We all feel like hibernating this winter.
The arctic chill has us huddled together with our dogs, cats and humans on sofas across the land, venturing out only for that required dog walk. Yet the brisk air is invigorating for some living things — maybe even you.
So, party with your dog, toast the ugliest fish in the world or walk into the wilderness to spot bald eagles or elk. Here are 10 animal-focused ideas for winter:
A cold water plunge for your pooch
Dogs and humans alike get to dive into the Atlantic Ocean during the Polar Plunge Festival on the Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, boardwalk (January 31-February 2). Don't worry: leashed pooches only go into the water as much as they like. The $25 pooch registration fee includes an official Pooch Plunge dog bandana. This Special Olympics fundraiser also includes a 5K Run to the Plunge and an ice sculpting demonstration.
Run those huskies into the woods
For a more active experience with dogs born to run, head to Maine for your introduction to dogsledding. No matter that you've never raced in the Alaskan Iditarod. Even kids can take charge of the dogs during these February half-day adventures into the Maine wilderness, which includes meeting the huskies, a 15- to 25-mile mush and a midday stop to build a fire and feed the dogs. There are also full-day and even two-day programs. Half-day prices start at $400 for a group of up to four people.
This dog race really counts
Want to see the real deal? This Valentine's Day weekend, come to Helena, Montana, for the Race to the Sky qualifying race for the Alaskan Iditarod. The 350-mile adult race starts at Camp Rimini, where soldiers and sled dogs trained during World War II and winds through the state's Rocky Mountains. There's also a 100-mile adult race and a 100-mile junior race. One of the nonprofit organizer's missions this year is to assist groups working to bring retired military dogs home. The host town of Helena also turns 150 years old this year, so it's bound to be an even bigger party than usual.
The ugliest fish in the world
One of the ugliest bottom-dwelling fish known to humans, the eelpout, gets its own festival in the tiny town of Walker, Minnesota, population 1,500. Even the name of the lake -- Leech -- is ugly. But that doesn't stop more than 10,000 festival participants and visitors from filling the town from February 20-23 for the 2014 International Eelpout Festival. Come for the Eelpout Fishfry and stay for the Eelpout Curling, the EelPout 500 races or the fishing show.
A more refined animal spotting
Get up early to see elk in their natural habitat near Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park, Kentucky. The tour leaves the resort for the elk reserve around 5:30 a.m., and guests should bring snacks, cameras and binoculars to capture their elk. The tour returns to the resort by noon. Head to the resort park the night before to stay the night and attend a pre-tour natural history program. The package price of $90 per single or $120 per couple includes one night's room, continental breakfast and transportation to and from the elk preserve the next morning. The tour is available February 1, 2, 22 and 23.
The national bird soars across many states
The American bald eagle, the official bird emblem of the United States, loves to spend the winter in some pretty cold states. If you're in the middle of the country, head to Oklahoma's Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge to spot the mighty bird or Beavers Bend State Park to find bald eagles hunting for food, fishing or nesting. (There are sometimes tours.) In Connecticut, join the state Audubon Society for an eagle-spotting cruise. In the upper Midwest, spot bald eagles soaring over several Illinois towns.
A banner year for this Arctic Circle resident
We're not promising that you'll spot the Snowy Owl at Norman Bird Sanctuary in Rhode Island. But it's worth a try this February to find the elusive Arctic Circle bird, which has been traveling south in unusually high numbers this winter. Bring your own binoculars to the sanctuary's free guided bird walks on February 2 and February 16. We hear from Rhode Island officials that it could be a banner year for sightings.
Alaskan animals come out to play
Moose, wolves and caribou don't sleep through Alaska's long, cold and dark winter, and animal spotters have a special treat this year: The National Park Service will plow the Denali National Park & Preserve road west of park headquarters in mid-February, a month earlier than usual (and the earliest it's ever been opened) so winter sports enthusiasts can play in the snow. Party with the community surrounding the park at Winterfest (February 21-23).
Groundhog Day predicts the end of winter
Want to know when winter will finally end? Join the crowds on the walk to Gobbler's Knob to spot the most anticipated winter animal of all, Punxsutawney Phil. He's expected to appear early on February 2, Groundhog Day, to let the world know how much more winter we can expect. The festival marking his appearance includes breakfast with Phil and s'mores with the Inner Circle, the local dignitaries who plan Groundhog Day events and care for Phil.
Saddle up for the rodeo
You say you're done with winter and prefer warm-weather activity? It can be a tad warmer in San Antonio where the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo (February 6-23) hosts horse and livestock shows, auctions and sales of horses and other livestock, rodeo performances, exhibits, a carnival and concerts after the show. The heat is on!