10 Awesome Snow-Free Winter Thru-Hikes
Snow really isn’t my thing. Does it turn trails into absolutely breathtaking wonderlands? Definitely. Do I enjoy hiking through it? Nope. If you’re like me and love cold-weather hiking without the added challenge of snow travel, then this list of snowless hiking trails is for you. Get ready, there’s a new hiking season this year, and these winter thru-hikes have so much to offer.
Nine of these trails are located in the southern US where the climate remains mild throughout the year. While it’s impossible to guarantee absolutely zero snow, many of the trails listed are in desert or coastal environments and remain at low enough elevations to avoid heavy snowfall.
Read on to learn more about these awesome winter hiking destinations.
Click to jump to a trail:
Length: 1,100 miles (2,414 kilometers)
Start/End: Big Cypress National Preserve, FL / Fort Pickens, FL
The Florida Trail is an ecologically diverse adventure from one end of Florida to the other, traversing prairies, swamps, sandhills, salt marshes, pine forests, rivers, beaches, and so much more. The trail is best hiked between October and April, making it one of the few trails for which a winter hiking season is ideal.
The 1,100-mile journey covers four different regions: the Southern Region, which offers prairies and dwarf cypress swamps; the Central Region, in which the trail splits into a choice of routes with flatwoods and sand hills; the Northern Region, which passes through 1700’s plantations and civil war battlefields; and the Panhandle Region, which includes the challenging terrain of the trail’s highest points.
Note: While the Florida Trail currently encompasses 1,500 miles of officially designated trail, this number includes the total mileage of all alternate routes. A single thru-hike of the FT will total approximately 1,100 miles, depending on route choices.
READ NEXT — 11 Reasons The Florida Trail Is Awesome
Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail
Length: 61 miles (98 kilometers)
Start/End: Hobe Sound Beach, FL / Lake Okeechobee, FL
If you’d like to backpack in Florida but prefer a shorter adventure than the Florida Trail, look no further than the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail, which is located near Jupiter on the eastern coast. Considered one of the more beautiful and difficult backpacking routes in South Florida, it travels through the North Everglades Natural Area, where the ecosystems on the trail change approximately every mile. From ancient sand dunes with scrub oak and sand pine to pine flat woods, palmetto and oak hammocks, cypress swamp and wet prairies, this trail has a lot to offer.
Length: 350 miles (563 kilometers)
Start/End: Southern Terminus: Flagg Mountain, AL / Northern Terminus: Benton MacKaye Trail, GA
The Pinhoti Trail stretches from Flagg Mountain in Alabama to the Benton MacKaye Trail in Georgia. Completed in 2008, the trail includes quite a bit of road walking; even so, there is plenty to see. It’s said that the Pinhoti has two distinct personalities: the section from Flagg Mountain to Cheaha State Park, which offers green tunnels and gentle grades, and the section from Cheaha to the northern terminus, which is steeper, has more water crossings, and offers more expansive views.
The entire trail remains at relatively low elevations, with the highest point being 3,164 feet at Buddy Cove Gap. If the cold doesn’t bother you, hiking this trail in winter provides a quieter trail experience and avoids the heat and bugs present at other times of the year.
Length: 67 miles (108 kilometers)
Start/End: Western Terminus: Ray Miller Trailhead, CA / Eastern Terminus: just north of the main parking lot at Will Rogers State Park, CA
The Backbone Trail is located in California’s Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, only 20 miles from downtown Los Angeles. It crosses the best-protected stretch of coastal Mediterranean habitat in the world with deep wooded canyons, rocky outcrop spires, ocean vistas that include the Channel Islands, and sweeping inland views to the San Gabriel Mountains and downtown LA.
READ NEXT —
Lone Star Trail
Length: 96 miles (154 kilometers)
Start/End: LSTH Trailhead #1 near Richards, TX / LSTH Trailhead #15 near Cleveland, TX
The Lone Star Trail is the longest continuously marked and maintained footpath in Texas and travels primarily through Sam Houston National Forest, which is part of the Pineywoods ecoregion. As such, the trail winds through miles of peaceful pine forest and the occasional swampy area full of dwarf palmettos. As with most trails, primitive camping is always an option, but the Lone Star trailheads also provide access to several established campgrounds for those who prefer tent pads and flush toilets.
