Bucket List December 07, 2022
by Sarah McCosham 11 Winter Hikes Across America That Will Have You Bundling Up For Exploration
Have shoes, will hike. This is the mantra of American hikers, who tackle the trails 24/7/365. Just like the U.S. Postal Service, inclement weather can’t deter avid outdoor enthusiasts, who jump at the chance to hike through the country’s snowiest and most magical landscapes. What these die-hard hikers know, of course, is that America is arguably at her most beautiful and beguiling in the winter, offering a real-life wonderland of quiet, snow-dusted landscapes to experience. Here are the best, most magical winter hikes across America that will have you bundling up for exploration.
Sentinel Meadow & Cook's Meadow Loop - Yosemite National Park, California
Winter is a magical time to visit
Yosemite National Park
, with opportunities for hiking, recreating in the snow, and sublime solitude. The park's monolithss look even more marvelous in the winter, with sparse, snow-frosted foliage ceding the spotlight and allowing rock formations like Half Dome and Yosemite Falls to shine. Half Dome, in particular, is a striking sight: rising nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and 8,800 feet above sea level, this granite giant is the park's very own North Star, as it's visible from all directions. While expert climbers train years to tackle Half Dome, less experienced adventurers can take in the spectacle via the Sentinel Meadow & Cook's Meadow Loop. An easygoing jaunt through two gorgeous meadows, this two-mile loop trail affords dreamy views of various Yosemite landmarks like Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Chapel, and, of course, Half Dome.
Sentinel/Cook's Meadow Loop, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389, USA
Snowshoe Loop - Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
One of the snowiest places in earth, Washington's
is a vision during the winter season. The Paradise Area of Mount Rainier National Park in Washington experiences over 600 inches of snow each year, making for a veritable winter wonderland for hikers. When it comes to particular treks, the Naches Peak Loop Trail is an accessible favorite (please note that winter access is limited to weekends), and the park has numerous snowshoe trails fit for intrepid explorers, such as the 2.8-mile Paradise Valley Showshoe Loop.
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA
Discovery Point Trail - Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
is one of the Pacific Northwest's most treasured gems. At 1,949 feet, it’s the deepest lake in the entire country, and its azure blue color is due to it purity – the lake isn’t fed by any rivers, and gets all its water from snow melt and rain. Crater Lake is incredibly busy during the summer, but winter months are a lot more quiet. The park gets an average of 43 feet of snow every year, which turns this place into a winter wonderland that's hard to beat. On a clear day, the lake is absolutely stunning, and best experienced from the trails. There are a number of snowshoe and cross country trails at this national park, but nothing compares to the vistas afforded along the iconic Discovery Point Trail. This 2.4-mile out-and-back trail is considered easy for most, and showcases the lake's most swoon-worthy scenery, including wondrous Wizard Island.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, USA
The Watchman Trail - Zion National Park, Utah
One of the best hikes in
Zion National Park
, the Watchman Trail takes on an otherworldly beauty during the winter. If you're familiar at all with Zion National Park, you immediately recognize The Watchman, which majestically towers over the canyon. The eponymous trip makes a 3.2-mile loop around the monolith and is considered easy for most hikers, only adding about 300 feet in elevation along the way. You'll want to note that the trail doesn't actually take you to the tower, but rather to a viewpoint that offers a spectacular overlook of the valley, with The Watchman looming in the distance.
