The advantages of going somewhere during the off-season are simple—better deals, smaller crowds —and they derive from the premise that off-peak travel must involve lowered expectations and certain compromises. A few rare places, however, hold hidden allure in the quiet months: castles on a rainy day, fishing-boat fairy lights, the braying of amorous penguins. As local experts make clear in the following year-round selection, you don't need to go peak to hit the heights.
Most of this enormous park’s 3 million annual visitors arrive during summer for hiking, kayaking and other warm-weather adventures. In winter and early spring, says park ranger Janis Burger, this wild place is imbued with a beauty that only a lucky few get to see.
“The park’s Hurricane Ridge is so named because of the high winds that blow mostly in winter. But on a blue-sky day after a fresh snow, the crystals on the surface are sparkling and the trees are often sculpted in white. They look like upside-down ice cream cones. There are animal tracks. You’re gazing down at forested river valleys, with very rugged peaks spread out 160 degrees in front of you, past a large portion of a park that’s almost the size of Rhode Island and is 95 percent wilderness.
“You need a good sleeping bag, but it’s really cool to be up there at night. The moonlight is bright on the snow when there’s a full moon. Not many people do it, so you’re going to have a whole mountain to yourself.”