Whiskey libraries & ice caves: Embrace winter in these 8 unexpected locales

November 05, 2014                 5m read time
Kirsten Akens

Pack your puffy vests, red wool socks, and fingerless mittens (for Instagramming your adventures, of course). It’s time to celebrate the snowy at one of these eight underrated locales. Each offers something different—from backcountry peace and quiet, to magically glassy ice formations, to only-at-the-holidays happenings. Cheers to cold temps and hot toddies!

1. Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite valley sxates

Yosemite valley



About half a million people visit Yosemite each month in the summer. In the winter, that number drops to around 100,000 per month. The number of unique park experiences, however, never declines. From ice-skating in Curry Village to full-moon snowshoe walks to horse-drawn sleigh rides, Yosemite offers much to do in the colder months. To see photographs of the park throughout the seasons, visit the Ansel Adams Gallery in the heart of the valley. Prints from the artist’s Yosemite Special Edition Series, launched in 1958, are exclusively sold here. In the evening, curl up with a book or a hot toddy in front of one of the massive fireplaces in the Ahwahnee Hotel's grand hall.annotation

2. Eben Ice Caves, Michigan

Eben ice caves ZOZI

Eben ice caves



Bring your ice cleats and your balance, and program your GPS to Eben Junction, a tiny town in the far north of Michigan. Two miles from here, you’ll find the trailhead for the three-quarter-mile hike to Eben Ice Caves in Rock River Canyon Wilderness. Every year, water falling over a sandstone cliff freezes into magnificent 30-foot-tall ice pillars. The crystalline columns are large enough that you can sneak behind them and peer out of the icy mouth. On a busy day, the caves see about 300 people; if you make it up there, you’ll be one of just 1,700 that visit annually. While you’re in the Upper Peninsula, try a cross-country ski run along Lake Superior or one of the other “Greats.” The lake effect causes natural powder that is perfectly pristine.annotation

3. San Juan County, Utah

Arches National Park Arches National Park

Arches National Park

Arches National Park


“Being virtually alone in Arches, Dead Horse Point, and Canyonlands is extraordinary. There's nothing prettier than the red rock country with snow on it. I spent New Year's 2007 in Moab, and it was the best New Year's ever. I brought my "stabil-icers" so I could still hike on the snowy slick rock, and it was fantastic.” That’s from a friend who is an Aspen, Colorado native and knows her outdoors. Follow her lead and travel to Utah's canyon country. While there, hike and camp, or, for the cyclists who are tired of being stuck on indoor trainers, bring your mountain bikes and climb Moab’s Hurrah Pass, Monitor and Merrimac, or Poison Spider Mesa on beautiful 40-degree days.

4. Chicago

Ice skaters in Millennium Park in Chicago Pete

Ice skaters in Millennium Park in Chicago



The Windy City is known for its warm (and humid) action: Lollapalooza, the Taste of Chicago, and 400-some neighborhood fests. But Chicago blows cold in winter, which is when hot, spiced glühweinannotation and fresh-baked stollenannotation warm the body best. Taste both at the city’s annual Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza. Vendors open shop on November 21 and wrap up on Christmas Eve. After browsing the booths, head to State Street to view the over-the-top holiday window displays or go ice-skating at Millennium Park. For a feel of Chicago in summer, step inside one of the city’s three conservatories—Garfield Park Conservatory, Lincoln Park Conservatory, or the Chicago Botanic Garden. They’re tropical all year round.

5. Ouray Ice Park, Ouray, Colorado


The crowds will be downhilling it in Telluride, Vail, and Arapahoe Basin. But you and your crampons will be tackling the Scottish Gullies, House of Flying Daggers, and 200-some other ice and mixed climbs at the Ouray Ice Park. A free, open-to-the-public man-made ice climbing venue co-run by the city and a local nonprofit for the past 20 years, the mile-long Park is tucked in the Uncompahgre Gorge south of town. While you do need to know the basics of ice climbing (lessons and clinics are only offered during the annual Ouray Ice Festival in January), both beginners’ and kids’ areas are available, and you’ll meet friendly adventurous folks of all ages cutting their skills. Spend your nights at the elegant Beaumont Hotel & Spa. Built in 1886, the recently restored and modernized facility has housed, fed, and soaked a host of celebs, including Jewel and Oprah. Reserve a plush, antique-furnished suite, and some time in the private hot tub that overlooks Cascade Falls.

