10 Hikes That Will Make You Fall in Love With Winter
Last Updated: Dec 05, 2016
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Don’t let a little snow keep your hiking boots from treading the trails till springtime. Walking in the fresh air — even if said fresh air is freezing — has substantial health benefits, such as improving circulation, strengthening immunity, reducing the risk of depression and even keeping your memory sharp. Plus, wintertime typically makes for less crowded trails and more opportunities to spot migrating wildlife. Whether you’re in search of that idyllic snowcap view or are seeking to escape the snow altogether, here are 10 invigorating winter hikes to make your season a healthy one.
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FOR AN UNFORGETTABLE SUNRISE: CADILLAC MOUNTAIN TRAIL, ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, MAINE
Making the 4.4-mile trek to the top of Cadillac Mountain will place you at the first spot in the United States to see the sun rise during winter months, says Kathy Kupper with the National Park Service. In addition to that, you’ll be rewarded with expansive views of Maine’s rugged coastline and the Porcupine Islands in Frenchman Bay. If you’re not much of a predawn hiker, an alternate option is to drive to the summit (which takes about 20 minutes from the village of Bar Harbor) and choose one of the four trails that lead back down to the bottom.
FOR THE THRILL SEEKER: MOUNT MARCY IN THE ADIRONDACKS, KEENE, NEW YORK
In addition to sprawling views of the Adirondack Mountains, summiting Mount Marcy in New York will earn you serious bragging rights. “It’s definitely not for everybody, but if you can handle heights, it’s a must to do since it’s the tallest peak in the state,” says Joseph Vulpis, founder of the American Hiking Guides Association and owner of Northeast Mountain Guiding. Despite being a 15-miler that scales just over 5,300 feet, don’t shy away from it if you’re not an advanced hiker. It’s definitely feasible for intermediate hikers, and winter makes for a less congested, more enjoyable experience, says Vulpis.
FOR AN OVERNIGHT EXCURSION: MOUNT WASHINGTON IN NEW HAMPSHIRE
Mount Washington offers hikers a unique opportunity to watch both the moon and sun rise as you sit atop its 6,288-foot peak — the highest in the Northeast. But rest assured, you can leave your arctic camping gear at home. Hikers can reserve a bed for the night at the (heated) mountaintop observatory. Depending on where you begin, hiking to the summit and back will be about seven to 10 miles, says Vulpis, though most hikers break it up with the overnight stay. If possible, choose a calm, sunny day to tackle Mount Washington; the winds can be deceptively harsh. A clear day will also provide majestic views of four states (Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont) as well as Canada and the Atlantic Ocean.
FOR THOSE MIGRATING SOUTH FOR THE WINTER: ROWDY BEND TRAIL, EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, FLORIDA
Want a winter hike with a snow-free guarantee? Head south to the balmy, subtropical wilderness of Everglades National Park, says Kupper. The Everglades is a fantastic winter hiking destination — both for its sublime weather and the astounding bounty of birds that call it home this time of year. Kupper suggests checking out the Rowdy Bend Trail — a 5.2-mile overgrown roadbed that winds through swaying coastal prairie grasses and arching buttonwood trees. Keep your eyes on the grasses for wildlife sightings.
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FOR THE SNOWSHOER: LOST PROSPECTOR TRAIL, PARK CITY, UTAH
Nestled in the heart of Park City, Utah, the Lost Prospector Trail offers spectacular views of Deer Valley and Park City Resort as well as Historic Main Street. While it’s best to summit with a pair of snowshoes, you can breathe a little easier knowing it’s one of the safest trails from an avalanche perspective, notes Scott House of White Pine Touring Company. And if you’re craving more, Lost Prospector is also a gateway to other hikes. “There are a lot of trails that connect into Lost Prospector, so you can create any number of loops, depending on your fitness, time frame and goals,” says House.
FOR THE PICTURE-PERFECT VIEW: SWAMP CANYON TRAIL, BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK, UTAH
It’s impossible to find a less-than-breathtaking picture of Bryce Canyon this time of year, as snow frosts the vibrant red rocks set against a cobalt sky. The Swamp Canyon Trail will guide you through 4.3 miles of rock spires (called “fins” by the park) and hoodoo rock formations (broken arches), allowing you time to ogle the canyon’s mesmerizing colors. In the winter, there’s the added option of doing a ranger-guided hike under a full moon, says Kupper. And don’t forget about the wildlife. The canyon’s water spring and creeks are prime for bird-watching.
FOR A DAZZLING PANORAMA: BEAR MOUNTAIN TRAIL, SEDONA, ARIZONA
The breathtaking red-rock cliffs that speckle the landscape of Sedona are perhaps best captured from Bear Mountain Trail. Considered more of a difficult trail because of its 2,100-foot elevation gain, climbing the arduous rocky stairways will reward you with a magnificent panorama of the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff and stunning red-rock views, says Tony Alba from the Arizona Office of Tourism. There’s also an “end of trail” sign to confirm your accomplishment. Allow at least three to four hours to complete this five-mile hike.
FOR AN ETHEREAL ESCAPE: KORTUM TRAIL, SONOMA COAST STATE PARK, CALIFORNIA
With 280 parks and more than 5,000 miles of trails, California is a hiker’s dream this time of year. In Northern California, swap the snow for sea air and fog drifts that envelop the Kortum Trail in Sonoma Coast State Park, where an everyday hike becomes an enchanted journey, says Dennis Weber with California State Parks. Located 90 minutes north of San Francisco, the Kortum Trail spans the wild coastline’s bluffs as winter tides crash beneath. Late winter also brings a bevy of wildflowers to the bluffs along with sea mammals and birds. Start the four-mile hike at Goat Rock near Jenner and continue to Wright’s Beach.
FOR THE SOLITUDE SEEKER: WILDROSE PEAK TRAIL, DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA
Considering that Death Valley is the hottest place on earth, winter is the chance to experience its majesty without contending with 120-degree days. The 8.4-mile, round-trip Wildrose Peak Trail offers incredible panoramic views of Mount Whitney and the Panamint Mountains, says Kupper, and the stillness of the desert can transform your hike into a meditative journey. Start at the Charcoal Kilns parking area on upper Wildrose Canyon Road and take at least a gallon of water with you. Though the temperatures are tepid, the dryness of Death Valley doesn’t falter in the winter.
FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY: BEAVER LAKE, NORTH CASCADES, WASHINGTON
For families with kids of all ages, the four-mile Beaver Lake Trail — once an old railroad bed — is brimming with lush greenery, rarely sees snow and makes for a peaceful hike through the North Cascades of Washington. “It’s an easy ramble next to the mighty Sauk River, which will let kids get up close and personal with nature on an easy, flat trail,” says Anna Roth, hiking content coordinator of Washington Trails Association. While there isn’t a set destination with this trail, the upside is that it doesn’t get as many visitors as other trails, so chances are good that you’ll have it all to yourself. Keep an eye out for beavers building dams near the bridge near the trail’s end. And as a post-hike treat, swing by Mountain Loop Coffee on Darrington Avenue for a cup of joe, locally sourced honey and art.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
What's your favorite hike? Have you been to any of these destinations? Will you be visiting them after reading this? What do you look for in a hike? Let us know what you think in the comments section!
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