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Backpacker Magazine – December 2005

Time 2 Go: National Parks In Winter

With the cold driving away crowds, National Parks are a delight to visit in winter. Here's our top picks.

by: BACKPACKER Editors

2 hours
Acadia, ME
John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s impeccably engineered carriage roads are ideal cross-country ski routes, especially after Mt. Desert Island gets 4 inches of snow or more - that's when the park grooms them. For a 5.5-mile jaunt, head north from the Eagle Lake trailhead and around the wooded Witch Hole Pond Loop, meandering past frigid Frenchman Bay and over Duck Brook Bridge, a three-arched stone marvel.

5 hours
Yosemite, CA
The 8-mile Loop Road through the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias is choked with cars in summer, but is closed off to vehicles when it snows. Snowshoe past the world's largest trees, their red bark blazing against a white landscape. From the park's oldest tree, the 2,700-year-old Grizzly Giant, check out the the Galen Clark Tree and Wawona Point's endless vistas.

8 hours
Black Canyon of the Gunnison, CO
Kick and glide over unplowed South Rim Road into an Ansel Adams tableau of dark canyon cliffs cloaked with snow. It's 3 miles to Devil's Lookout, a rim perch overlooking sheer walls of volcanic schist that plummet 2,000 feet. Continue 3 more miles to Sunset View and High Point overlooks, then return through gnarled juniper and sage.

2 days
Voyageurs, MN
The 17-mile Kab-Ash Trail crosses a landscape populated by moose, wolves, and smaller animals whose tracks look like calligraphy on snow. Strap on skins and head east over an old logging route through hardwoods and beaver drainages. Cross bridges spanning Daley Brook and camp near a Kabetogama Lake vista. Cross frozen Sullivan Bay to defrost in the town of Ash River.

3 days
Great Smoky Mtns., NC/TN
Bring crampons for icy streams and trails - particularly the stout 23-mile hike from Big Creek, a fine intro to winter camping. Climb 3,500 feet to 200-foot Gunter Fork Cascades and camp at Laurel Gap Shelter. Then follow the ridgeline 6 miles to the park's highest tent site on 5,842-foot Mt. Sterling. It's 6 more miles down through Baxter Creek's old-growth forest.

4 days
Rocky Mtn., CO
Start in the shadow of 14,259-foot Longs Peak for a 26-mile snowshoe or ski trek through the park's most postcard-perfect scenery. Spend a night at Boulder Brook before heading up to Glacier Gorge and on to Lake Helene's sheltered Sourdough campsite. The last day visits Odessa Lake, its frozen surface encircled by spires. Head home via Fern Lake.

1 week
Yellowstone, WY
The Bechler River stymies snowmobiles, making a 30-mile deep-snow trip from Old Faithful to Bechler Ranger Station eerily quiet, with tricky river crossings. Thermal springs keep the river (plus the Colonnade and Bechler Falls) flowing. You'll pass Lone Star Geyser, which erupts every 2 to 3 hours, crest the Continental Divide twice, then descend 20 miles to the Bechler River canyon. For a snow coach pickup: (208) 652-3385.

1+ week
Sequoia/Kings Canyon, CA
The Trans-Sierra trek spans nearly 50 miles and hovers above treeline for days before dropping into Sequoia's Giant Forest. Start at Symmes Creek (in Inyo NF) and climb to Anvil Camp at 10,000 feet. From there, the route traverses 9 passes, letting skiers yo-yo endless open bowls. Head over the Tablelands and follow the Kaweah drainage to Pear Lake and Wolverton.

9 days
Denali, AK
Drive a dogsled over Denali's western tundra on an epic expedition from Lake Minchumina to McKinley's base. The views include close-ups of the Straightaway Glacier and the Wickersham Wall (the world's tallest mountain face soars 15,000 feet over Peters Glacier). At night, the Northern Lights shimmer while packs of gray wolves howl.

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