A few winters ago, we took a weekend trip to a new area in our province that we’d never visited in winter before. We hiked into a backcountry cabin for a couple of nights, we skated on an iceway built in a campground nearby, and we played on a luge track built in the centre of the village. The trip opened up my eyes that you don’t always need to travel far to find new adventures. You don’t have to travel out of state or province to discover a brand new experience. In fact, we discovered how many ideas we could come up with to get outside without even leaving our neighborhood or city.
While this coming winter may look a bit different, there are still plenty of ways to get outside daily for fresh air, exercise, and adventure. Here are 10 ideas to explore your local backyard this winter and enjoy some outdoor activities.
1. Go geocaching to discover the treasures near you
Geocaching is a great year-round activity that can be played in city parks and natural areas (sometimes even with snowshoes if there’s a lot of snow.) Get started by loading the geocaching app on your smartphone. Then, bring a small kit with you that should include a few trinkets, so you can trade with other small items you find in the caches. Also, bring a pencil for signing the logbook (and paper if the logbook is full) and hand sanitizer. I also recommend a hand warmer in the pocket with your phone so that it doesn’t freeze on cold days.
I swear geocaching saved our lives during our first COVID lockdown experience. Every day we’d head out the door and choose a different direction to walk. We’d come home having found at least one or two new caches and marveling that there were pathways in our own neighborhood we’d never walked before!
While there are many kinds of geocaches to find, micros may be easier to find in winter as they will usually be hanging on trees or hidden on benches (attached with a magnet.) A large camo box may be easy enough to find if there’s not too much snow, but a small lock and lock lunch container would be near impossible to find under the snow.
For more information on geocaching tips in winter, read this great article from Geocaching.com. It covers everything you’ll need to know.
Read More: Snowshoe Geocaching: Searching For Booty
2. Join a tour to discover areas near you and get a new perspective
Tours offer a safe, physically distanced option for recreation this winter. Operators have group size limits and have spent considerable time coming up with safe operational protocols for this challenging season.
Options for guided tours include snowshoe tours, dog sledding, fat bike tours, or even introductory ice climbing. And the equipment is usually included or offered to rent. Search the web for some tours in your area!
Featured winter tour
Castle Mountain Resort is located in Southern Alberta, and their popular Last Tracks and Full Moon Snowshoe & Fine Dining experiences will be offered this season. These tours are an excellent opportunity for winter enthusiasts as an alternative to downhill skiing or to enrich a weekend away with a family-friendly activity all ages can enjoy.
The Last Tracks Snowshoe Experience is a late afternoon guided tour on Saturdays. It begins with a chairlift ride and finishes at the T-Bar Pub for some après tour beverages and snacks. The activity takes about 2 hours, private group tours can be arranged, and snowshoes can be rented for an additional cost.
The Full Moon Snowshoe and Fine Dining Experience is an extension to the Last Tracks tour, and instead of heading to the pub, guests take a brief break to change and clean up before heading to the resort day lodge for a decadent group meal.
As stated on Castle Mountain’s website, “Closer to Heaven, Down to Earth. Castle Mountain Resort is the second largest mountain resort, in Alberta, by acreage. Nestled in the southern Alberta Rockies, adjacent to the communities of Pincher Creek and the Crowsnest Pass, Castle Mountain Resort boasts 94+ runs across 3592 acres of terrain. Known for its abundant snowfall, Castle Mountain Resort remains one of the last affordable, down-to-earth, and authentic Rocky Mountain winter experiences.”
For more information, please visit the Castle Mountain Resort website.
3. Use an app to find new trails close to you
Last spring, my government closed all provincial and national park trails near my house. I had to get highly creative to find new trails that were still accessible. Then summer came, and hiking exploded in popularity here in the Canadian Rockies. So, I was once again researching new off the beaten path areas to visit. It was not uncommon to see 20+ guidebooks spread out around my living room at a time!
I’ve discovered some amazing trail apps that have helped me in the process. They include Trail Forks, AllTrails, and Gaia GPS. For trails in Canada specifically, I have also used the Great Trail app to explore sections of the Trans Canada Trail, which crosses the entire country.
This winter, I challenge you to go outside and visit at least 5 new parks or natural areas near your house that perhaps you never considered “worthy” of a visit in the middle of summer. I discovered one such area near my house less than a 5-minute drive away. Now, I hike here regularly.
And, depending on travel restrictions for your area, you don’t even have to leave your town or city to find a new trail. I know in my city that there are more than 24 700 acres of parkland and natural areas and 1000 km (600 miles) of pathways to enjoy. I’d be hard-pressed to claim that I “had” to leave the city to go for a walk. Many cities also have online trail maps or even apps to help you discover your local trails.
Snowshoeing Close to Home on a Wisconsin Flowage & Wildlife Area
Erie County, New York: Department of Parks, Recreation, & Forestry Activities and Trails
Snowshoeing For Beginners: The First-Timer’s Guide
4. Snowshoe or cross country ski in your local golf course or city park
Golf courses can be underutilized as a “destination” in winter, but it’s a great idea for some outdoor winter activity! In fact, they can be fun to explore if you’re looking for a place to snowshoe or ski close to home. Here in my city, we have several golf courses that permit both winter hiking and cross-country skiing (make sure to check beforehand). A few even have groomed ski trails on them, with no trail fees, making for a very affordable way to explore in your own backyard.
