Where Can I Backpack In The Winter? (9 Favorite U.S. Trails)

Where Can I Backpack In The Winter

Just because it’s winter time doesn’t mean it’s time to put your backpack and tent into storage to wait for next year. After all, who says that you can’t go hiking in the middle of December or January when there’s snow on the ground?

Regardless of where you are in the United States, there will be a variety of excellent wilderness hiking trails for you to go backpacking on. We’re going to outline and discuss each of these hiking trails and what we specifically love about each one. As you’ll soon see, you don’t have to spend your entire winter sipping a hot chocolate by the warm fire.

From the high mountains of the Northwestern Rockies to the deserts of the Southwest to the scenic hills of the Northeast and more, here are our nine favorite winter backpacking trails in the United States:

1. Artist Point, Washington

Artist Point in the state of Washington will be one of the very best winter hiking trails to go to if you would like to backpack in the Cascade Mountains.

After purchasing a Northwest Forest Pass, which will allow you to park in the parking lot overnight, you’ll begin your hike at the Mt. Baker ski area. This area will be quite busy with skiers and snowboarders, so be forewarned. Fortunately, the population will get a lot more sparse once you venture out into the true wilderness area.

You’ll need snowshoes to complete this trek, especially once you leave the skiing area and begin your way to Artist Point. Once you reach the point, you’ll be treated to some of the best ever views of Mt. Shuskan and Mt. Baker, not to mention stunning views of the Cascades all along the way.

Camping overnight at the point and then watching the sunset behind these mountains will be a truly magnificent experience. Few people actually stay here overnight, so you’ll get most of the place to yourself.

Distance: 4 Miles

Elevation Gain: 1,000 Feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Trailhead/parking

More info: fs.usda.gov

2. Diamond Peak, Oregon

Going backpacking in Diamond Peak, Oregon, means that you will have access to a frozen lake all to yourself. That’s also not to mention that the area has some of the best stargazing in the entire country.

What’s also neat about Diamond Peak is the fact that it’s one of the more unknown winter backpacking regions in the Cascades in general, and yet it delivers truly incredible views. You can certainly hike here in the summer if you want to, but going in the winter means you will get to witness the low angle light over the peak, which is when the views will be best.

The hike itself will begin at the Trapper Creek Trailhead, just on the other side of the road from the Shelter Cove Resort. In other words, the trailhead is incredibly easy to locate. Over the course of the hike, you’ll head across many railroad tracks before you reach the actual wilderness area.

The trail itself will be moderately steep all the way to the Diamond View Lake itself, where there will be many campsites for you to stay overnight.

Distance: 9.8 Miles

Elevation Gain: 1,000 Feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Trailhead/parking

More info: alltrails.com

3. Fairyland Trail, Utah

Fairyland Trail is located in Bryce National Park in Utah. If you’re looking for a winter backpacking trail in Utah with minimal to no crowds, crisp air, and some truly incredible views, then this is absolutely the place to go. As an added bonus, this is a very short hike that can be completed in just two to three hours, making it a superb choice for beginner winter backpackers.

This area receives an average of ninety five inches of snow a year, which will blanked itself over the red sandstone for an appearance that will be unlike anything else in the United States, let alone the winter.

You’ll need snowshoes in order to complete the hike as well, because the road will be left unplowed in order to create a winter hiking option,  and you’ll need snowshoes to make the hike more efficient.

Distance: 2 Miles

Elevation Gain: 1,600 Feet

Difficulty: Easy

Trailhead/parking

More info: nps.gov

4. Lost Man Pass, Colorado

Lost Man Pass in the Hunter Fryingpan Wilderness region of Colorado will give you access to both Lost Man Lake and Independence Lake. In the summertime, these areas are decorated with vibrant and colorful wildflowers, while in the winter these areas will be blanketed with snow and make a prime backpacking area for winter backpackers.

You’ll begin the hike at the Linkins Lake Trail, which is easy to follow and will climb around nine hundred feet en route to Independence Lake. The trail will be to the west of the lake, but there is another trail that will encircle the lake that you can take.

NOTE: Access in winter will be from the Aspen side at the service gate that closes seasonally. If, closed you will do a decent snowshoe or ski to get all the way up to the trailhead.

You can also continue down to Lost Man’s Lake, and eventually the trail will take you across the Lost Man Campground to Highway 82.

