Hiking season isn’t over just because temperatures have dropped and snow has fallen.

Hiking a trail during winter is almost like heading through an entirely new environment from what you’d experience during summer. Here, Mount Baden-Powell in the Angeles National Forest is covered with snow; during summer, it would be largely barren with tall grass blocking part of the view.

Hiking in winter is quite popular in Northern states and mountain areas where outdoor activities are common year around. After all, not being able to hike in winter would limit the activity to a few months out of the year. Even if the mere thought of cold makes you want to stay indoors and curl up in a blanket in front of a fire, many days during winter, especially in the southern United States, sport pleasant weather so that just some warmer clothing is needed.

The fact is, winter hiking offers several advantages over summer day hiking.

No bugs

Annoying insects like mosquitoes and ticks generally are gone after the first freeze. They won’t be back until a significant portion of the snow melts next spring.

Smaller crowds

National, state, and county parks generally see lower attendance during winter months. That means you won’t have to jostle for position to see the sights.

Increased visibility

You’ll see more on the trail during winter than summer. With green leaves having fallen off vegetation, you’ll have a better chance of spotting wildlife and geological formations.

Entirely new environment

How a forest or wetlands appears in winter compared to summer is quite different. The animals inhabiting those areas also can change with migrations and hibernation. You’re almost not walking the same trail that you would have during summer.

Winter hikes offer the opportunity for array of new activities, such as building snowmen, sledding, and of course throwing snowballs (just don’t aim at the head, please).

New activities

You can’t build a snowman or go sledding in summer. But there’s more to do than that: animal tracks often are easier to spot in the snow, and snowshoeing allows you to go a little off trail in the thinner vegetation (not to mention the latter will keep you quite physically fit).

As winter transforms the landscape, it unveils objects across the landscape. In summer, tall grass would hide the fallen logs and brush in the foreground of Lightning Ridge.

Better workout

You may need snowshoes to hike some trails, especially in a mountainous area. The heavier footwear gives a more aerobic workout than just hiking in trail running shoes.

Still, when hiking during winter always play close attention to the weather forecast to avoid getting caught in a snowstorm. Also, whenever high winds, precipitation and cold temperatures are forecast at lower elevations, they will be worse in the high mountains.

Be aware as well of special first-aid issues that can arise during winter. Among them are wind burn, snow blindness, frostbite and hypothermia. By being aware of how to avoid and treat these medical issues, they really won’t be a problem on a cold weather hike.

So don’t hang up your hiking gear just because autumn is almost over. Get out and enjoy a day hike this winter!

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