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If You Were Here, You’d Be Backpacking Right Now

Shake off your cabin fever on one of these five early-season routes.

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Bison in Yellowstone
Photo: NPS Photo

Mallard Lake Trail, Yellowstone National Park, WY

This 6.8-mile out-and-back through Yellowstone’s upper geyser basin is best for experienced skiers, but the reward is well worth the challenge. The trail climbs past the Firehole River to Mallard Lake, nestled among the pines, with views between the trees to rolling forest and the distant peaks of the Madisons. You don’t have to stick to designated backcountry sites in the park during the winter, but make sure to pick up a backcountry permit (free in winter) and let the rangers know where you’re going.

Info Yellowstone National Park

Photo: “20120106-OC-AMW-0696” by USDAgov is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Turkey Creek Trail, Big Thicket National Preserve, TX

Spend anywhere from one night to a four on this 34-mile out-and-back in Big Thicket. The trail winds through several distinct and fascinating ecosystems, from cypress sloughs and pitcher plant bogs to oak and pine forests. There are no developed campsites in the preserve, so pick any spot at least 200 feet from roads and trails and 100 feet from water; the backcountry permits are free.

Info Big Thicket National Preserve

Photo: “Lower South Fork Skokomish River” by districtinroads is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Lower South Fork Skokomish River, WA

This 8.5-mile round-trip hike gains only 800 feet of elevation as it winds through moss-draped old growth firs and hemlocks, following the Skokomish River through Olympic rainforest.  Elk can often be spotted along the river in the winter months, along with the occasional eagle. There are several campsite options near the water, but make sure to check the forecast–the area is prone to flooding.

Info Olympic National Forest

Photo: “Katahdin w/clouds” by athrasher is marked with CC0 1.0

Trout Farm, Baxter State Park, ME

Cross country ski or snowshoe the 5.2 miles to Trout Farm Campground for a slice of icy Maine wilderness without any crowds. Though the bunkhouse reservations usually fill quickly, lean-tos provide plenty of shelter with the right equipment. An optional side trip up Trout Brook Mountain provides views over the Traveler Range and back into the park.

Info Baxter State Park

Photo: “Yellow River State Forest, Iowa” by christinejwarner is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Backpacking Trail, Yellow River State Forest, IA

Yes, there’s backpacking in Iowa, and it’s excellent. Yellow River State Forest’s Backpacking Trail winds up and down ravines and sandstone bluffs, dipping through several meandering streams as it hops between four first-come, first-serve backcountry sites. The 14-mile loop stays mostly under the forest canopy, where red-shouldered hawks and bald eagles can be spotted between the oaks and maples.

Info Yellow River State Forest

How to Pack for Backcountry Skiing

Get to know the winter safety gear you need in your pack.