For some of us, we’re lucky enough to have spent the last few months with snow being only a short jaunt away (or, probably, a little trip up to higher altitude). But for most, the wish for snow has slowly started to creep in. Back to School sales are starting, and what follows that are changing leaves, and then before you know it winter has descended.
Those first few months of winter might be a good time to get your snow-legs back, tackle some easier trails, or to bring new people out for their first snowshoe experience. Here, we’re showcasing The Active Times favorite scenic winter hikes. We love this list because it highlights hikes in every part of the country (yes even Texas). Looking for more options? Make sure to check out Snowshoes.com where there are hundreds of options added by winter enthusiasts just like you!
Don’t forget to double check your gear before going on any hike, and make sure you have the right shoes (in good condition!). Tubbs trail-walking and day-hiking shoes are great for these kinds of treks. And for the beginner snowshoer, don’t forget we have Men’s and Women’s kits!
White Clay Creek, Delaware and Pennsylvania
Less than an hour’s drive from Philly and only half an hour from Wilmington, Del., White Clay Creek State Park and Preserve is a rustic respite from city. Carl Ewald, founder of Philadelphia-based TerraMar Adventures, recommends the Penndel trail, a converted rail trail along the creek that begins on the Pennsylvania side. “There are other trails in the park,” he said, “but, this is the prettiest.” This graded out-and-back affords wooded views of the frozen creek and has mile markers so hikers can choose when to turn around. “If hikers are up to longer hikes, at just over 3 miles you will cross over the border into Delaware,” said Ewald. “There is a nice loop extension in Delaware. Continuing straight along the trail will take you through alternating woods, meadows and farm fields until you reach the visitors center. You can return along a trail that follows the bank of the river back to the Pennsylvania border.” On your drive back to Philly he recommends stopping by Vala Vineyards, “a little winery that has a great tasting with cheese in a beautiful setting.”
Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs
Pike’s Peak looms over vertical red rock spires in Garden of the Gods Park, on the western edge of Colorado Springs. With names like “Kissing Camels” and “Three Graces,” these natural snow-dusted formations make a peaceful backdrop for 15 miles of trails. One great choice, the Chambers-Bretag-Palmer loop, is a 3-mile trail encircling the entire park with rolling, rocky terrain and less than a 250-foot climb.
A.T. ‘Velvet Rocks’ Section, Hanover, N.H.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail is typically a summer activity, but this small stretch that begins at the Vermont-New Hampshire border is an easy winter hike through snow-blanketed fields, hardwood forest, and up a rocky granite ridge with views of the town below. Speaking of the town, this section hike actually begins in downtown Hanover, home of Dartmouth College and the Dartmouth Outing Club, which maintains more than 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail in the region. Snowshoes may be necessary on this 5.2-mile out-and-back, and trekking poles are a must.
Kincaid Beach Trail, Anchorage
Just over a mile south of Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage is Kincaid Beach, a secluded sandy beach on Cook Inlet with views of Mount McKinley and the Alaska Range, says Erin Kirkland, publisher of family travel guideAKontheGO.com. “[It’s] great on a clear afternoon,” she said. Technically a spring hike — “which are still considered winter hikes in the Lower 48” — you get there via a mile-long access trail through the hilly old-growth forest of Kincaid Park, where you’re likely to encounter moose and the occasional bear. Once on the beach, if you’re in the mood for a longer walk, you can stroll along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, a multi-use path that follows the shore for 11 miles into downtown Anchorage.
Robert Frost Trail, Mount Holyoke Range S.P., Mass.
The southernmost section of this 47-mile trail, named for the poet, passes through the Mount Holyoke Range, a rare east-west ridge in central Massachusetts with ravines, caves, valleys, deep woods and 360-degree views — all, potentially, on the same hike. Hikers leaving from the Notch Visitors Center can take any number of loop and out-and-back options of varying difficulty since the trail intersects the longer, more difficult Metacomet-Monadnock Trail in several places.
