According to the calendar we’ve officially entered the winter season, but you and I know full well that cold, snow and ice descended upon us in earnest six or more weeks earlier. No matter, as the hiking has been delightful on mostly empty trails, the downhill skiing has been exceptional, and some of us even have managed a few miles on the cross-country skis.

Plenty more winter outdoor fun is ahead for sure, but the time undoubtedly will come when we get to thinking about escaping the grasp of Old Man Winter and heading somewhere for a good dose of sunny warmth. Given that, this hiker heartily recommends the following tried-and-true adventure destinations in the milder climes of the southeastern and western regions of the country.


This 77-mile national recreation trail connects Oconee and Table Rock state parks in the Appalachian Foothills of northwestern South Carolina. The Foothills Trail starts out along a wild section of the Chattooga River (of “Deliverance” movie fame) on the Georgia border before striking eastward over a series of high, wooded ridges culminating with the 3,500-foot Sassafras Mountain, the state’s high point. Several man-made lakes and more than a dozen waterfalls are found on the way, including the multitiered, 200-foot Whitewater Falls. Hike the entire trail in a week, staying at primitive tent sites, or camp at one of the parks and day hike sections of the Foothills Trail, as well as other trails in the Sumter National Forest. More info:


The largest and southernmost of the barrier islands in Georgia, Cumberland Island is home to 9,800 acres of federally designated wilderness, including dozens of miles of empty beaches, salt marshes and wetlands, and maritime forests of pines, live oaks and palmetto. More than 50 miles of splendid hiking trails crisscross the island, exploring not only the scenic natural highlights but a number of interesting historic sites and cultural ruins. Feral ponies and a wealth of bird species are among the bounty of wildlife found on the island. Camp at the walk-in Sea Camp with its designated campsites, potable water and showers, or backpack into a handful of remote sites up-island. Island access is by passenger ferry only from the picturesque port town of St. Mary’s. More info:


This 801,000-acre park, larger than Rhode Island, lies on the U.S.-Mexico border in west Texas. Named for a sweeping bend in the Rio Grande, which separates the countries, Big Bend National Park protects an enormous chunk of wildlife-rich, ecologically diverse real estate. Visitors can explore the spectacular river canyons of Santa Elena, Mariscal and Boquillas by canoe, meander over miles of open Chihuahuan Desert country and climb into the Alpine-like Chisos Mountains, an “island in the sky” that reaches to 7,832 feet atop Emory Peak. The park is home to some 200 miles of foot trails, and hikers are limited only by the amount of water they can carry. Chisos Basin Campground at 5,400 feet makes a great central base camp. More info:


Comprising 607 square miles, this national forest in north-central Florida is the southernmost in the continental United States and protects the largest contiguous sand pine scrub forest in the world, as well as more than 600 lakes, rivers and springs. Several dozen trails, including a 100-mile section of the Florida National Scenic Trail – a long-distance hiking route extending 1,300 miles from Key West to the Panhandle – offer extensive foot travel through the subtropical environment, from short day hikes to multiday backcountry treks. The incredible crystalline springs allow swimming, snorkeling, and diving year-round. More info:

Carey Kish of Southwest Harbor is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes on the Maine Coast (Spring 2015). Follow Carey’s adventures in his Maineiac Outdoors blog at:

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