Winter Hiking in the Blue Ridge
Sunlight, even winter sunlight, and fresh air offer many health benefits. Popular trails see less traffic in winter, and the absence of leaves on the trees gives a new perspective on the world. Animal tracks can be seen readily in snow and winter mud. Plants and wildflowers reveal different stages in their cycle of life. My daughter and I love to discover dried seed pods, interesting rocks, growth patterns on downed logs, lichens. The skeletal shape of an oak or walnut or other deciduous trees have a symmetry and shapeliness that is unsurpassed. Even patterns of frost on a muddy embankment can add interest. The winter landscape is beautiful in its way.
With some simple precautions, you and you family can enjoy these lovely ridges and forests all year long. Some tips:
1. Always tell someone where you are going and how long you plan to be gone.
2. Before you leave, check on the area you plan to visit—in severe weather, the Blue Ridge Parkway and other national and state parks may close to traffic. On milder days the agencies that manage trails can guide you to the best conditions. Keep in mind that park facilities might be closed for the season even when trails are open (meaning restroom facilities may night be available). Walks along a closed and snowy Parkway can afford some breathtaking scenery and stunning photography.
3. Dress in layers. As you go along, you might become warmer than you realize. Even so, peeling off layers is always preferred to being underdressed and cold.
4. Wear footwear appropriate for the weather—waterproof boots and warm socks. You might even consider bringing an extra pair of socks just in case.
5. Carry a small daypack with additional supplies: a mini flashlight, small first aid kit, extra layers, matches in a waterproof container, an emergency whistle. Consider an emergency blanket that folds into a small package in case you get lost and have to stay warm.
6. Bring lip balm or petroleum jelly to soothe chapped lips and faces.
7. Be sure to carry water and snacks for energy. Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you won’t get hot, thirsty, or hungry.
8. Don’t forget your camera. You’re sure to find some new and interesting shots.
Of course, among the many rewards of winter hikes, one of my favorites is…coming home to a warm fire, a hot drink, thick socks, a warm blanket, and a nice memory!
Images by Wesley J. Satterwhite