The Question: My husband and I love nature and active vacations. We would like to take a winter vacation in the USA that's warm and not overcrowded. Ideas?
Skip Florida, forget Arizona and head for Texas, says Robert Reid, the U.S. travel editor for Lonely Planet.
"Big Bend National Park is one of the U.S. National Park Service's greatest secrets – with climbs along the Rio Grande, hot springs overlooking Mexico and a rugged desert mountain landscape with giant boulders sitting astray like a setting for Land of the Lost," Reid says. "Winter is the best time to go."
To get there, fly into Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and connect to the airport in Midland. From there, Big Bend is about a four-hour drive southwest. Average temperatures in January, the coldest month, range from 2 to 16 C. So it's not beach weather, but you're not there to laze about, right?
The park offers prime camping spots, or if you don't want to rough it, consider the Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa ( lajitasgolfresort.com). The sprawling property mixes Badlands history (rooms are outfitted in "cowboy bordello" style – think iron-frame beds and Mexican tile bathrooms) with modern pampering (the kitchen turns out Southwestern locavore cuisine with a good dose of protein – hello bourbon-brined pork chop).
The national park, and its sister Big Bend Ranch State Park, span more than four million hectares, much of the area a wild, unpaved landscape. So there are multiple ways to quench your thirst for outdoor activity. Choose among horseback riding, hiking, whitewater rafting, mountain biking and more.
The region is also home to stargazing parties, says Reid, who has penned many guidebooks. This includes events at the McDonald Observatory ( mcdonaldobservatory.org), located near Fort Davis, a two-hour drive from Big Bend National Park. There, you can view sun flares, examine the scientific telescopes or join an evening fete to explore the moon, stars and galaxies above.
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Follow Karan Smith on Twitter: @karan_smith. Special to The Globe and Mail