Where to hike warm during winter months

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    AK Granola
    BPL Member


    As I get closer to retirement (I hope), I’m thinking about the hiking I want to do when I have more time. Right now I do as many day hikes and weekend backpack trips as I can, plus one big (2-3 weeks) backpacking trip per summer. When I retire, I will want to do some longer trips in the winter. I’d like to get out of the snow a bit, and do a long hike that time of year. Most of the long hikes on my list though, require summer travel not winter.

    Any suggestions for longer backpacking ideas for winter – say October through April, anywhere from 1-6 weeks or so? People often start the AT in Feb-March so that would be an option too, although the “long green tunnel” hasn’t been on my list. Just trying to brainstorm some ideas in advance!

    Suggestions welcome! Picture for attention – my favorite camp on the TRT, Fontanillis Lake. Hope I didn’t already post that on BPL.

    BPL Member


    Locale: The West is (still) the Best

    Probably the best time to hike lower elevations of hotter regions, though even in the Sunbelt, prepare for winter cold fronts.  Think I’ve said it before elevation matters in the Southwest.  The Chiricahuas well south of Phoenix are alpine at their highest (over 10000 ft) while Phoenix is sunny and pleasant at 1000 feet or so above sea level

    The Big Bend Texas region is always a good winter draw and Grand Canyon is a really good hike mid-winter … we had to seek shelter from the mid PM sun when hiking the Tonto during it’s popular month … March.

    People often start the AT in Feb- ..

    Had an acquaintance do that and had to go into town when an overnight low was expected close to at 0°F, .. though doing some winter section hikes even north on the AT is becoming a tad bit more popular

    The AT gets up in the eastern mountains so it’s going to be cold.  Even some FT (Florida Trail) thru hikers reported icy overnights in the southern part of that trail.


    The Florida Trail is an option and think Mississippi is trying to get into the long trail game too.

    Could try the southern parts of the AZT (Arizona Trail) skipping around Tucson’s Rincon mountains is they are snowy (Mt Lemmon has a ski area), going a bit past the general Phoenix area .. up to the Matzaztal wilderness (think the Mogollan Rim may be a wee bit too cold).  Superior AZ has a long haul bus stop (Greyhound) but been looking at the mountain biking oriented “Fools Trail” as a return to extend a winter pack, though hauling a pack through northern Phoenix suburbs may not be the wisest.

    There’s also the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix where the preferred season is winter.

    Theres been some exploration from Laughlin NV to the Yuma AZ area though some of the east to west routes going into California (Palm Springs) required some water caches.

    I’ll try finding the links later..

    Mark Verber
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    My strategy, because it’s in my backyard :) is sections of the California coastal ranges.  Most of my trips are 2-4 days but it’s certainly possible to construct a path that will be 1 week+. For example, a full loop in the Kings Range can get to about a week. Lots of paths could be constructed in the Ventana Wilderness.

    If you don’t mind mixing wilderness with some more urban you could walk the california coastal trail. who was active here around 10 year ago seems to really like the desert (CA, NV, etc) during the winter, and also seems to like Southern Europe.



    As someone who will retire soon I would suggest the southern hemisphere in general and South America, Oz, New Zealand in particular. This is time and budget dependent of course but would be a wonderful retirement gift to yourself. Don’t know if this is still available but I once booked a round the Pacific ticket and had a great time including an initial stop in Tahiti on the way to New Zealand. You only live once. But full disclosure, I’ve been told I’m a bad influence:)

    BPL Member


    Locale: The West is (still) the Best

    I’ll try finding the links later

    Forgot to do that.  Anyways these use the desert  to the west (mostly) of the Tucson to Phoenix line … low relatively hot desert that you only really want to hike in winter unless a true desert rat (well, even then rat status vs AZ sun in low desert outside of winter .. I’ll bet on the latter). Note there’s some water caching but also some alternatives in these reports.  Is it too late now?  Not sure as the Sonoran desert (AZ) usually gets it’s first rainfalls in January so that may help the water situation (that said don’t camp in flood zones). Speaking of water pretty sure I’d add a chemical virus-defeating treatment as some of these sources are recreational areas (including the Colorado river in the Laughlin NV area .. pool floaties in the river, beer, .. guess the rest).

    Also noticing the packing lists below tend to be 3+ season variety, as it’s still “winter”.

    Ok, enough warnings .. here’s the links w/brief description.

    Here’s a 660 mile or so route skimming around Tucson then going west by northwest towards Riverside Co. in California

    Arizona Winter Traverse 460 miles of southern AZ using Laughlin NV (south of Las Vegas, Baby) as a terminus.

    If an early spring trip, it going up towards the Chihuahuan desert on Arizona’s east side (Duncan) since the rise in elevation should keep it cooler overall.

    Now here’s one that zigzags a bit across the Colorado River a bit, coming from the Las Vegas area down to Yuma AZ or vice versa (AZ, CA, and NV).  May want to look at prevailing winds..

    This last one gets to Yuma which can be pretty hot.  When I lived in Phoenix AZ eons ago, the alt-paper had a mid-summer article reminding residents at least it wasn’t as hot as Yuma.  So hot and cold can occur with winds.


    Add there were some posts by the author(s) on thru-hiking forums about a potential link of these with some trails headed towards St George UT but think they’d be more seasonal (the Vegas – St George area can get a bit colder for winter).


