As the crisp days of fall roll into the darker, colder winter ones, for many, the itch to trek doesn’t dissipate easily. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of winter backpacking adventures if you’re willing to travel or live where backcountry trails are accessible year round. Try out these winter backpacking destinations.
Dominguez Escalante Loop — Dominguez Canyon Wilderness, Colorado
From pinyons to ancient petroglyphs, this 35-mile loop takes you through spectacular canyon scenery. Depart the Bridgeport parking area and head across the Gunnison River making your way to the Big Dominguez Trail and its red rock canyon walls. Meander along the Big Dominguez Creek for 6 miles until the trail heads away from the creek. At this point, make sure you have enough water for potentially 8 miles, depending on the flow of seasonal streams and your desired camp. At Dominguez Campground, load up on water again and break out your navigation equipment, because crossing the Uncompahgre National Forest to Black Point is a maze of jeep roads, trails, and some off-trail sections. The final 17 miles follows Little Dominguez Creek through a more rugged and beautiful canyon terrain.
Ozark Highlands Trail — Arkansas
Want to level up your winter training for a summer through hike? The original 165-mile section of the Ozark Mountain Trail from Lake Fort Smith to Richland Creek will build quads, toughness, and mental fortitude. As you trek through forests of oak, hickory, and pine, this trail visually has it all from waterfalls, views from rocky plateaus, creek carved rock formations, and stone structures from a time long gone. Creek crossings are common, but so is wood for campfires. Pack camp shoes so you can dry out your boots at the end of your days, and maybe some s’mores fixings to warm your insides too.
Outer Mountain Loop — Big Bend National Park, Texas
Thirty miles might not seem like an expedition length trip, but due to the strenuousness and lack of water of Big Bend’s Outer Mountain Loop, the National Park Service only recommends doing this between November and April. Definitely cache water before starting your adventure at the Chisos Visitor Center. Begin by hiking the Pinnacles Trail, heading clockwise up through the sparse, shrubby desert. The route climbs up and down through shaded pine forests and sun-exposed sandy washes, connecting numerous trails. A bruising climb up the Blue Creek Canyon Trail crests at the top of the South Rim, followed by a mellow descent. The forested terrain of the final leg is punctuated with a gorgeous meadow to relax in.
Ohlone Wilderness Trail — Ohlone Regional Wilderness, California
The Ohlone Wilderness Trail, named after Native Americans who live in the area, rises and falls with Rose and Mission Peaks. Trek through pastoral meadows juxtaposed with wind distorted trees and sandstone formations. Don’t let the smooth path lull you into autopilot though—its 30 miles contain 7500 feet of climbing. Shoot for a clear winter weekend for sublime views of Mount Tam, Mount Diablo, and the rolling countryside.
Florida Trail — Ocala National Forest, Florida
The entire Florida Trail is 1,100 miles long, but Ocala National Forest is its birthplace and arguably its best section. Start this 72 mile stretch at Clearwater Lake after deer hunting season ends in early January. The trail rolls through longleaf pine forest and marshy prairies to the Big Scrub, the world’s largest scrub forest nicknamed “Florida’s desert.” Sand pines dominate the Big Scrub, but the understory is dense with a variety of shrubs. The entire trail is packed with scenery—sinkholes, natural springs, ponds, lakes, and islands. It’s also packed with Florida black bears, so keep an eye out for tracks, scat, and scratches on trees. Also bring paracord and a good throwing arm, as bear hanging your food is required.