You may think that just because it’s winter and (depending on where you live), it’s cold outside and there may be snow on the ground, that’s an excuse to confine all of your physical activity to the indoors. Hiking is not an activity many people associate with winter- skiing and snowboarding, sure, but not usually hiking. It’s an activity that conjures up images of trekking up rugged hillsides while the sun beats down on your back and beads of sweat roll off your skin. Well, although the experience of hiking in the winter is quite different than it is in milder months, winter hikes can be equally beautiful and satisfying, and I promise you that as long as you’re doing it right, you’ll still work up a sweat.
No matter what part of the U.S. you reside in, there’s a trail out there calling your name. Say goodbye to cabin fever and hello to fresh footprints in the snow as you explore one of these eight great hikes:
1. Washington: Mount Rainier National Park
If anything, this park just gets even more beautiful in the winter. Be prepared to trek through some deep snow, so you’ll probably want to strap on some snowshoes for this hike, but the views you’ll be rewarded with after trudging three miles up the snow-covered banks of Mazuma Ridge are beyond compare. Time it so you can watch the sun rise or set over the mountain peaks and you’ll forget where earth ends and sky begins.
2. New York: Adirondack Park
Winter is a perfect time to explore what New York state has to offer beyond the Big Apple. Few things are more breathtaking than snow-capped mountains, and the Adirondacks offer trails for hikers of all skill levels. More experienced hikers may be drawn to highly-elevated peaks such as Haystack, Cascade and Ampersand, while others can check out the more than 2,000 miles of walkable trails.
3. Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park
It’s no wonder John Denver loved to sing songs about the state of Colorado. With their starry skies, clear blue mountain lakes, and “fire in the sky,” the Rocky Mountains are a beautiful part of the world to explore any time of the year, but especially in the winter with the snow shimmering off the mountains. Despite all the snow Colorado gets in the winter and its status as a winter ski destination, the trails on the eastern side of the mountain, such as Chasm Falls and Deer Mountain, are surprisingly accessible.
4. Utah: Bryce Canyon National Park
If you’re able to make the 800-foot climb to the Swamp Canyon Overlook, then you will be treated the most spectacular view of your life. The juxtaposition of the deep red rock, pure white snow, and cornflower blue sky will take your breath away.
5. California: Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is a prime tourist destination, attracting up to 4 million visitors each year. However, if you go during the off-season when most of the park (except for Yosemite Valley) is closed, then you can explore the natural beauty of the land without fighting your way through hordes of tourists. After exploring Lower Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Falls, Mirror Lake, and the Mist Trail, you can go skating on the ice rink!
6. Texas: Big Bend National Park
Beat the humid Texas heat by visiting Big Bend National Park in the drier winter months, when temperatures are milder and risk of severe thunderstorms is eliminated. The park offers three diverse ecosystems including the high-altitude Chisos Mountains, the Chihuanhuan desert, and the riparian zone along the Rio Grande. The 11.6 mile South Rim Loop will give you a taste of all of them.
7. Florida: Everglades National Park
Florida may be best known for its balmy, high-heat summers but if you want to escape the summer heat, the drier season lasting from December through April is the best time to visit the Everglades region. You won’t get any snow-capped peaks with this hike, but what you will get is a vast sky perfect for birdwatching as you make your way through the 5.2 mile Rowdy Bend Trail.
8. Maine: Acadia National Park
Bundle up for this hike because, as you know, Maine is the northernmost state on the east coast and its winters can be brutal. The Gorham Mountain Trail is just four miles long, but it will grant you unbeatable views of the ocean in wintertime. Always err on the side of the caution and wear snowshoes or cross-country skis.
If you’re huddled up on your couch under a mountain of blankets this winter feeling like you’ve lost your purpose, what are you waiting for? Get out there and explore a real mountain…or a desert, or a prairie, or wetlands…wherever you are, you’re never far from exploring a beautiful piece of nature! Then you can return to your warm blankets.