7 best winter hiking holidays in Europe for snowshoeing, winter sun and mountain climbs

From trekking the foothills of Mont Blanc to snowshoeing in Oulanka National Park, here are some of the best European trails to tread this winter

Natalie Wilson
Thursday 21 September 2023 17:54 BST
<p>Hiking holidays aren’t just for balmy bank holidays and sweltering summer heatwaves </p>

Hiking holidays aren’t just for balmy bank holidays and sweltering summer heatwaves

At first mention, the prospect of a winter walking holiday may sound more chilly than enticing, but rosy-cheeked treks with frost crunching underfoot and temperate hikes at destinations further south offer hugely enjoyable ways to explore Europe’s Great Outdoors from November to February.

Forget weather worries, lace up your hiking boots and delve into frozen national parks from Finland to the Scottish Highlands to enjoy the haunting natural splendour of winter landscapes free from summer crowds.

Alternatively, if you’d rather escape the chill and forgo the need for snowshoes, jet to the sunnier shores of year-round mild islands in Europe’s southern reaches that won’t resemble winter at all.

Whether blowing off the cobwebs from too many days of festive family fun in December, committing to a New Year’s resolution to get your steps in, or shaking off the February blues, here are some of Europe’s best hiking holidays to inspire you.

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Camino de Santiago, Spain

Follow the Atlantic Coast along the ancient pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela

The Camino de Santiago is a network of 9th-century pilgrimage routes through France, Spain and Portugal that culminate at the tomb of St. James the Great, an apostle of Jesus, in Santiago de Compostela, northwest Spain.

There are seven main camino ways well marked with scallop shells and yellow arrows, with the 500-mile Camino Francés and routes of northern Spain – the most popular paths – protected Unesco World Heritage paths.

Europe’s favourite pilgrimage attracts over 200,000 walkers each year and winter is a quiet time to stomp the frosty tracks in solitude.

How to do it

Walks Worldwide hosts a “Camino de Santiago: The Coastal Way” walking holiday comprising an eight-day, 75-mile trek on the ancient pilgrimage path from Baiona in northwestern Spain, following the Atlantic coast towards the Unesco-listed city of Santiago de Compostela. Holidaymakers will stay in quaint fishing villages and feast on fresh seafood while marvelling at views of the bays and Illas Cies National Park as they tread the coastal way. From £890pp, including all accommodation, continental breakfasts, international UK flights and luggage transfers.

Departs from 1 March to 30 November 2024.

The Dolomites, Italy

Go off-piste on a snowshoeing adventure in Italy’s dramatic Dolomites  

Italy’s Dolomites come alive with activities in winter, with a wealth of snowsports, hikes and breathtaking mountain scenery on offer amid snow-clad peaks.

For those looking to ditch the skiing crowds and explore off-piste, strapping on a pair of snowshoes is the ultimate way to appreciate panoramic views of the dramatic mountain range.

With miles of tracks to crunch, cosy mountain huts to relax in by the fire and dreamy scenery to enjoy, a December Dolomites holiday is sure to upgrade your winter walking.

How to do it

Responsible Travel offers an eight-day walking holiday for intrepid hikers to snowshoe in the Dolomites. Prices for the guided trek start from £2,049pp, December to March, including UK return flights, accommodation in Villabassa and authentic Tyrolean meals. The walking itinerary includes visits to the shore of Lago di Braies and the Fanes-Senne National Park on five guided snowshoe walks through WW1 forest trails that weave between north Italy’s 3,000m high limestone peaks.

Departs 19 December 2023.

The Cairngorms, Scotland, UK

Wrap up warm to hike snow-capped Scotland’s Cairngorms mountain range

Blanketed by snow come winter, Scotland’s Cairngorms mountain range in the eastern Highlands offers otherworldly snowscapes to hike, snowshoe and traverse aided by crampons and ice axes when scaling the frostiest fields.

Though the harshest weather conditions grace the UK’s largest national park from November to February, frozen lochs and icy cliffs allow for unique encounters with golden eagles, mountain hares and even festive reindeer herds in the Arctic-looking environment; it’s well worth wrapping up warm and heading out into the temperamental Scottish weather.

How to do it

Large Outdoors’ “Scottish Winter Walking” trip gives avid explorers a chance to explore the wild Cairngorms National Park in the heart of winter. The six-night journey costs £855pp for groups of up to eight to learn winter walking skills and get to grips with specialist gear as they hike, ice axe and crampon their way across Scotland’s vast mountain range. All mountain leader guidance, transfers from Glasgow Central Station and B&B cottage accommodation in Grantown on Spey are included in the price.

