A Winter Bucket List: 8 Iconic Northeast Adventures

March 26, 2015
Jerry and Marcy MonkmanBack country skiers and snowboarders make their way up the Tuckerman Ravine headwall.

Winter coats the Northeast landscape with glorious adventure, opening doors of opportunity that can only be experienced during this magical season. Here are eight exceptional outings, from easy to epic, to consider adding to your life-long agenda.

1) Visit a frozen waterfall

Summer spray transforms into crystal sculpture at the Northeast’s greatest winter waterfalls. The thundering roar of summer mutes into breath-taking beauty as water freezes into veils of icy majesty—ever-changing examples of Nature’s artwork that must be experienced first-hand to fully appreciate. Hundreds of waterfalls can be found throughout the Northeast; many can be accessed by only a short walk. Among winter’s best waterfalls are Arethusa Falls in N.H.’s White Mountains; Race Brook Falls in Sheffield, Mass.; Screw Augur Falls in Grafton Notch, Maine; Chapman Falls in East Haddam, Conn.; and Plattekill Falls in West Saugerties, N.Y. Many more await elsewhere in the region.

2) Bobsled at Lake Placid

In 1980 the pageantry of the Winter Olympics enveloped Lake Placid, N.Y., for 12 days of athletic prowess, including the legendary”Miracle on Ice” hockey game between the U.S. and Soviet Union. Today you can relive those heady days on a tour of Olympic venues—including the hockey site,ski jumping complex, and an Olympic museum—but the Games’ most entertaining and unique legacy can be found at the Olympic Sliding Track. Here you can create your own thrill on the ice by taking on the Lake Placid Bobsled Experience and rumbling down the half-mile track in a bobsled controlled by a professional driver and brakeman—one of the few places in the world you can do so ($90 per adult).

3) Sauna. Then roll in the snow.

It’s a sensation unlike any other—you can actually feel your pores clench tight as the snow melts around your sweaty, steaming, sauna-fired body. Then a blood-pulsing flush reignites your skin as you dash back into the heat,a stimulating rush you are unlikely to ever forget. Winter sauna opportunities can be found in locations throughout the Northeast, but AMC’s Little Lyford Lodge & Cabins and Gorman Chairback Lodge & Cabins provide one of the deepest, most tranquil locations to experience it. Nestled in the remote, snowy quietude of Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness region, Little Lyford provides a wood-fired sauna for guests—and ample room for a mid-sauna snowy plunge. For an even more memorable experience,visit both lodges via a lodge-to-lodge ski trip or even a dogsled excursion.

4) Go winter camping

Spending a night in the snowy back country is a profoundly rewarding experience. Not only do you get to enjoy the crisp beauty of the winter landscape, but you will earn the personal bravado and satisfaction of successfully taking on the frosty landscape in comfort and fun. Winter camping requires a specific set of gear and skills, but learning how to successfully handle the cold with the right clothing and equipment will open up new worlds of adventure for many years to come.

5) Climb a 4,000-footer

Crack treeline and experience alpine majesty, piercing views, and the satisfaction of climbing one of the Northeast’s highest peaks in winter. If you’re already a winter hiker, consider this the next step in your cold-weather evolution. Forty-eight 4,000-footers can be found in New Hampshire’s White Mountains; 115 are located across the Northeast, including peaks in Vermont, Maine, and in New York’s Adirondacks and Catskills. You’ll need to prepare for above-treeline conditions and be in good shape to take one of them on, but the return on effort is exceptional. Going with an organized group helps provide a measure of safety; AMC chapters offer regular outings led by experienced winter trip leaders.

6) Ski Tuckerman Ravine

There are few back country ski destinations in the world as iconic as Tuckerman Ravine. Scooped from the flanks of Mount Washington,the deep bowl offers a multitude of lines of various difficulty and skiers can readily find terrain that matches their abilities. Over the course of the winter, “Tucks” fills with prodigious amounts of snow blown from the high ridges above—skiing opportunities often last deep into spring as a result. To get to the ravine, you’ll need to hike, snowshoe, or skin up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail for 2.4 miles to Hermit Lake Shelters (where cold-weather campers can spend the night); the floor of the ravine is 0.7 mile farther. Returning to Pinkham Notch, skiers and snowboarders can descend on the Sherburne Ski Trail, which runs parallel to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. Note that Tuckerman Ravine is avalanche country—always check the latest advisory before heading out.

7) Bag the highest peak in the Northeast

New Hampshire’s Mount Washington is big, bad, burly, and beautiful. It also represents one of the Northeast’s most iconic, and most challenging,winter climbs. Summiting is not for the faint of heart, weak of fitness, or ill-prepared,but the rewards can be transcendent. On a clear winter day, the views encompass hundreds of square miles and reach as far as the Atlantic Ocean. The most direct ascent from Pinkham Notch requires gaining 4,250 feet of elevation over 4.1 miles, including a long section above treeline, where the winter winds can rip at dangerous speeds and temperatures routinely plunge into extreme, bone-chilling range. Spending the night at AMC’s Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch makes it easy to get an early start during the short daylight window of winter.

8) Experience the winter face of Katahdin

This is big winter adventure to one of the wildest and most spectacular peaks in the Northeast. Just reaching the base of the mountain requires a 13-mile ski or snowshoe over unplowed park roads to the Chimney Pond trailhead—where you are required to spend your first night—followed by a 3-mile ascent to the shelters and bunkhouse at the base of the mountain.The payoff is stunning alpine grandeur in an amphitheater of soaring walls,where the mile-high arête of the Knife Edge crowns icy cliffs of unforgettable beauty. Summiting in winter is a serious endeavor for only the most experienced. Learn more.

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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.