5. BIG TREE TRAIL, SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA
The Big Tree Trail, a 1.3-mile loop in Sequoia National Park, is a winter favorite of Allison Green from California Crossroads. It’s mesmerizing at all times of the year but snow covers the branches of giant sequoia trees and blankets the ground during the winter. “It’s easy to do in winter conditions as it’s a raised boardwalk trail that the National Park maintains during the winter. No need for snowshoes—though a pair of microspikes or Yaktrax would be a good idea as the altitude in Sequoia NP means it can get quite icy!”, Allison says. (Check out her article if you want to learn more about visiting Sequoia in the winter.)
Allison thinks this loop is perfect for families, beginner winter hikers, and people who are looking for an easy winter hike in a beautiful setting. Plus, it’s a great way to find some solitude in the national park. “It’s located in a different part of the park from the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree in the world and the most famous in the park. The Big Trees Trail is often really quiet with very few crowds (and this is even more true in winter), as all the crowds are at General Sherman!”
6. BILLY GOAT TRAIL, CHESAPEAKE AND OHIO CANAL NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK, MARYLAND
If you like rock scrambling, the Billy Goat Trail will be up your alley. While this trail doesn’t require technical climbing skills, you’ll want good body awareness and the ability to dismiss your fear of heights. Keep your footing steady as you clamber over rocks to gain a ridge that parallels the Potomac River. As the water runs below you, you’ll tiptoe along narrow ledges and use your hands to balance. Snow doesn’t fall often here, so this barely counts as winter hiking. But, it’s a spectacular destination during these months when leaves have fallen from trees and views of the river are unobstructed.
This three-section trail begins in Great Falls, Maryland and offers day hikers plenty of options. Section A requires multiple rock scrambles, but with a little bit of confidence, this section of trail can be the highlight for most hikers. Sections B and C are more accessible hiking, but still offer their fair share of beauty. Each section connects with a central walking path, so you can always opt-out of areas of the trail that are above your skill level. Heed this warning: hit the trail early. This popular hike is a fantastic day trip from both Washington D.C. and Baltimore, so it gets busy.
7. CASCADE MOUNTAIN, ADIRONDACKS, NEW YORK
Cascade Mountain is one of the most popular destinations in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks, even in the winter. This low-mileage trail leads to an open summit with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. Up there, winter is in full force: wind slaps across your face and freezing temperatures send shivers down your spine. Zip up your jacket and pull your buff over your face as you gaze out at the Lake Placid area.
This hike receives a lot of snow, but it also sees a lot of traffic. The trail gets packed down quickly from all the foot traffic, so you should only need microspikes. The moderate grade makes this a fantastic winter summit for the adventurous hiker. However, this is also one of the most strenuous trails on the list with serious winter conditions. In order to be safe on the trail, know your abilities, and prepare before you go. Check the conditions, and if there is any potential avalanche danger, choose a different trail.
8. FRANCONIA RIDGE, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Max DesMarais is an avid outdoorsman and hiking blogger who has spent much of his time in the Northeast. In fact, he’s hiked all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4000-foot peaks. When asked his favorite winter hike that doesn’t require snowshoes, he mentioned Franconia Ridge. “Much of the year, it can be done in microspikes due to the snow-packed trails and wind,” Max says.
And while the mountains in the West have high avalanche danger and deep snowpacks, the White Mountains offer up alpine views without too much added risk. (Although if it’s a heavy snow year, check the avalanche forecast before you go!) These sweeping views are one of the reasons Max loves this hike. “In only a few short miles, hikers ascend above treeline and are ready for a mile and a half trek long a stunningly beautiful ridge with other New Hampshire 4,000-foot peaks all around. This trail is unique in that it has some of the easiest access off the main highway, and hikers are exposed above the treeline for a significant amount of time.”
This is one of the most strenuous hikes on our list, and the alpine environment adds challenges. Winds gust up to 60 miles per hour, temperatures stay below freezing, and the narrow ridgeline can be treacherous in icy conditions. Bring microspikes or crampons, and pack the ten essentials!
9. APOSTLE ISLANDS LAKE SHORE, WISCONSIN
When the conditions are just right—wintery weather and not too much wind—the Mainland Ice Caves at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore form delicate structures along Lake Superior. Each year is different, depending on the weather and how the water interacted with the cliffs when it froze. After several weeks of sustained below-freezing temperatures, National Park staff evaluates the ice and deems it safe for travel. Then, adventurous hikers can bundle up and walk on the frozen water to access these magnificent caves.
But that’s a big “if.” So before you head for the lakeshore with hopes of seeing these wonders, check the conditions and the weather forecast. This winter hike is unique, so you’ll want to be prepared. Check the national park page for everything you need to know before your hike. And if the conditions aren’t stable enough to walk out onto the ice, head to the Lakeshore Trail instead. This 4.5-mile hike features tough terrain but rewards you with great views of the lake.