Each season brings different joys and challenges to a backpacker. But winter months take both the joys and the challenges to a different level. When you travel to winter backpacking destinations, you won’t have to grapple with crowds in the winter seasons, and the scenery covered in glistening snow will bring a tear to your eye – even if it might freeze to your cheek!
Changes in road conditions and extreme weather often occur during winter, especially nowadays in the topsy-turvy world of climate change we live in, making drastic changes in your plans, sometimes sidelining you to the nearest motel instead of winter hiking and camping. Luckily, there are warm winter backpacking destinations options for you.
While contending with the elements and other challenges is this is all “part of the fun” when it comes to backpacking, you can combine your passions for the outdoors and nice weather (well, those are my personal passions) by visiting winter backpacking destinations with warmer temps.
No matter where you go, winter hiking can still be tricky to navigate. But don’t let that stop you – get yourself insured, and get the right kit.
Protection against the unexpected is available through World Nomads. This travel insurance company is ideal for backpackers. Check out their comprehensive insurance policies that let you book your dream destinations without fear of losing your investment because of cancellations outside of your control.
We also recommend packing a set of high-quality poles like Cascade Mountain Tech Trekking Poles. They’re made of strong carbon fiber and will give you support over uncertain ground conditions, especially during winter hiking. Users love how they are easy to adjust and their affordability.
Now that you have your poles and travel insurance, let’s explore these winter hiking destinations that won’t freeze your toes off.
Table of Contents
- List of Warm Winter Backpacking Destinations
- 1. Big Bend National Park, Texas & Boquillas del Carmen – USA & Mexico
- 2. Zion National Park, Utah – USA
- 3. Mojave Desert/Death Valley, California – USA
- 4. Joshua Tree National Park – USA
- 5. Costa Rica
- 6. Dominguez Canyon Wilderness, Colorado – USA
- 7. Florida Trail – USA
- 8. Rich Mountain Fire Tower, Hot Springs, North Carolina – USA
- 9. Everglades National Park, Florida – USA
- 10. Congaree National Park, South Carolina – USA
- 11. Kepler Track, South Island – New Zealand
- 12. Mount Kilimanjaro Lemosho Route – Tanzania
- 13. Torres del Paine – Chile
- 14. Thailand
- 15. Mexico
- 16. Jamaica
List of Warm Winter Backpacking Destinations
1. Big Bend National Park, Texas & Boquillas del Carmen – USA & Mexico
This beautiful and giant swath of southwest (“far west,” if you’re a local) Texas includes the ragged top mountain chain of Chisos and parts of the Chihuahuan Desert.
Big Bend National Park is perfectly isolated with big skies of bright blue during the day or carpeted with billions of stars after the Texas sun sinks below the western horizon.
It’s truly a backpacker’s dream because of its vastness and hiking trails that stretch for hundreds of miles.
If you’re itching to do some late winter hiking, Big Bend National Park is one of the best national parks, especially if you’re an experienced backpacker.
This place is pretty remote. The closest major airport is in Midland/Odessa which is 235 miles away. Texas is big yo. To give you an idea of how big; Big Bend National Park is one of the biggest national parks in the country – it’s larger than Rhode Island, and it shares 118 miles of the border with Mexico.
A good place to start your winter hiking adventure is the park headquarters at Panther Junction. Catch a film there on the different ecosystems existing in the park.
Then find your way to nearby Chisos Basin to spend your first night. You can camp or lodge in the area. But even for a winter hike, you’ll need to make your reservations far ahead of time.
Chisos Basin makes for a great basecamp and the Chisos Mountain Lodge is lovely with good food and views. It’s also close to the campground, so you can visit, eat a hot delicious meal, and admire the view with an adult beverage before going back to your bunk.
You have a day of winter hiking starting in the morning. Kick off your winter hiking with an early wake-up, greeted by the gentle Texas winter sun, and hit the 10.4-mile Emory Park Trail. This will take you 7,825 feet up to Emory Peak, the highest point here.
The trail is rated as strenuous and will take most hikers five or six hours roundtrip to complete.