6. Portland, Oregon

Multnomah Whiskey Library Roger

Multnomah Whiskey Library



Portland’s sunny days are difficult enough to catch in the summer, so it’s good to expect them to be even more evasive in the winter. But rainy weather isn’t a deterrent to fun in this town known for bikes, brews, booze, and (coffee) beans. Bundle up, hop on a two-wheeler and pedal your way from barista to bartender, popping into whichever place suits your fancy, or gets you out of the rain. Sit by a gorgeous fireplace and walls of fine distilled spirits at the Multnomah Whisk{e}y Library.annotation Hit Stumptown Coffee Roasters and debate whether it still has the best cuppa. Or plan a trip around the five-day Holiday Ale Festival (December 3-7) and try more than 50 craft brews released specifically for this annual event, such as Cascade Brewing’s Cherry Diesel and Stickmen Brewery & Skewery’s The Twerking Elf.

7. Appalachian Trail

Grove of trees on the Appalachian trail Nicholas A. Tonelli

Grove of trees on the Appalachian trail

Nicholas A. Tonelli


To earn the title of “2,000-miler” from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy,annotation you just have to make an honest effort to walk the entire route—but not necessarily all at once. More and more folks are attempting chunks year-round. In the winter, try the 25-mile swath that’s part of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.annotation The Blue Trail to the top of the 1,547-foot Mt. Tammany is a serene trek through Worthington State Forest’s towering hemlocks. Below the trees, white patches of snow pop against the green of moss and ferns. Take a break at the peak and watch the Delaware River flow by below.

8. Grand Canyon National Park

Snowy canyon in the Grand Canyon Grand Canyon National Park

Snowy canyon in the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon National Park


Between March and October, the grandest of canyon’s backcountry will see upward of 13,000 hikers. But between December and February, that figure drops to 3,000-some, plus an assorted number of soaring bald eagles and foraging mule deer. Sure, it’s cold and snowy then, and upper trails in particular may be dicey, but if you’re prepared for the elements, it is, as the U.S. Forest Service says, “possible to cover the entire 45 miles between Jacob Lake and the North Rim and not see another soul.” If that solitude sounds like a good thing to you, prearrange both a backcountry permit and a one-night stay in the North Rim yurt between December 1 and April 15 for you and up to five of your hardiest friends.


If you’re visiting in December, consider making a reservation for the annual Bracebridge Dinner. Held at the Ahwahnee since 1927, the celebration is billed as an 18th-century feast for the senses.

The lake effect is a winter weather phenomenon caused by cold air masses passing over warmer waters. Lake-effect snow is most common in the Great Lakes region. Find more at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

A Christmas tradition in Germany, this mulled red wine is usually flavored with cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, orange juice, and sugar. Real holiday merrymakers often drink it "mit Schuss" (with a shot of rum or brandy).

At the market, sample a faithful version of this German holiday cake from Dinkel's Bakery.

You can't make a reservation without a membership, so plan for a wait or find a friend who has one.

It takes about six months to hike the 2,180-mile long Appalachian Trail between Georgia and Maine, and though thousands attempt a thru-hike each year, only about 3,000 individuals complete it each decade.

From the DWG, you’re only two hours from either New York City or Philadelphia so you can nurture the city-lover in you too.

Kirsten Akens

Kirsten is an award-winning journalist, editor, photographer and practicing yogi based in Colorado. A lover of books, balasana, baked goods, blogging, and Boston terriers, she also has an unnatural affection for alliteration.

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