Walking in a Winter Wonderland

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Winter in Michigan is breathtakingly beautiful, and the parks and trails that we love to visit in the warmer months are transformed into new venues that allow us to explore the outdoors in myriad ways. All too often, however, once the holidays have past and the novelty of snow has worn off, we become less active and go into hibernation. It takes a little more motivation to get bundled up and hit the trails—but once you get out there, you won't regret it!

Basic tips for an enjoyable experience.

  • Winter activities can get you surprisingly heated up. Wearing wet or sweaty clothes is not only uncomfortable, it can be dangerous. To make sure you stay warm and dry, layer up in this order:
    • A base layer that wicks moisture off your body.
    • An insulating layer, like a fleece jacket.
    • A shell that helps to keep you dry and stops the wind from penetrating your core.
    • A good pair of hiking socks, made of wool blends or synthetic fabrics that will wick moisture away from your skin and, when wet, retain heat and dry quickly.
    • Wear tall hiking boots or use gaiters to keep snow from entering your shoes.
    • Avoid cotton for all layers. Cotton absorbs sweat and moisture easily, then stays wet against your skin, causing your body temperature to drop quickly.
  • Bring a backpack to store food, water and any layers that you may have to temporarily remove along the way.
  • Stay hydrated by packing plenty of water or—better yet—hot tea or cocoa! Avoid water bottles with straws that may freeze and grab an open mouth container. For extended hikes or really cold days, insulate the bottle by putting it inside a wool sock.
  • There's nothing worse than cold fingers, so invest in some instant hand warmers to place in your gloves. They're cheap and you won't regret it.

Have kids in tow?

Often parents dream of taking the family outdoors to play in the snow and have an unforgettable experience out on the trails. Here are a few tips to ensure that you have a hike to remember—for the right reasons!

  • Always plan for the littlest legs. Map out your hike with the youngest in your group in mind, and then shorten the walk if there is snow. Remember: You can always choose a shorter loop and extend the hike if everyone still has energy.
  • Pack freeze-proof snacks and water. Winter hiking burns a lot of calories and you'll want to keep little ones nourished, so they have plenty of energy.
  • Bring trekking poles or collect walking sticks to help everyone stay balanced. Having a parent and a child hold onto a segment of rope helps keep everyone at the same pace and moving along.

Hiking with kids can be a great experience. Just remember not to push it too hard the first time. If everyone enjoys themselves, you can always do it again or take a longer trip next time. It's about quality time, not quantity.

Find your trail experience.

While there are many places in West Michigan that are perfect for winter hiking, here are some suggested locations for beginners:

  • Provin Trails lies just outside the Grand Rapids city limits and features a mix of dense pine stands and open sand barrens along trails that wind through scenic hills and valleys. Provin is a great nearby getaway for some scenic winter exercise.
  • Hemlock Crossing in West Olive is a great place to take the family as it offers snowshoe rentals for adults and children (4+) at the Nature Education Center. Guided walks are available throughout the winter, and visitors are invited to warm up in front of a fire in the Great Room after their snowy outing!
  • Ludington State Park offers lantern-lit ski and snowshoe hikes over the snow-covered forested sand dunes on Saturdays in January and February, which make the perfect romantic date. Snowshoes are available to borrow, but you have to bring your own skis.

Explore new legs.

For more information about parks and trails near you, visit these websites:

Kate Meyer is the Executive Director of the Kent County Parks Foundation, the nonprofit support organization that helps expand and enhance parks and trails in Kent County. She is a self-proclaimed "nature nerd" and loves inspiring people to get outdoors, regardless of their abilities or experience.

Photo courtesy of Sierra Rodriguez.

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