It’s possible you may not see another soul as you take in the wild vastness of the river valley and the Chihuahuan Desert reaching into Mexico from the peak.
Upon your return to camp, go get that steak and beer at the lodge. The next day, head south to Rio Grande Village on the U.S. side of the border with Mexico. From there, take a rowboat into Mexico via the Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry.
You’ll need your passport for this cool experience, but it’s worth it. Shop and eat in Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico, for a couple of hours before your return. Either before or after your visit to Mexico, take the 1.2-mile Boquillas Canyon Trail on the U.S. side for a short winter hike to view the beautiful canyon and river valley.
You can either camp here or return to Chisos Basin for the night before returning to Midland/Odessa or heading to Marathon, Terlingua, or any other quirky far west Texas destination. Find a gorgeous camping spot in Terlingua on private land at Coyote Crossing across from Willow Mountain.
See Related: Cheapest Shopping Destinations in the World
2. Zion National Park, Utah – USA
A nature preserve in southwest Utah, Zion National Park is world-famous for its soaring red rock formations, walls, and narrow slot canyons that look like the landscape of an alien planet.
Most of the trails are open for you to experience winter here. Some spots get little sun so ice might accumulate there. Exercise caution on these parts.
During colder weather, you’d never guess that this is one of America’s most popular national parks. You’ll likely be one of the few people here doing a little winter hiking. Daytime winter temperatures reach 50 degrees F, which is pleasant compared to the soaring highs at other times of the year that can reach 110.
In the winter, the air is crisp and fresh and the scenery is gorgeous. No winter blues in this hiking country. You can drive your car directly to the trailhead and park! Immediately! A real winter miracle! Huzzah!
Say hello absolutely to no one as you hit the trail and find a canyon without another living person to share it with. Bliss. Weeping Rock, Riverside Walk, Emerald Pools, and Angels Landing typically have some ice and snow accumulations during colder weather.
So if you want to explore these trails, you’ll need traction devices. Another great opportunity here is to learn how canyoneering. This is a more technical form of hiking through canyons and may include scrambling over, climbing up, and even rappelling down canyon walls.
Winter is a perfect time to learn because you’ll have ample time to question the living daylights out of your guide and you won’t be holding up others with your beginner’s pace (my hand is raised). Plus, winter in the canyons is so special and you’re seeing another side of these natural treasures few others bother with.
Just make sure you’re prepared by checking weather maps. This means dressing in layers, having good winter hiking gear, and survival supplies to last you for at least one night even if you’re intending only a day on the trail.
A wonderful hotel near Zion National Park with an excellent location is the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Washington – North Saint George. It’s located about an hour from Zion and has a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired decor in the lobby for a nice ambiance. Each room has a refrigerator, microwave, and desk. Guest reviews speak highly of the hot breakfast, comfortable beds, and convenient location.
Another great way to stay close to the park is by renting an RV. There are plenty of campgrounds around Zion that are easy to navigate.
See Related: Best Things to do in Saint George, Utah
3. Mojave Desert/Death Valley, California – USA
Death Valley is part of the northern Mojave Desert in Eastern California and is famous for being the site of the lowest elevation in North America, or 282 feet below sea level.
This area doesn’t have much by way of groomed hiking trails. It’s a desert landscape as far as the eye can see. The best and safest hiking season here is in the winter. In the summer, the temperatures soar well into the triple digits.
The sun is bright and there is no vegetation large enough to provide shade nor is there any source of water. It’s simply too dangerous to see all the beauty this land has to offer in the summer for anyone save the most practiced and prepared trekker.
But winter hiking here is amazing. Renting an RV is a great option because there are plenty of campsites and big parking lots on the trails. There are many great trails for winter hiking here for all experience levels.
An easy trail for a short hike is the Harmony Borax Works. This is a 0.4-mile paved and accessible loop around an interpretive track. Learn the story behind Death Valley Borax and the 20-Mule Teams on this fun trail. At night, the desert sky is perfect for stargazing.
See Related: Rental Cars That You Can Take Out of State
4. Joshua Tree National Park – USA
Where the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert come together is where you’ll find the mystical Joshua Tree National Park. The park’s name comes from the unusual twisted Joshua trees that dot the rugged rocky landscape.
