Are you a nature lover looking to dip your toes into a winter activity this season? As you know winter sports aren’t only about skiing and snowboarding, there is much more to explore. Having your home on wheels gives you the opportunity to go and take a look at this wonderful world, all you need to do is grab the keys and start the engine and your winter adventure is a go go.
1. Gazing at the Northern Lights
Northern lights are a unique phenomenon. Nothing else comes close to combining science and magic. To get a bit into the science here, northern lights are a byproduct of solar matter traveling through space only to be diverted by a magnetic layer surrounding Earth and pulled back in through the magnetic charge in the North and South poles!
What’s most crucial is getting the timing right. People tend to go in the winter time simply because the nights are longer at that time. It is a misconception that Northern Lights only occur in winter though.
A common misconception is also that you can just go to a location and start seeing northern lights. Although this is mostly true for some places, the reality is that these places are extremely remote and difficult to get to. You’re better off going to a location and spend a week camping or hiking. This will give you a big enough window to experience something extraordinary.
There are also a couple of things that you should monitor or be aware of to maximise your chances of getting the best light show possible:
- The moon will take away from the experience as it seems really bright in remote areas. Try to time your trip when the moon closest to its crescent stage.
- Clouds will get in the way of seeing brighter auroras. The clearer the skies are, the better the light show will be.
- You want to go aurora watching when the sun is at its most active. Some people look at historical data but you can only predict if lights will appear within a 6 hour window. Here is a good resource to monitor solar cycles
Sky gazing is a perfect activity for campers as it is more of a passive activity. The hardest part is finding a nice place to park and boiling some water for hot tea.
Here are some of the more popular places to go see auroras:
- Denali National Park – Alaska
- Whitehorse – Yukon
- Yellowknife – Northwest Territories
Dog sledding is a whole lot of family fun packed into one big ride. It covers a lot of things that people like individually like sight seeing, animals, speed, history and of course sliding.
It’s important to mention the history because what has become sport and recreation today used to be a legitimate transportation and delivery mechanism.
Eskimos were the first to use sled dogs for basic transportation of people and goods. The Pilgrims adapted this when they discovered the north and most of the arctic expeditions on land used dog sleds as means of transport. Later dog sleds were used to deliver mail. A team of 8 – 10 dogs was able to tow 700 lbs of mail over the course of a multi-day journey. Later during the gold rush, dog sledding increased again in popularity to help tow precious metals to ports.
The Siberian Husky and Alaskan Malamut are still considered to be the most appropriate dogs for sledding, However over the last century, speed has been favored over strength as the activity became more recreational in nature. There are even some sledding services that use hounds instead of Huskies!
Here are our favorite destinations for dog sledding:
- Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge – Minnesota
- Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures – Montana
- Mahoosuc Guide Services – Maine
- Howling Dog Tours – Alberta
3. Ice Fishing
Ice fishing has its root in Eskimo culture. It was used as a primary means of obtaining fish and was necessary for survival. Modern Americans, Canadians and Scandinavians however have turned it into the social recreational sport we know today.
In North America, fans of the sport are known to participate in yearly outings. Many will tow a portable fish house and set off on an adventure to find the biggest fish schools. Technology makes it easier to scan and locate these schools. With the help of sonar, people quickly check to see if a fishing hole is active or not. It’s as simple as relocating and repeating the process. Experienced fishermen will tell you that the best times to fish are around dusk and dawn.
On the other hand, Ice fishing isn’t without dangers. There are certain precautions that you must take. First, avoid the activity during warm patches in the winter. Second, it’s safer to set camp when the ice is between 4 and 6 inches in thickness. Last but not least, remember that ice fishing is typically a multiple day activity, so watch out for frostbite, Some buttered rum should help keep you warm and toasty on the cool ice.
Here are some popular ice fishing spots:
- Lake of the Woods – Ontario | Manitoba | Minnesota
- Antero Reservoir – Colorado
- Cold Lake – Alberta | Saskatchewan
- Lake Winnebago – Wisconsin
- Patterson Lake – Washington
This is an activity that can be enjoyed anywhere, even in your local woods after fresh snowfall. However it is best put to use when you want to go hiking or mountaineering during the snow season.
Snowshoes work by reducing resistance when walking on powdery snow. It does so by increasing the surface area of your footsteps. This concept is known as “Flotation”.
The first instances of snowshoe use is believed to be around 5000 years ago in Central Asia. However the rawhide lace snowshoes we’re familiar with are typical of the American natives. They were the ones who introduced it to the settlers 400 years ago. Scandinavians used yet another variant that is more closely associated to Nordic ski, with the bottom of the shoe being flatter, longer and less wide.
Historically snowshoes were important for people that needed to cross wild terrain on their travels such as traders, hunters and trappers. Nowadays, apart from its formal use by park rangers, snowshoeing has experienced a rebirth in the recreational space as it promotes sports and healthy living in the north.
Typically there are three formats for snowshoes. The thinner ones are purposed for sports while the larger ones are best for mountaineering and exploration. Modern snowshoes are typically made from plastics, lightweight metals and polymers for binding.
Snowshoeing is a very active sport and is a great way to discover national parks in the winter time.
5. Nature Tours
Organizing a nature tour is a great way to bring all the above activities under one umbrella. North America is full of National Parks and many people choose to visit them during the winter wildlife flourishes.
Free parking is widely available and is usually easily accessible from freeways running along or through the parks. You can choose to explore the parks yourself, choosing your own trails and moving at your own pace, or you can join a guided tour and benefit from years of experience that the National Park Centennial has accumulated over the years. Here are two of our favorite National Parks to visit in the winter time.
North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park is located in northern Washington on the Canadian border – It’s a short 3 hour drive away from Seattle. The temperatures in the park can vary greatly from trail to trail nevermind from season to season. It also has the biggest concentration of glaciers in the lower 48 states with a total of 312.
The park is really easy to access from highway 20, with many one day trails starting close to the exits. You can also choose to join a guided tour here. To learn more about them, visit this page
on their official website.
Some of the wildlife in the park includes but is not limited to grizzly bears, grey wolves, lynx, wolverines.
Glacier National Park
Dubbed “The Crown of the Continent”, it’s easy to see why the Glacier National Park is so popular. Large mountains, serene lakes and a bustling wildlife makes this park the epitome of the American wild in the north. It was recently declared a world heritage site along with its Canadian neighbor the Waterton Lakes National Park.
The Glacier National Park houses a variety of animals and the biggest concentration of bears in the USA. You’ll also find beavers, bighorn sheep, elk, lynx, mountain goats, mountain lions and wolverines.
There are many trails to explore but we recommend the River Belly Trail that is typically open year round and the St. Mary Trail which is a little steeper and more traitorous in terms of weather conditions.
So there you have it. We hope to have given a bit of inspiration in terms of things you can do in the wild this winter. What’s your favorite winter activity? Maybe you know some hidden gems you’d like to share? Write them at the bottom, we’d love to hear from you!