11 of the Best Winter Hikes in the US
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There is something especially dramatic about the outdoors in the wintertime and although it can be tempting to stay cozy at home, getting outside is great way to blow away the cobwebs. If you are looking for some inspiration, here are some of the best winter hikes in the US, whether you want to embrace the winter wonderland or escape to warmer climates.
For more hiking and outdoor inspiration, see these US National Parks that are open in winter.
Best Winter Hikes in the US
1. Donut Falls, Utah
If you’re looking for a place that has a high concentration of winter hikes that are easily accessible, look no farther than the Wasatch Mountains around Salt Lake City Utah. For a quick and easy hike that’s really impressive, Donut Falls is one of the best winter hiking trails in Utah. The trail is located up Big Cottonwood Canyon and makes a great addition to a day of skiing Utah’s legendary powder.
At only 3.1 miles roundtrip, the Donut Falls trail is an easy to moderate trail that doesn’t have a lot of elevation gain. The trail is wide enough in most places that kids can even be pulled in sleds for a majority of the way. The hike will take you through the forest, where you’ll cross the stream, and at the end, you’ll head down to the river. Donut Falls gets its name as the waterfall goes straight into a Donut Shaped Rock. While you can get down to the river, use extra caution in the winter as the rocks are incredibly icy from the spray of the waterfall.
If you’re looking for parking near the Donut Falls trail during the winter, the parking lot at the trailhead is closed, so plan on parking in the large parking lot along the side of Big Cottonwood Canyon, at the trailhead turnoff. There is also a large open area with a few hills at the beginning of the trail, so bring some sleds and plan on staying a while after your hike.
Note: Avalanche danger is always a real risk when hiking in any mountain areas during the winter. Check all avalanche advisories and weather conditions before you go.
By Jessica Averett from Skiing Kids
2. Turtlehead Peak, Nevada
One of the most strenuous hikes in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area outside of Las Vegas, Turtlehead Peak requires good physical shape and superb orientation skills.
While the hike is only about five miles, it’s considered strenuous because of the 2,000 feet elevation gain and challenging terrain with a poorly marked trail that has steep ledges as you get closer to the top. For these reasons, I don’t recommend attempting this trail on your own if you are a beginner hiker. If you still want to try it, bring someone who has more experience in hiking.
Summer is generally not a good time for long-distance hikes at Red Rock because of the triple-digit heat in Las Vegas. Winter, however, brings milder weather and plenty of sunshine, with temperatures hovering in the high 50s and low 60s’, ideal weather for a strenuous, exposed hike such as Turtlehead Peak.
This challenging hike is well worth the effort. And not only because you will escape the crowded hikes down below, but also because you will be able to enjoy the incredible view of the Red Rock Canyon Below you and the entire Las Vegas Valley along with the world-famous Las Vegas Strip in the distance.
By Daria from the Discovery Nut
3. Lost Palms Oasis Trail, California
Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most interesting hiking destinations on the planet. Just two and a half hours outside of Los Angeles, it is a great location to escape the city and seclude yourself in the desert.
The Mojave Desert and Colorado Desert both sit within park boundaries, so hikers can experience vastly different landscapes, and even hike in two different deserts, in one day in Joshua Tree. The iconic Joshua Trees live in the northern end of the park, in the Mojave, and the Colorado Desert features cholla, barrel, and other cacti in its hotter and drier climate.
Because of this hot desert environment, Joshua Tree is best visited in winter if you plan to hike. Lost Palms Oasis Trail is a great winter hiking option, located in the Colorado Desert. It is a moderate hike, covering 7 miles of rocky peaks, with lots of cacti marking your path.
The hike is an in-and-out style trail, with the culmination of the hike leading to a true oasis in the desert. Towering palm trees shoot up out of the desert floor, and a pool of water sits at the bottom of a hill. Hikers can climb down and enjoy the cool water and shade before heading back out. The oasis is a beautiful and unexpected sight to see in the desert. Pack plenty of water and start the trek early, even in winter! You can see a lot on a day trip to Joshua Tree but it’s best to stay overnight to enjoy to gorgeous sunset colors.
By Monica from This Rare Earth
4. Trans-Catalina Trail, California
If an island escape sounds like your dream winter hike, then you should definitely add backpacking the Trans-Catalina Trail to your calendar during the cold months. This hike traverses Catalina Island, which is located just off the coast of southern California. The mild winter weather in that region means you won’t be freezing as you hike and camp along the 39-mile trail.
Backpacking the Trans-Catalina Trail can take anywhere from 3-5 days, depending on how hard you want to push. Along the way, you will be rewarded with beautiful landscape views, stunning sunsets over the ocean, and even sightings of the herd of buffalo that roam the island.
