Don’t Let the Cold Stop You: Get Outside With These Winter Family Activities

Staying active in the winter months can be tough; from an individual standpoint is one thing, but throw some kids and a couple of pooches in the mix and it can seem downright impossible. We all have our “excuses”: It’s too cold! There’s too much snow! I have so much to do! But maybe it’s time to change our perspectives.

Whether it’s the bitterly cold temperatures or dumping snow that once deterred your outdoor activity, the gloomy, grey skies and uninspiring lack of sunshine, or the business of the season – we get it, there’s holiday shopping, holiday office parties, kids’ holiday concerts…holiday burnout – we have a few winter activities for kids and the whole family that’ll keep you moving all season long. 

Plan ahead

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We know it’s cold out there, so planning ahead is a great way to set yourself (and kids) up for success. In our family, it’s easy to get the kids outside. The bigger challenge at times is keeping them outside. For us, layers are the answer! 

Go for a base layer (natural fibers like hemp will help wick away any sweat or moisture), a zip-up or half-zip like Toad’s Telluride Sherpa Pullover (to easily dump extra heat), and then a jacket (to keep them dry). 

Then, accessorize. Little fingers and noses can get cold! So find the gloves, hats and scarves/neck tubes your child is willing to keep on – and keep them in a designated location (so they don’t get lost!). We have dedicated “winter accessories” basket in our kids’ bedroom for easy access. To add a little more fun to the mix, consider letting the little one(s) pick the accessories they want to wear for that outing – having the opportunity to choose their favorite hat can help inspire them to get outside!

Remember to keep yourself cozy, too. If you’re cold and uncomfortable, it will be significantly more difficult to keep the kids happy. Layering and fun accessorizing isn’t just for kids!

Just keep moving

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The prep to get outside might take you 45 minutes or more (no shame here), but once that’s done, the hard part is over! 

If you live in town, walk or bike around the neighborhood to check out the holiday lights and decorations. If you live in a rural area, explore your own property or the side roads on foot (we also love using a wagon and each kid shares pulling the others!). And if you’re lucky enough to have trails right outside your door – use those!

If you need to keep the kids engaged, challenge them to fun games or have enticing destinations in mind. Playing “I spy” along the walk/ride is a great way to heighten their awareness (and distract them from saying “are we there yet?” ten thousand times). We also enjoy spotting and counting birds or other critters. And if the locale fits, plan a mid-walk break at a cafe (did someone say hot chocolate?) or the library to pick out a new book. 

And remember, even a short walk will do your body and mind some good. Staying active is a big part of staying healthy during the colder months!

Make snowpeople

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You’d be surprised just how much work it takes to build a snowman. Seriously, if you don’t break a sweat rolling snowballs, I’m impressed! Whether there’s 2 inches or 2 feet on the ground, take advantage of the fresh snow and get in it! 

This is also a great time to play in-snow games like tracking critter prints, and make other snow creations like snow angels.

Get crafty

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While arts and crafts are usually sedentary activities, it’s easy to shake them up a bit by taking them outside! In fact, many of our favorite craft days are nature-inspired.

Whether we’re making pine cone bird feeders, driftwood/tree branch picture frames or rock “art”, each craft starts with a hike to gather our supplies (cones, sticks, rocks). 

It’s also fun to bring along a warm snack or beverage to share with the kiddos. Cracking open our insulated thermos and pouring hot (warm) chocolate or sharing a tasty soup into trail-ready mugs is never a bad thing!

Tweak old & start new traditions

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From the foods we make during the holiday season to the way we share gifts, traditions are important to so many of us. But how can we take these family-honored traditions outside to help us stay more active? For us, it is a no-brainer. Our family goes Christmas tree “hunting” every year, but rather than driving the truck up to a tree, we choose to bike it out of the woods! 

If you have access to national forest lands (or state lands in some places), you can do it too! Or, if you live in the city, grocery stores, corner lots and hardware stores all carry cut trees this time of year. Grab your bike and a trailer (or borrow one from a friend), plan ahead and make a family adventure of it! 

Get the gear

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And finally, while you don’t need all the gear, adding a few pieces to your winter kit can help boost activity levels. From skiing to biking to hiking, our family has gathered gear from second hand shops, borrowed from friends and bought new over the course of the years, and it has definitely helped us diversify our winter activities. The gear you pick depends on the activities you really want to pursue. And when you’re looking for things to do with kids in winter, the gear can definitely help. 

For us, there are three must-haves in winter: adventure-ready stroller, bike accessories, and a trail-ready sled.

First, using an enclosed stroller helps get everyone in our family outside (and keeps our crawler cozy). We chose one with ski and bike attachments so our youngest could come along no matter the activity. 

