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The 10 Best Hikes for Spotting Winter Wildlife

These ten routes will show you that nature never stops bustling, no matter how much snow is on the trail.

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It may be winter, but not everyone is hibernating. A layer of snow on the ground (or, at least, a seasonal change in temperatures) changes animals’ behaviors, letting hikers see fauna in spots and situations that they might otherwise not have. These 10 hikes are our top picks for seeing wildlife in the fourth season. —The Editors

Savannah Trail, Glacier Ridge Metro Park, OH

Trailhead 40.1559, -83.1887

The 5-mile Savannah Trail  through deciduous forest is the perfect winter spot to catch Cooper’s hawks, and great blue herons. Plus, it’s doubly fun to birdwatch on cross-country skis when the snow comes in.

Mesa View Trail, Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, NM

Trailhead 34.3513, -106.8823

After climbing to the mesa top for views of the Ladrone Mountains, this 3.8-mile trail wanders the edge of the escarpment before dropping back into the valley. Black-throated sparrows are the most frequent winter visitors, but there are plenty of other animals here, including coyotes and pronghorn; mountain and desert ecosystems meet at the refuge.

Heron in water
Heron at False Cape State Park (Photo: Wesley Hilliard / EyeEm via getty)

Barbour Hill Trail, False Cape State Park, VA 

Trailhead 36.6725, -759153

Take the East Dike Trail to the Barbour Hill Trail to look for swans, geese, and ducks as you stroll from freshwater marsh to maritime forest and then over coastal sand dunes. The swans are tundra swans from the Arctic that migrate south every winter.

Mohican-Mohawk Recreation Trail, Mohawk Trail State Forest, MA

Trailhead 42.6396, -72.9946

A 7-mile point-to-point through Massachusetts’ largest old-growth forest, this trail is built along a historic trading route. It’s frequented by bobcats, the only wildcat remaining in the state. Look for their wide, snowshoe-like pawprints alongside the wooded path.

copper falls
Copper Falls (Photo: Soul Centered Photography)

Takesson Trail, Copper Falls State Park, WI

Trailhead 46.3652, -90.6465

Take the 2.5-mile double-loop Takesson Trail to see beaver dams amid a lush hardwood forest, with tamarack bogs and cedar dotted between. Bonus: You can mountain bike this trail between snowstorms, too. 

French Creek Trail, Custer State Park, SD

Trailhead 43.7121, -103.3515

The 10.3-mile French Creek Trail heads through grassy valley bottoms where bison like to feed in the winter, when snow covers the hills. Granite outcroppings along the namesake creek provide nesting areas for raptors, too, and you can   often spot pronghorn on the surrounding slopes.

Willard Springs Loop, Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge, WA

Trailhead 45.9651, -121.3441

This refuge is home to Washington’s only breeding population of sandhill cranes, along with elk and porcupines. Look out for all three on the 2-mile Willard Springs Loop, which alternates between forest and meadow with views of Mt. Adams in the distance. 

Waterton Canyon Trail, Pike National Forest, CO

Trailhead 39.4308, -105.1188

A 9-mile (point-to-point) section of the Colorado Trail, this path is as popular with bighorn sheep and mule deer as it is with hikers. The route winds through the rocky hillsides that rise from the South Platte River, where eagles often soar over the intermittent cliffs.

Atkinson Bluff Trail, Año Nuevo State Park, CA

Trailhead 37.1482, -122.3445

This 3-mile hike is an impressive wildlife double-feature. From the bluff, you can watch the vast Pacific horizon for gray whales migrating south. Then hit the beach to check out the elephant seal colony, where over 10,000 of these enormous pinnipeds congregate every winter. 

Little Cottonwood Trail, Little Cottonwood Canyon, UT

Trailhead 40.5720, -111.7744

At only 5.4 miles out-and-back and with just over 1,000 feet of elevation gain, this path makes for a low-key, but rewarding, day on the trail. It runs beside a creek, where you can spot rosy-finches and bald eagles in the winter months, with glimpses up into the snowy Wasatch.

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