Hiking is the perfect sport to shake off cabin fever, get a good dose of vitamin D and see some gorgeous scenery while you’re at it
Hiking is a year-round sport, even in the depths of winter, and you don’t necessarily have to deal with potentially dangerous snow conditions either; all of these top 5 winter hikes are suitable destinations for casual day hikers as well as experienced enthusiasts.
1. Mojave National Preserve, California
Just like neighbouring Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Park, it’s hot as hell here in summer – and while winter can be freezing, particularly at night, daytime temperatures are usually around 10-15C (50-60F) and there are plenty of hikes you can do in a day (or even a couple of hours). An easy stop off between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the landscape here is other-worldly, with dense Joshua Tree forests, weird volcanic formations and the famous “singing sand dunes” that emit a low rumble. Other attractions include the ghost town of Kelso (the former depot is now a visitor centre), ancient caves formed by flowing lava, and a road called Zzyzx.
2. Yosemite National Park, California
While roads to some parts of the park are closed due to snow in the winter, and the main draw is skiing, don’t let that put you off – there are other options if you just want to stretch your legs a little and take in the beautiful snowy surroundings, such as a hike to Mirror Lake or Bridalveil Falls. Other activities here are family-friendly, such as ice skating at an outdoor rink, guided snowshoe trail walks, snow tubing and horse-drawn sleigh rides. Day temperatures range from 12C to -2C (53-25F).
3. Canaveral National Seashore, Florida
You will undoubtedly have heard of Cape Canaveral, where the J.F. Kennedy Space Center is located, but don’t miss out visiting here if you’re in the area. Located between New Smyrna Beach and Titusville in Florida, the park consists of a barrier island containing miles of pristine beaches and sand dunes along the Atlantic Coast, as well as a lagoon that attracts migratory birds in winter. This is also the time that the extremely rare and endangered Northern Right Whale passes through – there are estimated to be only 300 left in the world so if you see one you’ll be very lucky. While winter isn’t exactly top beach weather, there are hiking trails galore, plus horse-riding, canoeing, kayaking and surfing.
4. Big Bend National Park, Texas
Incredibly diverse and hauntingly beautiful, this large park on the border with Mexico features desert landscapes, river canyons and hundreds of species of bird and reptiles. Winters here are mild, with daytime temperatures around 15-20C (60-70F) and even exceeding 25C (80F) on occasion – that being said, cold snaps can occur and snow is not unheard of, so be prepared. This is definitely the time for strenuous outdoor activities such as mountain biking and rafting on the Rio Grande; in addition, there are over 200 miles (320km) of hiking trails.
5. Gulf Islands National Seashore, Florida and Mississippi
This 150 mile (240km) stretch of seashore on the Gulf of Mexico consists of islands and mainland sections in both Florida and Mississippi, and a definite advantage in winter is a lack of humidity and mosquitoes. Although 80% of the park is submerged under water, there are plenty of hiking opportunities, with 35 miles (56km) of designated trails on the Florida side and 2 miles (3km) on the Mississippi side, plus white sand beaches that stretch for miles. Other popular activities include kayaking, fishing and snorkelling; the abundant sea life includes dolphins and sea turtles.