Winter can be a time for retreating into the indoors, bundling up under quilts, and sipping hot chocolate by the fire. In other words, winter can be a fairly sedentary time of year.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Stay fit, have fun, and get some much-needed vitamin D by taking advantage of one of the best cold-weather pastimes around: exploring winter hiking trails.
If you simply can’t stomach the thought of hiking through snow, then your best bet is to fly south to greener (and warmer) pastures. But maybe don’t rule out winter hiking that fast. There’s something magical about trekking through a winter wonderland. Landscapes transform in interesting ways, so even familiar trails feel new. Plus, the trails are less crowded in winter—and there are no bugs.
If you’re willing to give winter hiking a try—or you’re already a big fan of trekking through wintry landscapes—then you can’t go wrong on any of these stellar winter trails.
1. Boulder River Trail (Washington)
In spite of its duration—the trail weaves through nine miles of old-growth forest—the Boulder River Trail is a relatively easy trek. The energy you save on hiking can be devoted to ogling the Boulder River Wilderness, which is nestled in a river valley and features waterfalls, scenic overlooks, and history in the form of an old railroad line. It’s all accented by fluffy white snow.
2. Brockway Summit (California)
North Lake Tahoe is a popular winter destination for the stellar skiing it affords. But there’s plenty more wintertime fun to be had on the area’s surrounding trails. This portion of the Tahoe Rim Trail (near Truckee) promises an 800-foot climb and gorgeous, 360-degree views of Lake Tahoe. At times the trail is best traversed via snowshoes; check trail conditions before setting off on your trek in order to ensure you’re fully prepared for the terrain.
3. Emerald Lake Hike, Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)
Rocky Mountain National Park is not far from Denver, which might help explain why it’s one of the most popular National Parks in the country. But come wintertime, park attendance significantly declines—and the trails get a whole lot more peaceful. This is especially true on the park’s Emerald Lake Hike, which passes by not one, not two, but three lakes before culminating at a stunning overlook featuring views of Hallet Peak and (frozen) Emerald Lake.
4. Esperero Trail, Santa Catalina Mountains (Arizona)
Mild winters mean this desert trail remains accessible all year round. Esperero Trail passes over diverse terrain, past jaw-dropping scenic overlooks, and alongside unique geological formations such as Cathedral Rock. Allow these sites to serve as inspiration for overcoming the trail’s many uphill climbs—and its length. The shortest version of the trail is 12 miles to Bridal Veil Falls, or you can continue on Esperero another four miles to reach the trail’s summit. While you’re unlikely to be traipsing through massive snowfields (it is the desert, after all), do dress for cold temperatures and potential snowfall.
5. Mount Ellinor Trail, Olympic National Forest (Washington)
You’ll probably want crampons (and winter hiking experience) in order to tackle this 6.2-mile roundtrip trail, but the physical effort will be well worth it. The steep trail gains a staggering 3,300 feet over just three miles, topping out at a modest elevation of 5,900 feet. At the top, catch your breath while taking in stunning views of Lake Cushman and 360-degree views of the trails summit.
6. Sitton Gulch Trail, Cloudland Canyon (Georgia)
Not far from Atlanta lies this 6-mile roundtrip trail. Start on the rim of Cloudland Canyon, then settle in for a strenuous hike beneath hemlocks and other evergreens—basically, the whole hike smells like a Christmas tree farm. As if the journey wasn’t great enough, hikers will enjoy a gorgeous payoff in the form of the trail’s final destination: waterfalls bedecked in icicles and surrounded by massive rock walls.
7. Swamp Canyon Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)
Bryce Canyon is exceptionally beautiful any time of the year, but the red rocks and hoodos are particularly striking when blanketed in snowy white snow. Take the Swamp Canyon trail for a 4.3-mile hike that climbs 800 feet up to the Swamp Canyon Overlook, which promises exactly these kinds of gorgeous views. When you’re done ogling and snapping pictures, enjoy quiet exploration of the surrounding fins and hoodos.
Stellar winter trails can be found virtually anywhere in the country. So instead of hibernating indoors this winter, dust off your parka and your hiking boots and hit the trails.