5 Great Winter Hiking Trails for the 2019/2020 Season
There’s a reason your boots are waterproof! Hiking season doesn’t end when you put away the bug spray and bring your snowboard down from the attic. Some trails are best experienced in cooler winter temperatures, and others demand a visit each spring, summer, fall, and winter to fully appreciate the landscape, flora, and fauna.
In alphabetical order, here are our top five regional hikes worth checking out this winter:
1. Bridal Veil Falls, Provo Canyon, Utah
Sometimes you just want an easy-peasy hike with a frozen waterfall and easy terrain to try out those new snowshoes. Or you have your kids along, and you want to set them up for winter hiking success. Either way, a quick trip to Bridal Veil Falls followed by a snowball fight in the closed Nunn’s Park parking lot is the perfect afternoon outing.
- Difficulty: Easy
- Length: 1.4 miles, round-trip
- Elevation gain: 114 feet
- Trail highlight: Bridal Veil Falls cascades down multiple levels through natural cuts in the canyon’s rugged walls. In the coldest months, it will form dramatic, enormous icicles.
- Best online guide: Utah’s Adventure Family documents the hike from a parent’s point-of-view, though the author’s kids are the true critics. They clearly give this hike a thumbs-up!
This route, which is actually paved, can get crowded any time of the year. Still, it’s worth it and is an excellent novice trail for snowshoeing.
2. La Milagrosa & Agua Caliente Canyon Trail: Tucson, Arizona
Some trails are impossible in the winter, but in the desert, you wouldn’t want to take on hikes like the La Milagrosa & Agua Caliente Canyon Trail anytime but in the cooler seasons.
In the margins between Tucson’s outskirts and the Saguaro National Park’s eastern section you’ll find a challenging hike along grassy hillsides, through rocky canyons, and around seasonal pools. You might even see Arizona’s iconic saguaro cacti dusted in snow if you time it right.
- Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
- Length: This is an “out-and-back” route. According to HikeLemmon.com, it’s 6.1 miles round-trip, but AllTrails.com pegged it at 8.6. This is likely due to the latter including an access road to get to the actual trailhead.
- Elevation gain: 1450′
- Trail highlight: Expect desert pools and the occasional lush oasis. The trail meets up with the Arizona National Scenic Trail.
- Best online guide: Charles Miles’ trail stats on HikeLemmon.com are excellent, only overshadowed by the stunning landscape and nature photos he’s shot over the years.
There’s been a lot of push back against hikers who bring unleashed dogs, or who don’t clean up after their trail mutts. If you bring your pup, set a good example.
3. Possum Creek Gorge Section, Cumberland Trail, Bakewell, Tennessee
Nothing wrong with a section hike in the middle of winter, right? Break out your cold-weather camping gear and tackle about 10 miles through one of the Cumberland Trail’s most gorgeous sections. There’s a small campground about two-thirds of the way in at Possum Creek, or you can have a friend come pick you up with a Thermos of hot cider.
- Difficulty: Moderate to challenging, depending on the weather and trail conditions
- Length: 9.5 miles one-way
- Elevation gain: 1000′ gain and loss
- Trail highlight: Two suspension bridges and Little Possum Creek Falls
- Best online guide: You can’t go wrong with Cumberland Trails Conference, the non-profit behind the CT’s maintenance and public education projects.
4. Silver Mine Lake Loop, Harriman State Park, Woodbury, New York
Only 30 miles north of the Big Apple is New York’s Harriman State Park, with more than 200 miles of hiking trails. One of these routes belongs on your winter hiking bucket list. The Silver Mine Lake Loop Trail begins on what once used to be an alpine ski resort, and sends you around the 84-acre Silver Mine Lake. Along the way, you’ll cross a wide brook and get a chance to admire (and chill out in) the stone-built William Brien Memorial Shelter.
- Difficulty: Moderate; well-maintained.
- Length: 4.5-mile loop
- Elevation gain: 942 feet
- Trail highlight: Brooks, creeks, and the lakeshore are gorgeous after new-fallen snow.
- Best online guide: Scenes from the Trail posted a great trip report as well as a Google Flyover video for the Silver Mine Lake Loop.
This is a good trail for snowshoes if you have them, and some of the locals might thank you for it. Since it’s a popular hike, the trails can become smattered with awkward and ugly “postholes” which, for you rookies out there, are deep footprints in the snow.
Plan to spend extra time admiring frozen ice falls and, possibly, the ice climbers that can’t resist them.
5. Trail of 10 Falls: Silver Falls State Park, Silverton, Oregon
Sure, the Columbia Gorge has plenty of waterfalls. You can drive right on up and see them any time of the year, but what’s the fun in that? Drive about 65 miles southeast of Portland for one of the Pacific Northwest’s absolute best winter (or spring, summer, and fall) hikes. The environment is classic Oregon old growth, and you’ll be near water (lots and lots of water!) almost the entire way.
- Difficulty: Moderate; well-maintained
- Length: The whole Trail of 10 Falls loop is 7.2 miles according to Silver Falls State Park, with a few short spur trails for waterfall viewing.
- Elevation gain: 800 feet
- Trail highlight: South Falls drops 117 feet, and you can walk behind it if you’re surefooted.
- Best online guide: Franziska Weinheimer maintains the wonderful Hike Oregon blog, and she’s got excellent mile-by-mile advice for hiking Trail of 10 Falls, including must-know tips for winter trips. Her hike stats are a bit different from those on the State Park’s site, so be sure to check your trail map before setting out.
Silver Falls State Park is closer to the relatively snow-free Willamette Valley floor than it is to the Cascade alpine zones, so it’s unlikely you’ll ever need snowshoes. You will want to bring rainproof outer layers since the waterfall spray can get pretty frosty in lower temperatures. Likewise, the trails can get slick, so be sure to wear boots with good treads, and think about bringing your hiking poles.
Refresh the waterproofing on your boots…
…and make sure you’ve packed the essentials. As with any other time of the year, layer up your outdoor clothing to protect against cold, wind, wet, and even heat. Wicking, breathable base and mid-layers will prevent hypothermia after a strenuous stretch of trail, and a good backcountry emergency kit will hold you over if your footing fails you. But these aren’t anything new to the prepared outdoor enthusiast. What you might not be prepared for is how your favorite summer hiking trails transform with the seasons.
Featured image: Bridal Falls by US Geological Survey.