Time To Go: Winter Tracking

Hit the wilderness in search of beasts big and small.
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Hit the wilderness in search of beasts big and small.

2 hours

SHERBURNE NWR, MN

Wild turkey abound in this 30,700-acre preserve, located an hour northwest of the Twin Cities at the boundary where tallgrass prairie transitions to deciduous forest. Come winter, gobblers hide among oaks along the Mahnomen Trail. Snowshoe its 3.7-mile outer loop, looking for tracks around tree trunks where they scratch for acorns. fws.gov/midwest/sherburne

3 hours

BEAR RUN NATURE RESERVE, PA

Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterpiece, Fallingwater, boasts a wild backyard: The 5,060-acre woodland shelters black bears that often wake from hibernation during mild winters. Spot their prints along a six-mile loop on the Arbutus, Ridge, Hemlock, Bear Run, Rhododendron, and Tree Trails. You'll explore habitat that ranges from rocky ridgelines to the mature hemlocks along Bear Run (a PA Scenic River) before returning to the trailhead behind the barn. paconserve.org

6 hours

PEAKS TRAIL, CO

This track contours along the forested flanks of the Tenmile Range through winter habitat for elk (and some moose, too). From the Ski Hill Road trailhead above Breckenridge, ski or snowshoe 10 miles south through pine forest to spot deep craters left by the big ungulates. At trail's end in Frisco, hop on the free bus back to Breck. fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver

5 days

BAXTER STATE PARK, ME

Baxter's lowlands, like Russell Pond, are thick with wintering moose. Set aside five days, starting at Matagamon Gate. Trek 11 miles to the South Branch Pond Bunkhouse; day two is 10 miles to Russell. Rest on day three and study nearby tracks; the heavy animals leave deep wells in the snow. Reverse the route on days four and five. baxterstateparkauthority.com

1 week

YELLOWSTONE NP, WY

The Lamar River Valley is the main winter range for area elk, bison, and wolves, so hikers here see plenty of megafauna and even more tracks. Drive to the Lamar River trailhead, and spend at least five days on a 34-mile out-and-back along the river. The shorter your days, the more footprints you can scope out. Wolves follow elk herds, so look for canine prints whenever you see hoof tracks. nps.gov/yell

11 days

10TH MTN DIVISION HUTS, CO

Lynx were reintroduced to the Colorado Rockies in 1999. Now a monitoring project seeks hut-trippers' help in charting the cats' progress. Ski from Vail Pass southwest past Betty Bear Hut to CO 505, and you stand a good chance of spotting tracks along the 60-mile journey. The route visits nine huts and dozens of lynx-harboring alpine basins; report tracks to Colorado's DOW (wildlife.state.co.us). Make winter reservations starting June 1 at huts.org.