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Posted on: December 19, 2018

Benefits of Winter Hiking

Pat hiking in winter.

By Pat Kobela, Guest Blogger

When I mentioned to people that I hiked Mount Washington in New Hampshire last February; I was asked “Why would you do that”?   As an avid hiker my response was “Why wouldn’t you do that”?

Winter can be a quandary for many.  It is pretty after that first snow but a few times shoveling your car, sidewalk and driveway, gets old quick. It gets dark early and stays dark longer so, you need to capitalize on the daylight hours during this season.  With a little bit of planning, you can make the most of local trails and build some stamina over the winter months.  

Getting outdoors is always a great experience and winter should not be any different.  It can actually be an ideal time of the year.  The scenery is very different than any other season, the trails are not inundated with tourists and wildlife may be easier to see.   A classic sunny winter day around 34 degrees with a bit of snow on the ground can not only change your mood but allows you to burn those calories and develop muscle strength.  After a certain age, sleigh riding gets a bit risky for some of us, so to get out on a good hike with a few hills, gets the heart pumping and teaches you how to breathe for a different weather type.  Even better, grab a few friends and family and have them bring their dogs; everyone can benefit.

Being outdoors gives you mental clarity and a better perspective overall and one learns to appreciate what you may not see during other seasons.  Best of all, like a kid coming in after a day of running up and down a sled hill, you are genuinely tired and will probably sleep very well that night, if not take a well-deserved nap.  There is nothing better than a hot shower and beverage after a day out in the cold weather.

Some parks may be closed during the off-season due to accessibility, safety and terrain reasons but most state parks and local hiking trails remain open year-round.   Trail traffic is much lower in the winter and allows you to get to areas that may be too crowded during the busy seasons.  Picture taking is at an absolute premium with shots and angles you may not get the opportunity the rest of the year.   Wildlife are more prominent with less human traffic.    

Tips for Winter Hiking

Carry a small day pack with a few essentials including an additional layer of clothing, and if you are not already wearing them, hat and gloves, hand warmers, extra socks (my favorite) and everyone’s must have; moleskin for developing hot spots and potential blisters.

A hike doesn’t have to be an all-day event, but a few hours enjoying nature and developing your map and trail reading skills are well worth it.  “Starting out cold” on your hike is highly recommended.  It allows you to build up a sweat without getting chilled or overheated due to the exertion you will encounter with an uphill climb or stepping over downed trees, flooded water run-offs, etc.   It also keeps you comfortable and lightweight overall.   You are sweating more than you think but it is easier to regulate when you are not completely bundled up. 

Dressing for a Winter Hike

Here are some key points for dressing for winter hikes.  Start with a good wicking material base layer; man-made, not cotton, that will allow your body to breathe and evaporate excess moisture.  A potential mid-weight layer and a good wind proof or rain jacket works well here.   Always carry something heavier for when you stop and sit for a while; you will get chilled quickly.  Your standard “puffy jacket” works great in this situation.  Warm enough to keep you toasty but packable enough to stuff at the bottom of your day pack.  Much of your body heat is lost from your head.  Get a hat, skull cap, beanie, whatever works for you.  A relaxed neck gaiter is an amazing piece of equipment.  Keeping one around your neck holds in a lot of body heat and can also be pulled up around your mouth and nose for extra protection.  Good quality gloves or glove liners with a hand warmer (to start out) keeps your fingers warm if you tend to get cold quick.   Depending on the terrain, you may want micro-spikes or crampons if you plan on doing trails along a waterway; they have a tendency to get icy. Bring both warm and cold beverages and a few snacks and you have the makings of a great day out on the trail. 

Set your sights on some local trails this year and enjoy those sunny winter days.

Local Winter Hiking

Explore the winter wonderland at the four state parks in Luzerne County (Be sure to check with park offices for trail conditions.):

Frances Slocum State Park

Nescopeck State Park

Lehigh Gorge State Park

Ricketts Glen State Park*

You can find more hiking trails here and check out Top of the Slope in Downtown Wilkes-Barre to find gear for your winter hike.

*The frozen waterfalls and ice formations at Ricketts Glen State Park are a sight unlike any other, but due to the tough conditions the Falls Trail is only open to experienced hikers and ice climbers with proper gear. But you can still explore the frozen wonderland with help from Valley to Summit which runs guided winter excursions, equipment included, to Ricketts Glen.

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