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The New Winter Bucket List

Five adventures that don't involve ski resorts

The Grand Canyon's Bright Angel Trail is a fault line trail that is primarily north-facing. (Michael Quinn/NPS)
Grand Canyon

Five adventures that don't involve ski resorts

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.

Filed To: Adventure / Anchorage / Weather / Beaches / Bison / Cars / Alaska / Grand Canyon / Jackson / Maine
Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.


(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.

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