Why winter is the Superior Hiking Season

Why Winter is the Superior Hiking Season

A gregarious "gray jay" perches on the hand of a hiker. Photo: Garrick Hoffman

A gregarious “gray jay” perches on the hand of a hiker. Photo: Garrick Hoffman

According to conventional wisdom, the best hiking season runs from May through the end of October. It’s warmer, visually spectacular, and attracts the most amount of in-state and out-of-state visitors, so it’s got to be better, right?

From this hiker’s perspective, not quite.

I have reached the point where I don’t even hike anymore in spring or summer. Fall is an exception (how could one not love autumn hikes, with crisp conditions, bedazzling foliage, and no humidity?) Instead, I have completely fallen in love with winter hiking, for a number of reasons.

Snowshoes are essential when "breaking trail" after a snowstorm. Photo: Garrick Hoffman

Snowshoes are essential when “breaking trail” after a snowstorm. Photo: Garrick Hoffman

Picture going out on a trail walk in the winter the day after a fresh coating of snow to see the way the sun illuminates the snow on the tree branches in such a way that it practically glows. That’s what winter hiking will offer you as you ascend a mountain.

Now, envision rolling your ankle from all the rocks, crevices and divots in the trails. Hiking in the winter is actually easier for this reason, as the snow fills in all the gaps and makes finding purchase easier on your feet, particularly with sturdy winter boots or snowshoes.

Perhaps the best reason to hike in the winter is that there’s something so serene and peaceful about it. It’s quieter, less crowded. While everyone heads to the ski mountains on the weekends, often you’ll have the trails to yourself. True, many a hiker still ventures to the mountains in the winter, but it simply does not compare to the scale of people during the typical hiking season from spring to fall. With a solo hike through the hushed woods, you’re guaranteed tranquility and solitude.

Descending a mountain comes with stellar views in the winter. Photo: Garrick Hoffman

Descending a mountain comes with
stellar views in the winter.
Photo: Garrick Hoffman

But, hiking in the winter can actually provide a bit of thrill as well, especially when you’re traversing an ice-capped ridgeline or racing against the very limited daylight hours. This is why greater caution must be taken while hiking in this season.

The beauty of winter hiking is that you find yourself walking through a transformed landscape. I truly love hiking on a snowy path and feeling as though I’m immersed in a bonafide winter wonderland, with fresh snow all around me. Or seeing the breath of my hiking companions illuminated by the sun as we make our way to the summit. Reaching the summit and marveling at all the snow-capped trees and surrounding mountains – it’s always something to behold.

And if none that entices you, maybe this will: no bugs!

So gear up with all your best winter outdoor wear, slap on a pair of microspikes, and go hit those snowy trails! 

Story by Garrick Hoffman. Garrick is a freelance writer, photographer and actor based in Auburn. Visit his website at GarrickHoffman.com, and follow him on Instagram at @garrickhoffmanphotography, and on Facebook at @ Garrick Hoffman Photography.

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