Winter doesn’t mean an end to hiking season. In Florida, the Adirondacks, and Maine, it’s an ideal time to take to the trails.
Bald Mountain [Camden, ME]
Located just a 20-minute drive from downtown Camden, this is the ideal introductory winter hike. The wide, gradual path to the top from your car is a simple 1.3-mile trail, and your reward for the trek is a snow-dusted rocky summit with a historic lean-to and views of the town, Camden Hills State Park, and the Atlantic Ocean.
What to bring: Most of the hike is open air, so bring a jacket that repels the wind and a lightweight folding chair to properly enjoy the view at the top.
Little Manatee River State Park [Wimauma, FL]
This easy, well-maintained trail is a wildlife enthusiast’s dream path through sand pine and scrub oak, home to several varieties of noisy woodpeckers and sleepy owls. Take the six-and-a-half miles of looping trails, and spend the day gazing at storks, tortoises, and alligators following the peaceful Little Manatee River back to your car. As an added bonus, the 50-minute drive east of Treasure Island offers a highly scenic route over Tampa Bay and into the Florida wilderness.
Ampersand Mountain [Lake Placid, NY]
Named for the nearby, twisting Ampersand Creek, this ironically straightforward hike, carries you a total of 5.4 miles through snow-frosted pines before turning over to icy rock scrambles for the last 1,700 feet. When you hit the top some 3,352 feet up from where you started, you’ll find a windy, bald peak with jaw-dropping, 360-degree views of dozens upon dozens of frozen lakes and the snow-capped Adirondacks.
What to bring: A Thermos full of warm cider from Artisans restaurant at Lake Placid Lodge and a camera with plenty of battery power.
Buck Mountain [Lake George, NY]
This is the most versatile hike on the list, offering a family-friendly 3.2-mile round-trip to a panoramic summit that overlooks wintry Lake George or a 6.6-mile loop with a challenging vertical gain. Even if you bail out before the summit, the still woods, frozen streams, and uncrowded trail make for a truly tranquil hike. Keep an eye out for elusive white-furred foxes padding through the snow on your way up.
What to bring: Snowshoes to stay on top of the white stuff, a keen eye for wildlife, and a companion willing to tackle the summit.
Big Cypress Loop Trail to Oasis [Ochopee, FL]
You won’t be gaining much elevation on this 7.9-mile slog through the heart of swampy Big Cypress, but you will be catching sight of some of the rarest natural wonders on the continent, including white ghost orchids and Florida panthers. The islands of pine rockland are a recommended visit and one of the least common sights in the state, featuring dense and uncommon vegetation alongside colorful native frogs and birds that call them home.
What to bring: Shoes you don’t mind getting dirty, and top-notch binoculars for the most elusive sightings.
Coles Woods [Queensbury, NY]
Nestled conveniently between Glens Falls and Queensbury, Cole’s Woods was home to the first lighted cross-country ski trails in North America, when they premiered in December of 1971. Today, the historic site boasts a full 7 kilometers of lighted trails that are free to access and lovingly maintained through volunteer efforts by Friends of Cole’s Woods. The impressive system weaves through woodlands and up hills to reveal excellent views of the Adirondacks and the nearly-frozen lakes below.
What to bring: In addition to your cross-country skis, plan to bring your endurance – particularly when tackling the 5K lighted race loop, which includes several uphill climbs.
Whiteface Mountain [Lake Placid, NY]
In the summertime, this is a must-see peak that many elect to take in via a drive and elevator ride to the top. In the winter, the Wilmington Trail to the top of Whiteface is undoubtedly a stiffer challenge as you’ll be dealing with a rough-hewn path that can be slick and icy the entire way up. The journey is worth every hour, however, with breathtaking views from the top, plenty of opportunities to wave at skiers, and the pride that comes from summiting an intimidating 4,867-foot peak.
What to bring: Winter goggles for the winds at the peak, crampons for the many icy patches, and an unshakeable sense of adventure.