The Appalachian Trail (AT) beckons every month of the year: Once the thru-hikers have completed their journeys and the day-hikers have dispersed, the winter warriors break out their snowshoes. These eight hikes on America’s most famous trail are even more spectacular when the powder begins to pile up.
1. Gulf Hagas | Piscataquis County, Maine
In the winter, few New England locations are as breathtaking as the 100-Mile Wilderness stretch of the Appalachian Trail. This challenging hike takes you to Gulf Hagas, known as the Grand Canyon of Maine. From AMC’s Gorman Chairback Lodge & Cabins, follow the Henderson Brook Trail for 1.1 miles to the AT and turn left. The trail winds north to the southern end of Gulf Hagas at 3.3 miles. Or, to continue into the Gulf, turn off the AT. Hike with extreme caution here, because the Rim Trail has steep drop-offs into the gulf below. Be sure to plan ahead: You’ll need a reservation to stay at Gorman Chairback, which is only accessible via skis in winter.
Distance: 6.6 miles round trip
Info: Maine Mountain Guide, 10th ed. (AMC Books); Gorman Chairback Lodge & Cabins
2. Mount Hight | White Mountain National Forest, N.H.
Mount Hight—and the neighboring Carter peaks, if you’re feeling ambitious—offers some of the best winter views in the White Mountains. Follow the Nineteen-Mile Brook Trail from the parking area on NH 16, climbing toward Carter Notch. Turn onto the Carter Dome Trail at 1.9 miles and ascend to Zeta Pass, where you’ll turn right onto the AT (signed locally as the Carter-Moriah Trail) and follow it to the turnoff for the open summit of Mount Hight. A left at Zeta Pass would lead you along the AT toward South, Middle, and North Carter peaks, a challenging hike in winter, but one that, in good weather, will reward you with yet more stunning views. Once on the AT, you will be in an exposed area. Take great care in windy conditions.
Distance: 8.8 miles round trip
Info: White Mountain Guide, 29th ed. (AMC Books); White Mountain Guide Online
3. Mount Pierce | White Mountain National Forest, N.H.
For relatively easy access to the dramatic winter landscape of the Presidential Range, head to Mount Pierce. From the Mount Clinton Road parking lot, opposite AMC’s Highland Center in Crawford Notch, take the Crawford Connector 0.4 mile to the bridge over Gibbs Brook and continue left onto the Crawford Path. The trail follows the brook until about 1.2 miles then begins to climb. At 1.9 miles you’ll pass the cutoff to Mizpah Spring Hut, which is closed in winter, and at 3.1 miles the Crawford Path becomes part of the AT. From there, turn right onto the Webster Cliff Trail; it’s just 0.1 mile to the summit of Mount Pierce. On a clear day, you can see out across the White Mountains in all directions. If the weather is good, you may even be inspired to continue farther along the AT, to Mount Eisenhower, 1.6 miles away.
Distance: 6.4 miles round trip
Info: White Mountain Guide, 29th ed. (AMC Books); Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains, 2nd ed. (AMC Books); White Mountain Guide Online
4. Warner Hill | Dalton, Mass.
This pleasant hike in the Berkshires provides excellent views of nearby Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts. Park along the wide gravel shoulder off Grange Hill Road then ascend gradually through the trees. You’ll summit Tully Mountain before continuing on to the cleared overlook atop Warner Hill. Return the way you came, being careful of your footing on the descent. A short detour near the start of the hike takes you to the Kay Wood Shelter, named for a local woman who thru-hiked the AT at age 71.
Distance: 6.3 miles round trip
Info: Best Day Hikes in the Berkshires, 2nd ed. (AMC Books)
5. Finerty Pond | Becket, Mass.
In winter, this moderate hike across October Mountain State Forest is serene. Strap on your snowshoes in the parking area off Route 20 then follow the sign for the AT. The trail passes over the summits of Becket Mountain and Walling Mountain before reaching Finerty Pond. Take a small side trail to the pond’s bank for a view of the frozen expanse. The pond is a great place to take a rest and eat lunch before retracing your steps about 3 miles, back to Route 20.
Distance: 6 miles round trip
Info: Best Day Hikes in the Berkshires, 2nd ed. (AMC Books); Massachusetts DCR
6. Mount Algo and Indian Rock | Kent, Conn.
This difficult hike takes time even in the summer, so plan accordingly when venturing into the snow. Follow the AT into the woods and up a steep incline, just bypassing the top of Mount Algo. The trail crosses Thayer Brook—be careful if it hasn’t frozen—on the backside of Mount Algo then climbs again, this time along ledges to the top of Schaghticoke Mountain, this hike’s highest point. The trail offers some narrow views of the Housatonic River Valley before opening up to a scenic vista at Indian Rock, a wellknown perch nearly 4 miles into the trip and the turnaround point for this hike.
Distance: 7.6 miles round trip
Info: Best Day Hikes in Connecticut, 2nd ed. (AMC Books)
7. Canopus Lake | Carmel, N.Y.
This section of the AT runs parallel to Canopus Lake, the epicenter of Clarence Fahnestock State Park. Park alongside Route 301 and begin at the southern tip of the lake, tracing the western shore. A short spur at the lake’s northern end leads to a lookout, with a view stretching back nearly to the trailhead. It’s a perfect spot to catch your breath before the return trip.
Distance: 4.6 miles round trip
Info: Best Day Hikes Near New York City (AMC Books); Clarence Fahnestock State Park
8. Rattlesnake Swamp Loop | Blairstown, N.J.
Down a hot drink at AMC’s Mohican Outdoor Center, located on the edge of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, then set out on the Rattlesnake Swamp Loop. Begin on the road into camp then merge with the AT after 0.5 mile and turn left, following the iconic white blazes. The trail rises to a ridgeline, offering spectacular views of the Delaware Valley. Eventually you will pass the Catfish Fire Tower, which is permanently closed, and start to descend back into the woods. Soon the trail meets the northern tip of the Rattlesnake Swamp Trail. Turn left here, off of the AT, to complete the loop. Park at the Mohican Outdoor Center, reached from Gaisler Road in Blairstown.
Distance: 4.6 miles round trip
Info: Best Day Hikes Near New York City (AMC Books); Mohican Outdoor Center; Delaware Water Gap National Park
Contributors: Robert Buchsbaum, Daniel Case, Rene Laubach, Susan Rose