Watchman Trail, Utah 84737, USA
Emerald Lake Trail - Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
You'll see a trio of dazzling lakes along the
Emerald Lake Trail
, a wildly scenic trek within the Colorado Rockies. And while this national park is often filled with avid hikers on bucket-list conquests, you’ll be pleased to know that one of its most beloved trails is actually quite accessible to the vast majority of adventurers. Emerald Lake Trail is a breathtaking three-mile hike that will take you through some of the most dazzling landscape in Rocky Mountain National Park, a place that takes on heavenly beauty during the winter season. As a bonus, this trail is even less crowded during the cold weather months, giving hikers the opportunity to truly
Dream Lake Trail - Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Black Elk Peak Loop - Custer State Park, South Dakota
Custer State Park
in the winter months; in our opinion, winter is when this South Dakota treasure shines brightest. Formerly known as Harney Peak, Black Elk tops our list of the best hiking trails in South Dakota for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that the old fire lookout tower boasts the most amazing 360 degree views. It's also one of the best places to see the sunrise in South Dakota. Please note: this hike is nearly eight miles long and can be tricky in spots, so please use caution while hiking Black Elk -- especially during the winter.
Black Elk Peak Trailhead, Sylvan Lake - Harney, Keystone, SD 57751, USA
Cumberland Trail - Cumberland Trail State Park, Tennessee
Tennessee is home to 56 state parks, and you’ll find everything from stunning waterfalls and tranquil lakes to mountains and backcountry wilderness across the state. Among the ranks, the
Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park
is an oft-overshadowed treasure with some of the best scenery in Tennessee. Originally explored and mapped by Daniel Boone in 1769, today, the Cumberland Trail is more than 300 miles long and offers some of the best hiking in the country. The topography is truly stunning, with a series of rugged ridges and gorges that stud the famed Cumberland Plateau.
Cumberland Trail, Signal Mountain, TN, USA
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
as a summer destination, with its cerulean waters and dazzling shores offering a wonderful #PureMichigan escape. Don't discount Pictured Rocks during the winter months, however; the park is open year-round and truly shines in every season. The cliffs and caves often freeze over entirely during the winter, and when the conditions are safe, you can hike right down and enter the ice caves for a truly surreal experience. More adventurous types can even try ice climbing, though this is definitely a more advanced activity. In addition to the ice caves, ample snowfall creates the perfect conditions for winter snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling along the beautiful trails throughout Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Pictured Rocks, Munising Township, MI 49884, USA
Breaks Interstate Park Loop Trail - Breaks Interstate Park, Kentucky and Virginia
Breaks Interstate Park
encompasses parts of both Kentucky and Virginia. The park is glorious; marked with an abundance of nature, bountiful hills, and sweeping canyons. The centerpiece of "The Breaks" is a five-mile, 1,650-foot-deep gorge that's commonly referred to as the "Grand Canyon of the South." It's a beautiful place to explore, and we're partial to the Breaks Interstate Park Loop Trail, a six miler that traverses some of the country's best scenery that's humbly,
beautiful come winter.
Breaks Interstate Park, 627 Commission Cir, Breaks, VA 24607, USA
Reeves Brooke Loop Trail - Harriman State Park, New York State
A nature-lover's paradise,
Harriman State Park
is an escape in nature that's mere miles from one of the largest cities in the world. The New York State Park contains more than 200 miles of hiking trails that range in length from two to 20 miles, providing a veritable "choose your own adventure" for hikers. During the winter, Harriman Park is as pretty as a postcard, with frozen Lake Kanawauke and Lake Sebago breathtakingly beautiful and beguiling. In terms of hikes, the Reeves Brooke Loop Trail, Diamond Mountain Trail, and Pine Meadow Trail are some of the most popular in the park, and experiencing these trails during the quiet of winter is truly magical.
Harriman State Park, New York 10975, USA
Gorham Mountain Trail - Acadia National Park, Maine
There are so many bucket-list hikes in
Acadia National Park
, and they each offer something special and wholly unique. Gorham Mountain Trail, for example, is easily the best winter hike in the park, offering explorers jaw-dropping views of the iconic Acadia coastline. The three-mile trail leads over Gorham Mountain, circling back to the coast and Sand Beach. If you thought this landscape was sublime in the summer, just wait until you experience Acadia in the winter!
Gorham Mountain Trail, Bar Harbor, ME 04609, USA
Don’t let Old Man Winter keep you from experiencing this sublime season — lace up your hiking boots or strap on the snowshoes, and hit the trails!
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