Rachael Rachael, a mom of two daughters, is a freelance editor and writer who enjoys gardening and dreams of keeping chickens in her suburban St. Louis backyard. In her spare time, she helps to edit her husband’s science fiction books. Read more of Rachael's work at www.rachaelsjohnston.com or contact her by emailing rachael@mumblingmommy.com.

There was no snow on the ground, but the temperature hovered around the freezing mark when our family ventured outdoors recently. Hiking is traditionally an activity reserved for the milder seasons of the year, but winter hiking is a worthwhile experience.

Winter Hiking

We bundled ourselves in layers: long underwear, sweaters, coats, scarves, hats, and gloves, and my husband packed our two walking sticks and a pair of binoculars. Our destination was Confluence State Park just north of St. Louis, where the Missouri River joins the Mississippi River. The trail is short – just a quarter of a mile to the confluence point and a quarter of a mile back to the trail head and parking lot – which was perfect for our young daughters. It was our first winter hike, and we were enchanted from the moment we started down the trail and found ourselves walking alongside the icy Missouri River.

A winter hike showcases a landscape that is very different from what we see during the summer, and it’s also a less crowded time in state parks and on trails. If there’s snow on the ground, it transforms the view. The leaves are off the trees, providing views of natural features or landmarks that might otherwise be obscured by foliage. Look hard and you may find animal tracks in the snow or antlers shed by a deer. You can make winter hikes fun for kids by making snowmen or snow angels along the way, packing hot chocolate in thermoses, pulling the kids in a sled, and seeking out trails that include water features like frozen ponds, lakes, rivers, or waterfalls.

During our hike, the woods were quiet and peaceful, without the usual chatter of summer birds. The river flowed quickly, full of ice, and we heard water trickling and the sound of ice pieces bumping and grating against each other. When we reached the confluence point, the Mississippi River was mostly clear of floating ice to the north, while the Missouri steadily emptied its ice into the larger southward-bound body of water.

We posed for photos, picked our way across the sandy ground to the edge of the Mississippi, and watched the girls throw rocks in the river and chip at bits of ice along the shore. We passed the binoculars around and hoped we might see a few eagles or hawks, but there were only gulls. On our way out, we saw groups of migrating trumpeter swans flying overhead. We were satisfied with our morning adventure. It felt good to breathe the fresh, cold air. We got some exercise, and we soaked up the bit of sunshine that made its way through the clouds.

When we began to feel cold, we headed home to a brunch of biscuits and gravy, eggs, and hot tea. Back at home, we began planning where we want to hike next. With some preparation and proper attire, hiking really is an all-seasons activity. Our first winter hiking experience will not be our last.

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Category: Family Free Time

Tags: cold weather activities