Most city parks and natural areas provide space for snowshoeing when there’s been a fresh dump of snow. Sometimes we’ll bring sleds with us too. Then, we’ll go for a sled hike or ski, stopping to play along the way. We stop to build snowmen, make snow angels, and get fresh air without driving out to the mountains.
5. Visit those local “bucket list” destinations
With less travel permitted this winter, tourism is down. Local resort towns need our business. But, with a third of the crowds, you’ll be able to visit all of the busiest attractions, hike the popular trails, and take in the premier sightseeing destinations.
Here in Southern Alberta, we’ve been enjoying day trips in Banff National Park, and we’ve visited Lake Louise many times this past year.
While off the beaten path adventures are great, sometimes you want to hike those “top ten trails” or access trailheads from busy destinations like Lake Louise. This is your winter! So make that list of trails you’ve always wanted to hike and start checking them off.
Winter Activity Guide to the Best of Lake Louise, Banff National Park
Top Winter Hiking Trails in the Canadian Rockies
A Winter Explorer’s Guide to the Best of Banff National Park
Off the Beaten Path in Waterton Lakes National Park
6. Play disc golf at your local courses
Disc Golf is played just like regular golf, but with a frisbee style disc in parks that usually stay open year-round. Look up local courses near you. Then, invest in at least one medium-range disc per person, or use frisbees for the first few times. If possible, recruit a friend to show you the ropes, too.
And while you can play disc golf through the winter months, make sure you attach a long ribbon to your disc with duct tape so you can find it in the snow!
7. Plan a getaway to explore a new park or natural area in your state or province
If you need a few days out of the city, you can plan for a short weekend getaway to see a new area near you. You can winter camp, or many hotels and guest houses have protocols for safe operation during COVID. Just make sure to read the guidelines ahead of time, so you are prepared.
I am fortunate to have three national parks that I can visit for a weekend without leaving my province. Moreover, I can access more than 50 provincial parks or recreation areas that I can drive to for a weekend getaway. You may have national and state parks in your area too, that you may have never thought to visit!
For us, we often head away for the weekend with a truck filled with snowshoes, skis, ice skates, sleds, and anything else we can fit. Then, we set out with a goal to discover the absolute best of the area we’re visiting. We’ve stayed at backcountry huts, ski resorts, cozy condos, and hostels – all conveniently located to give us the best basecamp experience possible!
Top 10 Snowshoe Getaways For Couples
The Best Backcountry Basecamps In The Canadian Rockies (No Tent Required)
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Mount Engadine Lodge: Alberta’s Front Country Lodge with Backcountry Charm
Winter Exploring in Alberta’s Provincial Parks
8. Make your summer activity a winter activity
If you like fishing, biking, or camping, go outside and give it a try this winter!
Fat biking – Rent a fat tire bike for a day and head out to an area near home where you’ll find groomed or packed trails. (Make sure biking is allowed on the trails.) We’re fortunate here in the Rockies to have several fat biking areas with designated groomed trails.
Ice fishing – If you like fishing in the summer, try ice fishing this winter. I recommend you round up at least a couple of friends to get you started on this one. They’ll know where to go, how to measure the ice thickness, and will likely have a special tent to keep you warm.
Winter camping or glamping – If you enjoy backpacking in the summer, find a campground that allows winter camping, and head out for your first winter camping trip on snowshoes! For those now quite so hardy, you can also try winter glamping at many resorts where you’ll sleep in a warm heated tent or yurt and might even get your meals included in the experience.
Winter Fishing: Gear Yourself Up With These Tips (& Don’t Forget Snowshoes)
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9. Discover the magic of ice
Get some ice spikes (such as these Yaktrax or these Kahtoola microspikes) and explore ice! Hike a frozen canyon, visit a frozen waterfall, or travel along a sheer frozen trail made of ice smooth enough you could skate on.
Ice skating is also a great activity and a way to get outside this winter. Plus, skates are affordable to rent for a day if you don’t own a pair. Most towns or cities have rinks and cleared ponds for skating. Or, an outdoor game of hockey is great physical exercise in the winter months.
How to Choose the Best Trail: Tips for Learning When You Need Snowshoes
Snowshoeing Among Frozen Waterfalls, Lanaudiere Region, Quebec
Frozen Waterfalls and Ice Walks in Banff National Park
10. Release your inner child and discover the joy of playing in the snow
There is nothing like playing in the snow as a child. So, get outside this winter and play with the kids if you are a parent or borrow nieces or nephews for the day if you aren’t. You can even ask friends to let you tag along on their next family outing. Here are a few ways to release your inner child on the snow:
- Discover how much fun playgrounds can be with snow on them. Seriously, snow-covered slides are a lot of fun!
- Find a sledding hill near home and build epic jumps for fun slo-mo videos.
- Go snowshoeing and bring sleds with you. Hike up, slide down! I recommend helmets for this one.
- Build a snow fort
- Have a snowball fight
- Build a snow quinzhee
- Make snow angels
- Visit a tube park at a local ski resort! Nothing will make you feel more like a child again!
Whatever you do, just play!
Winter is magical, and it’s meant to be loved and embraced. Have fun and stay active this season!
What are your favorite outdoor activities to get outside in winter? Please share with us in the comments below.
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