Warm-Weather Parks You Need to Visit

National Park of American Samoa

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Tropical beach with sand and pebbles, and pointed peaks of Ofu Island. National Park of American Samoa (QT Luong)

National Park of American Samoa is not only one of the least visited national parks, but it’s also the only U.S. national park south of the equator.  And it’s the perfect place to shake off seasonal affective disorder.

Located on three different islands, this national park has coral reefs for snorkeling and lush rainforests for exploring. It’s also largely underdeveloped, making it desirable for those hoping to escape the crowds of it’s closest U.S. neighbor, Hawaii, which is a 5-hour flight away.

It may be a much longer trip than any of the other national parks, but this remote, jungle location will be well worth the visit.

Channel Islands National Park

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Coreopsis and chain of islands, Inspiration Point, Anacapa Island. Channel Islands National Park, California (QT Luong)

Often referred to as “The American Galapagos,” the Channel Islands make for a much easier trip. Only 40 miles off the California coast, this archipelago is comprised of five different islands: Anacapa, San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and Santa Barbara.

Only accessible by boat, the Channel Islands offers diving, snorkeling, hiking, kayaking, and sea cave exploration. In fact, the island of Santa Cruz has the deepest sea caves in the world. Plus, winter is the best time for whale watching, as Pacific Gray Whales are active in this area between December and April.

The Channel Islands has several campsites available for intrepid travelers, but can also be an easy day trip from Los Angeles.

Joshua Tree National Park

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Round and triangular Boulders, Jumbo Rocks campground, sunset. Joshua Tree National Park, California (QT Luong)

Only two hours from Los Angeles, and with a plethora of outdoor activities, Joshua Tree is the perfect winter getaway for the adventurous traveler.

The unique desert landscape, which has relatively mild temperatures in the winter, is named for the strange and spiky yucca tree that pervades the landscape.

Visitors can choose to explore Joshua Tree via the park’s auto tour, which winds through the area’s high and low desert. If you prefer to stretch your legs, park activities range from day hiking and backpacking, geological tours, horseback riding, mountain biking, and rock climbing. The location is also perfect for stargazing and meteor showers.

Death Valley National Park

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Sun and sliding rock on the Racetrack, mid-day. Death Valley National Park, California (QT Luong)

Don’t let the name deter you. Death Valley is actually teeming with life, even in winter. And while the average temperature is 115 degrees Fahrenheit in August, the average temperature in January is a pleasant 67 degrees.

While the mountains may be topped with snow, the valleys remain warm and dry for visitors. In fact, the best time to hike in Death Valley is between November and March, before the dangerously hot temperatures arrive in the summer months.

The park also offers guided ranger tours and paleontology hikes, which feature a remote area of the park and must be booked ahead of time.

Biscayne National Park

Yellow snappers and soft coral. Biscayne National Park, Florida, USA.
Yellow snappers and soft coral. Biscayne National Park, Florida (QT Luong)

With the visitor center only an hour’s drive from Miami, Biscayne National Park is an easy getaway for ocean enthusiasts. The park, which is 95% water, is the perfect place to explore all that the Florida coast has to offer.

Campgrounds are available on Boca Chita and Elliot Key (the northernmost island of the Florida Keys), but much of the park can be explored by boat, kayak, or canoe. Plus, Biscayne has underwater trails for snorkelers and scuba divers, which explore the remains of old shipwrecks.

Wildlife watching is also an excellent activity for visitors, and manatees are known to frequent the warm and gentle waters of this Biscayne Bay.

From underwater adventures to dry desert landscapes, the national park system is filled with getaways that will help you escape the cold grasp of winter. Which park are you hoping to visit?

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Jersey Griggs is a wellness and travel writer for hire. This year, her winter escape plans include a trip to New Mexico, where she hopes to enjoy some sunshine and spring skiing. To learn more about Jersey, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

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5 Insider Tips to Visiting Yellowstone in the Winter

Have you been to Yellowstone National Park in the summertime? If so, you know it’s a popular place to be.

