Are you a fan of hiking? It’s one of my favorite things to do when the weather is nice, so last year I decided I was going to try to continue to hike year-round. And, I discovered that as long as you plan a bit (and dress warmly), winter hiking in Indiana is not only possible, it’s fun!
So, welcome to my comprehensive guide to Indiana winter trails! If you’re an outdoor enthusiast seeking adventure and natural beauty during the colder months, you’re in the right place.
Indiana is home to a diverse range of winter trails that offer breathtaking landscapes, serene forests, and picturesque vistas. Whether you’re an avid hiker, a nature photographer, or simply looking for a refreshing escape from the city, these trails have something for everyone.
In this ultimate guide, we’ll take you on a virtual journey through the best winter trails in Indiana, providing essential information, insider tips, and captivating insights to help you make the most of your winter hiking experience. Get ready to bundle up, lace up your boots, and explore the wonders that Indiana’s winter trails have to offer!
Is Hiking in the Winter in Indiana Worth it?
Winter in Indiana is cold, long, and dreary. Getting outside and getting some fresh air in nature will boost your spirits. Plus, the extra exercise is much needed in the winter months. Finally, there is a real sense of accomplishment in finishing a cold and snowy hike – and that hot drink tastes even better after being outdoors!
Where are the best places to hike in the winter?
Luckily for us Hoosiers, there are many wonderful places to hike in the winter in Indiana. It’s easy to center a day trip or even a weekend getaway around winter hiking anywhere in the state.
A great place to start is with the Indiana State Parks. Indiana has a fabulous state park system. There are 24 state parks spread throughout the state. The landscape is surprisingly diverse from sandy dunes near Chicago to the hills and valleys in southern Indiana. Every single one of them would be a wonderful day trip, but a few of my favorites for winter hiking include …
1. Brown County State Park
Located near the adorable town of Nashville, Indiana, Brown County State Park is a hikers’ paradise. Although it’s especially stunning in the fall when the leaves are in full color, it’s also a lovely place to hike in the winter.
For a fun way to get started with winter hiking in Indiana, join the winter hiking series starting in December (check the DNR Website for details). If you want to extend your stay in the area, Brown County State Park has a lovely Inn with a small indoor water park.
2. Pokagon State Park
With a completely different feel from the hills of Brown County, Pokagon State Park is one of my favorites for winter hiking. It’s situated on the lovely Lake James, so you can enjoy water views, and of course, you can have fun on the toboggan between hikes.
As Pokagon State Park is in Northern Indiana, it tends to have more snow, so if you like hiking in the snow, it’s an excellent choice. Most of the trails are easy to moderate, so it’s a good choice for families or beginners.
A fun annual event is the Christmas Eve Morning hike – a great way to start off your Christmas holiday with fresh air and exercise!
Pokagon State Park also has the Potawatomi Inn, which has some amazing fireplaces perfect for warming up after an afternoon of hiking!
3. Fort Harrison State Park
Indianapolis is a vibrant city with professional sports, swanky hotels, and award-winning restaurants, and it’s also home to a state park!
Fort Harrison State Park is a fabulous escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. There are six trails throughout the park ranging from easy to difficult. The terrain varies from wooded trails to paved, so there is absolutely a trail for everyone to enjoy.
In the winter, Fort Harrison State Park also has one of the state’s largest sledding hills – so pack those sleds if you plan on a little winter hiking at this park.
One of my favorite ways to spend a quiet winter afternoon is to hike a few miles in the park and then head over to nearby Triton Brewing Company for a flight of their delicious beers and a bowl of warm chili.
4. Indiana Dunes National Park
The Indiana Dunes have both a state and national park, and both have some terrific winter hiking. At Indiana Dunes National Park, hitting the trail during the winter season is a fantastic way to witness the park’s breathtaking winter scenes. The crisp, cold air enhances the beauty of the dunes, woodlands, and wetlands, providing a completely different perspective compared to other seasons. The winter landscape is marked by glistening snow, frozen ponds, and a sense of tranquility that’s hard to find elsewhere.
Trail Availability: While most of the park’s trails remain open for winter hiking, it’s important to note that the Pinhook Bog Trail may be closed during this season. However, the Upland Trail is typically open and offers its own unique winter charm. Be sure to check the park’s official website or contact them for up-to-date trail conditions and closures before your visit.
If you are in the mood for something a little less developed than a state or national park, consider one of Indiana’s nature preserves. Of the 92 counties in Indiana, 63 of them have at least one nature preserve, so you’ll be able to find one pretty much anywhere throughout the state.
5. Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve
Located in Fishers, Indiana just north of Indianapolis is one of my favorite local spots for winter hikes. Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve is a hidden gem – surrounded by office buildings and businesses, it’s a lovely spot to escape to when you need to relax.
The trails are all flat and will take you through wooded forests, fields, and even wetlands. We like to grab a coffee or hot chocolate and the dog and enjoy some quiet time in nature.
6. Prophetstown Fen Nature Preserve
Ever heard of a fen? A fen is an area of land covered mostly by water. The soil tends to be very mineral-rich. Located within Prophetstown State Park is Prophetstown Fen Nature Preserve. It’s one of the largest fens in Indiana.
7. Shrader- Weaver Nature Preserve
There are two walking trails within the state park that will get you to the fen. It’s interesting to hike to this area in the winter, and then go again in the summer to see the difference.
