This season, we found five ways to enjoy winter that are far more original—and cheaper—than the traditional ski trip.
Ride the Rails in Alaska
In December, February, and March, the Aurora Winter Train pushes through a column of snow-walled track for 350 miles on a 12-hour steam from Anchorage to Fairbanks, stopping in several small towns along the way. Open-air viewing platforms between cars give you a glimpse of frozen rivers, herds of wild caribou, and Denali’s 20,310-foot peak. Catch the aurora borealis once you disembark in Fairbanks, and then fly home or take the return service back to Anchorage. Adult tickets from $58.
Descend the Snowy Grand Canyon
Crowds all but disappear in the winter in this national park, yet temperatures are still plenty moderate, usually rising to the 40s during the day. Roads and railroads remain open for day-trippers and campground dwellers around the South Rim’s Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails. If you’re up for a multinight hike and feel confident in the backcountry, head for the trails on the canyon’s North Rim. Park entry fees from $15 per person.
Kayak Through Ice Caves
The only way to reach Alaska’s breathtaking Mendenhall ice caves is in a tandem kayak. On a day trip with Juneau Adventure Tours, you’ll paddle from the mainland to the shore of a 12-mile block of ice that slowly feeds the lake, and then swap your kayak for crampons to make the 45-minute ice climb to the entrance of the subterranean caves. Inside, frozen domed ceilings glow sky blue from sunlight refracting through the glacier roof, and gentle rapids flow over boulders on the floor. From $300 per person.
Dogsled Through New England
Passengers with Ultimate Dog Sledding Experience ride along for a one-, two-, or three-hour tour via snowmobile trails in the mountains of western Maine along a branch of the Appalachian Mountains. If you’re worried about the cold but still up for the adventure, you can tuck into a minus-40-degree-rated sleeping bag in a windproof shell atop the sled or ride behind with the guide. From $200 per two-person sled.
Tour Yellowstone on Snowmobile
On a day trip with Togwotee Lodge, you’ll join a guide down 45 miles of groomed trails on the way to Old Faithful. The geyser lives up to its name: You’re sure to see 100-foot plumes of boiling water every 44 to 125 minutes before you break for lunch. Along the way, you stand a good chance of coming upon herds of elk or bison or a solitary bear. From $325 per person.