6 of the Best Winter Hiking Trails in the United States
Autumn leaves have long fallen. A chill is in the air. The daylight hours are shorter. Winter is upon us. We often think of hiking as an activity reserved for the warmer, sunnier months of the year, but, in reality, winter is an excellent time to hit the trail.
While most trails still make for great options during the winter months, we’ve rounded up six of some that we think are the best winter hiking trails in the U.S.
Beat the Chill With 6 of the Best Winter Hiking Trails in the United States
There are lots of reasons to continue to hit the trail during the winter months. One of the most important is to help keep your spirits up.
With holiday busyness followed by getting back into a work schedule and implementing all of your resolutions for the new year, this time of year can be stressful for many people. With fewer daylight hours, it can also nag at your emotions, making you feel down and lethargic.
Hitting the trail is a great way to beat these winter blues. Use these best winter hiking trails to help get your blood pumping, some fresh air in your lungs, and a gorgeous view lifting your spirits!
1. Rock Creek Park Trails in Washington, D.C.
Rock Creek Park is a 1,754-acre wooded, wild greenway right through the heart of the nation's capital. It offers perfect winter hiking trails for city dwellers needing to escape their offices for a bit. The park has two main trails that run north–south—the Western Ridge Trail and the Valley Trail. These two trails connect with a wide array of shorter east–west trails, making for endless opportunities to explore. Depending on how much time you have, you can take a quick stroll, fashion up your own loop, or connect on to the Rock Creek Trail and keep heading on up into Maryland for some rest and relaxation on the shores of Lake Needwood.
Image: CC-BY-SA-2.0, TrailVoice
2. Black Elk Peak Trail in South Dakota
If you haven’t made the trip out to South Dakota yet to see the state’s gorgeous Black Hills, you need to get on that. While they’re beautiful year-round, they’re particularly pretty with a dusting of snow. Black Elk Peak Trail is a 7.9-mile trek that will take you to the top of Black Elk Peak for a rewarding view at an old, stone fire lookout—you can even see Badlands National Park to the east on a clear day. At 7,244 feet in elevation, Black Elk Peak is also the highest peak east of the Rocky Mountains.
Image: CC-BY-2.0, subarcticmike
3. Chimney Tops Trail in Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most-visited national park in the United States, which means that paths like Chimney Tops Trail can get really busy during the summer months. We think this is one of the best winter hiking trails because traveling it in the winter offers a much more peaceful Smokies experience. This out-and-back trail is a 3.3-mile trek, but the trip out is almost entirely uphill, so we recommend bringing some trekking poles along, especially if it’s icy out. It is important to note that, as of 2017, the trail ends at an observation deck rather than at the peaks due to damage from the 2016 wildfire in Gatlinburg.
4. The Florida Trail in Florida
Hey, maybe chilly hikes just aren’t your thing. That’s totally fine. Head south and hike along a portion of the Florida Trail for some of the best sunny winter hiking there is. We recommend stopping in at the Big Cypress Oasis Visitor Center in Ochopee, Florida, grabbing a hiking stick from the rangers there, and heading south on the trail. It will be some of the most unique and spooky swamp slogging you’ll find in the U.S.
5. The Mist Trail in California
Yosemite National Park is another one of those places that gets quite busy during the summer months. Popular spots like the Mist Trail end up cramped with hikers making their way to the waterfall. Yosemite, however, is absolutely gorgeous and well worth the visit, so we recommend hitting this popular trail during the winter months. Bring some microspikes and trekking poles and enjoy this lovely trail on a snow-dusted day. The trail is 3 miles roundtrip to Vernal Fall or 7 miles roundtrip to Nevada Fall, with about 1,000 feet in elevation gain.
Image: CC-BY-2.5, Walter Siegmund
6. Bear Mountain Trail in Arizona
If you’re making a winter trip to the desert, make sure to check out the Bear Mountain Trail in Sedona. This 5-mile roundtrip will be much more comfortable to hike in the winter than during the blistering heat of summer. The trail climbs for 1,800 feet and presents hikers with a beautiful view of Mount Humphrey, Arizona’s highest peak, at the top. Make sure to bring your winter layers though, as desert environments can still get chilly.
Enjoy the Best Winter Hiking Trails With the Right Preparation and Gear
Winter hiking can be good, adventuresome fun. You'll benefit from fewer crowds and you'll get to enjoy some fresh air during the colder months. If you're heading out on a winter trek, make sure to prepare properly to keep yourself safe and warm while in the wilderness.
Hungry for more backpacking gear and planning knowledge? Check out some of our other articles on the Light Feet blog to prep for your next winter hike:
- Cold Weather Layering for Hikers: The Ultimate How-To Guide
- 11 Cold Weather Hiking Hacks for Happier Winter Treks
- Post-Trail Depression: You're Not Alone and There’s Help
- 8 Tips & Tricks for Solo Hiking Trips
- Hydration 101: Your Guide to Water While Hiking
And, if you’re looking for a super stylish beanie for keeping your noggin’ warm, make sure to snag a Gossamer Gear beanie for your chilly hikes ahead! You can also snag some of our beloved LT5 Three Piece Carbon Trekking Poles to give yourself a little more stability while on snowy winter trails.