Fitness and Recreation

Three Beautiful Winter Hikes (Editors' Pick)


Photo by Monika Kornhauser

Winter weather makes it easy to stay inside, sipping warm drinks by the fireplace. But then you’d miss the wonders of winter hiking, when rare birds flutter above the river, icefalls form above the trails, and silence descends over the woods. Here are our picks for the best winter hikes.

Explore Hidden Icefalls

The Northwest Branch Trail parallels the northwest branch of the Anacostia River, making it a lovely hike any time of year. In the winter, the series of waterfalls and potholes—circular holes formed in the riverbed by the force of the waterfalls above—freezes. The resulting winter wonderland is more beautiful than any man-made ice sculpture. The packed-dirt trail stretches more than 10 miles north of downtown Silver Spring, a good length for a long winter hike. For more information, visit www.montgomeryparks.org.

Get Out Your Binoculars

Bird-watchers flock to the C&O Canal Towpath to spy the bald eagles, red-shouldered hawks, ruby- and golden-crowned kinglets and white-throated sparrows that take up residence there in the winter months. They also know that the Carolina wrens and cardinals that inhabit the area year-round are easier to see with the denuded tree canopy. Walk along the C&O Canal Towpath for an easy bird-watching stroll, or try Section A of the Billy Goat Trail for a challenge. For more information, visit www.nps.gov.

Find Rare Peace

When the weather is warm and the days are long, the Seneca Ridge Trail in Gaithersburg teems with mountain bikers. The hilly, curvy, single-track trail connects Schaeffer Farms, a popular mountain-biking trail network, to Seneca Creek State Park. In the winter, however, you may not see another soul on this relatively new trail, which opened in 2011. Enjoy the solitude as you hike up the 5.8-mile trail’s steep inclines, taking in views of the Seneca Creek stream valley. For more information, visit www.mtbproject.com.