Some advanced planning is required for this hike, but it is definitely worth it. You’ll need to book a ferry ticket to and from Catalina Island. The main port town on the island is Avalon, but some ferries run to the town of Two Harbors as well. You’ll also need to make campground reservations for each night of your backpacking trip, which means you have to figure out your itinerary ahead of time.
Despite the logistics to deal with, backpacking the Trans-Catalina Trail is an awesome experience and a perfect winter hiking escape!
By Allison from She Dreams of Alpine
5. Coopers Rock, West Virginia
Cooper’s Rock State Forest, outside of Morgantown, West Virginia, is home to Cooper’s Rock. The locals are very proud of Cooper’s Rock because it has a gorgeous view of the foothills of Appalachia and a portion of the Cheat River.
While it’s beautiful at all times of the year, it’s even more gorgeous when the leaves change colors or the snow has just fallen. Although the forest is home to over 50 miles of trails, most of which permit cross-country skiing, it’s also perfect for less adventurous hikers.
There is actually a road that takes you almost all the way to Cooper’s Rock overlook. The road closes during the winter months, but hikers can choose to walk along the road rather than a wooded trail. This option is actually quite popular on snowy days!
It’s about 6 miles round-trip, but not very strenuous, so many people of all ages enjoy bundling up and walking to the snowy overlook. Since the trail is mostly parallel to the road, you can even go back and forth to see which path you enjoy more. Another selling point is that Morgantown doesn’t get very cold, even when it snows.
This is the perfect winter hike for someone who’s not sure about winter hikes! Morgantown is home to West Virginia University and has many competitive hotels to choose from. You can maintain brand loyalty
or try something new and stay less than 20 minutes away from Cooper’s
By Raquel from Meals and Mile Markers
6. Silver Falls State Park, Oregon
The Trail of Ten Falls at Silver Falls State Park in Oregon is an ideal hike for lovers of waterfalls. The seasonal rainy weather in the Pacific Northwest makes this one of the best winter hikes in the United States.
Oregon, particularly the portion of the state to the west of the Cascade Range, has beautiful summers. Temperatures rarely get too hot, and sunshine is abundant. However, the lack of precipitation in the Summer means a lot of streams and rivers shrink, and many waterfalls dwindle to a trickle.
Simply put, the constant rain in winter makes the Trail of Ten Falls an excellent hike. It’s a chilly hike, but snow is very uncommon and usually doesn’t stick around for long. The waterfalls are also absolutely roaring during this time of year.
The hike is fairly easy for the most part, with little more than a few hills to climb, but it’s worth it. Among the ten waterfalls, there are three that hikers can walk behind for an incredible view of the power of nature at work.
Silver Falls State Park is pretty easy to reach from Portland. The drive takes a little over an hour, and there is a sizable parking lot. The trick is to arrive early, as the park gets busy in the middle of the day, especially on weekends. Don’t forget a rain jacket, even in the event of a rare sunny day, hiking behind waterfalls is a damp affair.
By John Paul from The Hangry Backpacker
7. Tallulah Gorge, Georgia
North Georgia has many waterfalls scattered throughout the mountains, but one of the best is Tallulah Gorge especially in the winter when fresh snow coats the gorge. Tallulah Gorge is a valley with rushing water flowing through with a few waterfalls and epic views of the surrounding mountains. There are many paths and hikes along the gorge namely the main path that has over 1000 stairs!
Starting at the visitor’s center, you’ll be at the top of the gorge where you can catch a view of the main waterfall. Afterward, descend the first set of stairs (about 600) that take you to a beautiful suspension bridge that sits above the water! You can continue to the other side of the gorge up the additional 400 steps for more views.
In the winter, make sure you wear good boots since the stairs can be slippery when wet. It is a very challenging feat to conquer the stairs but it’s such a beautiful area, it’s worth it!
Located up Route 23, Tallulah Gorge isn’t really near any major city, but you can turn your visit into a Georgia waterfall day trip by visiting Toccoa Falls nearby. Clarkesville and Demorest have a couple Airbnb’s and Toccoa has homey accommodations like the Simmons-Bond Bed and Breakfast or the Glen-Ella Springs Inn. Alternatively, head to Helen, Georgia to experience the unique Bavarian-style village!
By Alanna Koritzke from Periodic Adventures
8. Fort Snelling State Park, Minnesota
Winter hiking in Minnesota is just that. It’s cold and snowy and slippery and exhilarating. And loving that is what makes Minnesotans Minnesotans.
The stellar Minnesota State Parks system has specifically groomed winter hiking trails in 16 of its 75 parks, including all the parks in the Twin Cities area. Our favorite for a winter outing is Fort Snelling State Park, which is in Saint Paul at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers and is part of the Mississippi National River Recreation Area of the US National Park Service.
