Winter doesn’t have to be a time of hibernation. That’s because, with the right attitude, gear, and sense of adventure, exploring our nation’s national and state parks at the right time can be a majestic wintery escape from the banality of modern suburbia. And if you’re lucky enough to time your outing accordingly, freshly fallen snow can utterly transform the typical into an entirely different experience. Winter hiking may not be for everyone, but it can be beneficial for those outdoor junkies who simply can’t keep indoors until the Spring Equinox.
At least that’s one of the perks of winter hiking — remaining active in an otherwise lethargic season. There’s also the solitude to consider since odds are only a mere fraction of causal hikers would choose a snow-covered hike over a hot-toddy by the fireplace. Meaning, the peace, and serenity surrounding a winter hiking destination could be just the thing to help calm the psyche after all the holiday madness. Need a few suggestions? Not to worry, what lies below are 10 great winter hiking destinations poised to offer some much-needed reprieve as we launch into another new year.
Bryce Canyon – UT
As the name might suggest, the wintery landscape in the well-known region of Bryce Canyon’s Fairyland Loops offers some of the most unique views and scenery in the country during winter’s finest months. In fact, with the region’s hoodoos already iconic in their own right, just the right amount of snowfall will have you feeling as if you’re on a different planet entirely. Passing through the 8.6-mile loop, you’ll traverse various sculptures, formations, and spires decorated by majestic hues of red, orange, and snow-covered purple rock.
Olympic National Forest- WA
A winter wonderland through and through, Olympic National Forest offers all the beauty and danger one would expect to find in this environment throughout the frozen season. And while caution is highly advised here, we suggest — with the right gear and prep — the Mount Ellinor Trail. This isn’t an easy hike in terms of elevation climb but it’s certainly doable for dedicated winter trekkers. Just be sure to pack your crampons, additional layers for warmth, mountaineering goggles, and plan accordingly for ever-changing weather conditions.
Los Padres National Forest – CA
With over 1,200 miles of trails and 875,000 acres of protected wildlife to explore, there’s little we can say about Los Padres National Forest that wouldn’t draw any avid hiker/explorer into the region. Take, for instance, how a good portion of the park’s interior gets very little use by the public. Meaning, if you want to be alone you can find some off-the-grid escapism without worry. Also, with a moderate climate (elevation-dependent of course) you won’t need to sport multiple layers of down or snow boots while out and about. Backpacking, camping, day hiking, and even O.H.V trails for the adventure motorcycle, Los Padres has it all.
Zion National Park – UT
What’s great about Zion National Park is its accessibility and the wide range of difficulty for hikers from every skill level. Here, everything from white-knuckle cliff-hanging hikes or casual strolls through the park are on the docket. It’s also where these majestic rock formations and landscapes are admired from within your vehicle of choice — if that’s desirable, of course —while the iconic Watchman Trail will most likely be yours for the taking while snow-covered sandstone spires present a wondrous scene you simply can’t compare to any other fair weather hike.
Mount Rainier National Park – WA
Yet another winter-centric pick for cold-weather devotees, Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park hosts a plethora of hiking trails out there for both backpacking and day hike loops. Take the region’s Mazama Ridge for example. The quaint six-mile loop is truly a one-of-a-kind winter wonderer’s dreamscape with the right equipment. Complete with unparalleled views of Mount Rainier itself along with the Tatoosh Range, the trek through the deep snow is blissful, quiet, and reflective. Just be sure to pack and plan accordingly.
Rocky Mountain National Park – CO
During the summertime peak season, Rocky Mountain National Park enjoys a fair amount of hikers, campers, and travelers from every corner of the world. Come winter though, that saturation drops significantly to the point where you might not even see a single soul throughout the day’s hike. If that sounds desirable, which it should, then we’d highly recommend planning accordingly and checking out Odessa Lake, Grace Falls, and Glacier Gorge along the Flattop Mountain Trail during peak winter months. Just be prepared to sport some snowshoes or some cross country skis along the way.
Mt. Hood – OR
If crowded trails and annoying tourists upping their selfie game is an experience you’d like to avoid, then Mt. Hood come winter time is a great option. Mostly because it’ll be empty, but also due to the breathtaking wintery views of the park that’ll grace your journey along any number of the snowy hiking trails you’ll encounter. And if you want it all, do yourself a favor and hike to Mirror Lake and then 5,000 feet upward across the snow gully to the summit. Just be sure to know your limits as well as the day’s weather forecast beforehand.
Garden of the Gods – CO
In the world of hiking destinations, Garden of the Gods is no secret getaway. When in season, everything from bike tours and adventure programs to front range climbing excursions take place in this national park located outside of Colorado Springs. Add some wintery elements into the mix, however, and there could very well be the occasional moment when blissful solitude amongst the 300-foot sandstone rock is yours for the taking. There are over 15 miles of trails in the park as well that are either easy or moderate in skill level — perfect for anyone looking for a quick escape from the daily grind.
Ironwood National Monument – CO
As a rule of thumb, stay clear of the Sonoran Desert during the summer months, as dangerously hot and dry conditions could create dire straights for even the most prepared adventurers. During the winter months, however, the Ironwoods National Forest becomes a sanctuary for hikers hoping to escape winter’s grasp for something a bit more temperate. And for the experienced bunch, be sure to summit Ragged Top Mountain just outside of Tucson where petroglyphs are known to exist near the mountain’s base.
Hi’ilwae Falls – HI
On the other hand, if winter doesn’t suit your fancy, why not head to the 50th state where summer exists in-perpetuity? If that’s the case, then we’d recommend touring one of the most powerful and tallest waterfalls in Hawaii. Here, at Hi’ilwae Falls, water drops roughly 1,450 feet into the Waipio Valley in magnificent fashion. It’s a moderate two-mile hike from the valley floor and doesn’t require one ounce of insulated down to get you there. You might want to bring along the insect repellant, as you’re entering tropical latitudes here.
15 Best Winter Hiking Boots For Men
If the hiking trails are going to be frozen, then you’d be wise to bring along a pair of winter-ready boots for the trip. If you don’t already own the right gear, we highly recommend scrolling through our curated list of the best winter hiking boots to enjoy your ice-cold escapade in comfort and style.
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