5 National Parks to Visit in Winter
The short daylight hours and cold temperature invite us to stay indoors but venturing out to a National Park in the midst of winter has its own benefits—less people. The swarming crowds of summer are gone, offering a chance to see these splendid parks at your leisure and appreciate the landscape, often blanketed in snow. There are plenty of winter activities inviting you to enjoy the snow, such as hiking, tubing, sledding or cross-country skiing. Visiting in winter requires being extra prepared with proper hiking shoes and adequate clothing for freezing or below zero temperatures so make sure to pack your gloves, scarves, ear muffs and rain gear.
Big Bend National, Texas
Big Bend National Park, located in the western region of Texas and bordering Mexico, encompasses part of the Chihuahuan Desert and Rio Grande. The park was created in 1944 and there are fossils dating over 130 million years ago that highlight the expansive geological diversity. The Chiso Mountains are a special part of this park because the entire mountain range—spanning 40 square miles—is within the confines of the park and formed from volcanic activity in the Eocene epoch.
Snow isn’t common in the winter and day time temperatures are often in the 70’s, making it great weather for hiking. Though be prepared for near or below zero weather as the cold sets in as soon as the sun goes down. Hop in the car and enjoy the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive that leads to Santa Elena Canyon, a 1,500-foot vertical chasm made of limestone and is along the border between Mexico and Texas. Stop frequently on this 30 mile road, where there are plenty of overlooks and monuments or turn off and hike on one of the many well-marked trails.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon is magical in winter with layers of snow set against the red rock hoodoos and spires. Located in south central Utah and established as a park in 1923, ponderosa pines and fir-spruce forests thrive along with plenty of wildlife in this amphitheater shape of plateaus and meadows. The park has 56 square miles to explore. Some roads, including Fairyland Road and Paria View Road are left unplowed where you can traverse the expansive snow with snowshoes or cross-country skis. Sections of the Rim Trail are open as well where you can enjoy the vistas of the Main Amphitheater and the Bristlecone Loop Trail. You can also opt for sledding above the rim, one of the few areas where this is possible. If you want a break from the snow, hop in your warm car and stop along at some of the main vista points to take in the views.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Glacier National Park, created in 1910, has over a million acres with an ecosystem that has been protected and mostly undisturbed. Snow blankets the mountain peaks and glaciers and the coniferous forest of larch, firs and spruce trees serve as a backdrop for Lake McDonald. Mountain goats, Bighorn sheep, beavers, nine species of bats, as well as Grizzly Bears are just some of the 71 different types of mammals that live in the park.
Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the highlights—spanning 50 miles with challenging, hairpin curves. This is the only road that crosses the park and passes through the Continental Divide, though during the snow filled months only certain parts of the road are accessible. Upper Lake McDonald is a popular snow area where you can ski up to McDonald Falls or Sacred Dancing Cascade. Visit Marias Pass, known by the locals as the “summit,” where skiing and snow activities are often ideal. There are plenty of routes for cross-country skiers and snowshoe fans who want to experience the solitude in this vast oasis.
Olympic National Park, Washington
Covering almost a million acres and spanning from sandy beaches to mountain peaks to lush fir and cedar tree rainforests, the geography of this park is unique. Created in 1938, it is designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and as an International Biosphere Reserve. In the colder months, Olympic National Park is beautifully draped in snow with a myriad of activities to partake in. Hurricane Ridge is a haven for snow lovers, offering downhill skiing and snowboarding and an area for tubing and sledding or just playing in the snow. There are several trails for cross-country skiers and snowshoers, who prefer to head into the backcountry or connect with nature as they traverse the white powdery snow.
There are frequent storms on the Pacific coast in winter so being attentive to weather conditions is fundamental. Between bouts of harsh weather, low tide is an optimal moment to take a stroll along the sandy beach. Visit the Hoh rainforest in the north of the park where you can surround yourself among a variety of trees, including Red Cedar, Big Leaf Maple and Douglas Fir or go towards the southwestern area of the park and hike in the Quinault rainforest with a distinct geography of alpine meadows, lakes and peaks carved by ice.
Because of the geography of this park, the weather can change at a moment’s notice so keep this in mind when planning your trip and once you arrive with your day to day plans.
Yosemite National Park, California
Waterfalls, meadows and the granite wall of half dome makes Yosemite famous. The park was first protected in 1864 and became part of the National park service in 1890. The beauty of visiting in the colder months is experiencing this 1,200 square mile park when crowds have dissipated, offering plenty of solitude.Yosemite Valley and Wawona are accessible year-round by car but many roads close due to the snowy terrain, making traversing by foot one of the best ways to enjoy the park. Many trails are open with various options from easy and low-key hikes to more challenging ones where you can navigate through coniferous forests filled with ponderosa and sugar pine, incense cedar, white and Douglas fir trees or stare up at Giant Sequoias.
