Imagine seeing the expanses of Glacier National Park or the Grand Canyon from a different point of view than anyone else. Instead of hiking the most popular trail, cross the park by dog sledding or ride a fat-tire bike over the snow. Instead of following the same scenic route as other cars, soar or fly over it all in a hot air balloon or helicopter. Here’s how to do it.
To travel by train
(Photo: Courtesy Rocky Mountaineer)
Skip the driving and get on a train. This year, Rocky Mountaineer will introduce a new route in a glass domed train between Denver and Moab, Utah. The two-day trip begins near Rocky Montain National Park and overnight in Glenwood Springs, Colorado before arriving near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks (starting at US $ 1,250). To see Glacier National Park, book a four-day getaway package (from $ 1,059) with Amtrak Vacations. Get off at East Glacier Park Station in Montana and spend three nights at the historic Glacier Park Lodge, built by the Great Northern Railway. Vacations by Rail offers many national park tours, including a six-day Rails-to-Rim tour (from $ 1,325) that starts in Chicago and ends at the Grand Canyon. Accommodation is at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and Maswik Lodge.
Go dog sledding
(Photo: A & J Photos / iStock)
When you stay in a log cabin at EarthSong Lodge in Denali National Park, Alaska (starting at $ 189), you can sign up for the Lodge’s Denali dog sledding expeditions (starting at $ 140), the only licensed canine pusher in the park. You will travel through the snow-covered tundra towards the north face of 20,310-foot-high Denali. In Wyoming, Jackson Hole Continental Divide Dog Sled Adventures offers full-day dog sledding tours (from USD 250) through Grand Teton National Park or overnight in a yurt in the backcountry. Long-time Montana musher Jeff Ulsamer runs tours (from $ 150) on the edge of Glacier National Park, where a team of huskies speed you on a trail through Stillwater State Forest.
Skiing in a national park
(Photo: Courtesy of Vail Resorts)
Many national parks have backcountry terrain in winter for you to earn your turns in (just be sure to watch out for avalanche warnings). However, did you know that you can take a chairlift to three national parks in the US? The Hurricane Ridge ski and snowboard area (tickets start at $ 45) in Washington’s Olympic National Park isn’t huge – just two pulleys and a poma lift – but the place gets an average of 400 inches of snow each year. In California, the Badger Pass ski area in Yosemite National Park is closed this winter due to COVID-19. However, there are typically five lifts in the area (tickets start at $ 30). You can also ski in Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park at Vail Resorts’ Boston Mills and Brandywine Ski Areas, just five minutes away (tickets start at $ 49, reservation required).
Fly in a hot air balloon
(Photo: kyletperry / iStock)
With Canyonlands Ballooning (from $ 299), you can soar in a hot air balloon over Utah’s Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. You start at sunrise from a launch pad at the gates of Moab. Grand Adventure (starting at $ 300) from Winter Park, Colorado, flies hot air balloons in the skies over Rocky Mountain National Park year-round for early morning views of 14,259-foot Longs Peak.
Kick a bike
(Photo: Ceri Breeze / iStock)
Mountain biking is not permitted in all national parks. So check access, trails, and conditions before riding off-road. Fat bikes are allowed in selected parks in winter, even on unkempt trails in Acadia National Park. The Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop in Bar Harbor, Maine, rents a small fleet of fat bikes (starting at $ 40) during the snowy months. For guided tours, Teton Mountain Bike Tours offers half-day or full-day guided winter fat bike tours (starting at $ 280 for two, including bike rentals) in Grand Teton National Park.
Explore from underground
(Photo: sreenath_k / iStock)
Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park offers year-round and seasonal guided tours (from $ 20) of its vast underground caves for small groups. Not in dark, cramped rooms? You can also hike above-ground trails within the park, with signage showing the natural history of the cave passages beneath your feet. In Nevada’s Great Basin National Park, the limestone Lehman Caves can be visited with a guide (from USD 12). Pre-book tours of both parks to reserve a spot.
Get high on a plane or helicopter
(Photo: Courtesy TCS World Travel)
The luxury tour operator TCS World Travel offers a small winter trip through US national parks on a private charter plane (from USD 29,900 per person for ten days) for small groups of 4 to 12 people. You’ll fly to up to six national parks including Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Bryce Canyon, stay at high-end hotels, and enjoy guided adventures that range from snowshoeing to wolf chasing.
Main Photo: Courtesy Rocky Mountaineer