Best 19 Winter Hiking and Backpacking Destinations Without Snowshoes

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Winter is indeed one of the pleasures of living in a country of four seasons. Seeing the beautiful snowflakes falling to the ground is something that we cannot get in a tropical country. Although, cold temperatures also sometimes make us lazy to do activities outside. But what if the reward is an extraordinary natural landscape?

When the first snow settles on the forest floor, many people believe the hiking season is over until it melts away in the spring. But if you venture onto trails during the winter, you’ll find snow-dusted trees, frosted leaves, and low, moody sunlight. Waterfalls stop in mid-air as frozen rivers form castles and caves that melt away in the warmer months. Animals bound through the snow, leaving mazes of footprints for hikers to track. And as your boots crunch on the hardened earth, you’ll relish in the silence that winter brings. And what’s best, you can winter hike without snowshoes.

You don’t need to be an expert in winter hiking and backpacking to enjoy a snowy hike. Many trails all around the United States stay accessible for hikers year-round, without the need for snowshoes. You may want to grab a pair of microspikes, though—some of the trails on this list get icy.

Hiking year-round is a great way to train for your dream trip so that when you head out on a backpacking trip in spring or summer, you’ll be up to the task. We’ve reached out to fellow outdoor and travel experts across the U.S. to find you the best trails to hike in the winter, no matter what part of the country you live in.

Winter hiking also has its challenges. Mountainous terrain and deep snowpacks introduce avalanche danger, while harsh weather keeps adventurers inside. If you don’t have proper avalanche training, many mountain trails are off-limits until summer. When you’re first trying winter hiking, it’s best to take it slow. Choose a trail with easier terrain and less mileage than you would during the dry seasons. Then when you’re ready, you can choose more difficult destinations (just make sure you’ve been educated in avalanche awareness if you plan on venturing into the mountains)

THE WEST

1. GOLDEN CANYON AND GOWER GULCH LOOP, DEATH VALLEY, CALIFORNIA

If you’re looking to escape all snowy conditions, Death Valley is flourishing during the winter months. The Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch Loop is a classic trail in this unique national park. You’ll get to know the desert as you hike through the golden sandstone canyon, across the badlands of the Amargosa Mountains, and between tight canyon walls into the gulch. Modify the hike however you choose—whether you want a three-mile or eight-mile adventure.

2. OUSEL FALLS, BIG SKY, MONTANA

Ousel Falls is a stunning waterfall accessed by a short hike in Big Sky, Montana. Travel down the trail, across two wooden bridges (which look even more picturesque with a fresh dusting of snow), and to the waterfall. If it’s frozen (which is likely), you may spot some ice climbers kicking their crampons into the falls. This waterfall is worth your time in the summer, but it makes an even better winter hike.

While Big Sky usually gets enough snow to warrant snowshoes, the snow on this 1.6-mile trail is packed down by heavy traffic from locals and visiting skiers. Depending on the conditions, you’ll want to grab the microspikes for this one!

3. GARDEN OF THE GODS, COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO

Daria Bachmann, founder and CEO of the popular travel blog Discovery Nut, recommends the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs for winter hiking. This stunning destination is located about an hour and twenty minutes south of Denver, Colorado. The three-mile Chambers/Bretag/Palmer Trail encircles most of the park and gets you out of the crowds and among the rocky hills, while the Perkins Central Garden Trail is a mile-and-a-half family-friendly path that leads you to the base of the tallest towers.

“Garden of the Gods is a perfect place for winter hiking. Many of its trails are paved and relatively flat, which means you can hike them in winter shoes. And the scenery of this place is second to none,” Daria tells us. The entrance of the park is free. However, she recommends arriving early, as it is a popular destination.

4. BAKER LAKE TRAIL, NORTH CASCADES, WASHINGTON

The Baker Lake Trail runs through old-growth forest along the shoreline of Baker Lake in the North Cascades. This low-elevation hike stays snow-free much of the year, and the rainy Washington winter keeps the forest green with life. You can access it from either the South or North trailhead—both of which offer great day hiking options. If you’re heading from the south, try the eight-mile roundtrip trek to Maple Grove. This destination provides great views of the lake and surrounding mountains, where you can sit on the dock and watch the misty clouds roll over the peaks. The northern section of the lake provides access to the Baker River Trail, where a suspension bridge spans the confluence of the river and lake.

This is a classic winter hike without snowshoes. In fact, you probably won’t even need microspikes. And if you’re willing to put up with some rain, you can even backpack this trail year-round because of its moderate coastal climate.

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