Just because the days are shorter and colder, doesn’t mean opportunities to be active are gone until spring. Our area offers a number of ways to get out, whether by foot, snowshoe or ice skate.
Walks and Hikes
Hitting the trails is something that can be done any time of year, and local groups, like Pittsburgh-based Venture Outdoors, are making that easier than ever with scheduled outings that range from high intensity fitness hikes to more laid-back events where you can take in the sights of the season.
A great example of that is the group’s Twelfth Night Hike, to be held 2 p.m. Jan. 7 at North Park in Allison Park. Guides will share the history of Twelfth Night and the hike will conclude with a visit to the nearby Tuscan Inn for a wine tasting.
Among other Venture Outdoor hikes is a Topsy-Turvy hike through Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhoods at 6 p.m. on Jan. 5.
Other organized local hiking takes place at several local parks. North Park hosts a weekly one for adults every Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon. No registration is required. The group meets up at the Kummer Road ice skating rink parking lot.
And for the youngest crowd and their parents, The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania offers its Wonderful Winter events at its nature reserves, like Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve in Fox Chapel.
Ice Skating and Snowshoeing
You can lace up your skates or strap on your snowshoes and head out to any number of local parks and outdoor ice skating rinks.
North and South Parks have outdoor ice skating rinks. Both offer free and paid lessons to those ages 5 and up. Another great place for ice skating is Pittsburgh itself.
The PPG Plaza downtown offers a rink that’s actually larger than the one in New York’s Rockefeller Center and, during the holiday season, features a large Christmas tree.
January through March, the rink will offer specials like Student I.D. night on Wednesdays and Family Night Tuesdays.
For more skating excitement, you can also head on over to the Schenley Skating Rink on Overlook Drive. One of its fun upcoming events is a Jan. 14 mascot skate, where a whole host of Pittsburgh characters like the Pirate Parrot will take to the ice from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.
Snowshoeing is another way to get out in the winter—weather-permitting, of course. Venture Outdoors offers a number of lessons and group outings beginning in early January. North Park’s Latodami Nature Center will host a snowshoe hike at 2 p.m. Jan. 8.
Skiing and Tubing
Whether it’s downhill or cross country, you don’t have to go far for skiing in the Pittsburgh area.
Just past Monroeville in Plum Borough, Boyce Park offers all the fun of a ski resort without the distance. It includes slopes for beginning and intermediate level skiers as well as snowboarding and snow tubing.
When you’re ready to warm up, head into the Four Seasons Lodge which features a fireplace and a great view of the slopes, as well as food and drinks.
Equipment rental, lessons and night skiing are all available at Boyce.
Wild Mountain Snow Tubing at Wildwood Highlands, near North Park, is another great place to go for a snowy good time for the entire family. Its regular season runs Jan. 1 until March.
If you prefer cross-country skiing, it’s available at several parks, among them Boyce and South Park, where a moonlight outing is planned for 7 p.m. Jan. 28 and another, Feb. 25 at the same time.
For beginners, Venture Outdoors offers a Level 1 cross country skiing class from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 7 at Kooser State Park, with a stop along the way to rent equipment, if needed.
Tips on having a good, safe time
Two local groups—Venture Outdoors and the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania—weigh in on having a great time and staying safe.
"There's so many city and county parks that you can enjoy just within our region," said Rob Walters, Venture Outdoors membership director.
"Once January hits, there's no reason you can't get out and enjoy western Pennsylvania. You can only stay in the house so much."
When you head out, Walters suggested, wear synthetic and breathable clothing with anti-moisture wicking. Such fabrics have increased dramatically in quality over recent years, he said, and they'll keep you warm and dry.
Avoid cotton, which tends to stay wet when you sweat.
Also, Walters said, go to places you're comfortable with and get an earlier start than you would in warmer months because it gets darker faster.
Rachel Handel, spokesperson for the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, suggests taking precautions, as well.
"In winter, trails may be more difficult to identify because of snow," she said, "so be sure that you have a trail map or are familiar with where you're going before you head out."
She also suggested having a GPS-equipped smart phone in case you get off the beaten path and need to find your way.
It's not just fun and excitement that you can find in the wintertime.
“Being outside in the winter can be incredibly peaceful,” Handel said, adding that there’s opportunity to see birds you might otherwise miss in the spring or summer when hidden by leaves.
A bald eagle was spotted earlier in December flying over Beechwood Farms Reserve.
"It's magical moments like that one that reaffirm the notion that it's great to be outdoors in all seasons," she said.
What other winter activities do you suggest local families check out? Tell us in the comments.