What people often forget, however, is that hiking is still a viable and practical option in the winter. Winter hiking can offer a completely different outdoor experience to a once-familiar landscape. It can also offer reprieve from unbearable summer heat, and it can offer solitude from the once-abundant tourist crowds.
If you're looking for a rewarding hike this winter, here are eight must-see locations.
The Wave, Arizona1 of 9
Located on the border of Utah and Arizona, this natural wonder resides in an area called the Coyote Buttes. The trail is usually limited to twenty people per day, and it generally takes an online reservation several months in advance to get in. In the winter, however, many of these spots go unclaimed because of the low-attendance rates. It's recommend to call the BLM office the day of your visit to ask if they have any open spots. If they do, you can claim them as your own.
Zion National Park, Utah2 of 9
In the winter, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive within the park is open to private vehicles—in the summer it's only accessible via shuttle. Because of this, you have more freedom in your exploration and less crowds to deal with. You might encounter minor patches of snow and ice in the canyon, especially in the places that receive little sunlight, but many trails are still accessible, such as Emerald Pools Trail, Weeping Rock, and the Riverside Walk.
The Chinle Trail is also a great option. Trails that ascend to higher elevations, however, will mostly likely be hazardous in the winter. Therefore, as with all winter hiking, be sure to check weather conditions ahead of time.
Big Bend National Park, Texas3 of 9
This park offers three diverse ecosystems to its visitors: the high-altitude Chisos Mountains, the riparian zone along the Rio Grande and the Chihuanhuan desert. You can comfortably hike up to Balanced Rock, explore the Santa Elena canyon and go bird watching in the Chios Mountains. The spring and summer months come with high temperatures, making winter an ideal time to visit.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona4 of 9
Visiting this park in the winter can give you a completely new experience than in the summer. The canyon is much cooler, the crowds are sparse and the scenery shimmers with the snow. But, as with the summer, hikers must be aware of what they are getting themselves into and be prepared for all weather variables. Proper preparation will allow you to gain further access into the canyon, free of the harsh summer temperatures, maybe even all the way down to Phantom Ranch, a place where reservations are easier to make in the winter. Some of the less snow-covered trails include the Hermit Trail and South Kaibab Trail.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado5 of 9
With all the snow this region gets, it may not seem like the best location for recreational winter hiking. The majority of the deep snowpack resides on the western side of the mountains, though, making trails below 8,700 feet on the eastern side more accessible. Some of the more notable trails include Chasm Falls, Gem Lake, Deer Mountain and Upper Beaver Meadows. Be sure to check with a ranger about trail conditions before visiting.
Hyalite Canyon, Montana6 of 9
Depending on the amount of snow, the time of the year and the amount of plowing that's been done, this area will have varying levels of accessibility. Regardless, Hyalite Canyon is a world-class winter recreation area, bringing ice climbers from all over the globe to test their craft. For a layperson, this is a great place to check out frozen waterfalls. One of the more easily accessible waterfalls is Palisade Falls (roughly one-mile roundtrip). For the more ambitious, take your skis or snowshoes up to Grotto Falls or all the way up to Hyalite Peak (with over ten waterfalls along this route).
North Cascades National Park, Washington7 of 9
Recreation in this park is limited in the winter, as the main road, North Cascades Highway, is closed for the majority of the season. Most of the campgrounds are also closed, but in the Colonial Creek Campground there are nine sites that remain open. If you decide to utilize one of these sites, you can then access the Thunder Creek trailhead, a route that stretches 10 miles roundtrip along a flat and pleasant landscape of lakes, creeks and surrounding mountains.
The Yosemite Valley, California8 of 9
Yosemite National Park is often packed with visitors during the summer, but the winter changes everything. Most of the park is closed for the winter, but the iconic valley stays open. Despite resting at about 4,000 feet, the climate remains moderately temperate and rarely requires the use of snowshoes or skis. Some of the best hikes to try in the winter are Bridalveil Falls, Lower Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake and sections of Mist Trail. Additionally, the Yosemite Valley has a functioning ice rink in the winter.