When winter rolls around, many of us are thinking about skiing, snowshoeing or possibly cross-country skiing. Something that’s often overlooked are winter hikes in the High Sierra. This majestic time of year offers you full rivers, roaring falls, few people and more solitude & slow-down time. So, if you’re on the “fence” this season on visiting, here’s seven amazing winter hikes to enjoy in the High Sierra.
River Of Skulls
Length: 0.9 miles –
Who wouldn’t want to come back after an awesome weekend and say “I hiked the River of Skulls!” While the name connotes fear, it’s far from it. Fun for the entire family, this hike allows you to explore the valley’s important ecosystems-foothill woodland and increasingly vanishing riparian forest. You’ll learn about the major flora while cruising along this mile-long rock-lined path near New Hogan Lake.
Need a few more ideas? Check out Calaveras’ top family friendly picks for winter activities.
Length: 7.4 miles –
While many of the side roads in Sequoia National Park close during the winter, there are quite a few areas in the park that are best seen in the winter, like the Marble Falls. Instead of the 100 degree temps in the summer due to its lower elevation in the park, you’ll be greeted to 30-40 degree weather. On the surface this might sound cold, but it will feel rather warm as you begin your ascent up this 7.4 mile out & back hike. The hard work is well worth it when you reach the falls. Once the trail passes the falls and ends on a slab of white marble, pause on the marble and take in the cacophony of the rushing torrents. The sounds will take your stress away and leave you feeling energized.
Length: 14 miles –
Located in the Tungsten Hills named for the tungsten that was mined here until the late 1940s this specific hike can be done as a leisurely stroll or a challenging climb. One of many hills and boulder outcroppings, this trip provides great views of the Eastern Sierra Nevada. For those wanting a more adventurous hike of more strenuous proportions head to the top of Buttermilk Hill. It’s deceivingly large and there are numerous dual-tracks and single-track trails that circumnavigate this rocky hill. Surmounting the peak will require some cross-country scrambling. It’s well worth it though since from the summit you can see the White Mountains, the Owens Valley and the Sierra at the same time.
Be sure to read Bishop’s A Dozen or More Wonderful Winter Hikes in the Eastern Sierra for more adventures in and around Bishop.
Yosemite Valley Loop Trail
Length: 13 mile full loop; 6.5 mile half loop –
Difficulty: Easy/Moderate (depending on length)
There’s a reason why Yosemite is ranked as the #1 best national park in the world by US News due to it scenery and attractions. Despite the fact most visitors come in the summer, winter is a GREAT time to visit the Yosemite Valley. You can explore its trails without them being packed AND see some of the most spectacular scenery. A great option is the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail. Built on the Valley’s first east-west trails and wagon roads, it offers a rare opportunity to explore Yosemite Valley on a fairly level trail with some solitude. Leading you through meadows beside granite cliffs, you’ll be rewarded with views of some of Yosemite’s major icons, including El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, Sentinel Rock, and Half Dome.
For a few more ideas, be sure to read Visit Yosemite Madera County’s Winter Travel Tips Straight From A Travel Expert.
Briceburg Hiking Trail
Length: 10 miles roundtrip – Difficulty: Easy
Yosemite is a gem that everyone should see, but you shouldn’t be in a rush to get there. There’s A LOT to see along the way such as the Briceburg Hiking Trail. Also known as the Merced River Trail, you have two options from the pull-out on Highway 140. About 15 miles from the quaint town of Mariposa, you’ll find the Briceburg Visitor Center. A beautifully restored building from the 20’s owned by William M. Brice. From here, you can go for a shorter hike via the Briceburg Trail towards Yosemite. We recommend heading the other direction on the Briceburg Trail West. The wide path gives you a close-up and personal view of the legendary Merced River. Due to the trail’s low elevation, it makes for a perfect mid-winter hike.
Length: 3.5 miles – Difficulty: Easy – Strenuous (Depending on which trails you take)
Another great low elevation hike just outside the city of Sonora known as the “Queen of the Southern Mines” is the Dragoon Gulch trail network. Instead of hills blanketed with wild grasses, you’ll have an opportunity to stroll through the Sierra Nevada’s Oak woodlands. As you work your way up the natural creek, the cherry on top within the network is the vista at the summit. It provides a spectacular view of the city of Sonora and its surrounding mountain ranges. The trail system creates a 2 ½ mile loop, and depending on which off-shoots you take, you can enjoy a leisurely jog or a strenuous hike. For more information and great hikes in the region, be sure to visit Tuolumne County’s list of best trails.
Historic Benton Hot Springs Self-Guided Tour
Length: Less than a mile – Difficulty: Very Easy
If there’s a time to visit Benton, it’s winter. Even though it sits 5,300’ above sea level, they only receive on average 11 inches of snow per year. The Historic Benton Hot Springs self-guided walking tour allows you to explore the deep history that is in the almost ghost-town from the cemetery down to the other landmarks located here. Maps of the route are available at The Inn at Benton Hot Springs. While the surrounding mountains will be dressed in white, down in the valley you’ll be greeted to magnificent views from the soaking hot springs tubs (reservations are required).
Not enough? If you’re the type of person that enjoys making their own path, the town is surrounded by hundreds of miles of public lands featuring primitive roads that you can explore as well.
Winter is a great time to get away from the crowds. But, it also doubles down in what it offers with things like snow-capped peaks and rivers filled to their banks without flooding. Like Warren Miller once said, “If you don’t do it this year, you will be one year older when you do.”
Author: Alex Silgalis
Alex founded Local Freshies® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.