Winter is of the season when many prefer to hibernate and stay indoors for long periods of time, due to the cold, snowy weather. Seldom do many of us even think about venturing outside for a winter hike or walk in the woods. So we prefer to lock ourselves in to our warm homes and watch the external world from our windows as if in a self-imposed jail sentence, locked in from the outside.
The cold is probably the number one reason we do this, and the snow is probably reason number two. Maybe we don’t like having to don all the extra layers of clothes. Seasonal depression may even be holding us back, which of course, can get us into a rut. Weather reports of winter storms and cold do not help us get in the mood to go outside either.
Whatever the reasons for avoiding the outdoors in winter, there are many more reasons for heading outside. And if you are one of those who do not like hiking in the summer months for different reasons, there is good news for you too. There are excellent reasons to head outdoors in the winter and you might just come to embrace it.
Probably the biggest advantage of winter hiking is the lack of insect pests, especially those biggest nuisances of all, mosquitoes and black flies. During midwinter’s journey you will not have to worry about bites, stings, or allergic reactions, be you in a field or forest, hill or dale, streamside, or pondside.
If you are not a fan of poison ivy or sumac, stinging nettle, or other noxious plants, then you will love winter hiking. These plants have all shed their toxic and painful leaves and stems and are safely asleep for the winter.
Perhaps spiders and snakes deter you from the trails. Well, the good news is that they are all not only far less active in the winter, but also because you will be likely traversing the countryside in heavy winter boots on white snow, you will have ample opportunity to see and avoid any snakes and have a great degree of foot protection. Likewise for spiders. You are guaranteed not to be turned into a karate master upon encountering a spider web on your face while hiking. So cross these problems too, off your list of reasons not to go outdoors.
The lack of heat and the generally drier conditions in winter mean you’ll experience far less, if any, sweating. Just remember to bring along a lightweight backpack to store cast-off spare clothing to keep your body temperature regulated and keep yourself comfortable.
Though sunburn is possible any time of year, you can enjoy much longer time outdoors in the winter without fear of sunburn, due to the lower angle of the sun. Plus you’ll pretty much be covered from head to toe—and even your face oftentimes—so your clothing serves as sunblock. Still bring sunglasses for your eyes as snow on a sunny day can be dazzlingly blinding and you will be likely having the sun in your eyes more due to that low angle of sun. Perhaps keep a small tube of sunscreen for the exposed parts of your face. Winter is a great time to be out for all us fair-skinned people.
Even the trails themselves are softer and quieter and more even without all those tree roots and rocks trying to reach out and make you trip and fall. So you should enjoy a smoother walk with fewer obstacles.
Other benefits of a winter sojourn are the quietness, due in part by the natural sound-dampening characteristics of the snow. Plus, of course, there are far fewer animals so you will really be able to empty your mind and just listen to the quiet for long periods of time.
But don’t be fooled—there is plenty of animal activity in winter, from birds to squirrels, beaver, deer, rabbits, and more. The activity levels are simply dialed down.
Since the deciduous trees have shed their leaves, there is another advantage to wintertime stroll. Though the sun sets earlier and is at lower angles in the sky, the less obstructive forest canopy lets in more light in winter and the snow acts as a reflector, making visibility greater still. You will have greater panoramic vistas of sites that you usually only venture out in summer to see. Try visiting some of your favorite overlooks and scenic places in winter for seemingly wider and less-obstructed view.
So challenge yourself to get out at least once this winter and celebrate all the benefits that cold weather and snow provide. You will be pleasantly rewarded. Consider it a “get out of jail free” pass.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC trails are open from dawn to dusk for hiking, skiing, and snowshoeing. The Nature Center is open from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily except Saturdays when it opens at 10 a.m. Find more information at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.
Ron Keeney is local outdoorsman and photographer.