Winter's Children: 5 tips from AMC family trip leaders

Ever hear these words? I'm cold. Why are we doing this? I lost my mittens!

If you have, you know the special challenges of being outdoors with children in the winter. How do we encourage hesitant children — and perhaps ourselves — to enjoy the cold air, snow, and even the freezing rain? AMC family trip leaders have lots of experience with this question, and some tips to help answer it. (See below for links to specific recommendations for child-friendly winter outings.)

Explore close to home. "We stay a little more local in the winter," says AMC Boston Chapter family trips leader Heather DePaola, who is mother of Mckinlee, age 3. Last winter, DePaola carried her daughter in a backpack, but discovered that she kept taking off her mittens. Instead of the longer hikes that DePaola had imagined, mother and daughter took advantage of trails near their home in Dover, MA, maintained by The Trustees of Reservations. One of their favorite walks goes through the Noanet Woodlands, a 600-acre preserve dotted with little ponds, to the top of a hill with an expansive view of Boston's skyline. "She's a little better about wearing mittens this year," DePaola says, but they will continue exploring local places.

Be flexible. Pick walks or hikes that give options for bailing out or changing course along the way. "We look for short, point-to-point hikes," says Linda Dallas, a member of the Delaware Valley Chapter, "and hikes that we can shorten" by taking different routes back to the car.

Make it an outing. Debra Rich looks for ways to motivate children on the trips she leads for AMC's Connecticut Chapter. "If I just lead them through the woods, they're going to be asking, 'What's the point? Why are we doing this?'" The castle that looks as if it belongs on a Harry Potter movie set in Sleeping Giant State Park in Easton, CT, is a favorite destination of Rich's 8-year-old son, Zachary. John Urick, Delaware Valley Chapter trip leader, notes, "It's always good to stop for ice cream" — even in winter.

Dress for success. "The key to winter hiking is adjusting layers," says Urick. It's hard enough for adults to dress so that they don't overheat or get cold, he notes, and even harder with young kids. "You don't want them to have a miserable experience and not want to do it anymore."

Dallas sometimes "borrows kids" to encourage her 6-year-old daughter, Sadie, on their winter treks. Some of those young friends show up without the basics, like warm boots. She keeps a stash of extra winter clothing for such situations. "I've learned that plastic bread wrappers work almost as well as wool" in keeping cotton-clad feet warm.

Gear — hiking poles, hand warmers, traction devices — can make winter hikes safer, more fun, and motivating, too. And one piece of "gear" that never fails: a thermos of hot chocolate.

Take advantage of the season. The Dallas family prefers to hike the Tekening Trail in Martin's Creek, PA, during the winter months because "all the ticks are dead then." At the same time, they can watch for ducks and other migratory waterfowl on the Delaware River, which winds along one side of the trail. They also make regular winter pilgrimages to Ricketts Glen State Park, in Benton, PA, which is known for its many waterfalls. The park often closes longer trails during the winter, but Dallas has discovered that her family can reach one of the falls by hiking only about 100 yards in from the road. They've taken to calling that special place "Icicle Heaven."

Toward the end of winter, visit maple sugaring operations. Such outings reassure children and parents alike that winter won't last forever — and sugar on snow is a treat that kids will remember long after. Later this month, Rich will lead a "Sugar Maple Hike" in Naugatuck State Park for the Connecticut Chapter. She's planned a 45-minute hike that starts and ends near an operating sugar shack. There will even be an outdoor petting zoo. And of course she'll bring hot chocolate — and maybe marshmallows, too.

Read more "Best Winter Walks with Children" lists from AMC trip leaders over the next week on the "Great Kids, Great Outdoors" blog.

Learn more
- Noanet Woodlands, Dover, MA
- Tekening Trail, Martin's Creek, PA
- Ricketts Glen State Park, Benton, PA
- Sugar Maple Hike, Naugatuck State Park
- You can also view a complete Family Outdoor Resource Guide on AMC's website.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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