America's Best and Most Beautiful Winter Hikes
If you have a habit of stashing your hiking boots the moment cooler temperatures arrive, you've been missing out. In the winter, the nation's best hiking trails clear out and you can walk for miles without seeing another soul. Strap on a pair of snowshoes and stomp across glittering, snow-covered fields, or avoid the snow entirely and head south, where you'll find plenty of dry terrain that's too hot to brave in the summer.
The secret to winter hiking is making sure you have the gear necessary to stay warm, kick through snow, and outsmart the sun. Appropriate footwear and versatile lightweight layers are key — we like Patagonia's Nano-Air Hoody, which stuffs into a bag easily, leaving plenty of space for extra hiking snacks. And since the days are shorter, you'll want to make sure you give yourself plenty of time to finish your hike before darkness falls and the views you came for disappear. To get you started, here are some of our favorite winter hiking trails.
Jud Wiebe Trail in Telluride, Colorado
From the top of this trail, which starts and ends right in town, you can watch skiers at the Telluride Ski Resort or imagine life in this mountain town. Telluride may be known for its snow, but thanks to Colorado's 300 days of sunshine, this approximately three-mile hiking trail remains relatively dry year-round. And if you happen to visit after a big snowstorm, strap on a pair of microspikes and bundle up — the hike is just as beautiful under a layer of snow.
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Cumberland Trail in Cumberland Trail State Park, Tennessee
The in-progress Cumberland Trail will be 282 miles once it's finished, traveling across Tennessee from north to south. To get your feet wet, head to this popular trail in the winter, when hikers tend to clear out. If you have a full day to spare, take on the nine-and-a-half-mile Possum Creek section, where you can ogle waterfalls as you walk along the picturesque, wooded creek.
Watchman Trail in Zion National Park, Utah
The dry heat of southern Utah that typically deters hikers in the summer is welcomed in the winter. The Mars-like landscape of Zion National Park is just as beautiful in the winter — and more so if you happen to catch it with snow. In an easy three miles round-trip, this trail transports you to a land of sandstone spires and prickly pear cacti that bask under the desert sun year-round. If you want to get cutesy — and support national parks while you do it — sport some Zion gear from Parks Project, a brand that gives to national park conservation efforts.
Cape Falcon Trail in Oswald West State Park, Oregon
If you need more than stunning vistas to get you hiking in the winter, head to Oregon where you might glimpse a pod of gray whales midway through your day. On the approximately five-mile Cape Falcon Trail, you'll reach a 100-foot outcropping where you can pull out your binoculars and monitor the wintery water for their telltale spray. Your chances of spotting a whale are best in December and January when they're migrating from the Bering Sea to Baja, so make sure to pack an extra layer and enough fuel to keep you motivated for the hike back.
Gorham Mountain Trail in Acadia National Park, Maine
There's more to Maine than golden summers filled with lobster rolls and double-scoop cones. While it can be a chilly place to visit in the winter, the stark weather empties popular routes like Gorham Mountain Trail, giving winter hikers the chance to see the coastal splendor without the crowds. For this three-and-a-half-mile loop, you'll need a pair of snowshoes or cross-country skis, so you can float on top of the snow as you climb through a spruce forest and over snow-covered granite.
Mazama Ridge Trail in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
It's practically impossible to visit or live in Washington without noticing Mount Rainier. The massive (and active) volcano tops out at 14,410 feet above sea level and seems to dominate the landscape. You can play at the foot of Rainier year-round, but there's something a little extra special about getting out when the peak is covered in snow. Strap on a pair of snowshoes and conquer the six-mile Mazama Ridge Trail, which offers near-constant views of Mount Rainier and the Tatoosh Range.
Florida Trail in Suwannee River State Park, Florida
The wonderful thing about living in a country that has everything from mountains to beaches is that a winter hike doesn't have to feel wintery. In northern Florida, you can hike in 60-degree temperatures and sleep in established shelters with hot showers in the dead of winter. From the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, hike past cypress trees and limestone bluffs on the nearly eight-mile trip to Holton Creek River Camp. If you want to mix it up, consider taking on the next section by boat. Either way, pack along a sun shirt and some sunscreen to keep you protected from all angles.
Roundabout Trail in Steamboat Springs, Colorado
This cowboy ranching town has more winter Olympians than any other spot in North America, and once you're there, it's easy to see why. The town lives for winter — and while Steamboat Ski Resort is family-friendly, it has its fair share of expert terrain. When it comes to winter hiking, all you need is a pair of snowshoes to explore one of the many snowshoe trails departing from the on-mountain Thunderhead Lodge (which sits at an impressive 9,080 feet above sea level). We recommend starting with the flat, one-mile Roundabout Trail, but if you're feeling strong, continue on to Duster, which leads to the Rendezvous hut at 9,325 feet.