Best Winter Hikes in North America

By: Bryan Shelmon

Bryan Shelmon is a travel writer, living the digital nomad lifestyle as of the past 5+ years to immerse himself into the travel industry. Bryan has traveled to regions including the Americas, the Caribbean, Europe, and Southeast Asia. While traveling, he enjoys daily writing sessions with his favorite chai latte, attending local cultural events, and working on CULTURE art inspired by new places.

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January 25, 2024 | Adventure Experts

Every season is the perfect time for adventure, and we’re bringing you the best winter hikes in North America. MT Sobek got its start with epic hiking around the world, so we hardly take a season off when adventure comes calling! Discover what popular winter hikes we’re warming up for and how you can be a part of our upcoming trips.

Why You Should Hike in the Winter

snow mountain tops in Yosemite Valley in California

If you’re like most travelers, you’ve already stowed away your hiking boots and day packs to await warmer months. But the truly intrepid know that winter is one of the best seasons for hiking! A few reasons why we love winter hikes are:

  • Fewer crowds on trails
  • Cooler weather
  • Unique scenery

Not all winter hikes involve snow-covered trails and battling frigid wind gusts atop mountain summits. North America’s diverse landscape means you can also find dry trails and warmer climates even in the middle of the winter.

Excited yet? Check out a few of our favorite winter hikes in North America we’re gearing up for.

Easy Winter Hikes in North America

1. Mastodon Peak Trail in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Wintertime in Mastodon Peak Hiking trail in Joshua Tree National Park in California, USA

  • Length: 2.4 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy

Winter is the best time to summit Mastodon Peak. There’s no shade en route to the top, so you’ll appreciate the cooler temperatures compared to the summer.

This mammoth-sized peak offers one of the best views in Joshua Tree National Park. You’ll pass the abandoned Mastadon gold mine, but the real treasure is the panoramic view at the summit, where you’ll see the Salton Sea and rugged Mojave Desert landscape. Wear shoes with good traction because you might encounter loose rock scrambles on the trek. This hike is one of the many exciting excursions on our California Joshua Tree & Death Valley Hiking Tour.

2. Golden Canyon Trail in Death Valley National Park, California

rocky Golden Canyon trail in Death Valley National Park, Callifornia, USA

  • Length: 2.9 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy

They say, “All that glitters is not gold,” but the ancient walls of the Golden Canyon live to tell a different tale. Embark on a journey on the Golden Canyon Trail through one of the richest parts of Death Valley National Park. It’s a maze of towering canyon walls that build up anticipation over the breathtaking views at the top.

Set this as your destination for hiking in the winter, where the cool canyon floor keeps you cool in the California sun. You’ll instantly recognize landmarks like the Red Cathedral and the Red Theater. Experience even more Death Valley adventures on this popular hiking tour.

3. Santa Elena Canyon Trail in Big Bend National Park, Texas

river between rocky mountains under clear sky in Santa Elena Canyon hiking trail in Big Bend National Park

  • Length: 1.6 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy

Need a short hike to keep your muscles active during the winter season? It only takes an hour to complete the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, but the memories of the views and experience will last a lifetime!

Let the sounds of canyon wrens guide you through the limestone canyon cliffs and up the paved stairs to the overlook at the Rio Grande River. Bring waterproof shows because you’ll first need to cross the small Terlingua Creek. Discover other exciting routes in Texas Big Bend National Park on this hiking tour.

4. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Trail in Death Valley National Park

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park, California, USA

  • Length: 2.3 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy

You don’t have to travel to a galaxy far, far away to experience otherworldly landscapes. The Mesquite Flat San Dunes hiking trails take you through landscapes used in Star Wars films.

The Force is always with you while embarking on this easy trail. Wind-swept dunes cover the tracks of explorers before you, so you’ll set your own course through this sandy playground. Kick off your shoes, sink your feet into the warm sand, and ascend dunes rising more than 600 feet tall. Plan a private tour of this Death Valley hiking tour to maximize your time on the dunes.

5. Boquillas Canyon Trail in Big Bend National Park, Texas

solo traveler hiking boquillas side hike in texas, usa

  • Length: 1.5 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy

The Boquillas Canyon Trails feels like a leisurely walk on the banks of the Rio Grande River—something you typically wouldn’t expect in the winter! Temperatures are always warm while exploring this section of the Big Bend National Park.

We organize a special hiking tour that immerses you further into the region’s beauty by crossing over the river into Mexico. You’ll have a chance to experience the rich Mexican Heritage in Boquillas del Carmen after your hike.

Request a free adventure travel catalog from MT Sobek
Request a free adventure travel catalog from MT Sobek

Moderate Winter Hikes in North America

6. Mosaic Canyon Trail in Death Valley National Park, California

hiking the famous Mosaic Canyon trail in death valley national park, california, north america, USA

  • Length: 4 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Weave through the narrow Mosaic Canyon on one of the popular day-hike locations in Death Valley National Park. Winter is especially beautiful, with snow lining the marbled canyon walls stretching 30 feet overhead. Dress warm because the walls block the sun for most of the trek.