The winter hiking here is great because you can be out on an unshaded trail the entire day without worrying about soaring midday temperatures.
You will likely have to share the park with others because the weather is so nice during the winter months and very popular for that reason. The average daytime temperature is usually around 60-degrees F with plenty of sunshine.
Still, desert weather is unpredictable and it will snow here on rare occasions. It’s important to check weather conditions before winter backpacking so you’re properly prepared.
Also, be prepared for cold weather at night. Once the sun goes down, it gets cold in the desert fast with possibly freezing temps. This is important to remember if you’re camping. And the tent camping here is incredible.
You can also rent an RV for a fully self-contained Joshua Tree experience. The parking lots are wide and the roads are flat. Like most national and state parks, the National Park Service requires all the park’s visitors to follow strict “Leave No Trace” protocols to help preserve this iconic and historic space, so be sure to leave your RV or campsite in immaculate condition.
If a full-service hotel is more your speed, try the well-appointed La Maison Hotel in Palm Springs which is about an hour away from Joshua Tree. The La Maison Hotel will take you back to a more old-fashioned era in California. The location is ideal; near Palm Springs Airport and downtown.
As for the hiking, there’s a superb and challenging 4-mile loop trail that takes you past several historically important gold mines, including the prolific Lost Horse Mine. The Lost Horse Loop Trail will take you past Lost Horse Mine which was established in 1890 and yielded about $5 million in gold for the following 40 years.
The mines are fenced off after closure due to dangerous conditions but you can get close enough to the ruins to see what marvels they were for their time. The most reliable way to get around inside Joshua Tree is to drive. The roads are good and the free shuttle is restricted to only weekends in the winter.
A great picnic spot can be found by taking the short and easy Hidden Valley Nature Trail to the day-use area. The trail takes you through some beautiful scenery before you end up in a garden of massive rock piles – fun for a little rock climbing.
If you’re a passionate backpacker, we recommend spending a few days camping here so you can pick which trails you want to explore.
See Related: Best Things to do in Palm Springs, California
5. Costa Rica
Close to the equator, Costa Rica is known for its year-round warm weather, natural beauty, and ecological delights. Something that you will hear everywhere you go here (and will probably come out of your mouth before you leave) is the phrase “Pura Vida.”
Pura Vida has been part of the Costa Rican vernacular for more than 50 years and it means pure life in English. To find Pura Vida in Costa Rica means to live a simple life. It’s a beautiful concept that fills visitors with peace as soon as they take in the lush landscape.
If you’re new to backpacking in South or Central America, Costa Rica is a great place to start. Here you’ll find pristine beaches and amazing rainforests. But if you’re looking for the best backpacking and wildlife viewing, you should head for the interior mountain trails.
You can spend weeks exploring it all by combining different trails and itineraries. Start in the capital city of San Jose. San Jose offers much for visitors, but you’ll want to leave it behind if you want to truly experience the incredible biodiversity here.
One of the best hikes you can do in a day in Costa Rica is the 5.5 km Rio Celeste Waterfall Hike, Tenorio Volcano National Park. Grab breakfast at a soda (Costa Rican restaurant) in the trailhead parking lot before your start.
It’s a beautiful hike where every step is worthy of your Instagram feed. Expect your friends to accuse you of nefariously using Photoshop. That’s how unbelievable the waterfall panorama is.
You’ll also be treated to the best of Costa Rican nature as you walk through the misty forests and past turquoise springs. Although the first part of the trail is actually a paved pathway, you will eventually meet mud and rocks so definitely wear your boots. You’ll be challenged on this trail with its inclines and steps, but the Rio Celeste Waterfall, Blue Lagoon, and Tenorio Volcano views are worth it.
The best way to get around Costa Rica as a backpacker is by bus because they run often and they are quite inexpensive. But if you have a group going, you can also charter your own tour transportation and private guides. Viator has flexible options that will save you time and frustration.
