Getting Prepared for a winter hike in the PA Wilds
There’s a lot to love about winter.
Cozy nights by the fireplace, scenic drives through Pennsylvania’s back roads, and of course, snow days during those great Pennsylvania storms.
But one of the things I love most about winter in Pennsylvania? Getting out on the trail.
Winter hiking, for me, is sometimes even more invigorating than an adventure in the other, milder seasons. There’s just something about the crisp air filling your lungs and the extra challenge of walking in the snow.
Things to know about winter hiking
Conditions can change on you, and fast
I recall a winter hike with my husband on an extremely mild day. While this particular hike wasn’t in the Pennsylvania Wilds, we started our hike in layers but quickly were down to short sleeves because of the sunshine and high-ish temperatures. I almost went back to the car to ditch some layers and gear that I thought were overkill.
I’m glad I didn’t.
Further up the mountain, the temperature dropped significantly, the trail was covered in snow, and the extremely rocky terrain in Central Pennsylvania was covered in sheets of ice. Due to the rough conditions, a hike that we expected would take us about 2 hours took us almost 5.
To this day, I say that I would have had to call a helicopter to rescue me had I not had my Yaktrax in my hiking pack — ice cleats that I take with me everywhere in the winter.
Having the right gear is important
Speaking of Yaktrax, winter hiking is usually more than just a walk in the woods — and it’s important to be prepared for what the elements might bring you.
While hiking in the winter, layers are extremely important, as are boots with great traction or ice cleats to add to your current boots.
Other items to include in your pack include water, protein-filled snacks, and extra gloves and hats.
Be prepared to share the forest
While hunters are out exploring the Wilds in many seasons, you should expect to share the forest more with hunters in the winter months.
During the regular firearm deer season in Pennsylvania, hunters and other forest visitors must wear at least 250 square inches of hunter orange on their heads, chests, and backs. The requirements change during different seasons.
I always wear a hunter orange fleece hat as well as a vest that fits over my winter coat. If you’re hiking with your four-legged friends, it’s important to get a hunter orange safety vest for them, as well.
Wilds-lovers weigh in on winter hiking spots
My all-time favorite hike in the Pennsylvania Wilds, no matter the season, is the Star Mill Trail at Black Moshannon State Park. It’s a short and easy hike, making it perfect for winter conditions, especially if you want to get some time on the trail in before darkness falls after a workday.
While I’m partial to any hike in Black Moshannon, I asked my followers on Instagram to weigh in on their favorite PA Wilds spots to visit in the winter. The Cathedral Forest at Cook Forest State Park and the lakeside trails at Bald Eagle State Park were among the responses.
Remember, the PA Wilds is home to more than 1,600 miles of hiking trails. No matter your skill level, you can try out a winter hike this season. Get out and explore!
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