Temperatures can be mild during the day, although freezing temperatures and snow are common. If you time your visit when there is snowfall, typically between December- March, winter wonderland options abound from sledding, tubing, snowshoeing or snowboarding and skiing down the oldest slope in California on Badger Pass. Curious about snowshoeing? Take a ranger-led snowshoe walk where you’ll be in a good company while you learn about the sights, although be prepared for sore muscles afterwards because it’s more challenging than it appears.
Disclaimer: Make sure to check the park website to ensure the activities and areas of the park you wish to visit are open and accessible. Some roads and park areas have been closed due to Covid and/or to inclement weather. Please also respect measures to prevent the spread of Covid, including passing through towns en route to your destination.
Does Abraham Lincoln's ghost haunt The White House?
The White House is one of the USA's most iconic buildings. Imagine how much its walls have seen since it opened in 1800. The spirits of countless scandals, wars, assassinations, and other political skullduggery are commonplace. But what if other spirits haunt the walls of The White House? As it turns out, multiple people report being haunted by one particular ghost - that of President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, who was assassinated on April 14, 1865 and died just a few blocks from The White House, has been said to haunt the halls since his death. The first reported haunting of Abraham Lincoln's ghost happened in 1870. A photographer named William H. Mumler took a photo of the widowed Mary Todd Lincoln. When the photo was processed, the ghost of her husband can be seen standing behind her. Sharp minds might dismiss this as an accidental double negative, or some other type of trick with film. But, consider these other reports.Mary Todd Lincoln with the ghost of her husband. Photo by William H. Mumler (public domain) Several First Families have reported hearing footsteps pacing the hall outside the Lincoln bedroom. Eleanor Roosevelt reported that her dog, Fala, would often bark at what she presumed to be Lincoln's ghost. Harry Truman's daughter Margaret reported hearing a specter tapping on the door of the bedroom. President Truman himself reported being jolted awake in the middle of the night by taps on the Lincoln bedroom door. Other White House employees have reported seeing shadows of Abraham Lincoln sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom, or pulling on his boots. People also claim to have seen Lincoln's ghost directly. First Lady Grace Coolidge was the first person to report physically seeing the ghost - she saw Abraham Lincoln standing at a window, staring outside. On one occasion, FDR's personal valet ran screaming from The White House after he saw Lincoln's ghost. President Lyndon Johnson also reported seeing Abraham Lincoln's ghost, in times of distress. Johnson reportedly asked the ghost of Abraham Lincoln how to handle war, and reported Lincoln's response to be "don't go to the theater." The Lincoln Bedroom. Source: Library of Congress.Lincoln's presence doesn't just haunt Americans. In 1942, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands claims to have heard footsteps outside the bedroom she was staying in at The White House. She answered a knock at the door, and then found Abraham Lincoln, in his coat and top hat, standing before her. Winston Churchill reportedly met Abraham Lincoln's ghost while naked. Churchill was fresh out of a bath, where he loved to drink scotch and smoke a cigar to relax. He walked into his White House bedroom fully naked, still smoking a cigar, only to see the apparition of Abraham Lincoln standing near the fireplace. As Churchill told it later, he tapped the end of his cigar and said "Good evening, Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage." Reportedly, Lincoln laughed to himself and disappeared.
