Elevate Your Winter Travel Plans

This season, explore dramatic depths and reach new heights, from 190' below sea level to 12,998' into the clouds.


Marvel at Millions of Stars

Death Valley National Park, California

It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the lowest points in the Western Hemisphere is a prime spot for out-of-this-world stargazing. With its 3 million-plus acres, Death Valley is the largest International Dark Sky Park in the United States. November through April, rangers at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center break out four high-powered telescopes and lead space-related programming. The best time to go? Right around the new moon.


Submerse Yourself in History

Groton, Connecticut

Helmed by the U.S. Navy, the Submarine Force Library & Museum offers a dive into the depths of the “Silent Service.” Compare scale models, peer through a periscope, and board the decommissioned USS Nautilus, the world’s first operational nuclear-powered submarine.


Uncover an Arts Scene

New York City

The NYC Subway Art Tour isn’t your typical gallery walk. When above-ground temps dip below freezing, join Bronx native Darryl Reilly as he takes both tourists and New Yorkers on a three-hour train-hopping exploration of the Big Apple’s impressive—but often overlooked—art collection. Embellishing the city’s subway stations, designs range from miniature bronze sculptures to whimsical wall mosaics, and each of the 300-plus works commissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority tell a story.


Revisit the Ice Age

Williston, Florida

Stalactites and fossils adorn the walls and ceiling of Devil’s Den Spring, a prehistoric cave turned scuba diving training center an hour and a half from Orlando. Snorkel in crystal-clear, 72-degree water, or plunge to its maximum depth 54 feet below.


Zip Around Underground


Set in a former limestone quarry, Louisville Mega Cavern makes the most of 17 miles of subterranean passageways with an aerial ropes course, a BMX park, and the world’s only fully underground zip line.


Carol in a Cave

Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

A short drive from Columbus, the horseshoe-shaped Ash Cave serves as a backdrop for the park’s annual holiday celebration. On Dec. 9, meet Santa, belt out holiday tunes, and help decorate a snow-covered tree with edible ornaments for wildlife.


Go Spelunking

Barra Honda National Park, Costa Rica

Tubular soda straws and furry kinkajous—this park’s geological features and fauna evoke visions of another planet. And while the 5,600 acres of tropical dry forest are remarkable, the most impressive thing lies beneath. Terciopelo Cave is one of 42-known caverns and is best experienced during the dry season (November through April). For a small fee, you’ll get admission, gear, and a local guide.


Ditch the Indoor Rink

Lake Placid, New York

During colder months, the town’s Mirror Lake becomes a natural ice skating rink with panoramic views of the Adirondack Mountains. More than 2 miles of track provide ample room for cross-country skiing, dog sledding, or your own Miracle on Ice moment.


Feast Mountainside

Carrabassett Valley, Maine

About halfway up Sugarloaf Mountain Resort’s western face, Bullwinkle’s is the ideal spot for a mid-run snack. Saturday nights after the lifts close, an 18-passenger snowcat carries diners up the mountain for the restaurant’s candlelit six-course affair. Seasonal delicacies include elk with elderberry demi-glace and handmade raviolis stuffed with—what else?—Maine lobster.


Explore an Icy Wonderland

Lava Beds National Monument, California

Of the monument’s nearly 800 “lava tubes,” 20 stay frozen year-round. To experience giant icicles, snowflake-like fringe, and the 50-foot drop into Crystal Ice Cave, snag a coveted spot on one of the ranger-led tours, held January through March.


Soar Above the Sonoran


Arizona Balloon Safaris begin at dawn, but the views are worth the early wake-up call. Once airborne, the 20-passenger balloon (the largest in the country), rises up to 5,000 feet above the illuminated desert, offering glimpses of cactuses, critters, and—on a clear day—views of Flagstaff some 130 miles away. To top it off, the 45-minute flight concludes with a champagne brunch.


Relax at an Ancient Spa

Ojo Caliente, New Mexico

In the shadow of Pueblo ruins, Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa maintains 11 pools fed by a subterranean volcanic aquifer. Day passes start at $24, so don’t feel guilty about adding on a spa treatment (or two). The salt scrub with blue corn and prickly pear is said to improve circulation and rid the body of impurities.


Soak in a Mile-High Hot Spring

Stanley, Idaho

Blink and you might miss it. Three hours from Boise, up State Highway 75 north of Stanley, there is a small pull-off in the middle of a bend near milepost 192. Park and climb down the rocky hillside to where a tub—nicknamed “Boat Box Hot Springs”—by the locals awaits. Fair warning: The water is a steamy 136 degrees, so cool it off with a few buckets from the glacier-fed Salmon River before hopping in.


See a Man-Made Marvel

Puebla, Mexico

The Great Pyramid of Cholula is the world’s largest-known monument, but until its rediscovery in 1910, it went unnoticed for centuries. The reason? It’s hidden under dirt, thick vegetation, and a Spanish-Colonial church. See an excavated portion, glimpse artifacts at the on-site museum, and trek through 5 miles of underground tunnels.


Race Down an Olympic Bobsled Chute

Park City, Utah

Fly down the course that ferried athletes to fame in the 2002 Winter Olympics. At Utah Olympic Park, a pro tutors you in techniques and helps your team reach speeds of almost 70 miles an hour.


Traverse the “American Alps”

Cascade Mountains, Washington

The adrenaline rush that comes from dropping out of a helicopter to shred untouched powder is hard to beat. A little more than three hours from Seattle, North Cascade Heli takes experienced skiers and snowboarders into the backcountry. The price tag is steep but promises seven runs a day and access to 300,000 acres of challenging terrain.


Dangle Over the Rockies

Breckenridge, Colorado

Before Breckenridge Ski Resort built the Imperial Express SuperChair, the highest high-speed quad chairlift in North America, it was a 45-minute hike to the top. Now, you can access those same double-black diamond runs in just under three minutes.

Tommie Ethington is a former editor of this magazine. Email her at

Photography by Greta Rybus (snowy landscape and Boat Box Hot Springs), Stan Moniz Photography/ (Death Valley), LCDR R. Preston, USN (submarine), Jesse Barden (Crystal Ice Cave), DiegoGrandi/iStock (pyramid), Creativaimage/iStock (skiing); Photography courtesy of Louisville Mega Caverns and Sugarloaf Mountain Resort

Originally Published November 2017