January has a reputation for being depressing. The fun and excitement of the holiday season is over. But the weather outside is still frightful! With cold dark days, and two more months (at least) of winter stretching out ahead, it’s not surprising that many people feel down in the dumps in January.
The good news is that the scenic beauty of the Shenandoah Valley is still there, and winter is a great time of year to enjoy it. The cold weather has chased away the crowds, so those bold enough to venture out will be rewarded with quiet and seclusion, and maybe even some rare wildlife sightings. The feeling of snow crunching under your boots. The barren splendor of the winter hillsides. The tingling of crisp cold air against your cheeks. The breathtaking beauty of icicle formations. All of these await you on a winter’s day in the Shenandoah Valley.
So fight off those January blues by getting outside for a winter hike. You’ll find there’s still plenty to enjoy about the great outdoors, even in mid-winter. And your cozy fireside chair never felt quite as good as when you sank into it after an adventure in the open air.
Read on for four top tips to help make your winter hike enjoyable.
1. Play it Safe
Winter hiking is fun, but with cold temperatures and early nightfall to contend with, it isn’t risk-free. Careful planning is important to ensure that you don’t find yourself lost in the woods after dark. Make sure you know where you’ll be hiking, and stay on clearly marked trails. It’s a good idea to bring an emergency blanket in case of injury, as well as to let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back. See here for more winter hiking safety tips from the Shenandoah National Park.
2. Water isn’t just for summer!
You don’t have to contend with the heat of summer, but winter hiking is still physical activity, and you’ll still get thirsty. Be sure to pack plenty of water, as well as some energizing snacks.
3. Stay within Your Comfort Zone
Hiking in winter may be more difficult and time-consuming than you expect, even if you’re an experienced hiker. In particular, snow and ice on the trail can slow you down. And remember the weather is colder at higher elevations, so you may run into ice on your hike, even if you didn’t see any at home. Steep slopes, in particular, can be extra difficult in winter weather conditions.
With these considerations, it’s a good idea to pick a hike that is well within your physical limitations. Use park signage and trail descriptions to choose a hike that will be safe and enjoyable for you.
For easier hike ideas, check out this Trail Guide from the Shenandoah River State Park, or try out the Charcoal Trail or Pig Iron Trail in the George Washington National Forest. See here for a list of trails in the Shenandoah National Park, starting with the ones closest to Front Royal. Be sure to check the difficulty level of the hike you plan to attempt.
The dead of winter is not a good time to challenge yourself with a new hike that you’ve never attempted or to tackle the bare rock face you’ve been dreaming about. Keep it doable and save yourself frustration and possible injury.
4. Wrap up!
In Scandinavia, they say “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” Being properly dressed for winter weather can make the difference between an enjoyable hike and a miserable tramp through the woods.
Waterproof shoes and thick socks are a must. Dress in layers, and bring more than you think you’ll need. It’s easier to take something off than put on the coat you left at home!
Need some extra gear? A visit to Front Royal’s Mountain Trails should have you covered. Here you’ll find a full range of casual clothing and technical outdoor equipment.
Going on a hike might not be the first activity you think of for a January day. But with the proper research and preparations, you’ll find that winter hiking is a great pursuit that can be fun for all the family. And when you come in from the cold, don’t forget to stop by one of Front Royal’s eateries to warm up with a cozy drink or dinner.
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