We’re enjoying the first week of fall in most of the country, and it’s the perfect time to start planning your winter hikes.
Winter is the best time to hike if you enjoy cold weather and having the trails to yourself.
If you’re not sure where to start looking, here is a list of the best places to hike in the wintertime, in no particular order.
1. Mt. Hood, Oregon
If you’re new to winter hiking, there’s no better place to start than Mt. Hood in Oregon.
If you start at the Timberline Lodge, which sits at 5,960 ft above sea level, you can expect roughly 5,290′ of elevation gain and a trail of 7.6 miles between the lodge and the mountain peak.
The nice thing about Mt. Hood is that you won’t be alone on the trail.
The mountain is a popular hiking and skiing destination — many people even carry ski’s up the trail with them so they can ski back down rather than walking back to the lodge.
2. Bear Mountain Trail, Arizona
Arizona is known for high temperatures and desert conditions, making it difficult to enjoy many of the beautiful hiking trails that the state has to offer.
Bear Mountain Trail in Sedona, Arizona is a heavily-trafficked trail during the warmer months, but the tourists tend to drop off once temperatures start to drop.
It features a 1,975′ elevation gain and the 4.9-mile trail is generally only recommended for experienced hikers.
If you want to travel with your furry friend, this is also a dog-friendly trail!
3. Lone Star Geyser, Yellowstone National Park
When you think of Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful is probably the first feature that comes to mind, but it isn’t the only beautiful vista or even the only geyser in the park.
The Lone Star Geyser trail, located in the Upper Geyser Basin offers a 4.8 mile partially paved trail with some stunning views, taking you past the Lone Star Geyser which erupts roughly every three hours.
Tourism at Yellowstone slows down during the winter months, making it a great choice for beginners or those traveling with small children.
4. Swamp Canyon Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park
This is where those hiking and land navigation skills you’ve been honing will come in handy.
The Swamp Canyon Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park winds through the wilderness for 4.3 miles, making it a comfortable day hike, with only about 800′ of elevation gain to be had.
Make sure you’ve got plenty of water, snacks and warm clothes for your trip.
5. Mount Ellinor Trail, Olympic National Forest
For more experienced hikers, there’s Mount Ellinor in the Olympic National Forest.
This is a gorgeous area to hike and climb, especially in the winter when the landscape is draped in a blanket of snow.
You’ve got two options for climbing this mountain — the 6.2-mile full trail with 3,344′ of elevation gain, or the second trailhead that’s partially up the mountain which reduces the hike to 3.6 miles and 2,000′ of elevation.
6. Methow Valley, Washington
This is where things start to get fun. Methow Valley in Washington is a popular destination for winter hikers and cross-country skiers.
All told, the valley has more than 120 miles of trails for you to explore, whether you’re on foot or on skis.
You won’t need snowshoes — unless you want them — on many of the trails around Methow Valley.
Local park maintenance maintains a trails app that lets you which paths are clear and which ones you might want to pack skis or snowshoes for.
7. Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida
Who says winter hiking has to include snow?
While Florida might never become what most of the world would consider ‘cold’ during its winter, this season is usually marked by fewer bugs and less humidity, making it ideal for anyone planning outdoor activities.
The Big Cypress National Preserve in South Florida sits alongside the Everglades and is home to the Big Cypress Swamp which stretches more than 729,000 acres across the state.
You can enjoy ranger-led hikes and activities or just explore everything this largely untouched wilderness has to offer.
8. West Rim Drive, Crater Lake National Park
Okay, this is more of a drive than a hike but if you want something to do for an afternoon, spend a couple of hours circumnavigating Crater Lake.
It’s usually open from July through October, meaning it’s ideal for your early fall or winter travel plans.
You can enjoy this trail from your car, a motorcycle, a bicycle, or even a trolly if you’d rather leave navigating this narrow trail to the professionals.
9. Marble Falls Trail, Sequoia National Park
Marble Falls Trail in Sequoia National Park is 7.4 miles long with 1,627 feet of elevation gain, traveling near Three Rivers California.
This out and back trail takes you past Marble Falls and is usually most popular during the spring and summer months.
It does remain open during the winter months, though, so if you want to explore parts of Sequoia National Park once the temperature starts to fall, the chances are high that you’ll have the trail to yourself.
10. Mirror Lake Trail, Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is another attraction that sees a lot of foot traffic during the warm spring and summer months, but not as much during the winter.
Mirror Lake Trail is the perfect place to explore once the temperature starts dropping. You can enjoy a 2-mile trip from the trailhead to the lake and back, or explore the 5-mile loop around the lake.
During the spring and summer, the lake is filled with snowmelt and is so calm that it looks like you’re staring into a mirror.
In the late summer and sometimes into the fall and winter, the lake has almost no water and ends up being referred to as Mirror Meadow instead.
Enjoy The Winter Wonderland
Wherever you choose to explore this winter, make sure you pack plenty of warm clothes, snacks and supplies to keep you safe. It doesn’t matter if you’re walking one mile or 100 — enjoy your winter wonderland but be safe while you do!
Scott Huntington is a writer who lives in Vermont and covers hiking, camping, survival, and everything in between. Find him on Twitter @SMHuntington