If Ken Burns is to be believed, the national parks are America's best idea. Eighty-four million acres of the nation's most spectacular, ecologically unique and culturally important land placed in the public trust for everyone to enjoy. Soaring mountains, primordial forests and wildlife-rich grasslands-national treasures all, and yours to explore to your heart's content. But for most Americans, that exploring only happens in summer, when the roads are choked with traffic, the campsites booked in advance and the trails trampled by hordes of hikers.
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So why not check them out in winter? Sure, some of the parks-Yellowstone, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain and Acadia-are buried under snow and won't dig out until May or June or later. But southern and desert parks-like Big Bend, Everglades, Grand Canyon and Death Valley-are in their peak season, with mild temps and dry conditions that make them perfect for playing in. So go on and get outside. Raft the Rio Grande through Big Bend's Santa Elena Canyon. Spy on the Druid wolfpack in Yellowstone's frozen Lamar Valley. Stargaze atop a 10,000-foot volcano in Maui's Haleakalā National Park. Winter is the time to go wild in the national parks.