Second, for our skiing-loving, bikeaholic child, we picked up a pair of ski attachments for a balance-style bike. Biking is an easy-access activity for us; in our family, if we’re not walking, we’re pedaling. With the “bike skis”, he can push and slide along when we take the fat bikes or cross country skis on snowy trails! 

Third, when all else fails, attach a sled! We use our pulk/sled while fat biking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. It’s a great option because its fun, both of our kids (and lunch/extra gear) fit in it, and it’s lightweight!

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A Pennsylvania native and Colorado transplant, Ryan is a proud mountain mama to two wild outdoors-loving kiddos and a couple of equally wild cattle dogs. She’s also a photographer, writer and outdoorswoman. When she and her husband aren’t wrangling the pack – and more often, when they are – you’ll find them fly fishing, skiing or biking somewhere around their home in southern Colorado. 

Photography by Ryan Scavo and Sam Scavo.

Books To Inspire Outdoor Adventure

Feeling like your adventure spirit needs a jump start?

A good book is just what you need. Here’s our list of favorite books full of wonder and inspiration to get you jazzed about all the amazing things out in the natural world. There are stories of survival, of loss, redemption, and an overall celebration of Mother Nature. Pick a book or two (or all of ’em) and get reading. When you’re done, we bet you’ll be ready to pack a bag and head out on your next adventure.

The mountains are calling and I must go. ~John Muir

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac (1958)

kerouacAn semi-autobiographical novel written by Beat author Jack Kerouac, Dharma Bums recounts the story of Ray Smith (modelled after Kerouac) and his adventures as a mountaineer, hitchhiker and aspiring Buddhist. Kerouac’s characters attend poetry slams, drink too much wine and find solitude in the high Sierras and Desolation Peak in Washington State, all while seeking a greater Truth. Kerouac describes the feeling of sitting by the water on a perfect summer evening: “Happy. Just in my swim shorts, barefooted, wild-haired, in the red fire dark, singing, swigging wine, spitting, jumping, running—that’s the way to live. All alone and free in the soft sands of the beach by the sigh of the sea out there…”
 

Wild by Cheryl Strayed (2012)

wildYou’ve probably heard of this book and maybe even saw the movie, but trust us – the book is the place to start. Strayed tells the story of her 1,000+ mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail which often features flashbacks to her life before the hike. We cheer for Cheryl through her journey from grief and loss to ultimate strength and healing, and in certain ways identify with her inner struggle and the harsh realities of the trail. The PCT has seen a lot more traffic due to this book and we can understand why. “It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental.”

 

Wilderness Essays by John Muir (1980)

muirMaybe you’ve heard of Mr. John Muir. He’s kind of a big deal in the nature world, father of the National Park System and all that. He is also a great writer, and few can rival his love for the outdoors and ability to put words to feelings. Wilderness Essays is exactly what it sounds like, a collection of passionate and beautifully written essays that describe the intimate and vital connection between the human and natural world. Just like you take the time to appreciate your favorite trail, take the time to read a few of these essays. Then go one step further: Ask yourself how you can help protect and conserve the world Muir holds so dear. As he said, “I care to live only to entice people to look at Nature’s loveliness.”

A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There by Aldo Leopold (1949)

aldoLike Muir, Aldo Leopold is a conservationist with considerable writing talents. The Almanac This is a collection of Leopold’s best essays in which he advocates for the responsible relationship between people and the land. It’s a mixture of philosophy, conservation advocacy and beautiful portraits of the natural world that will inspire you to reconsider your surroundings. “No matter how intently one studies the hundred little dramas of the woods and meadows, one can never learn all the salient facts about any one of them.”

Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson (1995)

trcksYears before Cheryl Strayed was hiking the PCT, Robyn Davidson journeyed 1,700 miles across the perilous deserts of west Australia with four camels and a dog. Her journey was grueling, full of poisonous animals, scorching heat, and threatening people, as well as extraordinary courage.

Davidson demonstrates a deep love of the Australian landscape and its indigenous people, and reminds us that we are all capable of more than we might believe. “The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavour is taking the first step, making the first decision.”

 

New and Selected Poems Volumes One and Two by Mary Oliver (1993)

oliverMary Oliver is one of the most famous contemporary American poets and her poems focus mostly on her experiences in the outdoors. She reminds us of the wonder that can be found in our back yards and encourages us to live our fullest life.

When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields,
consider the orderliness of the world.
Notice something you have never noticed before,
like the tambourine sound of the snow-cricket
whose pale green body is no longer than your thumb.
Stare hard at the hummingbird, in the summer rain,
shaking the water-sparks from its wings.

Genesis by Sebastião Salgado (2013)

genesisGenesis is a collection of photographs taken by the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. Salgado spent nine years trekking across the globe to the last wild places on the earth in order to capture disappearing habitats, animals and people. The photographs are all black and white and show a world of stunning beauty, a world that “we must hold and protect.”