Winter is here, which means it is time to stay indoors, under blankets, or by fires with a warm beverage in hand and watch the snow fall outdoors. It’s time to dust off those gym memberships and get some exercise in indoor comfort.
Does this sound familiar? If it does, then we’d like to introduce you to the wonderful world of winter recreation.
Not just for the outdoor recreation enthusiasts, winter is great time to take in the natural world while bettering your health.
When you dress appropriately and are prepared to spend time outdoors, winter recreation can be done safely, and it might even become your most favorite time to spend in Pennsylvania state parks and forests.
Why Winter Recreation is Good
There are many benefits to spending some time outdoors in the winter. One of them being that it will be less crowded, allowing you to really take in the peace and quiet that winter in the outdoors provides.
Other benefits include:
- A great time for stargazing! The colder nights and dry temperatures make for clear night skies.
- A great time for birding! The bare trees make it easier to see and identify birds.
- A great time for scenic views! The change in the trees and landscape offer new ways to see and experience the natural world -- especially when covered in a blanket of snow.
Opportunities to try a new recreation activity. Snow and cold bring other recreational activities to experience in the outdoors like snowshoeing, skiing, ice fishing, or snowmobiling.
In addition to the outdoor experiences you can have, spending time outdoors in winter is actually good for you, too.
Health Benefits of Winter Recreation
Many people think that spending time outdoors in winter can lead to colds or the flu, however, it is spending more time indoors that leads to the spreading of these viruses.
Studies show that there are numerous health benefits to spending time outdoors in winter, including:
- The colder temperatures help your mind work better! Studies show your brain works better when it’s cold!
- When it’s cold, your body works harder to maintain your core temp, so it might help you burn more calories.
- Colder temperatures help decrease inflammation and pain all over.
- Colder temperatures can activate your immune system, giving you a boost to fight of those winter viruses.
- Sunlight and exercise endorphins from outdoor recreation can boost your mood significantly and help with those winter blues.
- Spending time outdoors on sunny days in the winter can help your body produce vitamin D, which we tend to produce less of in the winter by spending more time indoors.
And of course, dressing appropriately, staying on top of the weather forecast, and being prepared before you head out are important factors in keeping you safe and healthy outdoors in winter.
Preparing for Winter Recreation
Before you head out for some winter fun, be sure to plan your adventure ahead of time; tell someone where you are going and your expected time of return; and bring along other helpful gear for you to be prepared in case of an emergency.
Always check the weather forecast for the area where you are heading. For economic, logistic, and environmental reasons, many state forest roads and drivable trails receive no winter maintenance and are considered “travel at own risk.”
Visitors to state forests must use extreme caution; and are reminded that many state forest roads have limited or no cell phone service.
Dressing for Winter Recreation
It’s also very important to dress properly for winter recreation. The key to dressing properly is to dress in layers, which will allow you to remove or add clothing based on your activity level, changing conditions, and your body temperature.
There are several layers of clothing that should be worn when recreating in winter:
- The base layer is meant to wick moisture away from your skin. During the winter season, most people wear long underwear made from materials that wick moisture and dry quickly, such as polypropylene, polyester, silk, or merino wool.
- The middle layer is what helps to retain your body heat. It should help keep you warm, but not provide a lot of extra bulk. A lot of people may wear a long sleeved-shirt, or a button up shirt that can be easily removed.
- The insulating layer is worn over the middle layer and is to be worn in very cold conditions. Good options include fleece, hoodies, sweaters.
- The outer layer is your jacket which should protect you from wind and rain. This layer should fit comfortably over the other layers and not restrict your movement.
Even if you don’t wear all of the layers when you first head outdoors, you should take them all with you in case you need them.
It’s also very important to protect your extremities. In the winter, you can lose body heat through your head, so wearing a winter hat or beanie that wicks moisture away and dries quickly is a must.
In windy conditions, wearing a scarf or face mask can help protect your neck and face.
Warm gloves also are critical. Look for insulated mittens and gloves, or you can look for glove liners to wear in addition to your winter gloves.
And lastly, keeping your feet warm and preventing frostbite in your toes can be done with proper footwear and socks. The key is to keep your feet warm and dry, so look for waterproof, insulated boots, and moisture-wicking socks.
There are many ways you can keep your feet warm and protected, including wearing a double layer of socks (light moisture wicking sock and an outer layer sock) or grabbing some toe warmers to insert into your boot.
By dressing appropriately and taking the steps to be prepared, you can enjoy the outdoors comfortably and safely in the winter.
We Can Help You Experience Winter Recreation
Want to see if you have a tolerance for winter recreation? Why not join us on a First Day Hike on Wednesday, January 1? These guided, family-friendly hikes take place across Pennsylvania and the nation.
There are First Day Hikes happening at 39 Pennsylvania state parks this year. While the hikes are held on January 1, a special evening hike to ring in the new year will be held at Presque Isle State Park from 11:00 P.M. to 12:30 A.M. on Tuesday, December 31.
In addition to First Day Hikes, check out our calendar of events. Many state parks offer winter festivals that allow you to try various winter recreation activities including, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or ice fishing.
There are sledding and ice skating opportunities at some state parks; and some downhill skiing opportunities at state parks.
Some state parks offer loaner snow shoes and cross-country skis for use and will offer classes to learn how to do these activities.
Pennsylvania state forests are popular for snowmobiling, and some ATV trails are open during the winter season.
And if being cold still has you hesitant, some parks and forests offer warming huts to help you warm up if you get too cold.
As you can see, there are many ways for you to experience the beauty and adventure that Penn’s Woods can offer in winter!
To find out where there is snow in Pennsylvania state parks, check out their weekly winter report which is updated from the first snow until spring.
To find out Pennsylvania state forest snowmobile conditions, call the snowmobile hotline at 1-877-SNOMBLE (1-877-766-6253).