    Heck I might try one of these for the exercise .. so no one offers me a mall Santa job.



    Phong D
    BPL Member


    Not sure if your in SO-CAL, but the trans Catalina trail is kinda fun.  Beach camping, and they stock the camp with water and firewood when you arrive each night.  Right now, its 75 highs 50s lows.  The scenary is nothing like your picture sadly…its california charporal all the way :(  and you might have to avoid cows…But the views of the ocean from the hills is nice.

    Joshua Tree is also kinda nice, but you have to cache water in advance, or just go out for a night or two.  It can get cold though very rarely freezing cold.  Like right now, I think its a pleasant 40.  For me, Joshua Tree has it’s own kind of beauty and I like the place.  Good for stars at night as well.

    Sedona is really pretty but can be cold at night.  Backpacking trails are hard to come by.  People tend to stitch together day trips to make backpacking trips, because the area has dispersed camping so thats possible.

    Edit: I could be wrong but I think the South Bound PCTers are still hiking at this time.  I’ve done the California portion of the PCT and I enjoyed it, but you really have to like deserts.  Just don’t get too high on some of the peaks, like San Jacinto, those are really the highlights but can be really covered in snow.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Northern California

    re: Fontanillis lake and environs. Depending on conditions…it’s easy to do long day hikes or overnights even in winter in this area. If the snow is packed; or if winter snows have been skimpy, hiking up to Dick’s Lake area even in packed snow is safe and pretty easy on a day hike. I’ve stayed at Tamarack Lodge just outside of Tahoe City in winter for years. They’re located at a state park. You can don skis or snowshoes almost at your door and head off into the park, where snowmobiles are banned. Assuming that you will rent a car…? Tahoe rim trailheads are abundant within five to twenty minutes. the “Poker Cabins” are cheap and warm and wonderful. In spring I’ve hiked up to Dick’s Lake  over mostly snow many times. I’ve overnighted with friends at Velma Lakes but I prefer to hike out in a day trip and be warm and well fed and slightly buzzed on good wine at Tamarack instead. It'[s winter after all. I’ve done a lot of day backcountry skis out of this same lodge over the years. So this is one option!

    Bill in Roswell
    BPL Member


    Locale: Roswell, GA, USA

    I second Larry, re South America. Peru and Chile. The cost of flying is big these days. But once there many nice values can be found. Often a mix of wild high country with drops into valley towns every few days. Paines del Torre can mix wild camping with paid huts/cabin tents. Lots of established routes.

    SW winter desert has its charms. Sun guaranteed.

    Mark L
    BPL Member


    You could start on the AT in Virginia’s pastoral Grayson Highlands at the beginning of your time range and hike south with fall.

    We have had two glorious months of an extended fall this year. A green tunnel becomes on fire with blazing red, orange, yellow. Day after day immersed in golden light, filtered in endless variety through constantly changing leaves. When a strong wind blows and they begin to fall around you like snowflakes, you’re transported.

    Mount Rogers high country is a special place, thus it gets well visited in the fall, relatively speaking.

    If you don’t outpace cold weather snaps as you go south there are usually ample opportunities to come down out of elevation for awhile.

    There seems to be a penchant for dramatic, sweeping views on BPL. But I’m biased. I grew up in the Appalachians and a forest has always felt like home; a sacred place I want to be. I have hiked in the southwest. I feel exposed, away from the abundant resources and protection a forest provides.

    So that is my pitch. For me it isn’t a tunnel, it’s a place of peace, solitude, and wonder.




    AK Granola
    BPL Member


    Thanks to all of you who suggested options – except the person suggesting I hike in snow! Either you missed the point, or maybe I wasn’t clear with my question… after decades in a place where the snow hits in September and is here until the end of April, I’m ready to be somewhere else! I have had plenty of snowshoeing, skiing and hiking in snow opportunities to last me the rest of my life.

    Ben H.
    BPL Member


    Locale: No. Alabama

    Some great suggestions so far (love the Trans-Catalina Trail and Superstition Wilderness in Winter). One trail I am currently planning for December that I haven’t seen mentioned is the Ozarks Highland Trail. I haven’t been there yet, but it looks like a nice walk in winter.

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    We found Copper Canyon in Mexico to be lovely for Alaskans at New Years.  Partly because other people delay until early Spring because they want it to 70-80F in Mexico and because, as Alaskans, we think 50-60F at that elevation is ideal for hiking, so there were lots of space at inns, in restaurants, and on trails.

    A bit further south, we’ve enjoyed Costa Rica in winter – volcanos, rain forests, cloud forests, weird tropical critters.

    James H


    A shameless plug for my two favorite trails. They are the Ozark Highland Trail and the Ouachita Trail. I have seen the temps as high as upper 60’s and as low as lower 20’s. The average high is in the 50’s and the low are in the 30’s. With that being said we do get the occasional ice storm and snow. They do not last long.

    They are both well maintained and are not highly used. There are a fair amount of PUD’s on both trails. The OT has shelters spaced every 15-20 miles.

    The views are very good this time of year due to the leaves being off the trees.

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    Here’s someone making a strong case for Clear Creek in GCNP during the winter:

    What is the best winter hike in Grand Canyon? Clear Creek! from WildernessBackpacking

    I’ll try to remember to chat up the backcountry rangers about it when we check in for our trip next month.

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