Brockway Summit, North Lake Tahoe
Whether you live in the area or are visiting one of Tahoe’s several ski resorts, this small section of the Tahoe Rim Trail just off of Highway 267 near Truckee, Calif., is a great way to take in views of the entire lake. A healthy climb (about 800 feet), this up-and-back sometimes requires snowshoes and takes about an hour for those acclimated to the mountain air, or two hours for “flat-landers,” says Andy Chapman, spokesman for the North Lake Tahoe Marketing Cooperative. “Once at the top, I prefer to pack some snacks and sit to enjoy the sweeping views of the Pacific Crest — you can see all of Lake Tahoe from Squaw Valley to Heavenly in South Shore, Mount Tallac, Crystal Bay and beyond,” he said. “It’s gorgeous, easy to access and a relatively quick trip.” For a more leisurely hike with less climbing, he suggests Tahoe Meadows off of Highway 431 on the Nevada side.
Kanawha State Forest, Charleston, W.V.
Only seven miles from West Virginia’s capital is a 9,300-acre spread of Appalachian forest crisscrossed with 25 miles of marked hiking trails of varying difficulty. Not only is the forest’s varied terrain less crowded in the winter, hikers are less likely to encounter the mountain bikers who flock there in the summer.
Palo Duro Canyon, Amarillo, Texas
Nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of Texas,” this huge red-rock canyon outside of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle has similar scenery to the actual Grand Canyon, if not quite at the same scale. (It’s sometimes called the second-largest canyon in America.) Palo Duro State Park has approximately 30 miles of trails, the most iconic of which is the 6-mile round-trip Lighthouse Trail, taking hikers to the base of a 300-foot rock formation resembling a lighthouse. Go when the weather’s right for views of the frosted desert as far as the eye can see.
Hocking Hills, Ohio
Ohio isn’t normally thought of as hill country, but the sparsely populated Appalachian foothills creep well into the southern and eastern parts of the state. Only an hour south of Columbus are the Hocking Hills, an especially rugged section marked by cliffs, gorges, caves and waterfalls. This popular outdoor recreation area has fewer visitors in the winter, but the state park system there has over 25 miles of marked trails that are open year-round, and the scenery — from frozen waterfalls to huge sandstone caves to the deep, narrow gorge of Conkle’s Hollow — make it a rewarding place to hike even in cold weather.
Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming
This scenic spur of the Rockies rises from the Great Plains all the way past 13,000 feet, but inside the one million-plus acres of Bighorn National Forest are 1,500 miles of trails, many of which you don’t have to be a mountaineer to enjoy in the winter. A short drive from the town of Sheridan, Wyo., are two popular options among cross-country skiers and snowshoers: the Sibley Lake Ski Trails have 15 groomed miles in the 8000-foot range, and the Cutler Hill Trail adds three additional miles for those with dogs.
Delaware Water Gap, N.J. and Pennsylvania
New Yorkers and Philadelphians looking to escape the brown slush for some more refreshing winter scenery can head to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, one of the most popular units of the National Park System. Frozen waterfalls, views of the iced-over Delaware River and a snowy section of the Appalachian Trail are some of the wintertime attractions here. One short loop, suggested by the Appalachian Mountain Club, is the 4.5-mile Coppermine Trail, which begins at the Mohican Outdoor Center in Blairstown, N.J. The trail winds down to the river and back, passing by a waterfall and an abandoned mine along the way.
Franklin Falls, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie N.F., Wash.
Three seasons of the year this is one of many great waterfall hikes in the Pacific Northwest, but during winter cold snaps, this short out-and-back an hour from Seattle is a rare treat. The falls freeze over, creating what one recent hiker, writing on the website of the Washington Trails Association, called “a grandiose ice pipe organ.” Only a two-mile round trip with 400 feet of elevation gain, this trek through old-growth forest along the South Fork Snoqualmie River is easy, but may require ice cleats and trekking poles for the final short climb to the base of the falls.
Roan Mountain, N.C. and Tennessee
In the winter, those same clouds that make the Great Smoky Mountains “smoky” can become supercooled, causing droplets to freeze into crystalline layers of ice encasing the trees and vegetation — a phenomenon called “rime ice.” One of the best places to see the spectacular result, along with wind-sculpted snow formations, is on Roan Mountain on one of the highest sections of the Appalachian Trail. Mark File, publisher of area travel guide RomanticAsheville.com, says, “Roan Mountain is certainly my favorite winter hike since you are hiking along a ridge across several bald summits with endless views on both sides.” He recommends beginning your hike at Carver’s Gap on the N.C.-Tennessee line and making the easy climb (about 300 feet) to Round Bald, topping out at over 5,800 feet. Come back in the summer to see the world’s largest natural rhododendron garden.