Looking for some winter fun? Don’t sit inside for weeks on end – you can still enjoy the great outdoors during the cooler months. In fact, winter may just be the perfect time for some hiking. Sound odd? It shouldn’t. If you’re properly prepared, winter hiking can provide some delightful experiences, and temps are expected to be higher than normal for much of February this year!
Even if the temps drop to winter averages, the woods are even more serene with snow on the ground, trails are less crowded, cold weather can create amazing ice sculptures and perhaps most importantly, many forms of wildlife (especially birds!) are actually much easier to spot during the winter months without all those pesky leaves in the way!
Just be sure you’re well prepared. Here are a few tips we’ve put together to make sure you have a fabulous time this winter on the the area's hiking trails. We recommend the trails at Morgan-Monroe State Forest, Jimmy Nash Park and Burkhart Creek Park, but even a stroll on the paved paths at Pioneer Park or the White River Greenway at Old Town Waverly Park can provide some much needed outdoor fun! The truly adventurous (and experienced) hiker should also check out Ravinia State Forest for back country style exploration. (If the weather has made natural trail surfaces particularly squishy, check out our list of paved trails to keep you out of that mud!)
Winter Hiking Tips:
- Dress in layers. If you plan to be gone several hours, take extra (dry) socks and gloves in your pack.
- Start small – and early! You don’t want to be caught out after the sun goes down and it gets colder, and your pace will likely be slower than during warmer weather.
- Be prepared! Bring basic safety and emergency gear, even if you don’t expect to need it. Always have a trail map, compass and multi-tool on hand. It’s also a good idea to have a headlamp and some hand warming packets, just in case it gets dark on you.
- Check the weather. Temperature is important, sure, but also look at the chance of precipitation, wind speeds and sunset time to plan your trip (and your wardrobe). Unseasonably warm temps during winter sure feel nice, but they almost always make for muddy trail conditions - and don't forget that any bodies of water you encounter will still be quite frigid and dangerous.
- If you’re a novice at winter hiking, invite an experienced friend along, or read up before you go.
- Novice or pro, always tell someone reliable exactly where you’re headed and when you expect to return.
- Stay hydrated. Consider making tea or cocoa. A thermos full of your favorite pre-made hot beverage or a lightweight portable stove with the supplies you need can really hit the spot! Also take a snack or two – just in case.
- You can never have too many plastic bags – use them for stowing wet gear, stinky trash, or keeping electronics dry. Simple grocery bags stowed in your vehicle can be used to cover your socks/feet if your boots aren’t waterproof and there’s snow on the ground.
- Bring extras – of everything! More water than you should need, extra dry hats, gloves, socks and an extra flashlight with batteries can be invaluable.
- If you plan to be in an area without reliable cell phone coverage, place your phone in a sealed bag and turn it off to conserve the battery.
- Use sunscreen and a lip balm with SPF. The sun’s glare off of ice and snow can make for a painful reminder of your outdoor adventure if you get burned.
- Don’t forget your camera! Great photos of your friends, amazing ice formations and gorgeous landscapes will be your reward.
- Treat yourself to a great post-hiking meal as a reward (and to replenish your energy)! We’ve got some suggestions on where to stop to refuel on our restaurant pages – local favorites are always fun to explore!