San Jose has a long list of high-quality accommodations. We like Barcelo San Jose because of its convenient location. It’s located just under a couple of miles from the city center, but the neighborhood is quiet. The property offers an outdoor pool, three on-site restaurants, free wi-fi, and an airport shuttle.
See Related: Best Things to do in Guanacaste, Costa Rica
6. Dominguez Canyon Wilderness, Colorado – USA
Cold weather backpacking in Colorado typically involves a lot of snow which starts falling in autumn and can last into June. Then, there is BLM’s Dominguez Canyon Wilderness.
These 66,000 acres are located in western Colorado which doesn’t see the snowfall that the nearby Rockies typically get. That’s because the far western part of Colorado has a lower elevation and climate that’s more like its neighbor Utah.
The area definitely gets its share of snow, but because of the year-round brilliant sunshine, it disappears fast. It’s fast becoming well-known as one of the best winter destinations for backpackers.
Do note that the trails through this red rock beauty aren’t well-defined though. But if you like this sense of freedom of movement and blazing your own trail with few other people around, then you’ll love this unspoiled space.
On your hike, you’ll see the petroglyphs of animals and people left by the Native Americans as much as 10,000 years ago. If you’re lucky, you’ll also see desert bighorn sheep. Rent an RV in or near Grand Junction as there are a couple of well-maintained parks near the wilderness area.
See Related: 15 Best Places to Visit in Colorado in the Winter
7. Florida Trail – USA
No matter the time of year, you can usually backpack in warm weather in Florida. The Florida Trail offers 1,500 miles of non-motorized trail through some of the most diverse landscapes in the country.
The state’s namesake trail stretches from Florida’s southern Big Cypress National Preserve to the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida’s panhandle.
There are few shelters to serve hikers on this long trail. Bring a tent and scout for flat spots to pitch your site to spend the night.
8. Rich Mountain Fire Tower, Hot Springs, North Carolina – USA
The famed Appalachian Trail passes through Hot Springs, North Carolina. This charming town is also the place to find the trailhead to go to Rich Mountain Fire Tower in the Cherokee National Forest.
This is a good winter hike because the trail is wide and flat and there are no creeks to cross. The winter weather here is mild too.
Hike the five-mile trail to the renovated fire tower and be rewarded with incredible views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The tower is quiet enough that you can camp here. Pitch your tent at the base or sleep at the top of the tower and enjoy the solitude.
As long as there’s no fire ban for the area, you can build a campfire and drink your hot chocolate next to it. Then you can feel sorry for the people who think you can only backpack in the heat of the summer with all the bugs!
If you want more of a “glamping” situation, these luxury campsites, about an hour away on the Toe River, are large and nicely appointed with linens and furnishings.
In Hot Springs, the highly-rated Laughing Heart Lodge, close to the Appalachian Trail, features a great location, comfortable rooms, and a daily continental breakfast for guests.
9. Everglades National Park, Florida – USA
Enjoy warm-weather hiking year-round in North America’s only subtropical preserve. Everglades National Park is one of the best national parks to visit in the winter.
In the summer, the insects, heat, and hurricane threats make spending time here largely undesirable. But in the winter, you’ll be treated to milder weather that’s perfect for backpacking and kayaking.
This time of year is also drier with daytime highs in the 70s. Hike on the Anhinga Trail in the Pine Island section for a chance to see alligators, turtles, and other wildlife. Or take a boat out for spotting dolphins and crocodiles.
The Flamingo area also has many trails to suit any activity or experience level. The Flamingo campground offers 41 hookups and is a beautiful place to pull in a rented RV for the ultimate comfort.
If you want to split your time between outdoor activities and city attractions, try one of these apartments in Tamiami.
These private accommodations are 25 miles from the Homestead entrance to the Everglades and 22 miles from Miami Beach. Past guests loved how clean and private they were and their prime location between the lush parkland of the Everglades and the exciting city of Miami.
10. Congaree National Park, South Carolina – USA
The largest old-growth hardwood forest in the southeast is right here in Congaree National Park. Summertime is usually sweltering and the area is prone to flooding in the spring.
But in winter, you can hike among the tall trees or kayak in the river. Try the elevated and famous Boardwalk trail.
