What are the best winter backpacking destinations? The ones that offer the best journeys and the most memorable views. There’s nothing like getting a group together to crest a summit with a terrific view. Backpacking with wine, cheese, and crackers lets you sit down and get your energy back up (and relax a little) while you enjoy it all together.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Crater Lake is one of the most unique and stunning features on the planet. A volcano erupted long ago, creating a 2,000 foot crater that eventually became a lake. A single lone hill rises from the middle of the lake – this is the aptly named Wizard Island. Hiking around the lake is 33 miles, so plan ahead and dress warmly. The Watchman is one of the stellar shorter hikes at 3.6 miles, and gives you some of the best views.
Acadia National Park, Maine
This is the rugged terrain that sparked regionalism, one of America’s greatest movements in art. The pine forests hug rocky coastline. The Atlantic’s waters mix deep and light blues that crash white against rock beaches and reddish bluffs. There are a number of excellent hikes, good snowshoeing, and the sound of the Atlantic keeping you company the whole way.
Death Valley National Park, California
Yes, really! Not all winter backpacking destinations need to be covered in snow. Death valley is a warm getaway in winter, and offers a stark, rugged, otherworldly beauty. This is for more experienced hikers – make sure you mark points where you can replenish water and check conditions with park rangers before you set out.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The Grand Canyon is beautiful, but often overrun with tourists. A lot of that beauty gets lost in the jostling crowds. Luckily, things thin out during the winter. The lower angle of the sun at this time of year also creates a contrast that brings out detail in the landscape that’s often blared out in the summer sun. There’s a ridiculous mix of long and short hikes. Things can get icy, so bring traction with.
Yosemite Valley, California
The immensely popular Yosemite Valley combines high cliffs, rocky mountaintops, pine forests, snow, quickly rolling fog – it can look like an impossible landscape out of a video game. This awe-inspiring combination of features makes it extremely popular, even in the winter. There’s a range of excellent hikes that will take you to stunning features, such as Mirror Lake Trail or the easier hike to Bridalveil Fall.
Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee & North Carolina
The name for this range of mountains comes from the blue mist that often clings to them. Walking through it can feel serenely surreal. Get up above this mist and you can watch great banks of fog roll slowly between the mountaintops. It’s an unparalleled experience to sit back and admire.
These are just a few of the tremendous number of winter backpacking destinations the U.S. contains. The national and state park systems have preserved so much wilderness to enjoy. In a stressed out world, you need to get away, slow things down, and find some peace.
When backpacking in cold conditions (or any conditions for that matter!) save the wine and treats for when you’re done for the day. You don’t want to impair your judgement, impede your coordination, or misjudge your footing. Consider your reward for a job well done!