10 Perfect Spots for Winter Hiking

What makes winter such a great time to hike? For one, mosquitoes and other bugs are nowhere to be found. The crowds are nonexistent. Cooler temperatures make hikes a lot more pleasant. And few places are as magically still as a forest covered in snow.

If you’re looking for a rewarding hike this winter, here is our list of the 10 perfect locations.

1. The Yosemite Valley, California

Yosemite National Park is often packed with visitors during the summer, but the winter changes everything. Most of the park is closed for the winter, but the iconic valley stays open. Despite resting at about 4,000 feet, the climate remains moderately temperate and rarely requires the use of snowshoes or skis. Some of the best hikes to try in the winter are Bridalveil Falls, Lower Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake and sections of Mist Trail. Additionally, the Yosemite Valley has a functioning ice rink in the winter.

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2. Grandeur Peak, Millcreek Canyon, Utah

If you’d like to bag a fairly quick peak this winter, Grandeur Peak is a good choice. You’ll start at the Church Fork trailhead in Millcreek Canyon, then climb a fairly short (but steep) 2.25 miles to the peak. The views from the top are stunning! This trail is very popular, even in the winter, so unless there’s fresh snow, you might not need your snowshoes.

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3. Donut Falls, Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

Donut Falls is a pretty safe hike in the winter, and fairly easy for most hikers. It’s about 4.7 miles out and back and of course, the payoff is the unique waterfall at the end!

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4. Weeping Rock, Zion National Park, Utah

This short trail is just a mile round-trip, but it can be icy in spots, so take extra care. If you’re lucky, you’ll witness a frozen Weeping Rock – gorgeous!

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5. Frick Park, Pittsburgh

If you’re up for a winter challenge, hit the Frick Park Loop Trail, considered moderate, that will lead you on a five mile loop through snow-capped, tree-lined paths where you will likely spot local wildlife. Or, you might slip on your skies and go cross-country skiing.

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6. Burke Lake Park, Northern Virginia

The 4.7 mile loop trail around Burke Lake is a good bet on a sunny winter day as you’ll get plenty of open water views. Much of the trail is stone dust or a wide dirt path so it should be less muddy than many other winter trails. The train, carousel and mini-golf are all closed for winter, and the quiet may increase your chances of spotting birds and wildlife.

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7. Mount Ellinor Trail, Olympic National Forest Washington

The Mount Ellinor Trail isn’t a walk in the park—it gains 3,300 feet in three miles. But its relatively low top elevation of 5,900 feet keeps the turbulent weather at bay, offering a reward worth basking in for winter trekkers. Enjoy views of Lake Cushman as you climb and 360-degree views from the summit.

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8. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

With all the snow this region gets, it may not seem like the best location for recreational winter hiking. The majority of the deep snowpack resides on the western side of the mountains, though, making trails below 8,700 feet on the eastern side more accessible. Some of the more notable trails include Chasm Falls, Gem Lake, Deer Mountain and Upper Beaver Meadows. Be sure to check with a ranger about trail conditions before visiting.

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9. Hyalite Canyon, Montana

Depending on the amount of snow, the time of the year and the amount of plowing that’s been done, this area will have varying levels of accessibility. Regardless, Hyalite Canyon is a world-class winter recreation area, bringing ice climbers from all over the globe to test their craft. For a layperson, this is a great place to check out frozen waterfalls. One of the more easily accessible waterfalls is Palisade Falls (roughly one-mile roundtrip). For the more ambitious, take your skis or snowshoes up to Grotto Falls or all the way up to Hyalite Peak (with over ten waterfalls along this route).

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10. Browns Peak, Arizona

The turnoff for the trailhead is about an hour north east of Phoenix, but the last 20 miles are down a road. Once at the trailhead you’ll most likely be greeted by a cool breeze and the smell of pine trees. The hike starts off with a gentle incline as it winds its way though the forest. After about an hour you’ll reach Lone Pine Saddle. From there, just head for the crack in between the first two peaks and start climbing. Be cautious for loose rocks and keep your footing. There are a few spots in the chute that you’ll need to use your hands and do a bit of climbing. Once up top you can enjoy panoramic views as far as the snowy peaks in Flagstaff on a clear day.

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