The best thing about Congaree National Park is that it’s often overlooked when people plan trips to see the national parks. That means even though the best season there is winter, you may see few others around, making Congaree National Park one of the best national parks for camping in winter.
Camping inside the park is restricted to tents only. However, just outside the park borders are RV options. Poinsett State Park, for example, has 24 RV sites.
Another lodging option is staying in nearby Columbia, SC, which is about 25-minutes from the park entrance.
The Residence Inn by Marriott Columbia West/Lexington, West Columbia, is conveniently located between the park and downtown.
11. Kepler Track, South Island – New Zealand
We shouldn’t forget that winter in the northern hemisphere offers warmer months for hiking. New Zealand offers amazing hiking trails for all experience levels. The Kepler Track is an overview of the nation’s Fiordland National Park.
It’s great for beginner backpackers too because of its gentle elevation gain along ridgelines with spectacular views of Lake Te Anau.
Campsites must be reserved way ahead of time. You can also rent an RV and stay at holiday parks on the fjords. The Aden Motel is a fantastic option for a stay close to Lake Te Anau. The location is perfect–about a two-minute walk to the lake.
12. Mount Kilimanjaro Lemosho Route – Tanzania
Killamanjaro is the tallest peak in Africa at 19,341 feet. Due to its close proximity to the equator, January, February, and March are the ideal months for this most photogenic hike.
These months are the driest with the most sunshine and overall pleasant weather. The hike is comfortable and seeing snow on the summit makes for great photos.
The most beautiful trail is the Lemosho Route. Even though the weather is good, crowds this time of year are rare. The visibility is good this time of year as well.
In the summer months, clouds and fog can obscure the very views you came all this way to see. The surrounding area is fascinating too.
If you’ve had your fill of camping, an exceptionally rated property, Shimbwe Meadows Guest House is only 19 miles from Kilimanjaro and offers incredible views of the mountain.
They also have free parking, a lounge, and a lovely garden. Guests rave about the location and a fantastic breakfast is included in the rate.
13. Torres del Paine – Chile
This is the main Chilean park of iconic Patagonia and since it’s in the southern hemisphere, December through March are great months to enjoy backpacking on more strenuous hikes.
The “O” circuit will take you past the iconic peaks, glaciers, and incredibly blue lakes of the park. It encompasses the “W” trail with more backcountry.
This time of year in Patagonia, your days will be sunny and bright. Still, expect to see some of that famous Patagonia wind.
For lodging, there are plenty of refugios, hostels, and campsites to choose from.
If you’re looking for comfort, the Rio Serrano Hotel + Spa is a full-service property with a restaurant, garden, free wi-fi, and everything else you need for an ultimately luxurious stay.
Backpackers flock to Thailand in winter because the temperatures are glorious and there are numerous sunny beaches to enjoy.
Here people tend to spend a few months exploring the nation’s many natural treasures, fascinating culture, and impressive temples. The food is excellent and generally inexpensive too.
Use Bangkok as your starting point, but as you head out of this bustling city, you’ll want to be flexible. You may meet other backpackers that will tell you about interesting things they’ve seen.
This is your time to be free to wander where your curiosity takes you, though you’ll definitely want to visit Chiang Mai for the temples and mountains.
Near Chiang Mai Zoo, you’ll find the trailhead to a 6 km hike that will take you to two temples–Wat Pha Lat and Wat Prathat Doi Suthep. The hike is steep and craggy and you’ll find the first part of it marked by cloths of saffron around trees which adds to the mystique.
The trail starts with a 30-minute climb leading to the serene Wat Pha Lat temple and waterfall. Keep climbing to Doi Suthep Road and continue on the trail for another 40-minute climb to the steps to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep.
Wildlife lovers should plan to trek through Khao Yai National Park to see the wild elephants, macaques, and gibbons.
Many of Thailand’s legendary beaches are found in the Krabi Province. Koh Lanti is particularly beautiful for diving and other water activities. The Long Beach Chalet in Koh Lanti is a highly rated property of bungalows along the beach or in the garden with a free shuttle to Saladan Pier and a restaurant onsite.
