Have a winter adventure of your own in Vancouver

Planning on heading to the Winter Olympics in a few weeks? Looking for something to do while you’re not busy with the curling match between Switzerland and Denmark? Perhaps you’d enjoy a little outdoor activity of your own while visiting beautiful British Columbia? Then you’re definitely headed to the right place, as Vancouver Island is one of the best adventure travel destinations in the world, no matter what season you go.

For winter adventures, the options are nearly endless. The snow begins falling on Vancouver Island in November and tends to stick around until late March, with the surrounding mountains remaining covered in the white stuff until well into the spring. Once the snow does start flying however, the local ski resorts, Mount Washington and Mount Cain, open for business offering great skiing and snowboarding for the beginner and the experienced snow bum alike. Mount Washington is the larger of the two, and more centrally located, and although Mount Cain is smaller, it is also a bit more remote and often less crowded. Both offer plenty of great runs, but if you’re more in the mood for cross country skiing, then go with Mount Washington, which has more than 34 miles of groomed trails and gets as much as 30 feet of snow annually.

If sliding down (or around) a mountain with skis strapped to your feet isn’t your cup of tea, then head to Vancouver’s West Coast to take in one of the other popular winter activities – storm watching. The raw power of the Pacific Ocean is regularly unleashed on the shoreline, with eight to ten foot waves smashing against the rocks, high winds pounding the cliffs, and copious amounts of snow and and rain blowing in off the water. Fortunately, there are a number of great viewing spots out of the gale force winds. Check out the Snug Harbour Inn or the Pacific Sands Resort for great views of nature’s raw power on full display.Vancouver Island is an incredibly beautiful place with mountain vistas and thick forests that are fun to explore year round. But the best way to visit the backcountry in the winter is on snowshoes, which are not only incredibly fun, but a great workout too. It’s the perfect way to spend the day away from the crowds and noise of the Olympic Village. But for a really amazing snowshoeing adventure, check out the Lantern Light Cross-Country and Snowshoeing tour around Mount Washington. This excursion hits the trail after dark, with a blanket of twinkling stars overhead and nothing but lanterns to light the trail ahead. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

There are plenty of other options for outdoor winter adventures on the island as well. For instance, snowmobiling is a popular pass time, with hundreds of miles of logging roads and backcountry trails open for exploration. Alternatively, consider packing a four-season tent and warm sleeping bag to go camping while you’re there, as there are camp sites open even in the winter months.

These activities are just a taste of what Vancouver Island has to offer, and once you get a chance to experience it all for yourself, you’ll want to book a return trip in the summer. When the snow melts, there is an entirely new set of outdoor activities to entice you to come back. From hiking to sea kayaking to mountain biking, Vancouver is equally intriguing in the summer as it is in the winter.

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Winter fun in the Black Hills of South Dakota

The blizzard that blew through the Midwest last week may have disrupted travel for the holidays, but it was just what outdoor enthusiasts were looking for in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Snow had been quite sparse up until the blizzard hit, but some areas received as much as four feet of the white stuff, making the area the perfect winter playground for skiers and snowmobilers.

Awhile back we mentioned all of the great outdoor adventure activities that South Dakota has to offer in the summer months, with plenty of great hiking, mountain biking, paddling, and climbing throughout the Badlands and Black Hills. During the winter, those activities switch to skiing, both down hill and cross country, snowboarding, dog sledding, snow shoeing, and snowmobiling.

Travelers looking to make a winter escape will want to head to the Rapid City area, which serves as a gateway to this outdoor wonderland. Nearby Mystic Miner and Terry Peak ski resorts both received over 45 inches of fresh snow in last week’s blizzard, and are an easy drive from the city. These resorts offer excellent skiing opportunities without the crowds found in some of the larger resorts in nearby Colorado.

Likewise, historic Deadwood is a popular destination that offers access to groomed trails that are perfect to explore on foot or by snow mobile. And when travelers are done playing outside, they can head back to town to enjoy wild west fun and themed casinos.

From Mt. Rushmore to the Crazy Horse Monument, you’ll find plenty of outdoor adventure throughout the Badlands and Black Hills no matter what time of year you visit, but those who enjoy winter activities, will find plenty to enjoy eary in the new year.

Yellowstone opens for winter visitors

Winter may officially still be a few days off, but that hasn’t prevented Yellowstone National Park from opening for the season. According to the National Park Service, as of yesterday, all roads are now open for travelers who want to make the oversnow journey through the park’s scenic interior.

Visitors who want to explore Yellowstone, the nation’s first national park, in this manner will have to contract with a commercial guide service. Each day, up to 318 snowmobiles and 78 coaches will be allowed to roam the groomed trails from the South Entrance to West Thumb, and on to Old Faithful, with a few more trails opening up over time. Along the way, they’ll find miles of serene, snow covered backcountry that is as engaging in the winter as it is in the warmer months.

In addition to the trails opening, the Old Faithful Visitors Center opened yesterday as well, and by Friday the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, gift shop, and restaurants. The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel will follow suit on Monday, December 21st, offering more places to stay for those looking to visit the area and play in the snow.

For those who would prefer to drive through Yellowstone, there are roads open for four wheeled vehicles as well. The highway from the North Entrance and from Gardiner, Montana, through the park’s Northeast Entrance, by way of Mammoth Hot Springs and Cooke city are kept well maintained throughout the year, although winter storms can make them treacherous at times. The drive is also highly recommended and scenic as well.

Yellowstone to limit snowmobile access

The use of snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park has been a point of contention for years, with local resorts and the state of Wyoming encouraging tourists to explore the natural wonderland on the motor vehicles, while environmentalists have argued that they were harmful for the environment and disturbed wildlife in the park. The National Park Service seems to have sided with the environmentalist on the subject, announcing late last week that they would limit snowmobile access to Yellowstone in 2010 and 2011.

In recent years, the Park Service has allowed 720 snowmobiles in the park each day, but under the new guidelines that number would be cut back to 318 for the next two seasons. While that seems like a drastic cut for winter visitors, the park averaged just 205 snowmobiles per day last winter. For the record, the highest number of the motorized sleds to be in the park on any single day is 557, which was set back in December of 2007.

The NPS also says they will allow 78 snowcoaches in the park each day as well. These vehicles are specially designed vans that feature tank treads that allow them to move easily over the snow. They can carry a group of passengers and are thought to be more environmentally friendly than snowmobiles.

Opponents of snowmobile use in the park were understandably happy with the news, but local tourism groups say they’ll fight the decision, possibly in court. They argue that the snowmobiles are safe and clean, at that more people should be allowed to enjoy the natural splendor of Yellowstone in the winter. They also see it as restricting economic growth in the area as well.