jekyll island girl on bike
Credit: Getty Images
One of the best-kept secrets about the South? Winter is as good of a time as any to plan an outdoor adventure. We’re not just talking about sunny Florida escapades, either. Whether you want to escape the chill for an oceanside retreat or crave the crunch of snow under your feet, the region is brimming with reasons to crawl out from your blanket and head outside.
For some, that may mean clipping into skis and sipping hot cocoa in the lodge. Others may indulge in a National Park excursion sans peak-season crowds. And even in the dead of winter, you can’t deny the healing powers of coastal waves.
So, pack your jacket and step away from the couch. These outdoor getaways are sure to keep the winter blues at bay.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
This vast 800,000-acre National Park flung far in the southwest corner of the state is cradled by one of the most storied rivers in the South: the Rio Grande. In winter, this majestic landscape of scrubby brush and spiny cactus feels as expansive as ever. Boasting an enjoyable 60- or 70-degree average temperature during the day, the park is prime for winter exploration. It’s worth bundling up for the near-freezing temperatures at night too. Big Bend‘s remote conditions create some of the darkest skies for stargazing in the lower 48 states.
Golden Isles, Georgia
Moss-draped oaks meat glistening marshes in this relaxing corner of Georgia. After the area’s spirited Yuletide celebration settles down, the rest of the winter season is a snowbird’s dream. Comprised of the four barrier islands of St. Simons, Little St. Simons, Jekyll, and Sea Island, these unspoiled beaches are a marvel by foot or bike—Jekyll Island has a more-than-20-mile network of scenic bike paths that are waiting to wind you through tangled trees and golden shorelines.
Banner Elk, North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Mountains are a sight to behold in winter, and Banner Elk has a front row seat. This charming mountain town is a gateway to some of the South’s best snow-capped thrills. The area’s largest ski resorts, Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain, are both within driving distance. Keep up the snow play at nearby Grandfather Mountain or defrost by the fire at one of the area’s family-run wineries, like Banner Elk Winery & Villa or Linville Falls Winery.
South Walton Beaches, Florida
Swap snow for stretches of white sand in this emerald-coast paradise. While summer greets you with a crowded sea of umbrellas, off-season stays along 30A will make you forget public beach access even exists. Winter weather on the Gulf Coast may not warrant a two piece, but you can still expect sunny skies and t-shirt temperatures through the colder months.
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Dive underground where the temperature stays a balmy 54 degrees no matter the season. More than 400 miles of passageways await in the world’s longest cave that’s sure to awaken your sense of wonder with every otherworldly turn. Above ground, Kentucky’s Green River and hiking trails are less populated this time of year too.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville‘s winter climate may surprise you. This time of year, it’s cold enough to see snow-capped mountain peaks but often still warm enough to find 50-degree temperatures and higher in the forecast. Gear up and take advantage of empty hiking trails before ending your day in town at one of the mountaintop city’s renowned restaurants or breweries.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Experience this subtropical wilderness at its prime. Tangled waterways, mangrove forests, and saw grass marshes await amid cooler, less humid 70-degree temperatures. Plus, lower water levels during the park‘s winter season amp up the odds of an alligator sighting.
Captiva and Sanibel Islands, Florida
A little adventure and plenty of R&R lie across a 3-mile causeway on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Most of these solitary islands are protected, creating a sanctuary for natural riches. Here, all sorts of critters will make you pause with awe, even in winter. You can witness these treasures along winding bike baths or shell-speckled beaches, but you don’t even need to leave your car to see the island on display: The 4-mile Wildlife Drive at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge hugs the water with views of manatees, alligators, and hundreds of species of birds.