The spacious guest accommodations offer refrigerators, cable TV, and free wi-fi, and all your activities, including beach-side massage, can be arranged by the hotel’s tour staff.
Easy to access, southern Mexico offers beautiful sites and stunning and best winter weather that’s perfect for backpackers.
Start your itinerary by flying into Cancun. The airport here is the second busiest in Mexico, so you’ll have your choice of convenient flights.
There are too many other outstanding destinations in Mexico to spend much time in Cancun, though. So you’ll want to immediately head to Playa del Carmen for a more typical Mexican-style resort stay.
The nightlife is vibrant and the food is delicious and not overpriced like in Cancun. Then continue on to Tulum for more gorgeous beach time and to see the Mayan ruins.
Near Tulum is the Muyil Archeological Zone and the trail through the Sian Ka’an Biosphere which is Mexico’s third-largest as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Along the route, you’ll feel like you’re searching for the Temple of Doom as you make your way through thick jungles. You’ll also see historical sites such as Mayan pyramids and altars and get great views of the Caribbean Sea. One easy way to get there and maximize your time in this incredible environment is through a tour. This Sian Ka’an Half-Day Tour is a guided adventure and boat tour.
Grab the bus for the long drive to Palenque for more ruins in the lush tropical jungle. By now, you’ll want to cool off with a trip into the mountains.
San Cristobal is a bohemian hangout offering historical and cultural sightseeing. There is a wonderful hotel here called the Parador Margarita.
It has an excellent and central location close to shopping, museums, nightlife, and restaurants. The nearest bus stop is just a few steps away, but the hotel also offers a shuttle service.
Guestrooms have free wi-fi and cable TV.
See Related: Tulum vs Cancun: Which is Better to Visit?
The great thing about backpacking in Jamaica is that the island nation is small and easy to get around – no long bus or train rides are necessary to get from one place to another!
This means more time for sightseeing and playing on Jamaica’s legendary beaches. If you have a US passport, you don’t need a visa if you stay less than six months.
Fly into Kingston and start your Jamaican backpacking trip exploring the city’s cultural sites, including the Bob Marley Museum. Kingston is also home to the Trench Town Culture Yard.
Both the Bob Marley Museum and the Trench Town Culture Yard will give you a deeper insight into Marley’s musical influence on the world and how reggae music plays a vital part in Jamaican culture.
Oh, if you are out and about in Kingston looking for a bite, have a memorable meal at one of the roadside cafes. It’s authentic Jamaican fare at its absolute finest and you won’t regret it.
Belly full, head for the Blue Mountains for hiking the lush trails past waterfalls and glorious vistas. The Blue Mountains are also famous for the coffee that is grown there.
The trailhead to the Blue Mountains’ famous Catherine Peak can be found in the camp for the Jamaica Defence Force in Newcastle which is a 45-minute drive from Kingston and not hard to find.
You’ll have to park on the far side of the parade square in the spots provided. On the other side of the parade square, follow the path on the left to the camp. The guard will give you a permit for the hike, which is also a pretty cool touch. It’s a 45-minute climb to the summit, but the trail is well marked.
At the top, the views are breathtaking. Descend the same way you came up. When you return to your car, you should make the drive to Holywell to spend the rest of your day.
Now it’s beach time, starting with Port Antonio’s Blue Lagoon and Winnifred Beach. You’ll also want to visit Ocho Rios for the sights that include Dunn’s River Falls.
The Ocho Rios area also offers the picturesque Little River that’s great for swimming and the famous James Bond Beach.
Then you can zipline through the Cranbrook Flower Forest nature preserve like James Bond!
End your trip on the Negril coastline for a day or two relaxing in the sun before flying out of Montego Bay or making your way back to Kingston.
A great resort to try in Negril before your return is the Travellers Beach Resort set on 7-Mile Beach. The property has an outdoor pool and fitness facilities and guest rooms have balconies and wifi.
Enjoy cocktails on the terrace and American and Caribbean dishes in the hotel’s restaurant. A full-service tour desk can arrange for scuba diving, jet-skiing, and other activities.