A new year calls for a new adventure. Here’s our guide to some of the most exciting places to hike, cycle, climb and ski in the first few months of the year.
If you can’t decide between a city break and a skiing holiday, head to Canada’s capital city.
Gatineau Park, a few minutes from downtown Ottawa, has over 200km of cross-country trails, suitable for beginners through to advanced skiers. Yurts, cabins and four-season tents are available to rent for those who prefer glamping to a city hotel.
If downhill is more your thing, Mount Pakenham and Camp Fortune ski resorts are an easy drive away.
Ottawa also has the world’s largest naturally-frozen rink in the shape of the Rideau Canel, which freezes solid every winter. Each January, refreshment stands pop up on the 7km stretch of ice, along with skate hire stands. Some residents even use the skateway to commute to and from work.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, USA
Empty of visitors and blanketed with snow, Yellowstone in winter is a magical place. It’s also the best time to observe the park's wolves as they hunt herds of elk. Yellowstone Wolf Guides offers a winter retreat where you can spend the morning tracking packs of wolves in the company of wildlife experts, followed by an afternoon hike.
Yellowstone has two winter lodges where you can stay while you explore nearby trails on skis or snow shoes or take a snowcoach tour of the park. To reach the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, elevated at 7,300ft, you’ll need to take a snowcoach or snowmobile; you can access the Mammoth Hot Springs by car.
SIERRA NORTE, MEXICO
La Sierra Norte is one of Mexico’s most beautiful and biodiverse regions, home to 400 species of birds and 350 species of butterflies.
The Pueblos Mancomunados, a group of Zapotec villages linked by scenic trails, have worked together for centuries to manage their 290sqkm territory, a thickly-forested highland of caves, waterfalls and lookouts.
Now they have set up an ecotourism enterprise, offering accommodation and home-cooked meals as well as a host of activities from trekking to horse riding, mountain biking and zip-lining.
The project has an office in the nearby city of Oaxaco - in itself worth a visit for its colonial-era buildings and cobbled streets. The central plaza, the Zócalo, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Famous as the country which measures the Gross National Happiness of its citizens, the tiny kingdom of Bhutan offers a cautious welcome to visitors. In order to minimise the impact of tourism, visas are only available to those booked on organised, approved tours.
But even devoted independent travellers shouldn’t let this put them off - Bhutan is a magical country, with a beautiful landscape that has changed little in centuries.
Wild Frontiers offers a tour which begins with an awe-inspiring flight over the Himalayas from Delhi and a cultural tour of the capital, Thimpu. For the next two weeks you'll enjoy scenic drives through mountain forests, day hikes and visits to several magnificent monasteries, including the famous Paro Taktsang, built on a steep cliff above the Paro valley.
ABRUZZO NATIONAL PARK, ITALY
If you’re relatively new to backcountry skiing or would like to try it out for the first time, The Crowded Planet’s Margherita Ragg recommends heading to Abruzzo National Park in central Italy.
“The Apennine mountains are not as steep as the Alps, making this area ideal for beginner to intermediate backcountry skiers,” she said. “Remember to take a good map or hire a guide for the day.”
Two-thirds of the park are covered in forests, providing refuge for three rare species
- the Apennine Wolf, Abruzzo chamois and Marsican Brown Bear. Ecotur offers winter wildnerness hikes. Stay in one of the many picturesque medieval villages in the area, such as Pescasseroli or Opi.
LYNGEN ALPS, NORWAY
How’s this for a ski touring adventure. Board a sailing boat in Tromso, 200 miles inside the Arctic circle, and set sail for the Arctic fjord at Lyngen. Wake the next morning to mountains and untouched powder snow.
Step onto the beach and skin your way to a summit, then enjoy an exhilarating ride back down in the company of a professional mountain guide. Watch the sunset from the deck, recover over dinner and beers, sleep - and rise the next day to a whole new landscape.
You may even get to see the Northern Lights. Epic Tomato offers a week’s ski touring by boat, which includes an evening’s hospitality with a Sami family at their camp.
LAKE DISTRICT, ENGLAND
The Lake District is famous for its spectacular walks - it has 3,500km of rights of way - but it also offers countless other opportunities to indulge your love of outdoor adventure.
Climb England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike or swim wild in its deepest lake, Wast Water. Go rock climbing, abseiling, paragliding, potholing, mountain biking, kayaking or sailing.
For an intense challenge, tackle one of the epic routes which cross through the park, such as the Coast to Coast, a two-week walk from the Irish to the North Sea which also takes in the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks.
Paul Johnson, editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and a Lake District resident, says March is an ideal time to visit. “The Lake District is beautiful at any time of year, but in the summer it can get a little crowded,” he says. “Visit earlier in the year and you'll be able to enjoy it without the same crowds. Everything comes to life, including the daffodils which are world famous here thanks to Wordsworth's poetry.”
LAKE KHOVSGOL ICE FESTIVAL, MONGOLIA
Every winter, Mongolia’s largest and deepest lake freezes over, a four-feet layer of crystalline ice forming on its surface. Local residents take the opportunity to hold a lively Ice Festival on the lake with horse sleigh races, speed-skating competitions and ice sumo.
Panoramic Journeys offers a 10-day trip which includes a visit to the festival and two others - the Eagle Festival on Bogd Khan Mountain just outside the capital Ulaanbaatar and the Gobi Desert Festival, where you can watch camel racing and traditional games amid the dunes and sandstone cliffs.
If skiing is your thing, Black Tomato runs a tour which includes a visit to the Ice Festival as well as a cross-country ski trip into the Mongolian Taiga - a land of dramatic mountains, valleys, forest and barren tundra - where you’ll stay with the Tsaatan, a community of nomadic reindeer herders.
For a late-season ski trip, try Åre in Sweden. Snow is guaranteed here until at least May and while the peaks are softer than those you might find in the Alps, there is still plenty to enjoy.
There are some challenging pistes just below the 4,658ft peak of Mount Åreskutan, gentler hills by Lake Åre and some fun runs through forested areas. Snowmobile safaris, dogsleighing and ice fall climbing are also on offer. In summer, Mount Åreskutan is transformed into a mountain bike park, with 40 km of downhill trails.
Head north between March and June for good value heli-skiing at Riksgränsen - the world's most northerly ski resort. Visit at midsummer and you can ski or hike in the midnight sun.