Winter gets a bad rap for its freezing temperatures and oh-so-short days, but the cold and snow make plenty of activities possible that you simply can't do the rest of the year. Enter snowshoeing, your new favorite winter pastime. Requiring none of the expensive lift passes (or coordination!) of skiing or snowboarding, snowshoeing is an easy and accessible hobby that gets you out and enjoying all the frosted, glimmering beauty of winter — and it's a great workout to boot. Here are five idyllic spots in the United States to inspire you to tromp, tramp, and stamp around in nature this winter.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
The Colorado Rockies are full of outdoor opportunities year-round, from springtime rafting on rivers fed by melting snow, to summer hikes and camping, to fall foliage headlined by the area's iconic yellow aspens. If you thought winter was just for skiing and snowboarding in downhill meccas like Vail or Aspen, though, think again. Rocky Mountain National Park is crisscrossed with over 300 miles of trails, the majority of which are open to snowshoeing in the colder season.
If you need to rent snowshoes, plan to stop in either Estes Park or Grand Lake — and check out the local mountain village charm while you're there. First timers should know that you can wear your own winter boots with snowshoes, which makes it easy to switch in and out when you reach the trail. We suggest the Glacier Gorge Trail, which begins at a trailhead southwest of Estes Park. Depending on your stamina and experience, you can go either to Loch Lake, or, for a real challenge, continue to the rightfully renowned Sky Pond in all its alpine glory.
Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico
Colorado doesn't have a monopoly on aspen forests, as evidenced by one of New Mexico's most popular trails. The Aspen Vista Trail in the Santa Fe National Forest is a favorite among both hikers and snowshoers. The route can take you to the top of Tesuque Peak, which — if you make it all the way to the 12,000+ feet of elevation — offers sweeping views of the surrounding Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Santa Fe Lake. You can easily rent equipment either in Santa Fe itself or in nearby Albuquerque, and can opt for trails in any of the surrounding national forests.
While the Southwest may not be the first place to come to mind when considering a winter wonderland destination, New Mexico has its distinct advantages during the season. You can expect all the beauty of snow-capped peaks, without the bitter cold found farther north. With deserts sitting next to deciduous forests, you can also experience an unmatched variety of fauna and flora during your visit to the Land of Enchantment, no matter the time of year.
White Mountains National Forest, New Hampshire
While New England has no shortage of winter beauty, it is hard to beat the White Mountains of New Hampshire for scenic forests, gentle climbs, and rewarding treks. The range is a part of the northern Appalachians — some of the oldest mountains in the world — so expect more rounded, eroded peaks than you'll find in the younger and more jagged Rockies of the American West.
First-time snowshoers will appreciate the guided tours along with the a wealth of easier routes, while more experienced adventurers can head deeper into the mountains and take advantage of the Appalachian Mountain Club Hikers' Huts for overnight lodging. The hut system offers shelter and meals for area hikers in the warmer months, but three of the huts remain open for self-service — meaning you'll need to bring your own food and supplies — all winter long. Check out Lonesome Lake Trail, a popular route with one such hut that begins in Franconia Notch State Park.
Yosemite National Park, California
The forests, waterfalls, and cliffs of Yosemite exert a pull over nature lovers every day of the year, and winter is no exception. The bulk of the park's best winter trails for snowshoeing are found near Glacier Point, with its awe-inspiring views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls.
Badger Pass Ski Area — which adds downhill skiing, snowboarding, and tubing to your list of possibilities — also offers snowshoe rentals for your convenience. If you visit at the right time of the month, you can even join one of their Full Moon Snowshoe Walks to experience the park in an entirely different and utterly magical, moonlit way. Otherwise, enjoy the many trail options on your own, from the easier Glacier Point Road to the difficult — but totally worth it — Badger Pass route.
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
As with any of the wintry national parks, you'll want to keep an eye on the National Park Service page for updates regarding road closures and weather conditions, but, if Mother Nature cooperates, the trails around Mount Rainier are hard to beat.
If you're only looking to whet your snowshoeing appetite, try a short route like the Nisqually Vista Trail with its views of Nisqually Glacier. If you're looking to spend all day — or more! — in the mountains and have sufficient outdoors experience under your belt, take advantage of aptly-named options like the Wonderland or Skyline Trails for challenges and views galore.