Each year, I eagerly anticipate the days growing shorter, the hush that falls over the land as the trees lose their leaves, the animals go quiet, and the first frosty white flakes falling from the sky. Winter is by far my favorite season. It casts a spell on me and enchants my heart, igniting a sense of wonder that makes me feel like a child. I am fully aware that this is an unpopular opinion when it comes to this season.
Science has shown us time and time again that there are a multitude of physical, mental, and emotional health benefits to getting outdoors and into nature. (This blog provides several of our blogs and other articles about the benefits of time outdoors.) Unfortunately, due to shorter days, difficult travel conditions, and colder temperatures, spending time outside falls off the priority list for many people during this season. When we let this habit of getting outside slip, we also say goodbye to all the health benefits and start feeling pretty curmudgeonly about the season.
So what is there to love about winter to motivate you to spend time outdoors this season?
It Awakens All Your Senses
Time spent in nature during the winter awakens your senses and engages your imagination. I feel giddy when I wake up to fresh snow. As I take that first step outside into the freezing winter air, my nostrils sting and my cheeks prickle, but I instantly feel so alive. The air smells so clean and crisp and has a slight metallic taste to it as you trudge through the deep snow, which keeps you warm with exerted effort. The woods are quiet and less traveled, leaving a peaceful serenity and room for thought.
Let your mind wander as you meander through the snow-blanketed landscape. What made that tree grow with that curve in its trunk? Who lives in this hole in this oak? How many different animals have sought shelter from winter in this hollow? When there are noises, they travel far through the crisp winter air, without being hindered by summer’s thick vegetation. The sound of great horned and barred owls boom from the dark woods. Coyotes or wolves howling from a distance will stop you in your tracks on an evening walk.
Embracing getting outdoors in the dark is a big part of falling in love with winter. Stepping outside on a dark, cold winter’s night lights a fire in your heart. Whether it’s a moonless night where bright stars fill the sky bursting from the Milky Way or a night where the moon reflects off the snow so brightly you don’t need a light to wander through the woods, there is magic to be found. Your eyes strain to see the shadowy outlines of trees and catch flashes of rabbits disappearing into thickets. Each sense is firing information to your brain, which is fully engaging with what surrounds you.
It’s Double the Workout in Half the Time
As soon as there’s a bit of snow on the ground in winter, your outdoor exercise routines soon count for double. Each morning, I take my dog on the same walk around a loop in our woods. In summer, this takes me 15 minutes tops and I don’t break a sweat. In winter, it can easily become a cardiovascular feat. With 6+” of snow on the ground, I come back looking like I just ran a marathon. Trudging through deep snow is hard work, whether you’re walking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. Snowshoeing burns up to 45% more calories than walking on similar terrain. It’s a fantastic aerobic exercise, great for weight loss and muscle building!
You Can Explore Places You Can’t in Other Times of the Year
Winter is the time to get out and explore areas that you can’t during the warmer months! This might be safely exploring frozen rivers or lakes. (If you’re not sure if the ice is safe, don’t risk it! There are organizations, hiking clubs, and state parks that can help with these excursions!) My favorite is exploring wetlands, bogs, cedar swamps, and seasonally flooded forests that are usually too mucky to explore in summer!
Your Favorite Places Have Less People
Just because I’m exploring new places in winter, doesn’t mean I’m not exploring my summer favorites, too. Trails that I love hiking in summer, but have to share with 20-30 others, become barren in winter. Often, I have the whole place to myself, free to explore at a snail's pace, stopping to look at every little thing, and hogging all the best photo opportunities.
Snow Creates an Ever-Changing Puzzle
Each walk in nature turns into a grand adventure, solving the mysteries of the woodland by understanding the tracks left behind by wildlife passing through. A walk after a recent snow is a pure delight. You can see a fox’s meandering tracks stopping to sniff and mark their territory or find them abruptly turning as they catch the scent of prey. Squirrel tracks dart from tree to tree. Cottontail rabbits will wear well-worn paths through the snow, from protected areas to favorite grazing spots. If they’ve been eating buckthorn, you’ll know from blue urine stains on the snow! Otters alternate between galloping and sliding across the snow. Mice have an entire network of underground tunnels but occasionally pop up above the surface or cross over trails before tunneling back into their subnivean lairs. Follow deer tracks and trails through the woods to protected areas spotted with melted ovals in the snow from where they have lain. Each day, the tracks get harder and harder to distinguish as they layer on top of one another until a new snow falls, and the puzzle begins all over again.
The Sunsets Are Spectacular
Winter sunsets are truly something to marvel at. Near winter solstice, the sun takes much longer to set due to its low position in the sky. In addition, the dry air of winter leads to more “spectral purity” (or less scattering of light) than the humid air of summer, making colors more intense. Plus, winter often has well-defined cloud systems. These three factors combine to make winter sunsets long, dramatic, and bright – a trifecta of beauty!
Cozy Endings to Adventurous Days
There is nothing better than returning from a winter adventure to find a warm cozy spot, perhaps by a fire, and to treat yourself for all that hard work of trekking in winter. Enjoy a cup of cocoa, cider, or tea as you snuggle up with a warm blanket and a book, a sketch journal for what you saw, a knitting project, or some other screen-free activity to seal in the benefits! After all, part of the magic of winter comes from resting and rejuvenating before the busyness of spring.
Visit our previous blogs for tips on getting outside in winter, the benefits of including time in nature in your New Year’s resolution, or a book review of There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather.