While warm weather might draw the crowds out to all your favorite sights and camping spots, winter often makes for much more exciting, daring, outings. There’s just something about the frigid air combined with a fresh blanket of white snow that makes a winter hiking outing more enchanting, and climbing into a warm sleeping bag in freezing weather is much more rewarding. And some places just come alive as the temperature drops. So pack your bag and grab your showshoes; from coast to coast, cold weather to warm, here are some of the best winter backpacking spots to check out this winter.
While crowds and tourists are plenty during the warmer months, attendance drops off significantly when the weather does too. While the Grand Canyon may not get a lot of moisture, it is at high elevation, which ensures there is plenty of snow. You’ll have almost the whole park to yourself, and much more pleasant temperatures than the summer’s oppressive heat. The lower you go, the warmer it becomes.
While Mt. Rainier isn’t exactly an easy hike, especially in the winter, some of the less strenuous hikes are perfect while it’s blanketed in snow. Mazama Ridge, for one, is perfect snowshoeing terrain, and has endless opportunities for pitching a tent and camping in front of scenic expanses. The Mazama Ridge Trail is only 6 miles long, but those six miles are some of the best snowshoeing in the Pacific Northwest.
Acadia National Park may not have all the mountains that you’ll find out west, but make no mistake; this is rugged, beautiful terrain. And cold, too. But during the winter, Acadia is prime snowshoeing terrain, and hearing the Atlantic slam against the rocky coastline as you fall asleep in your tent is enchanting. Good hikes include the strenuous Precipice Trail or the easy Cadillac loop.
Zion can be considered one of the most beautiful places in the country any time of year. But during the winter, it takes on a whole new meaning. Red rock dusted with snow is truly breathtaking, and the colder weather means you have most of the park to yourself. Climbing Angel’s Landing becomes a little bit more treacherous with ice, but the 3-day Trans-Zion Trek is a beautiful, solitary trip through canyons, forests, and streams. Look for wildcats, too.
The scorching temps of West Texas are a little milder come winter, making Big Bend National Park a much more hospitable place. The South Rim provides a moderately hard but still exciting hike, with an elevation gain of 2000 feet over 12 miles through canyons, peaks and the greenest part of the park. It makes an excellent overnight, too.
Yosemite is flocked to by tourists year-round, and even during the coldest of winter, you will have a hard time finding solitude. But the view of El Capitan and Half Dome framed by snow will make up for it. For a good hike, try Mirror Lake Trail, which follows Tenaya Creek to the epynomous Mirror Lake. Or head up to Bridalveil Fall, an easy hike to one of the most picturesque waterfalls in the country.
West Coast can’t have all the trails. The Great Smoky Mountains contain the highest peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and some of the most rugged terrain. And that’s saying something; when it comes to ruggedness and difficulty, the Appalachians can put some of the much larger mountains out West to shame. That goes double for the winter, when snow and ice can make the trails treacherous. But when climbed with the right amount of care and caution, the snow-capped peaks and forest make for singular winter solitude.
If you’re aiming to avoid cold weather all around, this one is for you. From December to April, the Everglades in Southern Florida are far drier and cooler than the rest of the year, making for a much more pleasant, less mosquito-infested experience. It’ll still be pleasantly warm, but much less humid. While there won’t be much in the way of elevation, the Everglades provide everything from hiking to canoeing to wading through deep mud, and you may just see a snake or alligator (or several_ along the way. The Coastal Prairie Trail is one tough hike, but a true experience for a survival fanatic.