it's also the busy tourist season, and for good reason (did I mention the mosquitoes are less bothersome?). Beyond gawking at the one-of-a-kind wildlife population, from alligators to manatees to rare Florida panthers, the Everglades offers plenty of activities to keep a family occupied for a week or more: Tram and boat tours give a good look at the unique ecosystem, hiking and canoeing/kayaking trails crisscross both land and water for a quieter glimpse of the swamp, and the Christmas-week calendar is packed with ranger-led walks and wildlife lectures.

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