The primary path in the park is on Pike Island at the rivers’ junction. It’s a 3 mile trail that circles the island following the banks of the rivers. You can follow the Minnesota down to the confluence and return along the Mississippi – or vice versa. Either way, the trail is level and kept well groomed by the state and by the traffic of outdoorsy Twin Cities residents.
It’s certainly possible to walk it in good boots, or you can wear snowshoes if there’s been a fresh snowfall.
If you prefer, the island also features a cross-country ski trail that runs down the center of the island. Hikers are not allowed on that trail in the winter; it’s well kept and reserved for skiers. Be sure to check the Minnesota State Parks website for maps before you go.
By Tom from MN Trips
9. Pipwai Trail, Hawaii
If you are looking to escape the snowy roads and frigid temperatures that old man winter brings, book your flight to Maui ASAP! With miles of beaches, perfect weather, and the MOST EPIC hike, you will not regret your decision.
Although Maui is full of adventurous things to do, hiking the Pipwai trail tops the list. The Pipwai Trail is a moderately difficult 3.4 mile (round trip) located near Hana, Maui.
Before you even reach this amazing hike, you will need to drive the famous Road to Hana. The journey along this road will take you 55 miles through the lush Maui rainforest. You will encounter over 600 hairpin turns, many one-lane bridges, and SO MANY waterfalls. The drive can be a bit terrifying, but it is SO worth it.
After reaching the town of Hana, you will enter Haleakala National Park and get started on your hike. Throughout the hike, you will meander through a magical bamboo forest and end up at a 650-foot waterfall. It’s truly an out of this world hike!
Insider tip: I suggest driving straight through the Road to Hana and stopping at Pipiwai trail FIRST. This way, you will beat the crowds and not feel rushed enjoying the trail. On your way back, you can stop at the rest of the viewpoints along The Road to Hana.
By Jordan from The Homebody Tourist
Hawaii is also known for its beautiful sunsets and if you’re island hopping, make sure you visit one of these epic Kauai sunset spots!
10. Angel’s Landing, Utah
One of the most amazing hikes in winter is the impressive Angel’s Landing Hike in Zion National Park=. The challenging and prolific hike takes you up high out of the canyon providing panoramic views over the desert-like landscapes of the park. Starting off from the Grotto Trailhead, the route climbs up 1500 feet over a 2.4-mile trail, with some very steep inclines as you work your way up.
As you wind your way along the trail, there are plenty of lookout points where you can take a break to rest your legs and marvel at the views. The final section of the hike is one of the most dramatic and exhilarating, as you walk up the ridge of the mountain to its peak. In some sections, the trail is more exposed and the drops on either side can be viewed (or cause extreme vertigo!), so is therefore not suitable if you are afraid of heights.
At the end of the incline, you will be welcomed by some of the most jaw-dropping views in the entire park. While the hike is only 5 miles in total, it can take up to 6 hours to complete due to the steepness of the walk, especially when visiting Zion National Park in winter, and a relatively good level of fitness will be needed to complete it.
During the winter months in Zion, the trail can experience some snowfall or ice patches, so it is recommended to bring additional grips for your feet. If the weather is particularly bad, you may need to reconsider attempting the Angel’s Landing Hike.
By Megan from Megan & Aram
Related Post: Why I Can’t Wait to Visit Zion National Park in Winter
11. Manoa Falls, Hawaii
Manoa Falls is located on the Island of Oahu,Hawaii , only 5 miles from Waikiki Beach and 6 miles from Honolulu. The hike is just over 1.5 miles round trip so it’s suitable for most hikers with a great payoff at the end, Manoa Falls.
This 150-foot waterfall is a beautiful sight. The trail is rather easy but has a more uphill gradient as you get closer to the falls. At this time the path becomes narrower and it’s much easier to pass in the early mornings when there is less traffic. There’s a small parking lot near the trail entrance, for a small fee, which is another reason to arrive early.
The hiking path has a nice variety of trees and in one area you will pass under some trees with winding branches. It’s a fun stop and nice photo opportunity to get within the trees. The trail tends to be muddy so it’s a good idea to wear hiking boots or old sneakers. This will also help for the areas of the trail that are narrow or steep.
While this is a fairly easy hike it can be challenging for younger children who aren’t used to hiking. Just remember to take breaks when there are clearings to do so since you will need to keep moving at the narrow pathways. Also, make sure to pack plenty of water and a snack.
The hike should take less than a few hours including plenty of time to enjoy the falls. If you start at sunrise you can avoid the crowds and make it back with plenty of time to enjoy the rest of your day at the beach.
By Nicole from Affordable Family Travel