Winter hiking in Europe, cold hikes amoungst the pines

Winter Hiking In Europe – Part 1 – The Pros And Cons

Europe is a continent known for its rich history, stunning landscapes, and world-class hiking. From the lush pine forests of Norway to the dry, rocky vistas of Spain, Europe covers a lot of terrain, much of which is covered with amazing hiking trails for all levels. Although some of the alpine trails are only open during warmer months due to snow, there is still plenty still to explore.

Generally, hikers choose to embark upon their Europen adventures in the summer months when temperatures are high, rain is less frequent and trails are more accessible. But could they be missing out on some winter magic?

In this series of articles, we will look deeper into winter hiking in Europe. Part 1 looks into the pros and cons. So put on your boots and let’s start our journey!

The Pros and Cons Of Winter Hiking In Europe

Let’s look into the benefits and potential issues of hiking in Europe.

The Pros 

Stunning Scenery

In winter, Northern Europe’s landscapes are transformed into a winter wonderland with snow-covered mountains, frozen lakes, and picturesque villages. Providing breathtaking views that you won’t find during other seasons. If you dress warm and prepare well then you can enjoy the charm of this winter wonderland, often completely by yourself.

Mix this hiking experience with roaring log fires, hot chocolate, and Christmas markets for a seriously unforgettable experience.

Southern Europe offers crisp seemingly endless views from its southern peaks, free of crowds and without the summer haze.

Fewer Crowds

Many popular hiking destinations in Europe are less crowded in the winter.  This allows you to enjoy the serenity of nature without the hustle and bustle of summer tourists.

The lack of crowds lets you hike and stay in villages that in summer are full of tourists but in winter offer you a more intimate experience with the locals and their culture.

If you crave solitude and a deep connection with nature, winter hiking offers a sense of peace and tranquility that’s hard to replicate in busier seasons.

Photographic Opportunities

Winter landscapes offer excellent opportunities for photography. With the soft, diffused light and pristine snow creating stunning visuals. In the North, there are opportunities to grab photos of the famous Aurora Borealis and in the South, the soft glowing light from the afternoon sunset is perfect creating long shadows and defining objects.

Sometimes photographers may have to wait for the weather to catch the perfect shot but for some, this is all part of the game, knowing that the shot of their loves could come from a brief moment of sunshine

Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing

In addition to hiking, many winter destinations in Europe offer the chance to engage in cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, providing a different way to explore the terrain. Many snowshoes and cross-country ski paths follow hiking paths through forests and around mountains.

For hikers looking for new challenges, we highly recommend trying these out this winter! For more info click here 

Lack of Insects

If you have been to Scotland and come across the dreaded midgey or hate mosquito bites and bee/wasp/horsefly stings then Winter hiking could be the option for you!

The lack of insects during the winter all across Europe makes hiking and camping much easier and more pleasurable. Just think, no bug spray, no bites, no waving flies and ants away from your sandwiches…Bliss

Clean Trails

As the overgrowth caused by ferns, brambles, and other summer plants head off to sleep for the winter, paths become much more defined and clear. This allows hikers to see the step ahead of them. This also avoids stings from stingy nettels and bites from anything hiding in the undergrowth.

The trails won’t just be free of foliage, there will also be much less trash and people, meaning you can find a quiet spot to enjoy your lunch and won’t have to share your park bench or moment at your fave beauty spot.

A Chance To Try Somewhere New

Many hikers will be drawn to the famous hikes in Europe many of which travel through the mountainous areas. Famous trails like the Tour Du Mont Blanc Or the Caminho De Santiago are only passable in Summer when there is no snow.

Winter hiking In Europe will force hikers away from the mountains, pushing them to try some less popular trails along the coasts and through the foothills of the continent. This opens hikers up to new cultures, experiences, and cuisine as they make their way along the lowlands which may not have the grandeur of the mountain peaks but are unique and rewarding in their own way

Snow covered hiking trails

The Cons

Cold Temperatures

The most obvious drawback is the cold. The European continent is in the Northern Hemisphere and is quite far from the equator. For this reason, it is much more affected by temperature changes from season to season.

Winters in many European countries suffer from average temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius (50F) for most of the winter. At altitude or in Northern Europe temps can get much lower this, and when mixed with strong winds and snow or rain, this can lead to dangerous, or life-threatening situations.

When hiking in winter in Europe, hikers must prepare themselves with lots of layers and waterproof clothing to combat almost every weather type. This can be more costly but luckily much of this equipment can be rented from local outdoor stores or guiding companies.

“A note from the author”

“I was brought up in Northern Scotland and can confidently say that you can experience 4 seasons of weather in a matter of hours. So when hiking in Europe in winter, hikers must be prepared for almost every weather. Packing several layers of clothes and some good waterproofs. “

Of course, those looking to avoid severe cold and rain can opt for more southern regions such as Spain, Portugal or Greece. Such countries still have lower-than-average winter temperatures and poor weather but it is less frequent and severe. Winter can actually be the perfect time for hiking in southern Europe and hikers will not suffer from the high temperature and beating sun found in the summer months.

Shorter Daylight Hours

Winter days are shorter, which means you have fewer daylight hours for hiking. In fact, much of Norway and other Scandinavian countries only receive 6 hours of daylight in the depths of winter. The most southern countries in Europe receive approx 9 daylight hours in the depths of winter which is still a significant reduction from summer.

Having less daylight not only shortens the hiking time per day but also leaves less time for errors whilst on the trail. When hiking in winter, it is a good idea to pack a head torch and some high-visibility clothing in case your hike lasts longer than planned and you are made to finish in darkness.

Snow and Ice Hazards

Snow and ice can create slippery and hazardous conditions on the trail. This should not be an issue at lower altitudes but when planning a winter hike in Europe, hikers must consider how high their path will take them and the risk of ice and snow at that level.

Ice and snow may not only make for a slip or fall, it can also hide trails/signage and cause avalanches. Those looking to climb over hills or mountain passes must prepare accordingly with such items as:

  • Winter boots
  • Crampons
  • Snowshoes
  • Avalanche beacons and equipment
  • Appropriate clothing

Due to these dangers, it is a good idea for those new to hiking and without winter hiking training to avoid such situations, sticking to lowland trails. Luckily Europe has a lot of them! In the next article, we will look into where is best.

Limited Trail Accessibility

Some hiking trails and mountain passes may be closed or inaccessible due to heavy snowfall. Many trails are also not maintained through the winter months so can suffer from debris, overgrowth, fallen leaves, and fallen trees.

Winter hikers in Europe must expect a bit more of a rough and rugged experience during the hike, for some this might be just what they are looking for!

Reduced Services

Accommodations, restaurants, and facilities in some remote winter hiking areas may have limited availability or even be closed during the off-season.

Expect most campsites to be closed for the winter and shops to follow “European opening times” meaning that they will be closed from 12 until 3 during the day and will not open on Sunday.

Also, many public transport routes change for the winter months, especially in more remote areas and small villages

Less Variety in Flora and Fauna

While you may have unique wildlife encounters. The winter season generally offers less variety in terms of flora and fauna compared to spring or summer.

Where To Go Winter Hiking In Europe?

In the next article, we will look into the best places for winter hiking in Europe and why.

Click here to read on…

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