10. ROCK BLUFF RUN TRAIL, NEBRASKA
“Nebraska’s vast network of trails and hikes doesn’t close for winter; in fact, some trails are even better in winter than they are in summer,” says the Nebraska Tourism Commission. “The Rock Bluff Run Trail at Indian Cave State Park—with the trees stripped of their leaves—provides extra scenic views of the Missouri River.” Bluffs created from wind-deposited soil (loess) stand tall along the Missouri River, and hardwood forests provide shelter for wildlife like deer, turkey, and woodchucks.
This six-mile trail is one of the most strenuous hikes in the state and is accessible year-round. And if you want to try out winter camping, you can rent rustic Adirondack shelters along the route for a backcountry experience.
11. FRENCH CANYON TO TONTI CANYON LOOP, STARVED ROCK STATE PARK, ILLINOIS
Starved Rock State Park in Illinois really shines once the temperatures drop below freezing. Waterfalls flow generously in this park, and in the winter, these falls turn into icy towers that draw ice climbers and hikers alike. French Canyon, a terraced bowl where water slides down the sandstone steps, is the most accessible waterfall from the trailhead. But there’s a lot more where that came from. This loop trail continues to Wildcat Canyon, Tonti Canyon, and LaSalle Canyon—each with unique sights. LaSalle Canyon is one of the most remarkable destinations in the park; frozen water creates a wall of ice as it dives from the steep sandstone cliffs. The cavernous canyon walls here are so overhanging that you can often walk behind the frozen falls. Don’t forget the microspikes for this one.
During the winter, Starved Rock also transforms into an eagle nesting destination. While the dammed river freezes, turbulent waters still flow beneath the surface. Northern regions are too cold for eagles to hunt fish, but the Illinois River at Starved Rock becomes the perfect place. If you head to the top of the cliffs, you might spot these majestic birds hunting for fish below the icy waters. If you’re hiking this loop trail, you’ll finish up your walk high above the river’s edge. Take the short spur trail to the Eagle Cliff Overlook for the best sighting opportunities.
12. EBEN ICE CAVES, MICHIGAN
The Eben Ice Caves in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan are the perfect winter hiking destination. Eric, a Michigan-based photographer and travel blogger, loves this trail because “it is an easy, majestic and a magical experience, especially for any first-timer. It’s a unique winter destination because it’s positioned in one of the most remote stretches of the states. Also, it provides visitors with a real winter experience and not just a scenic view.”
On this quick hike, you’ll mostly be traveling over packed-down snow, so make sure to bring your microspikes. As you approach the ice formations, expect to encounter seriously slick conditions.
13. RIM TO RIM TO RIM, GRAND CANYON
At Wildland Trekking, one of our favorite winter hiking trips is the Rim to Rim to Rim backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon. The North Rim is closed to all vehicle traffic, so the only way to access it is on foot. You’ll start at the South Rim and head down the South Kaibab Trail, one of the most famous in the park. In the winter, this upper reaches of this trail require microspikes, but it’s a small price for the lack of crowds. As you approach the bottom of the canyon, the temperatures get more moderate. The Bright Angel Campground, your campsite for part of the trip, sits along the Colorado River shaded by large cottonwood trees. The next day you’ll make your way through the bottom of the canyon, passing waterfalls and native ruins. Then, on the third day, as you ascend to the north rim, you’ll pop back out into winter again.
While both rims of the Grand Canyon are likely to be covered in snow and ice, the rest of this trek sees ideal hiking conditions during the winter. Experience the wonder of the Grand Canyon in a way that not a lot of visitors get to see: snow-capped red rocks add magic to an already otherworldly destination.
14. SOUTH RIM BIG BEND, TEXAS
“Looking for a fantastic winter hiking destination? Then look no further than the Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas. This top-rated park can offer you three very different trails to choose from. It’s also a good place to visit if you are a keen bird watcher like myself,” Will Hatton, Founder and CEO of The Broke Backpacker, says. One of the best hikes in the park is the South Rim Trail: a compilation of several trails that winds along the south rim of the Chisos Mountains and offers views into Mexico.
Don’t expect to encounter much snow on this hike. This desert landscape stays dry for most of the year, but don’t let that deter you. Will mentions that winter is an ideal time to visit because the heat is “less intense.”