We’ve always been a little worried about hiking in winter, but this year we decided to undertake the 52 Hike Challenge, and we knew if we started in June that we’d never catch up by the end of the summer, so we chose some of our favorite hikes to try in the winter. After our first one, we were hooked!
Getting out in the mountains of Utah is always an amazing experience, but we’ve found the winter to be an ideal time because the crowds are thinner and the air is clearer. It is really nice to get out even on the cold days. In this post, we’ll tell you how to make your first winter hike as successful as possible.
Tip 1: Layer up.
Anyone who has been outside in the winter knows the value of putting on several layers. For Mom and Dad, this means some sweats or yoga pants under a thick pair of jeans, two pairs of socks under your snow boots, and a long sleeved shirt, jacket, and overcoat. Our boys do the same, but with snow pants. We also wear scarves, gloves, and stocking caps. On our last hike the temperature was around 20 degrees and we were out for around 2 hours and only had one cold toe out of our 50!
Tip 2: Sunset.
Sunset comes early in the winter, so be careful about the time of day you hike. In the summer we’ll take Dad on an after work hike, but the day starts to cool off around 4. The best hiking hours are between noon and 4 pm because the day is at its warmest point. Don’t attempt a late hike, but instead, aim to be home before dinner.
Tip 3: Half it.
Whatever your kids’ max distance is in the summer, cut it in half for a winter hike. The snow and the heavy boots make you work much harder, and for kids in snowpants and big coats it is even worse. Our limit is about 5 miles in the summer, but we haven’t tried anything over 2 in the winter.
Tip 4: Thin Glove.
One weird trick we learned was to wear a thin glove on your right hand if you are the photographer of the group. For us, that means Mom wears her heavy winter glove on the left hand, and a thinner driving-type glove on the right hand. This way, she can still manage to capture those awesome pictures without freezing her fingers.
Tip 5: Hot Chocolate.
There is nothing better than leaving the little thermos with hot chocolate in the car. Throw in some insulated cups, and your kids will be excited to get back and get warmed up. This is easy, tasty, and gives the kids a reason to be out in the cold.
Tip 6: Stay on the Trail.
It is important to stay on the trail on any hike, but it is doubly important in the winter. Our boys love to snowplow through the deep drifts, but hidden branches and rocks can be treacherous, and snow will come in over the tops of their boots. Worse, sometimes they’ll find a soft spot and sink in all the way to their waist. Most trails around here are well-packed, and you’re best off right in the middle.
Tip 7: Familiar Route.
Everything looks different when it’s covered in snow, and trails can be tricky to find. If your trail is not familiar or at least well-traveled you run the risk of wandering away and getting yourself in a bad situation. Choose a short, familiar trail to begin with so that you are safe as you hike.
Tip 8: Keep it short.
Unless you are an experienced winter sports person it is best to keep your hike under an hour. If it is cold, kids faces will be rosy red and their toes will start to get cold. You don’t want to be a mile from the car when this happens. Though Dad does a lot of carrying in the summer, winter carrying is twice as hard with heavy boots, choking scarves, and hats. It’s okay to stay close to the car and enjoy a smaller adventure.
Tip 9: Sunglasses.
Don’t forget sunglasses if you are hiking on a clear day. The reflection from the snow is blinding as any skier can tell you. Even down in the shade of the trees it can be very bright.
Tip 10: Take Shoes.
We always leave our shoes in the car so that we don’t have to keep our snow-covered boots on. This is more comfortable, helps your feet warm up faster, and keeps the car a lot cleaner. Not only that, if we grab a treat or go to dinner at one of our favorite local joints after it is nicer to be wearing shoes. You can also throw in a pair of dry socks, just in case.
Bonus tip: Let your kids have fun in the snow. On our first winter hike, I was super worried about them getting wet from rolling in the snow or throwing it at each other. But the more I bugged them about it, the less fun we were having on our hike. The kids don’t care about getting right down into the snow, and they don’t mind being a little wet. So let them play! And if you follow our tips above, the wet will only be for a short time, and they’ll have something warm to look forward to at the end.
Safety Tip: One of our readers reminded us about the dangers of avalanches here in Utah, so we wanted to remind you that you should always pick a good day to go hiking. Watch the weather and avoid super cold days, as well as days where there might be too much snow and bad roads. And definitely check for Avalanche warnings before heading to deep into the mountains. This link to the Utah Avalanche Center gives information about Avalanche areas and dangers in Utah.
Reader Tip: One of our readers gave us this tip that we definitely need to try. Take a sled, or two. She says that they pull light sleds along with them, and then find places to sled along the trail. Sounds so fun!
Don’t be afraid to stretch your horizons and extend your hiking into the winter months. We did, and we couldn’t be happier! And don’t forget to check out our list of Easy Winter Hikes in Utah.
These are a few products that we use when we go winter hiking:
1. Thermos: We use the thermos to keep the water hot for hot chocolate. We boil enough water for a few cups of hot chocolate/person. Then we dump it into the thermos. Then we take disposable cups, spoons, and packets of hot cocoa to mix it all up after the hike.
2. Camelbaks: We bought these Camelbak Mini Mules for the two smaller boys and a Rogue for our older son for Christmas. They have already paid for themselves. Our boys are so motivated to hike, and my pack is a lot lighter now that they are carrying their own water and snacks. The prices change constantly on Amazon, so I just watched them for awhile until I saw a price I was willing to pay. Best thing we ever bought!