6 Spectacular National Forests for Cross-Country Skiing

America’s National Forests have been attracting outdoor enthusiasts for more than a century. Today, some of the country’s most spectacular ski spots are hidden in the National Forests, especially for cross-country skiers.

With everything from networks of groomed trails and high grasslands to fully staffed Nordic centers offering lessons and equipment rentals, the nation’s national forests are all brimming with winter adventures for cross-country skiers of all skill levels.

First, for a quick refresher on technique, refresh with an introduction to how to cross-country ski. Then, score the right gear, with a guide on how to buy cross-country skis for your winter getaways and the best ski brands to buy.

And, then, search for ski areas in the country’s 155 national forests. To start, here are some of the best places for cross-country skiing enthusiasts.

Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

Groomed trails at White Grass Resort in West Virginia.

Anchored by the Allegheny Mountains, much of the central part of West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest is at high elevation, which means that each winter the protected area is dumped with fresh powder and the snow sticks. And, under a blanket of fluffy snow, the 919,000-acre National Forest offers endless options for cross-country skiers, from unplowed forest roads and scenic drives to trail-crossed alpine meadows.

For beginners, Canaan Valley Resort and Blackwater Falls State Park are located just 6 miles from each other in the northern part of the National Forest, and both offer ski rentals and a combined 19 miles of trails. marked but not groomed. Just outside the town of Davis, the White Grass Ski Touring Center offers more than 30 miles of groomed trails garlanding the slopes of the 4,463-foot Weiss Knob. The Visitor Center’s trail system also provides access to the National Forest’s sprawling Dolly Sods Wilderness, a high-altitude plateau interwoven with 45 miles of backcountry trails.

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Sawtooth National Forest, Idaho and Utah

View of a mountain in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in winter.

The Sawtooth National Forest offers cross-country skiers a sumptuous smorgasbord every winter. Covering a 2.1 million acre swath of central Idaho and northern Utah, the massive protected area is buttressed by five different mountain ranges. It’s also teeming with glacial valleys, offering plenty of areas to explore on skis, from networks of groomed trails to thrilling backcountry terrain.

The town of Ketchum is a strategic base camp for skiers – with plenty to offer beginners and seasoned pros alike. Just north of Ketchum, the extensive North Valley Trails network offers more than 70 miles of groomed trails for cross-country skiers in the Wood River Valley, threading through the Sawtooth National Recreation Area of ​​the National Forest. The 20-mile Harriman Trail connects the entire trail system for seasoned skiers and offers stunning views of the Boulder Mountains.

And for beginners, the Galena Lodge is an ideal starting point. Offering access to a 30-mile trail system located at the northwest end of the North Valley Trails system, the historic lodge has been a hub for cross-country skiers since the 1970s, and amenities include ski rentals , private lessons, an on-site cafe and four cozy yurts for overnight getaways.

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White Mountain National Forest, Maine and New Hampshire

Bretton Woods covered in snow in the White Mountains National Forest.

Crowned by the tallest peaks in the northeast, White Mountain National Forest is a cross-country skier’s wonderland. Spanning more than 800,000 acres in eastern New Hampshire and western Maine, the national forest is crowned by 6,288-foot Mount Washington, New England’s highest peak – and a lighthouse. for hardened ski tourers. But the national forest also offers a buffet for cross-country skiing enthusiasts. Six different Nordic Centers scattered throughout New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest strip provide easy access to over 250 miles of groomed ski trails.

For a White Mountain sampler, the Bretton Woods Nordic Center offers more than 60 miles of trails showcasing the national forest and majestic lands of historic Omi Mount Washington Resort and offers ski rentals and private lessons for novices. still mastering the kick and slide. Meanwhile, more experienced Nordic skiers can tackle the lift-accessible alpine trails surrounding Mount Stickney Hut. For a taste of the skiable backcountry of the National Forest, Appalachian Mountain Club’s Carter Notch Hut, Lonesome Lake Hut, and Zealand Falls Hut can be rented year-round. However, winter is the self-service season for visitors.

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Superior National Forest, Minnesota

Skiers on groomed trail in the Upper National Forest.

With more than 445,000 acres of surface water—including the mammoth Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness—northeastern Minnesota’s Superior National Forest is an iconic destination for summer paddlers. But, the national forest is just as attractive in winter. Proximity to Lake Superior ensures the protected area is blanketed in snow – and during the winter much of the forest is open for skiing, from snowy logging roads to pristine wilderness trails to secluded backwater lakes -country. And, while the backcountry is teeming with exploration and skiing, especially in the Boundary Waters Wilderness, towns like Ely and Grand Marais also offer convenient access to the skiable area of ​​the National Forest.

In the heart of the National Forest, the ski trails of Sugar Bush offer more than 35 miles of cruising, circling a century-old warming lodge at the edge of Sawbill Lake. However, to start with the basics, the Giant’s Ridge ski area has an extensive 35-mile network of trails for cross-country skiers – once also famous as a training ground by the US Ski Team. And, for experienced skiers with lots of cold gear, backcountry permits for the Boundary Waters Wilderness are free from early October through late April — and winter is the perfect time to see the Northern Lights.

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Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont

A breathtaking view of a mountain shrouded in clouds in the Green Mountains.

Capped by the Green Mountains, Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest is a snowy Shangri-la for skiers. During the winter, all trails in the National Forest are open for cross-country skiing – from pristine backcountry circuits to groomed trails for beginner skiers. In addition to the alpine resorts, there are four fully equipped Nordic centers located within the protected area, as well as unmaintained backcountry routes for skiers wanting to make their first tracks in fresh powder.

For an introduction to National Forest offerings, the Mountain Top Inn & Resort in Chittenden is an idyllic launch pad — and has been attracting cross-country skiers for more than five decades. Today, the resort offers over 35 miles of groomed trails, including puppy-friendly trails. And, for an overnight getaway, there are cabins and guesthouses, as well as rooms in the resort’s main lodge. And for a longer excursion, the resort’s trail system also connects to the iconic Catamount Trail. Designed in 1982 and completed in 2008, the 300-mile ski trail crosses the entire state of Vermont, winding through the lowlands of the Green Mountain National Forest and providing access to a multitude of ungroomed forest trails, as well as to eight different backcountry areas for advanced skiers. .

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White River National Forest, Colorado

White River National Forest trails at sunset.

Home to 11 different resorts and ten different peaks above 14,000 feet (also known as the ’14ers), Colorado’s White River National Forest is renowned for downhill skiing – but the protected area of ​​2.3 million of acres is also a wonderland for cross-country skiers. For an introduction to the sprawling National Forest, just outside the town of Frisco, the Frisco Nordic Center caters to cross-country skiers of all skill levels, with rentals, introductory lessons and clinics for beginners. experienced skiers, plus 15 miles of groomed trails nestled along the shores of Dillion Reservoir.

And, for a ski trip with a bit of local history, Ashcroft Ski Touring near Aspen offers equipment rentals, lessons and ski tours, plus 20 miles of groomed runs in the Castle Creek Valley surrounding the ghost town of Ashcroft, a 19th-century silver mining town now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. From the Ashcroft Ski Touring lodge, skiers can also opt for a day trip to the Pine Creek Cookhouse for a gourmet backcountry lunch in the shadow of the Elk Mountains.

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