Departs 17 February 2024.

The Alps, France

Alpine meadows, glacial lakes and steep valleys weave the foothills of Mont Blanc

In winter mode, the French Alps are the picture of a frozen wonderland, with ample opportunities for skiing, snowboarding and tobogganing to enjoy the fresh Alpine air.

Non-skiiers needn’t worry about missing out: great snowshoe opportunities in Chamonix trail the base of Mont Blanc, while walkers can still benefit from pretty mountain villages, lively apres ski and gourmet bites at mountain huts and upmarket ski resort restaurants – there are even pedestrian passes to use the cable cars before you tread to the quieter side of the mountains.

How to do it

Mont Blanc Treks provides multi-day snowshoe treks in Chamonix. Ditch the skis on a circular valley trail through pine-riddled woodlands, take the Mont Blanc Express train to tread through frosted Alpine meadows, snowshoe walk in Val Ferret and head up the Prarion cable car to 1,853m to pad through snow-covered pastures. From £300 per day for the guided snowshoe trek with options for accommodation and personalised itineraries available upon enquiry.

Departs December 2023 to April 2024.

Madeira, Portugal

Follow Madeira’s winding levadas on the North Coast path to Porto da Cruz

Madeira’s diverse volcanic terrain and steady year-round climate with average highs of 20C in December make it a haven for hikers looking to escape winter’s chill and ramble the levada footpaths and lush mountain forests.

Routes, trails and footpaths line every coast of the Portuguese archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa – often through the splash zone of waterfalls – and the central mountain range peaks of Pico Ruivo and Pico Arieiro rise more than 1,400m high for intrepid walkers to reach new heights.

How to do it

Ramblers Holidays offers an “Eastern Madeira” guided walking package on the famed levadas and North Coast paths that criss-cross the Portuguese island. For seven nights between February and December, groups can enjoy Madeira’s balmy year-round climate on walks between Pico Arieiro and Pico Ruivo, the island’s two highest peaks, and traverse the dramatic North Coast path while staying in central Funchal. From £1,229pp, including all B&B accommodation, dinners taken at local restaurants, return international flights and transfers.

Departs 27 December 2023.

La Gomera, Canary Islands, Spain

The second smallest of the Canaries, La Gomera is a hiker’s paradise of volcanic mountains and dense forest

A hot choice for hikes on the Canaries, you can still expect up to nine hours of daily sunshine on sub-tropical La Gomera, one of the smallest and most untouched islands of the Spanish archipelago, well into winter.

Whether heading to the Garajonay peak, the island's highest point at 1,487m, or trailing through juniper groves in Vallehermoso, hundreds of rewarding routes through the Unesco-listed Laurisilva forest and over rocky ravines guarantee you’ll never have to retrace your steps on a La Gomera walking holiday.

How to do it

Solo Holidays has a seven-night walking holiday specifically aimed at solo travellers wanting to hike through the steep cliffs and rainforests of La Gomera. From £1,765pp, including stays at family-run B&Bs, dinners at local restaurants and all return flights and transfers.

Departs 6 February 2024.

Oulanka National Park, Finland

Tread the frozen Finnish wilderness by strapping on a pair of snowshoes

Winter walkers can break in new trails past frosted pines, roaring rapids and frozen waterfalls on a hiking holiday in the idyllic snow-coated landscape of Oulanka National Park.

The Finnish wilderness is prime for exploration provided you layer up and strap on some snowshoes to navigate through the powder.

Suspension bridges, observation towers and wilderness huts dot the national park, providing spectacular lookout points and much-needed campfire breaks on routes such as the 50-mile hiking trail, Karhunkierros, that stretches from Salla to Kuusamo.

How to do it

Exodus hosts a “Snowshoeing in Finland” package comprising an active eight-day adventure around the Oulanka National Park that starts from £2,479pp. Highlights of the action-packed week include a visit to Riisitunturi National Park, snowshoeing the frozen Juuma Lake and crossing the suspension bridge over the Myllykoski rapids. All breakfasts and dinners, accommodation at Basecamp Oulanka, activities and equipment are provided. Downhill skiing, a snowmobile safari and abseiling are also available as optional excursions on free days.

Departs 21 January 2024.

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