Catoctin Mountain Park, MD
In the shadow of Camp David, Maryland’s Catoctin Mountain Park was a major charcoal production region from the late 18th century through the late 19th century, which means most trees were cleared. Today, thriving second-growth forest and ridgeline crags offer a secluded retreat and panoramic views for snowshoers.
From the visitor center start a 4-mile loop on the orange-blazed Wolf Rock Trail. Head .9-mile and 500 feet uphill to the broad quartzite boulderfield at the ridgetop. Be careful of crevices between the rock slabs if you venture out on the crest; in the snow it’s easy to lose your footing. From the bare hilltop at Wolf Rock (named for the 6-foot-tall, wolf-shaped formation at the edge of the slabs) the views start opening up, with scattered evergreens on either side. Continue on to the end of the ridge and Chimney Rock’s blocky cliffs for uninterrupted views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounding landscape. Head back down via the Visitor’s Center Trail. Contact nps.gov/cato
Brown County State Park, IN
The nearly 50 miles of trails in Brown County State Park stay open all winter with almost no visitors—so on a typical weekend you can get Indiana’s largest state park all to yourself. Snowfall in this region blankets the mixed pine and bare-limbed hardwood forest, particularly in January and February. The trails aren’t groomed, but they are clearly marked. Chances are you’ll set the track.
From the main parking area at North Gatehouse, head out on the Pine Loop Trail and connect to the North Gate Trail, continuing on to the North Tower Loop for alternating forest and meadows with views across the Little Smokies. Retrace your steps to finish the 6-mile out-and-back while watching for white-breasted nuthatches, chickadees, chipmunks, and the occasional fox in the undergrowth. To make it a full day, add a 7.7-mile loop with views at Hesitation Point. From the Hesitation Point Parking lot take the Aynes Loop to the Hesitation Point Overlook Trail and climb to snowswept panoramas of rolling hills. Contact in.gov/dnr/parklake/2988
Laguna Mountain Recreation Area, CA
San Diego’s East County has mile-high pine-oak forests that can receive more than a foot of snow in a single storm. Go just after one of the season’s snowfalls (they tend to be every few weeks, and the snow only stays a few days) to trek through scattered meadows, evergreens, and narrow ponds less than 2 hours from the city.
The ideal Laguna snowshoe begins at the trailhead at mile 19.1 on the Sunrise Highway. From the kiosk, start a 3.3-mile lollipop loop by working your way up the Sunset Trail on a gentle climb through mixed pine, oak, and chaparral. Trace the ridge at almost 6,000 feet above sea level, taking in long views of the distant blue-hazed spines of the Laguna and Cuyamaca Mountains. After coming off the ridge and connecting to the Big Laguna Trail, continue north into the wide-open Big Meadows area and lollipop loop your way around the pond. Keep an eye out for woodpeckers and circling hawks.
Connect back with the trail where you started your lollipop and follow it back to your car. Caveat: Enough snow for winter sports is only found here right after large blizzards. Contact bit.do/lagunamtn