Winter is a time when the U.S. population seems to be thinking about one thing – how to lose those holiday pounds. Instead of a gym membership, people with a sense of adventure might consider another option: sweating it off in U.S. national and state parks.
Parks offer a vast array of both indoor and outdoor activity options. And some national parks like Yellowstone and Grand Canyon as well as state parks like Maumee Bay State Park on Lake Erie in northwestern Ohio have natural features that are like magnets for travelers who are adventure oriented. Concessioner Xanterra Parks & Resorts operates a variety tours and accommodations that make it easy for motivated travelers to work up a sweat.
“Isaac Newton was right,” said Dave Hartvigsen, vice president of sales and marketing for Xanterra Parks & Resorts. “A body in motion tends to stay in motion. And if you want to burn those holiday calories, it is all about moving. Walking on a treadmill is fine, but walking outside, when you have a chance of seeing an eagle soar above you or view a spectacular landscape, is so much more interesting. National and state parks provide visitors with those kinds of opportunities.”
Here are some examples of ways travelers can add exercise to their park experience:
- Cross country skiing. Yellowstone National Park is often called a winter wonderland, and that label was most likely awarded by a Nordic skier. The park offers both skier-tracked trails and trails that are groomed by Xanterra Parks & Resorts. Xanterra also offers daily snowcoach ski drops that depart from the two winter lodges, Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Old Faithful Snow Lodge as well as guided ski tours and ski rentals.
- Hiking. Most parks offer hiking trails, and southern Utah’s Zion National Park is a park that offers both challenges for the legs as well as candy for the eyes. The Watchman Trail, for example, is only three miles, but it is moderately strenuous, with an elevation gain of 368 feet. This trail treats hikers to views of lower Zion Canyon, the Towers of the Virgin and the West Temple formations as well as a view of the gateway community of Springdale. Plan about two hours to complete this hike. Zion Lodge offers year-round accommodations, and its “Zion in Winter” rate makes it easy and affordable for hikers to spend a few days exploring the park’s famous trails.
- Mountain biking. California’s Death Valley National Park is an outstanding choice for cyclists who enjoy combining the open road and backcountry paths in their adventure. A particularly challenging as well as incredibly scenic trip is along Artist’s Drive. The road is paved, hilly and nine miles one way. Cyclists may find themselves stopping to take in the palette of colors in the rocks – red, pink, yellow, purple and green – caused by oxidation of metals and manganese. The Ranch at Furnace Creek offers a Mountain Bike Adventure Package that includes accommodations for two nights, use of mountain bikes and helmets for 24 hours, snacks and maps of bike routes.
- Birdwatching. Not all exercise involves breaking a sweat. Birders who break out their binoculars in Ohio State Parks and other locations won’t be disappointed. On the western edge of Mohican State Park in north central Ohio, the hemlock-lined Clear Fork Gorge provides a breathtaking vantage point for viewing neotropical migrant songbirds and wild turkey. A one-mile hike through the gorge along the Clear Fork of the Mohican River takes visitors to the top of Pleasant Hill Dam, where turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks often can be spotted. Mohican State Park Lodge offers a Bed and Breakfast package with accommodations and a hot breakfast.
- Sledding. There is something exhilarating about mounting a sled and pushing off to race to the bottom of a hill, and adult guests of Punderson Manor State Park Lodge in northeast Ohio often return to the lodge red-faced and downright giggly. The Punderson State Park sledding hill is a long hill with a sane slope, so out-of-practice grown-ups won’t have to embarrass themselves by screaming in terror in front of their children. Of course that long, sane slope looks different when visitors walk back up, and that’s where the fabulous calorie-burn comes in. Three or four runs, and it’s time to return to the lodge to warm up in front of the lobby fireplace and re-hydrate. Fortunately, the bar is just steps from the fireplace. The lodge’s Pizza Package is a good way to cap off a day of fun in the snow. It includes accommodations and a large pizza and sodas.
- Snowshoeing. Strapping on snowshoes is a great option for exploring Yellowstone, particularly because snowshoes require little or no experience to get started, and many trails can be accessed just outside the lodges, with no shuttles necessary. Travelers can walk along snow-covered hiking trails, ice-and-snow-covered boardwalks and even Nordic ski trails, as long as snowshoers steer clear of the ski tracks. For example, the walk to Observation Point from Old Faithful Snow Lodge is a particularly good option on snowshoers. Old Faithful Snow Lodge rents snowshoes for $20 a day.
- Golfing. The Furnace Creek Resort Golf Course is the lowest golf course in the world, at 214 feet below sea level. Winter is the most pleasant time to tackle this challenging course, when the temperatures are in the 70s. At 6,236 yards, the course is short by today’s standards with the advent of oversized clubs, composite heads and long-flying balls. Mitigating the short yardage is that golfers do not hit the ball as far and must often hit at least an extra club into very small greens. Golfers can burn extra calories by jumping up and down in frustration when their shots fall short.
- Climbing hills. At the Grand Canyon, what goes down, must come up. This park’s spectacular landscape is best seen from below the rim, where the views change with every switchback. A trek down to and up from the Mile-and-a-Half Rest House is a terrific day hike, and it will easily burn off that day’s breakfast – and probably lunch too. No matter how far hikers go, they must be sure to carry plenty of water. And National Park Service generally recommends that hikers plan to take twice as much time to hike up as they did to hike down. Xanterra offers an affordable Winter Value Rate at two lodges.
- Wallyball. Similar to volleyball, this indoor game is played on a four-walled court with a ball similar in size and a little harder than a volleyball. Players are allowed to bounce the ball off the ceiling or off the walls before returning the ball over the net. Maumee Bay State Park Lodge features Wallyball courts and equipment.
- Geocaching. Visitors to all five Ohio State Parks can channel Indiana Jones with this high-tech year-round treasure- hunting game, although the “treasures” are typically small items like stickers and plastic toys instead of ancient golden idols. Still, the fun is in the hunt, and the Ohio State Park Lodges make it easy to participate by renting Global Positioning System (GPS) units. Visitors burn calories by trekking through the woods and following park trails to find treasures hidden throughout the parks. All five Ohio State Park Lodges feature “Explore S’more” packages that include s’more fixings, firewood for a campfire, a map, compass and accommodations