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Christmas in the Great Outdoors

niagara falls lights
(Image credit: CAA Winter Festival of Lights)

ZooLights

Zoolights at Lincoln Park Zoo

(Image credit: Lincoln Park Zoo)

Whether you are meeting your sweetheart under the mistletoe or fa-la-la-ing with family and friends, the 17th annual ZooLights is a perfect treat.

Take a spin on the endangered species carousel, learn some pointers from ice sculpture experts and take in the light show.

Keep Jack Frost at bay with a winter warmer like traditional spiced wine, hot cider, or steamy cocoa. When the weather is truly frightful, hanging out in the lion house with Santa Claus himself is most delightful.

Many other zoos around the country have holiday light displays. Visit yours!

Niagara Falls Lights

niagara-falls-tree

(Image credit: CAA Winter Festival of Lights)

The Winter Festival of Lights, now in its 29th season, transforms Niagara Falls, Ontario into a palette of stunning colors with three million sparkling tree lights and over 120 animated displays including the world-famous Enchantment of Disney displays.

The Winter Festival of Lights attracts more than one million people annually to Niagara Falls, Ontario, and has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Internationally Known Events in North America.

Go to the snow

cross country skiing

(Image credit: US DOI)

Most people won't be lucky enough to see a white Christmas this year. But folks in the northern corners of the States will likely have plenty of snow.

Cross-country skiing is a great excuse to tour the snow, especially at places like Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, pictured above, located at the crossroads of the Cascade, Klamath, and Siskiyou mountain ranges.

The 1st Tree

the national tree

(Image credit: NPS)

Every year since 1923, there has been a National Christmas Tree. Continuing a tradition begun under President Coolidge, the lighting of the National Christmas Tree is a celebration of the holiday season. Though the tree has gone by different names over the years, a series of living and cut trees have decorated the grounds around the White House since President Coolidge's time.

The current National Christmas Tree replaces another Colorado blue spruce replanted on the Ellipse in 1978. Damaged by a wind storm in February 2011, the 1978 tree was replaced by the current tree the following month. The newest National Christmas Tree measures approximately 26 feet, 4 inches - and growing!

Christmas Bird Counts

yosemite bird count

(Image credit: NPS)

From December 14 through January 5 tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations.

Families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists go out on an annual mission - often before dawn. For over one hundred years, the desire to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated people to leave the comfort of a warm house during the Holiday season.

Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. The Audubon Society and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations - and to help guide conservation action.

Check with your local Audubon chapter for more information.

Winter Wonderlands

yellowstone hot springs

(Image credit: NPS)

There's a secret to visiting Yellowstone that's especially true in winter. Walk a few paces on any trail, or just stand still and listen you'll find solitude in this celebrated, special place.

Picture a vast frozen landscape interrupted by copious billows of steam indicating active hydrothermal features bubbling mud cauldrons, sulfur-scented steam vents, and violent geysers that know no respite even in the deepest cold.

While most Yellowstone hotels, lodges, and campgrounds are buttoned up in winter, the park stays plenty busy. Hotels, closed briefly between seasons, reopen in December at Mammoth Hot Springs at the north end of the park and at Old Faithful, where the Snow Lodge can be reached by snowmobile or snowcoach. Commercial guides provide snowmobile, snowcoach, and cross-country ski tours of the park.

Live Science Staff
For the science geek in everyone, Live Science offers a fascinating window into the natural and technological world, delivering comprehensive and compelling news and analysis on everything from dinosaur discoveries, archaeological finds and amazing animals to health, innovation and wearable technology. We aim to empower and inspire our readers with the tools needed to understand the world and appreciate its everyday awe.