How to safely celebrate Halloween in the US this year
Let’s face it, Halloween is going to be different this year. Because of the pandemic, the CDC recommends skipping trick-or-treating and in-person parties in favor of lower-risk activities like carving and decorating pumpkins with your family or having virtual costume contests with friends. If you’re willing to wear a mask and stay at least six feet from others, moderate-risk activities like outdoor costume parties and visits to pumpkin patches are fine, but indoor costume parties and traditional haunted houses are now considered to be higher-risk. While theme park favorites like Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios and Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World have been cancelled—die-hards can still attend socially distanced Halloween-themed events at Hersheypark, Dollywood, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and select Six Flags theme parks as long as they book tickets ahead of time, wear a mask and have their temperatures checked upon entry—communities around the country have been forced to get creative and figure out fun ways to keep the spirit of Halloween alive this year. Here’s how you can still celebrate safely. Salem, Massachusetts While Salem is best known for its witch trials of the late-1600s, it’s also a hot spot for all things Halloween. This year, however, Salem will be closed the last weekend of October and its Haunted Happenings events are moving online. Visit the Virtual Haunted Happenings Marketplace to see and buy creative wares from local artists, tour a historic home on a virtual house tour and tune in to see who wins the Halloween at Home Costume Contest. Hudson Valley, New York While most of Sleepy Hollow’s Halloween events have been cancelled due to the pandemic, some, like the All Shorts Irvington Film Festival and Tarrytown Music Hall’s Harvest Hunt and Virtual Ghost Tour are moving online this year. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery Walking Tours and a few other in-person events are also being held with Covid-19 restrictions in place, though you’ll need to book tickets online since no last-minute walk-ins will be allowed in this year. Nearby in Croton-on-Hudson, don’t miss The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor, happening now through November 1, then Nov. 6-8, 13-15 and 20-22. Tickets must be purchased ahead of time online and mask wearing and social distancing are required. Long Island, New York In Old Bethpage, you’ll find the second location of The Great Pumpkin Blaze, operating at limited capacity now through November 1, then Nov. 4-8. In Yaphank, fans of drive-thru haunted houses can brave The Forgotten Road in Southaven County Park. Purchase tickets and download the audio tracks before you go, then play them as you drive up to each of the marked signs in this immersive 30-minute Halloween experience. Washington, D.C. From ghost tours and scary drive-in movies to pumpkin-centric celebrations and Halloween happy hours, there are plenty of ways to celebrate safely in the capitol this year. Yorktown and Norfolk, Virginia For a real treat, head to the Paws at the River Market pet costume parade at 1 p.m. on Oct. 31, part of Yorktown Market Days. Nearby in Norfolk, it’s Halloween at the Chrysler Museum of Art, where staff members dress up as their favorite works of art and kids can create their own glass-blown pumpkins (timed tickets are available online). Spooky virtual tours are also happening via Facebook Live at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Oct. 31, as is a virtual Mystery at the Museum Zoom event starting at 7 p.m. Savannah and Atlanta, Georgia The Savannah Children’s Museum is hosting “Tricks, Treats, and Trains,” at the Georgia State Railroad Museum. The Children’s Museum of Atlanta also has a number of Halloween themed activities happening from October 24–31, like a costumed dance party, spooky exhibits about spiders in The Science Bar and Halloween themed arts and crafts in the Creativity Cafe. Tickets must be booked in advance and all children ages five and up are required to wear a mask. New Orleans, Louisiana Pick up a pumpkin from Lafreniere Pumpkin Patch, dress up for the Jefferson Community Band Halloween Concert on October 29, watch Ghostbusters from your car at the Pontchartrain Center, and visit the New Orleans Nightmare Haunted House, among other themed events this year in Jefferson Parish. Chattanooga, Tennessee This year, Chattanooga Ghost Tours is running its Murder & Mayhem Haunted History Tour as well as a neighborhood Halloween decorating contest, listing the most spirited houses on its website so people can check them out from their cars. Louisville, Kentucky Don’t miss the Jack O’Lantern Spectacular drive-thru experience at Iroquois Park, happening now through Nov. 1 from dusk until 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on Friday and Saturday. Be aware that there may be up to a 2.5-hour wait, so bring along your favorite Halloween movie to watch in the car until it’s your turn to go through. Miami, Florida Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables is hosting a special Yappy Hour and pet costume parade on Oct. 29 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Both humans and their dressed up fur babies will receive complimentary snacks during the ticketed event. Over in Miami Beach, restaurants along historic Española Way are offering Halloween night specials on food and cocktails, making it a great spot to grab some outdoor grub. Chicago, Illinois Chicago’s popular Crypt Run is a virtual 5K this year, so sign up through the website and run it on your own terms. This year’s iteration of the Music Box Theatre’s annual scary movie marathon will take place at the Chi-Town Movies Drive-In through Oct. 31. Fans of The Shining will love Room 237, an interactive pop-up experience and lounge at Morgan Manufacturing. You’ll be a guest at the Overlook Hotel, with its giant hedge maze, Gold Room cocktail bar, photo-ops based on movie scenes and specially themed drinks like “Redrum” and “Come Play With Us.” Hocus Pocus fans should stop by the “I Put A Spell On You” pop-up bar and kitchen at Homestead On The Roof now through Nov. 8, where you can taste cocktails and dishes inspired by the film. St. Louis, Missouri Celebrate Halloween at Union Station now through Oct. 31, by wearing your favorite costume, spending 30-45 minutes walking through the tent maze and four historic train cars—all decked out in spooky decorations featuring witches, skeletons and other creepy creatures—and taking home some candy and a pumpkin to decorate. Book your tickets ahead of time online, where there’s also an option to add a scenic ride on the St. Louis Wheel. San Diego, California Mostra Coffee is hosting Movie Nights Under the Stars, where you can catch a showing of Casper or Coco on Oct. 29 or Oct. 30, enjoy dinner and dessert, and win a $50 cash prize in the costume contest. Each adult ticket comes with a Mostra beverage, while each children’s ticket comes with a trick-or-treat bag full of candy. Those with little ones should check out Gyminny’s Spooky Drive-Thru, where you can safely catch a circus show, dress up in your favorite costumes, and get some goodie bags from your car.
