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Choose Your Winter Hiking Adventure

by Justin Moralez
Snow covered steel bridge stretching between mountains
New River Gorge National River
NPS Photo

Each year, national parks welcome visitors looking to connect with nature and create special memories while hiking in the great outdoors. For some, a visit to the parks means roaring campfires under summer skies. Others set out for dazzling fall foliage along mountain ridges or blooming wildflowers on a sunny spring hike. But have you ever hiked the parks during the wintertime?

Everyone has a favorite way of enjoying the winter months, so we have put together three different options for how you might choose to safely explore the parks all season long. Rain, snow, or sunshine, national park sites across the country offer opportunities to hike and enjoy the outdoors during the quieter winter months.

Snow - The Only Way to Go

Snowshoes at Grand Portage National Monument (NPS Photo)

Does your idea of wintertime fun include a fresh dusting of snow? If so, bundle up, because a hike at Grand Portage National Monument could be just the park visit for you.

Just south of the United States border with Canada, Grand Portage National Monument forms a bridge between people, time, and culture. For over 400 years, Ojibwe families of Grand Portage tapped maple trees in the spring and fished along Lake Superior in the summer before the introduction of French and English fur traders between 1778 until 1802.

Today, the park offers incredible views of Lake Superior’s icy waters during wintertime hikes along the one mile Mount Rose Trail and Loop. The newest trail in the park, Mount Rose’s 300-foot climb through meadows of evergreens and hardwoods brings you to Tamarack Point and its breathtaking views of the park’s historic fur trading depot and Grand Portage Bay.

Sticking with Sunshine

Cabrillo National Monument on a sunny day (iStock / Nature, food, landscape, travel)

Wintertime in Southern California comes with a sunny twist. If you are the type that would prefer sunblock over snowshoes, a hike at Cabrillo National Monument might just fit the bill.

Cabrillo National Monument is located on the southern tip of San Diego’s Point Loma Peninsula and commemorates the first European to set foot on the West Coast. If you are a lover of history, also be sure to check out the park’s Old Point Loma Lighthouse. First put into service in 1855, the structure was one of the first west coast lighthouses to be constructed by the U.S. government.

Aside from its historic past, the park also commands incredible views of the San Diego skyline and the restless Pacific Ocean. The park’s Coastal Trail is one-mile round trip and winds through unique native vegetation on the way to the park's famous tidepools. You are likely to spot a sea star or snail, but if you are lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the park’s Pacific Gray Whales.

Down in the Desert

Snowy Blue Mesa in Petrified Forest National Park (NPS photo)

Maybe you have seen a desert, but have you ever seen one blanketed in snow? If not, a wintertime hike at Petrified Forest National Park might be a great pick for you.

Located in northeastern Arizona, Petrified Forest National Park is a perfect wintertime escape. The park is best known for the world's largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood, the Painted Desert, historic structures, archeological sites, and displays of 225-million-year-old fossils.

The park is also known for its “Off the Beaten Path Hikes,” which bring visitors through wild and unpaved trails. One well-loved route is the 2.5-mile round trip hike into Jasper Forest. Constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s, the road, now closed to automobile traffic, offers hikers the chance to hike amongst the mesas and buttes, passing the park’s largest deposits of petrified wood on their way to the site of what was once Eagle Nest Rock.

Where Are You Headed?

Sunset view from Tolmie Peak in Mount Rainier National Park (NPS Photo / B. Burnett)

The National Park Foundation is proud to have partnered with Nature Valley to support trail restoration projects at each of these three parks, ensuring that their incredible views continue to be accessible year-round for generations to come. Nature Valley knows that nature makes us better and has helped restore access to 10,000 miles of national park trails since 2018 and is committed to restoring another 10,000 miles of trails through 2023.

With the new year now upon us and over 400 national park sites to pick from, there is bound to be a wintertime hike that is the perfect fit for you. What trail are you safely exploring this season?