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Cross-country skiing, ice fishing, and more: 6 unique winter activities you simply have to try

Everyone knows about skiing and snowboarding — these may be new to you

A close-up profile of a man in the woods wearing gloves
Sorin Gheorghita / Unsplash

Enjoying wintertime extends to more than hot cocoa, stiff drinks, and fuzzy blankets. Braving the outdoors during the cooler months can provide a new perspective on nature, revealing a serene landscape that can only be seen during this time of the year.

Luckily, not as many people flock to the outdoors in winter, so it can be a much more flexible and peaceful time to get out and reconnect. So here are the most iconic winter activities that will challenge, surprise, and delight you this season. We’ll share tips for snowshoeing, the best spots for ice fishing, and everything in between.

Man standing on a snowy hill trail taking in the view while cross country skiing
Alessio Soggetti / Unsplash

1. Cross-country skiing: Gliding through the snowy trails

Unlike traditional skiing, cross-country skiing is about slowing down and enjoying the journey. A few bucket list locations for this winter activity include Colorado’s Devil’s Thumb Ranch and Methow Trails in the state of Washington. You can invest in skis, poles, and breathable clothing. But if you’re new to the sport and aren’t ready to buy all of that, there are many rental options available. Don’t let the slow pace of cross-country skiing fool you — this is a full-body workout. Combination movements paired with balance ensure you’ll be engaging every muscle group.

A man in an orange jacket using an auger and ice fishing
Glenna Haug / Unsplash

2. Ice fishing: A chilled adventure on frozen lakes

Ice fishing is a practice in stoicism and is as meaningful as a meditation practice as a physical one. Preparedness, patience, and a few tools are all that you require to get started with ice fishing basics. Basic ice fishing supplies include warm clothing, a fishing rod, bait, and an ice auger.

You won’t need Olympian fitness for this outdoor excursion, but be prepared to put in some work when it comes to cutting a hole and preparing your fishing spot. Popular spots for ice fishing include Devils Lake in North Dakota and Lake of the Woods in Minnesota.

A guy on a snomobile driving through the snow in the woods
Nate Johnston / Unsplash

3. Snowmobiling: Speeding across a winter wonderland

Snowmobiles offer power and swiftness as the rider glides over the terrain. These machines can rocket to up to 90 mph and are definitely not for the faint of heart. It’s less physically demanding than other popular winter sports while still offering a thrill and a powerful adrenaline rush.

Locations like Maine and Alaska are popular destinations for this activity due to their extensive trail systems. Some states may require a license or permit for snowmobiling, so make sure to check the rules and regulations before heading out on the trails.

Male hiker walking up a snowy hill in snow shoes and trekking poles
pcdazero / Pixabay

4. Snowshoeing: Hiking with a twist

Snowshoeing is essentially hiking on snow, and the clever gear involved allows you to distribute your body weight over a larger area. Original snowshoes were made with wooden frames and rawhide laces, but modern versions of the best snowshoes are made of lightweight materials like aluminum. These handy hiking accessories help prevent sinking and stumbling into the snow, which grants winter hikers access to areas that are challenging with normal hiking boots.

You have plenty of options when it comes to locations for snowshoeing, from the comfort of your backyard to Ashcroft, Colorado, a ghost town in the Castle Creek Valley in the Rocky Mountains. The best locations for this winter activity are high alpine meadows, frozen lakes, and snowy trails.

This is a great winter sport for people of varying levels of fitness since you snowshoe on just about any terrain, from flat trails to steep mountainsides. You’ll need to get a pair of snowshoes that you can find at any sports rental store, or you can purchase them at major outdoor stores.

Sled dogs in the forest in winter pulling a sled
pasja1000 / Pixabay

5. Dog sledding: A unique way to experience the outdoors

Dog sledding provides outdoor winter enthusiasts with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try out an ages-old method of travel. A professional musher will usually drive the sled to ensure the well-being of the dogs. However, some tours allow participants to drive them alongside training and supervision.

Excursions can last anywhere from 20 minutes to multiple days, depending on how much of an experience you want. If you’re planning on learning how to drive the sled, make sure your core strength is up to par. Managing large sled dogs such as the Alaskan huskies takes some strength.

While dog sledding may seem like an exotic adventure only accessible in the most remote winter wilderness, there are actually plenty of stateside options to take advantage of. Ely, Minnesota, is known as the “U.S. sled dog capital,” and you can arrange day, camping, or lodge trips at the Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge for an experience of a lifetime. There are also plenty of sled races for spectators to enjoy from the comfort of the sidelines.

A man in a red jacket walking through the woods, covered in snow
Renāte Šnore / Unsplash

6. Winter hiking: Embracing the frosty peaks

Last but not least, winter hiking is a challenging experience that is accessible for any outdoors lover in most locations. Although some parks may close down for winter, many are still open for exploring. The key to successful winter hiking is getting the proper gear. This includes insulated boots, thermal layers, solid accessories, and waterproof clothing. Trekking poles are helpful for extra stability.

Some of the best national parks for winter hiking include Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Acadia National Park in Maine. Yellowstone National Park offers unworldly sights of snow-covered trails and geysers for those looking for truly unique winter hiking. The list of winter hiking trails in the U.S. is endless, and there are plenty of resources to help you find the perfect option for your skill level and experience. But remember that you don’t need to hit up the big parks to get your winter hiking fix, as many smaller local trails found in state and city parks offer just as much adventure.

For longer hikes, keep an eye on the weather and make sure to bring enough food and water for your trip. Expect things to take a lot longer, as you more mindfully navigate the trails, especially if there’s excessive ice or snow. Winter hiking conditions your body and boosts your mood during the long winter months, so even if you can only manage to make it out to a local park for a quick jaunt, you’re still going to reap the benefits.

Rachel Dennis
Artist & writer with a flair for the outdoors, sustainability & travel. Off-duty chef, bookworm, and conversation lover.
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