Take an adventure in Door County, Wisconsin
There are fields upon fields of lavender, and orchards ripe for cherry picking. The root beer floats sold in the 1950s-era diner are known across state lines, and the beaches are some of the finest in the midwest. But to get to this spot in Door County, Wisconsin, you'll have to hop on a ferry and cross Porte des Mortes, AKA Death's Door. It's a stretch of treacherous water linking Lake Michigan with Green Bay, and it sits between Washington Island and the tip of the peninsula. Below the water - where your fancy ferry crosses - is literally an underwater cemetery. More than 250 ships sank on this short turbulent stretch of beautiful water, which today is home to the most stunning vacation cottages, lavender gift shops and historic hotels that money can buy. It all started in the 17th century, when a battle between Potawatomi Indians left the islands north of the Door County peninsula to attack the Winnebago Indians on the mainland. Poor weather and ridiculously strong currents capsized the ships, hundreds of people died and the stretch of water was deemed “Porte des Mortes.” But that’s not all. Legend has it that unpredictable weather and rough waters have capsized many a shipwreck since. The tally? No one knows, but it’s believed that thousands of ships have sunk on their short journey through Death’s Door. There's a tour for those interested in Door County’s deadly maritime history: the water here is so frigid that many of the sunken ships are still intact, and some can be spotted by snorkelers in the shallow depths. But if you want a less gruesome vacation - as long you don’t visualize the literal skeletons under the water - you can hop on the Washington Island Ferry which transports people year-round from Door County to the 22-mile Washington Island ($14 per person) in 30-minutes flat. In 75 years of operation, they haven’t had any near death experiences. Once you get to Washington Island, you’ll see why so many people attempted crossing Death’s Door to arrive. Continue your relaxing journey by heading to Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm & Shop (the island is tiny, so nothing is too far away). The lavender farm was created by Martine Anderson, who lived in the south of France and dreamed of one day owning a lavender garden. Dreams have a way of shifting and changing, so it wasn’t until she retired and moved to Wisconsin’s Washington Island with her husband, that she finally opened her lavender garden - which is actually a field containing 20,000 lavender plants, complete with a UPick lavender section. And yes, the scent is so heavenly, that if you look at the ground, you’ll see all the bees that are literally passed out drunk from it, no joke. About a minute away from the lavender fields by car or bike (cycling is a very popular form of transportation on the island) is the Stavkirke, a church inspired by one built in Norway in 1150 AD. This newer version was built by hand taking about a decade, and while it’s closed due to COVID, you’ll be at peace simply by wandering around the outside of the building, which is a work of art. Reward yourself post-ferry ride back to Door County’s mainland (you made it once again across Death’s Door!) with the most legendary root beer float in the midwest at Wilson’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor, a classic since 1906. Lautenbach’s Orchard Country, you can snag all things cherries, along with cherry wine. Not sure which wine to buy? Here, they offer five wine samples for just $3 - or try a wine flight for $10. Cheers to Door County survivalists.
The face in the courthouse window
In Carrollton, Alabama, west of Tuscaloosa, almost to the Mississippi line, sits the Pickens County Courthouse. This courthouse was built in 1877, after it was destroyed several different times during the unrest of the civil war and reconstruction. People who visit the courthouse today can still see a ghost of these times - the terrified face of a man, etched permanently in a window. Legend has it that the face belongs to a Black man named Henry Wells, a freedman who had previously been enslaved nearby. In 1878, Henry was arrested for allegedly burning down the previous courthouse. He was taken to the courthouse to await trial. After word of his arrest spread through the town, a mob of drunken white men gathered outside the courthouse. Henry, watching the mob gather outside, is rumored to have yelled "I am innocent! If you kill me, I will haunt you for the rest of your lives!" At just that moment, a bolt of lightening struck the courthouse. The flash illuminated the scared look of terror on Wells' face. The face in the courthouse window. Photo by Brian Collins (Flickr). The mob eventually forced their way into the courthouse, where they took Henry Wells outside and lynched him. When the light of day arose the next day, people noticed that Henry's face and the look of fear, that had been illuminated by the lightening, was somehow etched on the window of the courthouse. The face remains there to this very day. In the centuries since, people have tried to wash the face off the window to no avail. They even tried to replace the glass, but nothing has been able to remove the terrified face of Henry Wells from the window.