Although it’s a bit out in the middle of nowhere, another lovely nature preserve well worth exploring is the Shrader-Weaver Nature Preserve. The last time I had fun hiking it, I also enjoyed a tasty drive-in lunch afterward!
Due to its isolated location, the trails are quite serene and won’t be crowded in the winter. However, that also means you should consider bringing along a hiking partner!
When you don’t have time to drive to a state park or nature preserve, check out one of your local parks or trails. Although virtually every town has one, here are a few special ones worth checking out.
8. Pumpkinvine Nature Trail
The Pumpkinvine is a paved trail that connects three communities in Elkhart County – Goshen, Middlebury, and Shipshewana. Because it’s paved, it’s accessible for everyone to enjoy. In the summer and fall biking is a terrific option, but for the winter I’d stick with walking!
9. Cardinal Greenway
Running 62 miles through Delaware, Grant, Henry, Randolph, and Wayne counties, the Cardinal Greenway is an easy trail to pick up here and there to enjoy winter walks whenever and wherever you can.
The Cardinal Greenway is an asphalt rail to trail. As the longest one in Indiana, it’s fun to enjoy a portion of it in Muncie and then again later when visiting Richmond. There are plenty of places to park and join a portion of the trail.
👉 To make your winter walking more enjoyable, invest in the right shoes. A good pair of winter boots can make all the difference between a wonderful winter escape and a miserable, cold experience. I swear by my Columbia boots – I wear them every time I’m outside. On a super cold day, I’ll throw in some toe warmers for extra warmth.
10. Monon Trail in Hamilton County
The Monon Trail in Hamilton County features a paved surface, which is ideal for winter walking. The paved path is usually well-maintained, making it relatively easy to walk on even when there’s snow on the ground. This accessibility makes it a popular choice for winter outdoor activities.
Although I love walking (or biking) on the Monon in the summer when we can stop at a local restaurant and enjoy an al fresco lunch, there are still opportunities to stop and warm up – just check to make sure the spots are open.
Tranquil Atmosphere: Winter walking on the Monon Trail offers a quieter and more peaceful experience compared to the bustling days of summer. It is REALLY busy in the summer, and so the change can be pretty dramatic. The snow absorbs sound, creating a hushed ambiance that allows you to fully immerse yourself in the natural surroundings. It’s an excellent opportunity for solitude and reflection.
11. Any local park
Don’t forget about hiking at a local park. Most towns have a few, but I know my county (Hamilton County) has quite a variety of options, from our favorite wooded trail (McGregors Park) to the well-maintained and paved trails throughout Forest Park.
It’s a rare week – even in the winter – that we don’t leash up our dog and take him out on a walk to a local park. Not only do we all get a little fresh air and exercise, but he gets a car ride (and sometimes a pup cup) out of it. To me, there are few better ways to spend a sunny winter afternoon.
Is it safe to hike in the winter?
Hiking in the winter is safe as long as you take a few extra precautions. Of course, use your standard hiking safety tips, but also be sure to wear appropriate clothing. The last thing you want to do is get frostbite or too cold by being out in bad weather.
Speaking of bad weather, be sure to check the forecast before you leave to ensure no storms are coming. The other important tip for winter hiking is to take someone with you if possible – trails can be slippery so it’s smart to have a hiking partner in case you slip and fall and need help.
The sun sets early in the winter in Indiana, so be sure to schedule your hike before sunset so you don’t get caught in the woods in the dark.
Does Indiana have bad winters?
Winter in Indiana is cold, grey, and often wet. There will be snow, but there will also be the occasional sunny blue sky day – take advantage of those if you can as they are few and far between.
How to stay warm hiking in the winter
Your best bet for hiking in the winter in Indiana is to wear layers. Honestly, aside from the ski pants, I pretty much dress like I would to go downhill skiing. Make sure to keep your hands, feet, and head warm and you’ll do pretty well in most Indiana winter weather.
FAQs: Hiking in the winter in Indiana
Is it okay to hike in the winter?
As long as you dress warmly and are careful with your surroundings, it’s not only okay to hike in the winter, it’s an enjoyable experience.
What is the longest hike in Indiana?
The Knobstone Trail.
Is it too cold to hike in Indiana in December?
Not as long as you dress appropriately.
Do I need spikes for winter hiking?
It depends on where you are hiking. You will not need them for most trails in Indiana as long as you have good winter boots.
Conclusion: Winter Hiking in Indiana
As an Indiana local and a passionate advocate for enjoying the great outdoors in every season, I can’t help but emphasize the sheer beauty and tranquility that winter hiking in our state offers. Indiana’s winter trails, whether through the rolling hills of our forests, the scenic vistas overlooking frozen lakes, or the peaceful meandering pathways along riverbanks, provide an opportunity to witness our beloved landscapes in a whole new light.
Winter hiking here isn’t just about the exercise or the fresh air – it’s about forging a connection with the heart of our state. It’s about discovering hidden pockets of beauty that are often overlooked in the hustle and bustle of daily life. It’s about sharing moments of joy and exploration with our loved ones.
And let’s not forget the satisfaction of returning home after a brisk winter hike, cheeks flushed from the cold and spirits lifted by the natural world. Whether you choose to explore the trails of Indiana’s Dunes, the forests of Brown County, or any of our many other outdoor gems, you’ll find that winter hiking here is an experience that leaves you with lasting memories.
So hopefully, I’ve given you a taste of some of the variety of winter hiking in Indiana. If you can force yourself to get out there and explore, you’ll create wonderful memories and I bet winter will feel a little bit shorter.