While navigating the trail, look for the Mosaic Canyon Brecca—colorful rock fragments that shimmer in the right light. They’re easily mistaken for ice, but it’s one of the magical parts of this hike. This winter hike takes you directly through this dazzling winterized canyon.

7. Closed Canyon Trail in Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

hiking the great Closed Canyon trail in Big Bend National Park, Texas, USA

  • Length: 1.4 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Snowbirds looking for a warmer hike during the cold months will find refuge on the Closed Canyon Trail. These towering canyon walls seem to hug you while you navigate towards the trail end, which stops at the Rio Grande along the US-Mexico border.

This trek leads you on a gravel path through a split in the Colorado Mesa that gets narrower as you approach the end. During the winter, get ready for some small leaps across water-filled tinajas and keep an eye out for mountain lion tracks. We have winter hiking dates for Big Bend National Park to explore this route.

8. Kelso Dunes Trail in Mojave National Preserve, California

hiking kelso sand dunes trail in mojave preserve in north america, USA

  • Length: 2.9 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Looking for a winter hike in North America that doesn’t feel like winter? Trade in snowy terrain for a sandy desert landscape on the Kelso Dunes Trail.

We take hikers through the Mojave National Preserve on this trek, where you’ll encounter dunes reaching heights of 650-feet. Leave your snowshoes behind because you’ll step through soft sand en route to the peak of the dunes. Listen up as the singing dunes provide the soundtrack to your epic winter hiking adventure.

9. Tom’s Thumb Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Arizona

hiking the saguaro loop trail in the mcdowell sonoran preserve in Arizona, North America, USA

  • Length: 4 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Snow in Arizona? With a summit elevation of over 1,200 feet, you’ll be as surprised as everyone else on this popular trail. But that doesn’t stop hikers from giving this route two thumbs up for one of the best winter hikes in North America!

Trek past stunning desert fauna and up gravel-covered switchbacks following the footsteps of Tom Kreuser from the Arizona Mountaineering Club who the landmark rock formation is named after. At the top, you’ll gaze over the McDowell Mountains and even see the Phoenix skyline. Be sure to take it slow on the downhill route and keep a sharp eye out for rattlesnakes. Explore more of the US Southwest on this private adventure tour.

10. Seven Falls Trail in Catalina National Forest, Arizona

hiking the gravelly terrain in catalina canyon in arizona, north america, USA

  • Length: 8.4 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking the Seven Falls Trail during different seasons gives completely different experiences. During the summer, it’s famous for seeing the Seven Falls at the trail’s end. However, during the winter, you can enjoy the views by climbing the rocks that form the falls.

Winter is the dry season, which makes reaching the best views much easier. While navigating the Sabino Canyon, you’ll pass giant saguaro cacti and reach sights overlooking the Sonoran Desert. Conserve your energy for the hike by taking the electric shuttle from the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area Visitor Center to the trailhead.

Challenging Winter Hikes in North America

11. Siphon Draw Trail in Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

hiking in the winter in Siphon Draw Trail in Lost Dutchman State Park in Arizona, North America

  • Length: 5.5 miles
  • Difficulty: Challenging

Views at the end of the Siphon Draw Trail are some of the most rewarding of the best winter hikes in North America. The only challenge is reaching the top!

You’ll ascend more than 2,600 feet up the mountainous landscape in a steep climb. Due to the elevation and season, you’ll encounter snow and icy paths, so take it slow. Your treat for making it to the top is views of the landmark Flatiron Peak and panoramic views of the Superstitious Mountains.

Winter Travel Safety Tips

Hiking safety is most important regardless of which season you are trekking. If it’s your first time hiking during the winter, you’ll encounter a few unique challenges that you should be prepared for. Here are a few tips:

  • Bring the right gear – know the trail you’re planning to hike and equip yourself with the right gear. Bringing snowshoes or crampons for snowy or icy trails. Also, wear layered, insulated clothing.
  • Check the weather – trail conditions can be unpredictable during the winter due to precipitation and climate change. Check before heading out to ensure it’s safe to navigate.
  • Bring food and water – you should always have snacks for energy, especially on longer hikes.
  • Inform family/friends where you’re going – most trails don’t have wifi service, so you should let someone know your hiking plans and when you plan to be back. That way, it’s easier to locate you if there is any unforeseen trouble.
  • Know your limit – you’ll encounter other hikers on popular trails, and many trails have extended routes. Don’t attempt anything you’re uncertain of and be mindful at all times of where you’re stepping.

Winter hikes in North America aren’t the only outdoor adventures you can enjoy this season. Check out our list of winter adventures and request your free MT Sobek catalog to start planning your next adventure!

Ask an Expert

We want you to have the best adventure, so don’t hesitate to call our expert team of adventure specialists at 800-974-0300 to learn more. Or click the button to use our online contact form.

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