Fog? What fog? Point Reyes glows in a midwinter sunset.
"All the leaves are brown/And the sky is gray," lamented the Mamas & the Papas. If only their winter’s walk had been in Point Reyes National Seashore, home to Northern California’s best off-season hiking. "Between storms, it’s rather sunny," says ranger Emily Scott. "Being out on the point on a clear day is ideal in winter." Vistas from Chimney Rock take in sea stacks (rock pillars) and pounding breakers, plus elephant seal colonies and pods of California gray whales. Longer treks along Tomales Point offer tule elk sightings, and Coast Trail hikes include a beachfront waterfall and glimpses of San Francisco, 30 miles south. (415) 464-5137, www.nps.gov/pore.
Tucson, Ariz., is a hiker’s dream in wintertime, when sun shines all day on the desert. In Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, near town, you’ll walk past giant saguaro cacti and towering rock formations. (520) 749-8700, www.fs.fed.us.
The water doesn’t gush or erupt at Mammoth Hot Springs in Wyoming. It trickles and drips, seeping noisily from vast cauldrons beneath Yellowstone National Park. The slow-but-steady approach lets the mineral-laced flows build ornate terraces that dwarf anything found in geyser fields. At Canary Spring, colonies of multihued bacteria streak the chalky terraces—cascades of travertine (calcium carbonate) that look frozen despite the heat. A boardwalk climbs past turquoise pools, superheated streams, and more than a few calcified bison patties. Mammoth is one of the park’s biggest draws, and it grows over a foot a year. (307) 344-2263, www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/mammothvc.htm.
Hoodoos, cap rocks, and other bizarre outcrops lure hardy wintertime travelers to Makoshika State Park in the badlands of eastern Montana, outside Glendive. Dinosaur fossils line the visitor center. (406) 377-6256, www.makoshika.org.
Photography by George Ward
This article was first published in November 2007. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.