United States

8 Western Preserves for Winter Fun

Oh, the weather outside is frightful — but nature is so delightful!

Whether you were bitten by the travel bug or are just looking for fun ways to get outside this winter, these activities across the West are sure to please the whole family. And best of all — these destinations are protected by The Nature Conservancy and its partners for people and wildlife to enjoy.

Inspired to help protect these landscapes? Consider making a small contribution to preserve nature near you.

Bird Watching in Utah

Although spring and summer are the most popular seasons for birdwatching, winter also provides its own unique birding experience — especially at the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve in Moab, Utah. More than 200 species of birds, amphibians, and mammals can be found at the preserve throughout the year, and winter is no exception. A variety of geese, ducks, crows and raptors (like this Cooper’s Hawk) hang around the preserve during the colder months. So, grab a coat and some binoculars and enjoy observing the biodiversity of a desert oasis during this tourist hot-spot’s off-season.

 

Dry Fly-Fishing in Wyoming

Winter in Wyoming is often bitter cold and windy, but on calmer days you might dare to venture to the North Platte River for excellent dry fly-fishing. In some sections of the river, such as Grey Reef, huge winter midge hatches provide the perfect conditions for fishing as hungry trout linger near the water’s surface looking for a bite to eat. Fishing in this diverse landscape is just one of many economic activities that are integral to sustaining a working landscape compatible with maintaining biodiversity within the Conservancy's North Platte project area.

 

Snowshoeing in Montana

You would be hard pressed to find a bad place for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in Montana, but many agree that one of the best places is within the Crown of the Continent. This 10-million-acre mosaic of high peaks, forest, prairie, rivers, and wetlands envelops Glacier National Park and straddles the Canadian border and Continental Divide. Not only does the Crown provide ample snow and unsurpassed scenery, the Crown of the Continent ecosystem is one of the wildest, most intact places on Earth, boasting no animal extinction in the past 200 years.

 

Fishing in Nevada

When you think of winter in the driest state in the U.S., fishing may not immediately jump to mind. But it’s easy to get hooked casting for native fish at McCarran Ranch Preserve near Reno. Thanks to more than a decade of restoration work to reconnect the Truckee River and its floodplain, today wildlife are thriving along this stretch of river that’s been closed to the public for over a century. Whether you fly or spin, grab your rod and enjoy the crisp air while fishing for brown and rainbow trout as well as Nevada’s state fish, Lahontan cutthroat trout.

 

Snowshoeing in New Mexico

Planning a trip to Santa Fe this year? Snowshoeing is the perfect way to explore the natural wonders surrounding this heritage-rich town. Take a break from the many galleries, spas and restaurants and discover our Santa Fe Canyon Preserve nestled in the foothills adjacent to the Santa Fe National Forest just minutes from downtown. Thanks to averaging 340 sunny days a year, your odds are good for great weather while hiking the 1.5-mile interpretive loop alongside cottonwood and willow trees, a (possibly frozen) pond, red-wing blackbirds, a beaver lodge and ruins of an historic Victorian-era dam.

 

Wildlife Viewing in Idaho

While many have settled in for winter hibernation, others have stepped out and flown in to enjoy the beauty and wonder of Silver Creek. The relatively warm groundwater springs keep open water in the pond. Diving ducks pop up around the dabblers and Trumpeter swans, quaking tikkatukkatikka, like kids on a summer sunny afternoon. Birders discover a new bald eagle’s nest during an expedition for the elusive goshawk. The high road becomes a snow shoe overlook where ermine scurry over coyote, deer, moose, geese and elk tracks. Things you may need: snow shoes, binoculars, a canoe, and polarized sunglasses to get a glimpse of the world famous rainbow trout.

 

Hiking in Arizona

In southern Arizona, winter hiking is wonderful. For iconic views of 1,000-foot cliffs and sitings of desert bighorn sheep, coatis, javelina and other wildlife – you can’t go wrong with a visit to the Conservancy’s Aravaipa Canyon Preserve. The preserve book-ends the Bureau of Land Management’s Aravaipa Wilderness, a 10-mile long canyon cut by a lovely, permanent stream. This is one of the best hikes in southern Arizona.

 

Sledding in Colorado

When you think of Colorado in the winter, most people think of the mountains and skiing, but there are plenty of other things to do around the state in the snowy colder months. The San Luis Valley has quite a bit to offer its winter visitors. Sledding at Great Sand Dunes National Park is really a year-round activity, but particularly fun when the dunes are covered in snow. You can also hike Zapata Falls and encounter a frozen waterfall. The bison roam the Conservancy’s Medano-Zapata Ranch all year and if you are in the Valley around the beginning of March, make sure to catch the annual sandhill crane migration, it is quite a site to see.

 

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