6 of the Best Winter Hiking Trails in the United States

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Korrin Bishop | Dec 18, 2019

Autumn leaves have fallen. A chill has taken over the air. The days 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 what 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. This time of the year can be a stressful one for people given all of the holiday season busyness. With less daylight, 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 D.C. It’s a perfect winter hiking trail 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.

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. The Black Elk Peak Trail is a 7.9-mile trail that will take you to the top of Black Elk Peak for a rewarding view—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.

3. Chimney Tops Trail in Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most-visited national park in the United States, which means that trails like the Chimney Tops Trail can get really busy during the summer months. We think this is one of the best winter hiking trails because hiking it in the winter offers a much more peaceful experience of the Smokies. 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 real busy during the summer months. Popular trails like the Mist Trail end up looking like a herd of fleece-clad cows are slowly 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 round trip to Vernal Fall, 7 miles round trip to Nevada Fall, with about 1,000 feet in elevation gain.

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 round trip 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.

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Author Bio

Korrin Bishop is the Managing Editor for the Gossamer Gear blog, Light Feet. She's also the co-founder of Wild Wilderness Women, a freelance writer, Oregon Duck, and group hug enthusiast. She grew up amongst redwoods, has a deep love for Everglades adventures, and was once a Washington, D.C. local before fleeing for more open spaces. Korrin has written for the National Park Service, Sierra Magazine, Fodor's Travel, The Dyrt, and Misadventures Magazine, among others. Learn more about her work on her website: https://www.korrinbishop.com/