As Halloween approaches and October comes to a close, so too does the best season to hike. With the lack of biting insects and mild temperatures, early fall is a coveted time for outdoor enthusiasts. However, with the proper planning and the right equipment, keeping your unquenchable spirit of adventure alive throughout the winter can make for an unforgettable experience. Not only is it doable, it’s also a great way to switch up your hiking experience. To get your planning process started, here are some of the best outdoor winter adventures in the US.
Pear Lake Backcountry Cabin
Pear Lake lies at the end of one of the most breath-taking hikes in California: the Lakes Trail in Sequoia National Park. Surrounded by granite peaks, Pear Lake offers designated sites for backcountry camping as well as a winter hut for those that are lucky enough to secure a spot through their lottery system.
After securing your winter hut reservation and backcountry permits at the ranger station, you’re ready to start your hike! The trailhead is located at the Wolverton Picnic Area and even offers bear boxes for the items you don’t want to leave in the car. Make sure to take time to empty your car, as bears can break through windows to get at food.
This 21.8 miles out and back hike follows the Hump Trail (the only path accessible during the winter months). With only 2000 feet of elevation gain, the Lakes Trail is just difficult enough but can be attempted by anyone in decent physical shape. Once you reach the top of the ridge around mile eight, you will then descend into a valley with four beautiful mountain lakes, Alta, Heather, Emerald and, finally, Pear.
Near to Pear Lake is the winter hut, which includes a wood pellet stove (which must be turned off at night) and gas burners for cooking. Because the temperatures can reach below freezing during the heart of winter, it is recommended to bring heavy sleeping bags and thick thermals. Additionally, snow shoes may be necessary to access certain parts of the Lakes Trail but it’s always a good idea to check trail conditions with the ranger when preparing for the hike.
Glacier Point Cross-Country Ski
You’re definitely going to need some snowshoes or skis for this next winter adventure. Glacier Point is arguably one of the most iconic and picturesque points in Yosemite National Park and can make for an unforgettable adventure. With the Glacier Point Road closed down during the winter months, the only way to the Point is by cross-country skiing or snowshoeing!
This 21 mile out and back hike begins at the Badger Pass Ski Area and can be a bit of a grueling trek, as hiking through snow is no easy task. However, those that persevere are awarded with one of the best views of Yosemite Valley. In addition, for those looking to spend the night after a long day of hiking, there is also a charming Glacier Point Ski Hut, offering warm beds, crackling fires and hot food for those that reserve in advance (currently $138).
Note: This winter hike is rated as difficult and should not be attempted by novice snowshoers/cross-country skiers.
Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you have to hike through snow! Living in California means a host of winter adventures that are available due to the mild weather. One of my favorite hikes to do during this time is the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. This which snakes up from PCH into the dense and breath-taking Big Basin State Park, eventually stopping at a modest, yet charming, Berry Creek Falls. While the entire trail is about 25 miles long, many people stop at the Big Basin Park Headquarters, as I did on my last hike through.
Because of the mild temperatures near the coast, the temperature usually stays above 45° Fahrenheit, making planning for the trip quite simple. However, make sure to check for rain, as winter showers can be quite often in this area. Investing in waterproof gear, particularly a good sturdy tent can make this trip much more pleasant. Fires are not allowed in the park, so you’ll have to stick to your gas stove for food making purposes. The trail camps are available on reservation only.
The trail begins at Waddell Beach on PCH with the typical coastal style shrubs and small trees. However, after a few miles, the environment will begin to change to enormous old-growth redwoods. Big Basin features giant coastal redwoods, some of which are older than the Roman Empire. After about mile six, you’ll come to the Berry Creek Falls. While it won’t rival the power of other waterfalls in California, Berry Creek Falls has a gentle charm about it that draws viewers in. As you hike, make sure to keep an eye out for the brightly colored banana slugs!