A mini guide to experiencing winter in the West

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By Erin Hurley, editorial assistant

Just because winter has arrived in the West doesn’t mean you have to hunker down and hibernate. The winter months still offer plenty of unique opportunities to experience some spectacular natural Western beauty.

Cascade Range, OR

Photo: Dave Nissen

Few vistas scream “winter” like snow-capped mountains, and the Cascade Range spanning California, Oregon and Washington has plenty of them. Wanderlust Tours’ “Shoes, Brews and Views” naturalist-led snowshoe trek in Bend, OR lets you take in the majesty of peaks like Mount Bachelor, Broken Top and Tumalo Mountain on an off-trail adventure. And you can keep warm with a locally made beer (or root beer for the kids).

Lake Tahoe, CA/NV

Photo: Vanessa Vancour/Flickr Creative Commons

The second-deepest lake in the country, Lake Tahoe defies the harsh cold of winter and remains unfrozen, making for a unique and peaceful setting on the border of California and Nevada. Not to mention it’s surrounded by peaks perfect for skiing. Take a break from the slopes and try a guided group kayak tour on the water with Tahoe Eco-Sports for a closer look.

Northern Lights, AK

Photo: State of Alaska/Chris McLennan

A trip to Alaska in winter to see the night sky might seem like a big undertaking, but well worth it: the Aurora Borealis is a show unlike any other. The lights can be seen from late August into spring, but the longer and darker nights make winter a great time to catch the colors. Chena Hot Springs Resort, 60 miles outside Fairbanks, offers snow coach tours to the top of a nearby ridge for optimal viewing.

Yosemite National Park, CA

Photo: Averain/Flickr Creative Commons

It’s almost impossible to choose between all the fantastic vistas in this park, but looking into Yosemite Valley is a view not to be missed, especially in winter. The imposing rock rising up on both sides combined with the snow-blanketed ground and forest provides a serene setting. In winter you’re more likely to have the area to yourself. Roads leading to the Tunnel View or Valley View spots are always open, even in winter.

Death Valley, CA

Photo: Michael Ward

While it’s the hottest place on earth in the summer, Death Valley National Park cools down to more tolerable temperatures in winter. Snow is a common sight at higher elevations, but the park’s iconic Joshua Trees don’t waver in the cooler months, and make for an almost otherworldly sight poking up through the snow. Pull off on Highway 190 near the west end of the park for a photo op – the road stays open all winter.

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