Should you go on a Christmas hike?

best gifts for hikers: hikers wearing Christmas hats
We weigh up the pros and cons of hitting the trail on Christmas Day (Image credit: Getty)

Turkey. Stuffing. Pigs in blankets. Breakfast sherry. We love Christmas, and all the over-eating and couch time that comes with it. But often, after weeks of office parties and family get-togethers, you start to feel your feet itching for your hiking boots, the beckoning of fresh air becoming almost too much to resist. So should you go on a Christmas hike? Or stay inside in the warm and be a sloth? We weigh up the pros and cons of a Christmas hike to help you decide.

Mother and kids enjoying walk in forest wearing santa hats

(Image credit: Imgorthand)

Pros of hiking on Christmas Day

Let’s start with all the good things about hiking on Christmas Day instead of lying on the couch gorging yourself on mince pies.

1. The trails are quiet

This is no doubt the best reason to go hiking on Christmas Day. If your trails tend to be overrun with other active go-getters, you can finally enjoy the peace and quiet you’ve been seeking on Christmas Day (hot tip: this goes for skiing at resorts too). While everyone else is still in their pajamas unwrapping presents, you can have nature all to yourself. This makes it better for wildlife viewing and bird watching, too.

2. It’s good for you

We don’t need to tell you, hiking is great exercise! You can get your heart rate up and move your legs (arms too if you use trekking poles) while breathing the fresh air and enjoying some fabulous scenery which is good for your mind, too. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a day or two off to do nothing, and spending quality time with loves ones has it's own benefits, but you probably won’t regret getting some good exercise, and the gym will be closed so outdoors is your best option.

A woman in a red coat hikes through the trees in the snow

You probably won’t regret getting some good exercise, and the gym will be closed so outdoors is your best option (Image credit: Halfpoint Images)

3. It makes for a memorable family activity

Chances are, your loved ones will be expecting you to spend time with them, but that doesn’t mean you have to jettison your hiking plans – make it a family affair. Hiking with others has been shown to help your relationships by fostering generosity, trust and a sense of togetherness, so if your Christmases tend to end in family bickering and overly aggressive turkey carving, take it to the trail. A Christmas hike can make a really memorable experience that you’ll all look back on fondly. If all goes well, that is.

4. Winter hiking can be wonderful

Assuming you're north of the equator, Christmas really can be the most wonderful time of the year on the hiking trails if it’s frosty or snowy and you’re correctly attired. Make sure everyone has winter hiking boots, traction devices like Yaktrax, hiking gloves and a good down jacket and you should be able to avoid any family meltdowns and enjoy the low sun and the crisp air.

Two snowshoers in the sunshine

Christmas really can be the most wonderful time of the year on the hiking trails if it’s frosty or snowy and you’re correctly attired (Image credit: Jordan Siemens)

Cons of hiking on Christmas Day

We know, we just made Christmas hiking sound like a no-brainer, but naturally there are some potential pitfalls too, especially  when it comes to winter weather and major holidays.

1. Winter hiking can be treacherous

The best case scenario is a cold, clear and bright Christmas Day like the one we described above, but of course, late December can also bring blizzards, ice storms and high winds, plus there’s as little daylight as there’s going to be all year long. If you’re not experienced and prepared for winter hiking with all the right gear, it may be best to just take a stroll along the canal, or do some jumping jacks then get back on the couch.

2. Mountain rescue are trying to enjoy their holiday, too

We can’t in good conscience not mention this one. Though they’re always happy to come and get you down off a mountain if you twist your ankle, get lost or start exhibiting symptoms of hypothermia, we can cinfidently say that where any member of a mountain rescue team would rather be on Christmas Day is round the table with their loved ones. Remember that disaster can strike on any trail at any time, and calling mountain rescue means a whole slew of good people sacrificing their well-laid festive plans to help you out. At the very least, think twice about going into the backcountry, out in extreme weather or unprepared.

Mountain rescue unloading gear from the truck

Mountain rescue want to enjoy Christmas, too (Image credit: Ed Smith)

3. Transportation can be messy

Unless you can walk to your hiking spot, getting there may be a pain. If you don’t have a car, public transport is usually off or extremely limited on Christmas Day, and if you do have a car, winter driving can bring a whole other set of hazards. Clearly this doesn’t apply if you’re already living in the mountains with snow tires on six months a year, but for lower lying elevations, beware that actually getting there might be a bit too Griswold for comfort.

4. You’ll miss all the good telly

Starting to think that a Christmas hike sounds like an awful lot of work? Well, stay home and get the television on instead. Christmas television is the best, whether you’re watching the NFL all day long, classic Christmas movies or TV specials. If you’re an active person, this may be one of the few days a year you let yourself really relax in front of the telly, so why not just go for it? We won’t judge.

A woman in a red coat shivers on a snowy walk

Find a hike that’s close to home and not too far out in the backcountry (Image credit: Richard Drury)

Should you go on a Christmas hike? 

It seems like there are some great arguments for hitting the trail on Christmas – there are no crowds, it’s quiet and you can make some really great memories with your family. But, if things go wrong, it might make for a spectacularly bad Christmas hike, whether that means you waiting for a stretcher to carry you off the hill or just hanging around in the dark waiting for a bus that never comes. 

Therefore, we’d recommend an in-between option – find a hike that’s close to home and not too far out in the backcountry. We’re thinking of a snowshoe hike on a nearby ski resort, a forest trail or a coastal walk. Make sure you’re properly dressed, pack a flask of hot chocolate and get out for a couple of hours in the morning so you still have plenty of time to get back, cook and watch all that good telly under your favorite camping blanket.

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.