If cabin fever is turning your family from outdoor warriors into couch potatoes this winter, it’s time to lace up your snow boots and try out winter hiking. According to the Children and Nature Network organization, even young people enthusiastic about the outdoors only engage in 4 to 7 minutes of outside free play each day. During the winter season, those precious minutes dwindle. Taking a hike with your family this winter is a great way to have fun as a family and enjoy the beauty of nature.

The perks and benefits of an outdoor hike are plentiful! There are oodles of studies and research documenting the correlation between time spent in the outdoors and the happiness and wellbeing of children and adults. Some findings also include a bolstered immune system and reduction of illness as a result of time spent outside.

It is beautiful outside in the winter and there is so much to see and explore! Animal tracks winding across the land are exciting discoveries and tell us so much about how many animals are active in the winter. Frozen creeks, rivers, and lakes are transformed into fantastical and otherworldly landscapes. Beautiful birds are much easier to spot in the forests and fields against the bare trees and white backdrop.

What is there to do besides just hike? Build a snow bench, snow fort, or snowperson! It’s fun to use colored water in spray bottles to “paint” your creations. You can make snow angels… or create your own reason to roll in the snow. For families not in snow country, you can make birdfeeders from peanut butter and seeds, then place them along your hike. Sit on a nearby log (or the snow bench you just made) and see who comes to visit for lunch. Play! Get silly!

The best part is that you don’t really need any special gear other than what you probably have in your coat closet. Layers are key; just steer clear of cotton. Cotton doesn’t dry quickly, and you will get a chill if you’re sweaty or wet. Wool or synthetic layers are best to keep you dry and warm. Bring lots to drink- maybe hot cocoa in your thermos- and snacks. Your body burns lots of energy exercising in the cold and you need to drink plenty of fluids. Sunblock and sunglasses are essential, too. UV rays are powerful, even during winter’s short days. The glare from the snow can affect your vision: snow-blindness is the real deal.

Lastly, if you’re hiking, plan to go about half as far as you would with your family during the summer. The shorter distance will be a good introduction to hiking in the winter and will ensure that everyone will have fun without any major meltdowns or discomfort. Take a camera to capture your winter memories and bring a guidebook for birds and animals. Have fun, relax, and enjoy the beauty of your amazing family and planet!

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