If you like the cold weather and prefer to have the trails to yourself, the best time to go hiking is during the winter. The United States has countless places to hike in winter for the most devoted enthusiasts. So throw on some snowshoes and stomp across sparkling white fields, or head south, where plenty of dry terrains are too hot to tackle in the summer.
Whether you want to embrace the winter wonderland or escape to warmer climates, here are some of the best places to hike in winter in the United States to get you started.
11 Best Places to Hike in Winter in the USA
Here is a list of the 11 best winter hiking destinations, in no particular order, in case you need help determining where to begin your search.
1) Emerald Lake, Colorado
This is not your average hike because you get to see four beautiful lakes in a short distance. Bear Lake is the starting point for this 3.5-mile out-and-back. The trail ascends to Nymph Lake, then passes the appropriately named Dream Lake, and finally reaches Emerald.
From this vantage point, you can see snow-capped mountains and icy landscapes in every direction. Winter months almost always necessitate the use of snowshoes for backcountry skis with skins.
2) Donut Falls, Utah
Look no further than the Wasatch Mountains surrounding Salt Lake City, Utah, if you’re searching for a place with a high concentration of easily accessible winter hikes. Donut Falls is one of Utah’s best winter hiking trails because it is both short and incredibly rewarding.
The trail can be found in the upper reaches of Big Cottonwood Canyon, and it is a fantastic addition to a day of skiing Utah’s renowned powder. The Donut Falls trail is an easy to moderate hike that doesn’t require a lot of hiking experience because it only covers 3.1 miles round-trip and has a modest gain in altitude.
3) Olympic National Forest, Mount Ellinor Trail, Washington
The ascent of 3,300 feet in just three miles on the Mount Ellinor Trail is no easy feat. Winter hikers, however, will be rewarded with calmer weather thanks to the relatively low top elevation of 5,900 feet. On the way up, take in vistas of Lake Cushman, and at the peak, take in a sweeping 270-degree panorama.
4) Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
You can enjoy the tropical climate in Hawaii and hike in one of the world’s best-hiking destinations. Kilauea is situated within Volcanoes National Park. There are plenty of easy day hikes that you can do on your own, but a guided hike is the best option for safely observing the scenery up close. In addition to backcountry hiking and camping, a permit is required.
5) Hood, Oregon
Mount Hood in Oregon is a great place to begin your winter hiking adventures. Timberline Lodge is at an elevation of 5,960 feet above sea level, and the trail from there to the peak of the mountain is 7.6 miles long with an elevation gain of about 5,290 feet.
The good news about hiking Mt. Hood is that you won’t be completely alone. Many hikers and skiers even bring their equipment up the trail with them so they can ski back to the lodge instead of taking a long way around.
6) Florida Trail
In Florida, you can usually go backpacking in mild temperatures all year round. There are 1,500 miles of non-motorized trail on the Florida Trail, passing through some of the most varied terrains in the United States.
The state’s namesake trail travels all the way from the Gulf Islands National Seashore in the panhandle to the Big Cypress National Preserve in the south.
7) Ousel Falls, Big Sky, Montana
Big Sky, Montana, is home to the breathtaking Ousel Falls, which can be reached after a short hike. Follow the path until you reach a set of wooden bridges that will take you to the waterfall. If the falls are frozen over, you might see ice climbers kicking their crampons into the water. This waterfall is enjoyable year-round but especially beautiful in the winter.
While Big Sky typically receives enough snow to require snowshoes, local and tourist skiers have compacted the snow on this 1.6-mile trail. Depending on the conditions, microspikes will be necessary for this one!
8) Cape Falcon Trail, Oswald West State Park, Oregon
The possibility of seeing a pod of gray whales in the middle of the day during the winter in Oregon is enough to get some people out and about, even if they don’t need more than stunning vistas to motivate them. About five miles into the Cape Falcon Trail, you’ll reach a vantage point perfect for scanning the ocean for the telltale spray with a pair of binoculars.
Your chances of spotting a whale are greatest in December and January when they migrate from the Bering Sea to Baja, so be sure to bring an extra layer and enough fuel to keep you motivated during the return journey.
9) Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The best part about the Bright Angel Trail is that you get to decide when you want the adventure to end. Choose between a short walk of 0.18 miles to the first tunnel or a longer journey of 6 miles (one way) to Plateau Point.
The National Park Service warns that this trail is likely to be icy and snowy (making traction essential) but that it also offers more solitude than other trails in the park.
10) Coopers Rock, West Virginia
It’s stunning in any season, especially when the leaves change or the snow is fresh. There are more than 50 miles of trails in the forest, and while most of them are designed for cross-country skiing, they are also ideal for less experienced hikers.
You can drive almost all the way to the lookout point at Cooper’s Rock. However, when the road is closed for the winter, hikers can take the road rather than a trail through the woods. On snowy days, many people choose this option.
11) Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California
The Pacific Crest Trail enters Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which offers opportunities for day hikes. The best time of year to explore this section is in late February and March when the desert landscape is covered in vibrant wildflowers.
Temperatures will be pleasant; however, spring and summer will be excessively warm. With San Diego less than two hours away by car, you may wish to visit the city’s famously beautiful beaches, which are enjoyable year-round due to the mild climate.
So these were our personal favorite 11 best places to hike in winter in the USA. The key to a successful winter hike is to ensure you have the right gear to keep warm, kick through snow, and avoid getting overexposed to the sun.
When the temperature drops below freezing, it’s best to keep as much of your skin covered as possible to prevent frostbite. When preparing for a hike, it’s a good idea to check the forecast and the trail conditions.
So Good Luck WIth Your Hike!