The great outdoors widens horizons as we continue to hunker down. Going outside doesn’t have to stop when the temperatures drop. There’s beauty in taking a walk in the winter. Wilma Wagler loves walking through the covered bridges crossing the Conestoga River around her home near Leola, no matter the weather.
“It is so invigorating,” she says. “I love the scenery and getting outside. It keeps me emotionally and physically well.”
Taking a hike in the winter means fewer crowds. With the leaves off the trees and little understory, the entire landscape looks different.
From the gear you need to where to go, experts throughout Lancaster County show you how to make the most of your winter walks.
Best places to hike in the cold
LancasterOnline readers shared their top spots to hike when temperatures drop.
House Rock Nature Preserve, Martic Township
The views of the Susquehanna River — minus the leaves — from the overlook of this Lancaster County Conservancy trail are incredible, says Bill Milwaukee.
Martic Township Park
This park’s trails have everything: hills, stream crossings, rock maneuvers and a beautiful environment, says Nancy Morrell.
Governor Dick Park near Mount Gretna
This park, run by a nonprofit, has several well-marked trails that wind through the park. The trails intersect, allowing you plenty of choices for hikes of different lengths, says Ken Stehman.
Ricketts Glen State Park, Luzerne County
The trails in this state park are picturesque and strenuous, says Karen Northeimer.
On the hikes Mary Ann Schlegel leads for Lancaster County Department of Parks and Recreation, she explains why 100,000 snow geese make a pit stop at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area. She helps kids search for groundhogs and shows how to identify trees in the winter.
Schlegel’s a park naturalist who loves to spend her off-duty time outdoors year-round. Here are her tips on essential gear.
Dress in layers, which allows you to adjust as temperatures change and you get moving. Start with a light thermal layer. Add synthetic layers topped with a waterproof shell. Wearing a big puffer coat will warm you but won’t give the same flexibility. For extra warmth, bring a packable light down jacket.
Choose wool or synthetic fabrics, which wick moisture and insulate even when wet. Leave cotton clothing and jeans at home.
Layer liner gloves underneath mittens, which can be removed for things like tying shoes.
Hit the trail in boots with good tread. Sneakers won’t cut it. Keep a spare pair of shoes in the car for more comfort during the drive. They’re also dry in case you get wet on your hike.
Add traction with cleats that slip over your shoes. Schlegel’s favorite are Yaktrax. “You can practically dance on ice with Yaktrax,” she says.
For more rugged terrain or deep snow, MICROspikes will keep you on your feet.
Make sure the cleats fit over your hiking shoes, which may be larger than a regular shoe.
Pack a headlamp or a small flashlight just in case you don’t make it back before dark.
Middle Creek Search and Rescue, based in Durlach, is known for sending dozens of volunteers to rescues throughout southcentral Pennsylvania, including the search for Linda Stoltzfoos near Welsh Mountain. Here are chief Wes Clark and volunteer Susan Stauffer’s tips for staying safe in the cold.
Check out the trail before you leave home. Look at the decision points and come up with a route, so you know how long a hike should take. Print a map in case you lose cell phone service or cold weather drains your phone’s battery.
Check the weather forecast before leaving home. The weather might be nice as you’re heading out, but a lot can change in a few hours.
Share your hike
Tell someone where you’re hiking, when you’re heading out and where you’re planning to park. Plan to check in when you’re finished with your hike. If your contacts don’t hear from you, they can call for help.
Share your exact location with technology. Turn on location sharing on your phone and/or use an app like Life360 for people to find you.
Call for help
Pack a pea-less whistle. A whistle can be heard farther than many voices and will last longer than your voice if you need help. Whistles with peas inside can freeze, making them useless in the cold.
Don’t wait to call for help
There’s a myth that you need to wait 24 hours before reporting someone missing. If you’re lost or if someone you know hasn’t checked in, call for help. Those extra hours are crucial to help search and rescue teams, Clark says.
Even if you’re not sweating like you do on a summer hike, you can still dehydrate quickly in the winter. Don’t pack a beer or an energy drink, which do the opposite of hydrating.
For a treat, fill a thermos with hot water. Mix up hot chocolate along your route, Schlegel adds.
Heather Dighe, executive director of the Lancaster Recreation Commission, oversees hundreds of recreation programs with a focus on low-income children. The programs include tai chi for seniors to swim lessons for babies. Here are her tips on keeping kids warm.
Check the temperature
If the “feel-like temperature” is below 25 degrees, keep children indoors. Otherwise, go outside. This temperature guidance comes from the Keystone STARS rating program, which the commission’s childcare programs follow. The programs have the highest rating.
The most important items to stay warm are a good winter coat, hat and gloves. For kids in need, the commission has resources such as the Lancaster County Food Hub and Salvation Army, Lancaster Corps that can provide warm clothing.
Beyond the basics, waterproof snow pants, insulated winter boots with good tread and thick socks will keep kids warm and dry.
Don’t forget sunscreen, especially on a sunny day.
For sledding, ice skating or skiing, consider wearing a helmet.
Activities to try
You can snowshoe on just about any hiking trail, Schlegel says.
Modern snowshoes are smaller and lighter than vintage equipment. Snowshoeing can be slower than walking so watch your time to avoid being in the woods at dark.
Look for parks and areas with wide-open mowed spaces.
Sledding hills in Brandon Park, Culliton Park and Buchanan Park in Lancaster city are popular. So is the hill at Roland Park in Akron.
Help out a neighbor by shoveling their sidewalk or steps.
Lancaster County Parks and Recreation has outdoor programs and guided hikes this winter for adults and kids to learn about animals, nature and maple sugar.
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