Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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Find a Trail: Hike to stomp all over winter’s blues

Winter’s wonderland awaits the adventurous. (Photos by Jerry Bush)

The snow glistens as the sun’s rays land on its surface. The blinding white powder contrasts with the underside of evergreen trees standing against a deep blue sky.

The air is crisp and clear as if it is being forced through a filter before re-entering my surroundings and then my lungs.

While evaluating tracks on an apparently busy game trail, an antlerless white-tailed deer suddenly leaps from its bed and bounds through the forest ahead.

Aluminum frame snowshoes (left) can be purchased for less than $100, but the author enjoys the nostalgia of hiking on top of deep snow with wooden-framed snowshoes.

Instead of moaning because I blew a shot opportunity, I grin at the event. A few weeks earlier, my reaction would have been quite different, but all of Pennsylvania’s hunting seasons had concluded, so a fleeing deer was amusing rather than distressing.

On this day, I am hiking completely free of extracurricular challenges. I am in the woods for no other reason than to enjoy being outdoors.

I lived in the snow-belt area of Erie County for more than half of a century, so I know snow can wear out even the strongest legs.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the hunter in my soul will ignore the opportunity to perform a little post-season scouting in the process.

Most Pennsylvania residents only tolerate winter. In my humble opinion, they don’t realize what they are missing.

As children, most of us anxiously anticipated snowy landscapes, but for some reason, those childhood feelings leave adults.

Yes, I am aware some ice-fishing is enjoyed by diehard anglers, but that accounts for fewer than a few percent of the fishermen who participate in spring and summer.

I am also aware that enthusiasts of all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles enjoy winter weather, but many of us find those activities expensive.

As for hunting, well, let’s face it; after the primitive weapons season ends in mid-January, few hunters will access Keystone State forests before May, when spring gobbler season arrives.

Skiing is popular in some areas of the state, but it is not cheap. Hiking is the most modestly priced activity for outdoor enthusiasts who want to immerse themselves in nature.

Family hikes in the Keystone State from mid-January through mid-March are special. If you have children or grandchildren, get up and get going!

If you wonder what a child’s reaction will be to the suggestion of a winter hike, you need only pay attention when they gaze through a windowpane and spot a few white flakes in the air. In most instances, young hiking mates are available for the asking.

This is a great opportunity for sportsmen and women to expose youngsters to the forests and provide young minds with detailed lessons about wildlife and nature. Visual aids are everywhere, making the venture more interesting for kids.

Teaching is relaxed when you’re not scolding them to move slower or speak softer because you are intent on seeing game animals. If they get cold, you can encourage them to turn up the thermostat in the natural furnaces our Creator gave them.

“Run! Go ahead and run! You’ll be warm in no time!”

To create memories they’ll cherish forever, take along a thermos filled with hot cocoa. Even if they grow up and move to someplace warm, they’ll never forget.

If you are a hunter looking for an excuse, winter hikes can be combined with the activity of scouting.

Snow provides a great opportunity to observe game trails and can be especially useful to locate areas holding turkey populations. The birds are likely to be there in the spring.

No snow? No big deal!

Many Pennsylvania trails run along creeks and rivers, which offer special regulation trout fishing waters. You may catch one or two, or you might get skunked.

As all fishermen know, there’s a lot that goes with fishing that has nothing to do with catching. Make sure you know which special regulations are in effect on the stream you access, but a trout caught in winter is truly something to behold.

Many designated trails are truly more desirable to hike when cold weather prevails because hundreds of Pennsylvania trails are carved through low-lying, wet areas.

The mosquito population that persists along some of these pathways makes them nearly impenetrable for most people in summer.

It may not be 90 degrees, but your body still needs to be hydrated. (Photo by Jerry Bush)

Regardless of which insect repellent is being used (and I’ve used many), the little pests will turn you around after trekking just a few hundred yards when the weather is warm.

Snowy scenes are more interesting anyway, and it’s easier to appreciate the experience without sweat pouring down your face.

I lived in the snow-belt area of Erie County for more than half of a century, so I know snow can wear out even the strongest legs.

The answer is an old one – snowshoes! I still use the old-fashioned, wooden ones, but modern, lightweight aluminum snowshoes are inexpensive and very easy to use.

Many are priced under $100 and include a pair of trekking poles.

Walking on snow is much easier than stepping, sinking, and stepping again. If you live in areas known for snowfall and purchase a pair of snowshoes, you will find yourself anticipating your next winter hike.

It’s great exercise and there’s a special satisfaction that comes from being out and about while others are huddled up and hating winter.

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