Activities: Cross-country skiing, telemark, wildlife
Only in Winter Vision: Sapphire blue Crater Lake framed in white.
The Cascades, which extend from northern California up to southern Canada, is a remarkably snowy range. Three superb national parks inhabit its peaks. But for my money, Crater Lake is the best for winter sports. North Cascades is eliminated in round one: its only road closes in late fall. California's Lassen Volcanic is no slouch, with many excellent ski trails and interesting wildlife. But for sheer variety of winter activities, Crater Lake has it all, from beginner's nordic loops to expert telemark runs and that winter backcountry masterpiece, the trail around Crater Lake itself.
Winter arrives early and stays late: at the park's higher elevations it can last nine months. The winter brings some of the heaviest snowfall in the country, averaging 533 inches per year. However, the last time the Crater Lake lake froze was in 1949. What this adds up to is the startling vision of blue, blue Crater Lake in the snow.
Quite a few animal species found in the park remain active throughout the winter. Many of these animals spend at least some of their time on the surface of the snow, leaving tracks that are not easily observed in other seasons. In fact, winter is the best time to see evidence of some less commonly observed species such as pine martens. Tracks can be found just about anywhere in the park, even in the sparse vegetation and harsh conditions on exposed peaks and ridges. The area around park headquarters offers the widest variety.
Need some pointers? On winter weekends, park rangers and volunteers lead ecology snowshoe walks.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication