8 winter nature escapes

Experience amazing coastline, wildlife, Aurora Borealis, Yosemite, and more

Astoria, OR

Photo by Jake Stangel; written by Jennifer Margulis

Get cozy along the Pacific

Yellow-slickered fishermen mix with just a sprinkling of iPad-toting tourists in this small riverfront town with San Francisco–steep streets. Winter is a lovely time to visit, as rain can actually be romantic when paired with thundering surf—and fresh, crisp beach walks when the storm breaks. Plus, in the off-season, you’ve got the typically packed place to yourself—particularly fine stretches of sand with towering dunes, uninterrupted ocean views, and some of the most impressive storm watching anywhere.

Snuggle up in Astoria, Oregon

Long Beach Peninsula coastline - Escape to Long Beach

Photo by John Clark

28 miles of sand all to yourself

Within easy reach of Portland and Seattle, Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula is arguably one of the most visited oceanfront spots in the Northwest. In the summer, that is, when elbow-to-elbow crowds jostle for a glimpse of Jake the Alligator Man, and traffic idles bumper-to-bumper on the “World’s Longest Beach” (as an iconic, if not quite accurate, sign proclaims). In the off-season, though, this windswept peninsula—from the mouth of the Columbia River to the oyster-rich Willapa Bay—is all yours. As empty and awesome as the clear, cold day in 1805 when explorer William Clark declared, “Ocian in view! O! the joy …”

Escape to the Long Beach Peninsula

Sandhill cranes in Bosque del Apache, New Mexico.

Jen Judge

Get into the wild in New Mexico

Bird-watching has its skeptics, but those skeptics probably haven’t seen a skyful of sandhill cranes angle into a pond at sundown, legs unfurled like landing gear, and hit the water as the sun drops below the Chupadera Mountains.

Welcome to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.

Get into the wild

The Aurora Borealis as seen in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Photography by Brown Cannon III

Catch one heck of a light show in Alaska

Tack this on to your life list: The Aurora Borealis. Think of it as the ultimate holiday lights display―a spectacle so soul stirring that people see the lights and actually start cheering.

More:  Aurora Borealis

Cathedral Rocks and Three Brothers from Cook's Meadow

Photography by Keeny Karst / DNC Parks & Resort at Yosemite, Inc.

Explore Yosemite–without the crowds

Half Dome looks damn good in white. Stomp around the snow―and see another side of the West’s most famous national park.

More:  Yosemite in Winter

A view of Hidden Meadow Ranch in Greer, Arizona.

Photography by Sara Stevens

Hide away in Greer, Arizona

Luxurious in a rustic-cowboy kind of way, Hidden Meadow Ranch offers a snowy serene stay in Arizona’s White Mountains. Or choose one of 9 more of our favorite romantic cottages from Colorado to Kauai.

More:  Top 10 romantic cottages

Death Valley's Badwater Basin.

Photography by Brown Cannon III

Lose the crowds in Death Valley

This fabled desert park cools down in winter. Hike, explore, and experience a world unlike any other

More:  Journey through Death Valley

Wildflowers and sweeping views on the Mendocino coast.

Photography by Sean Arbabi

Have Mendocino to yourself

Head to the Northern California coast for the quiet winter season, where you get spectacular coastline, redwoods, off-season discounts, and empty beaches. Just remember to bring a sweater.

More:  Mendocino holiday

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http://www.sunset.com/travel/quiet-winter-trips-00400000056926/