READ NEXT —
- How to Hike the 96-Mile Lone Star Hiking Trail
- 5 Things You Should Know About the Lone Star Hiking Trail
Ozark Highlands Trail
Length: 165 miles (266 kilometers)
Start/End: Western Terminus: Lake Fort Smith State Park, AR / Eastern Terminus: Buffalo National River Park, AR
The Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) is actually incomplete; according to the Ozark Highlands Trail Association, “the OHT will run about 320 miles across northern Arkansas with the west end at Lake Fort Smith and the east end at the Missouri border north of Lake Norfork, where it will someday connect to the Ozark Trail near Tecumseh MO.” Roughly 230 miles are complete as of 2017. The OHT is recognized as one of the most scenic trails in the U.S. and has been featured in National Geographic Magazine, The Guardian, and Backpacker Magazine.
The Boston Mountains segment, once regarded as the whole trail, comprises the 165 miles originally completed in 1989. It passes through some of the highest and most scenic parts of the Ozarks with a variety of forest landscapes, rock formations, and vistas and is a popular winter hike because it remains passable compared to other trails. It’s also not maintained from late spring until early fall, which can make summer hiking more challenging.
Length: 38 miles (62 kilometers)
Start/End: Catalina Island
While peak season for the Trans-Catalina Trail is May to September, there’s a lot to be said for hiking it in the winter. Fewer people and milder temperatures make it a wonderful shoulder season adventure with rolling hills and plenty of ocean views, and the cooler sea breezes help to make up for the trail’s lack of shade. This is a fairly challenging trail with long climbs and descents, so sturdy hiking boots and trekking poles are recommended.
READ NEXT — A Trans-Catalina Trail Quick Guide
LISTEN NEXT — Backpacker Radio Episode #54: The Trans-Catalina Trail
Guadeloupe Ridge Trail
Length: 100 miles (161 kilometers)
Start/End: Guadeloupe Peak, TX / White’s City, NM
October through December is the ideal time to hike the Guadeloupe Ridge Trail, a desert adventure that has high temperatures during the rest of the year. Starting (or ending, depending on your preference) in Texas at Guadeloupe Peak in Guadeloupe Mountains National Park, the trail winds through Lincoln National Forest and Carlsbad Caverns National Park to White’s City, New Mexico. This is a very challenging trail with spectacular ridgeline views, canyons, forests, and beautiful fall foliage.
Black Canyon Trail
Length: 80 miles (129 kilometers)
Start/End: Carefree Highway, AZ / Prescott National Forest, AZ
The Black Canyon Trail travels through the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, following a prehistoric Native American pathway that linked local settlements together and provided a way to travel long distances. Designated as a National Recreation Trail in 2008, the trail is most well-known for its mountain biking opportunities (it’s received the “Epic” designation by the International Mountain Biking Association), but it makes an excellent backpacking location as well, with amazing and challenging desert landscapes.
I’ve got one more bonus trail for you. It’s not in the US, but it’s such a perfect winter option that I can’t leave it off the list:
Te Araroa Trail
Length: 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometers)
Start/End: Cape Reinga, New Zealand / Bluff, New Zealand
Most people start at Cape Reinga at the northern end of the North Island in October or November, while northbound hikers start in December or January. Although these are winter months for those who live in the US, they’re summertime for New Zealand, making them the perfect window to experience this unique adventure. New Zealand’s tectonic plates, known as the rim of fire, make Te Araroa one of the world’s most diverse long walks, with beaches, volcanoes, mountains, rivers, lakes, and valleys to explore.
READ NEXT —
- Advice on Hiking New Zealand’s Te Araroa
- Te Araroa Trail Profile: Your Guide to the Best Way of Experiencing New Zealand
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