Summertime in Yellowstone means good weather, longer days, and pleasant temperatures. On the flip side, it also means crowded campgrounds, congested roadways, and lots of people.

In contrast, the winter months in Yellowstone are peaceful, uncrowded, and quiet. Plus, Yellowstone is just as beautiful, if not more so, under a fresh blanket of snow.

If you’d like to uncover the magic of wintertime in Yellowstone, read on to learn these five insider tips:

Cross Country Ski Around Mammoth Hot Springs

Try experiencing the quietude of Yellowstone National Park in winter from a pair of skis.

The trails around the Mammoth Hot Springs are perfect from exploring by Nordic ski or snowshoe. Just a five-mile drive from the Gardiner, Montana entrance and accessible from the road, Mammoth Hot Springs has a network of cross-country trails available for all skill levels.

Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs/Jersey Griggs

The trails wander past the ethereal hot springs while offering breathtaking views of the park’s majestic beauty.

Pro Tip: The Upper Terrace Loop can be reached from the parking lot, while the rest of the trails must be reached by shuttle from the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.

Soak in the Boiling River

A two-mile drive from Mammoth Hot Springs, the Boiling River is a natural phenomenon occurring when the Mammoth runoff combines with the Gardiner River.

The result? Glorious and natural hot springs perfect for soaking those aching bones and sore muscles. It’s a magical place made even more incredible when you’re able to witness the park’s wildlife, such as elk and bison, grazing nearby.

Walk to Boiling River
Walk to Boiling River/Jersey Griggs

 

The Boiling River parking lot is a 0.5-mile drive from the Gardiner park entrance, followed by a ½ mile trail walk to the hot springs.

Pro Tip: Wear layers, and bring a towel, water shoes, and a big bottle of water.

Drive on Route 191

With an average year-round temperature of 30.5 degrees Fahrenheit, the town of West Yellowstone may not be the most enticing winter destination.

But as a popular winter gateway to Yellowstone National Park, the area around West Yellowstone is breathtaking.

From snow-covered treetops to glittering snowfields and sparkling, meandering rivers, Route 191 through Yellowstone is an incredible drive in the wintertime.

Pro Tip: If you’re looking to visit Yellowstone on the cheap, consider flying to Salt Lake City. Flights are more affordable to bigger cities and West Yellowstone is a 4.5-hour drive from the Salt Lake City airport.

Backcountry Ski Near Cooke City

Backcountry skiing, a sport where skiers eschew the lift and hike up the mountain themselves, is becoming one of the hottest trends in the ski industry. As a result, more skiers are looking for unique places to escape the crowds and “earn their turns.”

Well, backcountry skiers should look no further than the northern region of Yellowstone National Park.  The small town of Cooke City is the gateway to every skier’s paradise—steep hills, fluffy snow, incredible vistas, and best of all, no lift lines.

Pro Tip: If you’re new to backcountry skiing, take an avalanche training course and equip yourself with the necessary safety gear. Or, consider taking a guided tour with a local company like Yellowstone Ski Tours.

Snowmobile to Old Faithful

Due to the park’s high volume of snow during the winter months, many of Yellowstone’s entrances and roads are closed. But for visitors who want to see Old Faithful’s geyser erupt, winter is the perfect time to get adventurous and try something new.

From mid-December to mid-March, Old Faithful can be accessed by either snowmobile or snow coach. The guided tour is not only an exciting adventure through the park, but is sure to be less crowded than the throngs of visitors in July.

Pro Tip: To book your snowmobile trip to Old Faithful, check out this list of guided tours, available at every open park entrance.

Winter in Yellowstone is an experience that should not be missed. From exciting outdoor adventures to peaceful moments within the park, it’s a one-of-a-kind experience that is sure to be remembered. Which winter activity is calling your name?

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Jersey Griggs is a freelance travel writer for hire. Currently residing in Portland, Maine, Jersey previously lived in Bozeman, Montana, where she made frequent trips to Yellowstone National Park. An avid skier and lover of snow, she hopes to convince people that winter isn’t all that bad. To learn more, visit Jersey’s website or follow her on Twitter.