Distance: 4.5 Miles

Elevation Gain: 1,200 Feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Trailhead/parking: winter gate | summer TH

More info: fs.usda.gov

5. Mt. Roothaan, Idaho

Located in the northern Idaho Panhandle, Mt. Roothaan is specifically near Priest Lake and the Selkirk Crest. This area is teeming with natural wildlife such as deer, elk, moose, caribou, and even Grizzly Bear. Furthermore, these areas do not receive as many visitors as competing areas in Washington and Montana do, so it really feel as if you are out in the wilderness.

That being said, this is really a hike only suitable for the experienced winter backpacker. Simply getting to the trailhead alone can be a huge challenge, as the forest roads are not marked well, and the last mile and a half can be very rough.

The hike will begin at the Horton Ridge, and you’ll need to employ the use of snowshoes, crampons, and an ice axe to take you on down the slopes rather than just striking it out on the foot. You’ll eventually make your way to Chimney Rock, and you’ll eventually see the distant lights of the resort town of Coeur d’Alene at night.

Distance: 4 Miles

Elevation Gain: 1,200 Feet

Difficulty: Hard

Trailhead/parking

More info: summitpost.org

6. Ozark Hiking Trails, Arkansas

If you’d like to go on a winter backpacking hike in the southeastern region of the United States, go to the Ozark Hiking Trails in Arkansas. These are really an intricate series of hiking trails, but the best place to hike for the winter will be the thirty seven mile stretch located between Ozone and Fairview.

Beginning in Fayetteville, the hike will take you across ridge lines, through forests, and across flat topped mountains with numerous ponds and creeks all along the way. Since there are so many miles of hiking trails, this hike will really be as short or as hard as you make it.

During the winter time, you can expect temperatures to be in the mid-50s and the nighttimes to fall below freezing, so as a whole it will be warmer than comparable hiking trails in the Northeast or Northwest.

Distance: 37 Miles

Elevation Gain: 2,380 Feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Trailhead/parking

More info: fs.usda.gov

7. Pinnacle Trail, Pennsylvania

Do you want to go on a winter backpacking hike in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains? If so, one of your top choices should be the Pinnacle Trail in the great state of Pennsylvania.

The first two miles of the hike will be the steepest and most challenging, as you go to Pulpit Rock where you will be treated to an awesome view of the Lehigh Valley. You can then climb another two miles to get to a large rock outcrop with a full view of the valley below.

From there, you’ll actually descend for another two miles to get to a blue blazed trail, before descending another two miles to return to the trailhead.

Distance: 8.5 Miles

Elevation Gain: 1,300 feet.

Difficulty: Moderate

Trailhead/parking

More info: summitpost.org

8. Porter Mountain, New York

Who says you have to be in the Rocky Mountains of the Northwest for some serious elevation gain? The summit of Porter Mountain will give you a strong elevation gain of 2,300 feet, and while it will be a challenging trek, the reward will be excellent views right above Lake Placid.

The Cascade Mountain Trailhead is where you’ll begin, and the trail will take you through pine trees, fir, and spruce. This trail can be icy and slippery during the winter, so be careful and exercise caution. After reaching the Cascade Mountain Summit, you’ll then backtrack to he trail junction and then go another mile and a half to the Porter Mountain Summit.

This will give you access to a full clearing area with stunning views and a great place to camp for the night. At that point, you can backtrack to the trailhead from whence you came.

Distance: 6.2 Miles

Elevation Gain: 2,300 feet

Difficulty: Hard

Trailhead/parking

More info: lakeplacid.com

9. Sentinel Dome, California

If you want to go on a winter backpacking trip in Yosemite, go to Sentinel Dome. The trailhead begins at the Badger Pass skiing area, which will be closed off from cars and will be a great place for snowshoeing or cross country skiing.

It will be approximately nine miles from the lot to get to the Sentinel Dome Trailhead, but along the way you’ll get to see excellent views of Mt. Starr King and the Sierra Mountains. Once you reach the trailhead, you can keep trekking or settle down to camp for the night.

Take note that this region gets very cold in the winter, especially at night, so pack warm and appropriately. All in all, this is an excellent backpacking hike that will reward you with excellent panoramic views of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Distance: 18.8 Miles

Elevation Gain: 860 Feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Trailhead/parking

More info: pantilat.wordpress.com

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