Winter is gloomy and season affective disorder is a real thing. The best way that I combat it (besides taking vacations to somewhere warmer like I usually do for my birthday in February) is getting outside. When I think about getting outside in the winter, and winter sports, I usually think of snowboarding and skiing. In addition to that, this year I tried something different.
I love hiking and normally reserve it for the warmer months. I had honestly never thought about hiking in the winter. All of the ice and snow and cold air would make it pretty difficult and uncomfortable, right? Then I came across the Winter Hiking Series at my local REI store in DC. If you don't know, REI provides all kinds of outdoor classes and events (and transportation!) everywhere that they have stores.
I try to do something outside in nature every weekend that I'm home and even when I'm traveling. I perused the REI events site trying to find something that would take me outdoors in January and found their Winter Hiking Series, which involves a day-long local hike led by an instructor and they give you tips along the way on hiking in the ice and snow. I signed up to go on the White Oak Canyon (in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia) trip and my first step into the woods, I fell in love with winter hiking...
It doesn't snow that often in the DC area but we got lucky that weekend with the snow starting to fall during our hike and giving the woods a light dusting of white. It was beautiful, serene, and peaceful. Shenandoah is usually packed with hikers on nice days but in the winter, it is pretty much empty and you have the trails all to yourself.
The hike started out pretty easy but got much more difficult as the snow came down and covered the ice on the trail. Ice is hard enough to walk on but even harder to gauge when it's covered with snow. Our guide was pretty good at pointing out the ice and going slow, hiking poles helped too, but a few people in my group still fell on their butts. It definitely got much more difficult coming back down the trail on icy snow, but we made it, and it made the hike all that more challenging and rewarding.
My next favorite part of winter hiking, is the frozen waterfalls. Waterfalls are amazing to see normally, and frozen they are stunning! You can see the partly frozen waterfalls of White Oak Canyon behind me in the picture above. It's unique to see frozen layers with some water still gushing underneath. Even more unique is to see a huge fully frozen waterfall like the one below.
That's Palisade Falls near Bozeman, Montana. It's hard to capture the majesty of a huge frozen waterfall in a picture but you can kind of see the scale above with me standing in front of it. You can walk straight up the waterfall (and even climb it) and it feels like it may break and swallow you up at any moment. My friend Chelsea and I took this side trip to explore the waterfall during our ski/snowboard trip to Big Sky, Montana. Read Chelsea's full post about it on her blog Her Life Adventures.
Winter hiking isn't always snowy and icy and can be quite gloomy, as well. I went to San Francisco in early March, it was raining the entire weekend but we still took the plunge and got outside to take a stroll on the Lands End trail, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Wet and covered in mud, we finally got what we came for when the Golden Gate Bridge peaked out from the gloominess as Karl the fog lifted for a second (pictured above).
Winter hiking can be cold, wet, and gloomy, but is completely worth it to get outside and get over that seasonal affective disorder. Plus, you see some cool things once in a while, like frozen waterfalls! Be prepared and read my tips below.
Tips for Winter Hiking
I know that winter is almost over in the Northern Hemisphere but there's still plenty of places with snow and time to get out there and see some frozen waterfalls or start your Spring hiking season early. Would love more winter hiking or outdoors ideas in the comments below.