This winter is looking a little different for many of us. No large family gatherings, no bonfires with hot toddies at our local ski resorts, and no major traveling for this season. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy what Vermont has to offer you in nature: beautiful and affordable, even free, activities!
The Vermont State Parks system has been serving the community since 1933. And for the past 88 years, the people of Vermont have been able to enjoy cultivated areas of Vermont and outdoor recreation offered by our state parks.
If you’re from Vermont, or even the surrounding New England states, I’m sure you’ll be familiar with these free or cost-effective winter activities.
ACTIVITY #1: HIKING
Many of Vermont’s hiking trails are free to access, especially in the winter months. Some of my personal favorite hikes are Camel’s Hump in Duxbury, Wheeler Mountain in Sutton, and the Owls Head and Silver Ledge trails in Groton State Forest. When hiking during the winter months, consider bringing ski poles or hiking poles to help you support yourself on slippery terrain. You may also want to wear boots with a heavy tread or attach winter grips for extra traction.
ACTIVITY #2: WINTER CAMPING
During the summer months, thousands of people go camping in our green state, taking advantage of drive-in campsites, remote camping, and lean-to’s. However, not many people have considered the serene experience of winter camping. For some, it’s exactly what they need to escape from reality and enjoy the winter season—bundling up for cooler temperatures, pitching a tent inside a lean-to for an extra wind barrier, building a warm bonfire, and gazing up at the stars on a clear night.
Vermont State Parks offer off-season camping to those of us who want that exact encounter with nature. Off-season camping is available at no cost to you from November 1 through April 1. For safety reasons, your only requirement is to apply for a permit to be on state lands. If this sounds like a great idea to you, my best tips for heading out into the snow are to dress warmly, pay attention to the weather, bring plenty of firewood, and make sure your sleeping bag is for sub-zero temperatures. And don’t forget the hot cocoa!
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ACTIVITY #3: SNOWSHOEING
People have been able to enjoy snowshoeing in the Green Mountains of Vermont for years. For an insider’s look into Vermont’s best places to go snowshoeing, I reached out to Vermont State Parks marketing and communications manager Rochelle Skinner.
“One of my favorite things to do in the parks in the wintertime is to take a snowshoe around Kettle Pond or Osmore Pond in the Groton State Forest,” said Skinner. “The trails around the ponds are easy and scenic. For extra fun, pack in some wood or a camp stove and have a picnic in one of the lakeside’s remote lean-tos.”
While this activity does require that you’re equipped with snowshoes, there’s no need to buy when you can rent! Places like the Dashney Nordic Center in East Burke, Vermont rent snowshoes for as little as $5 for a half-day and $10 for a full day. What a steal! For those outside of the Northeast Kingdom, there are other snowshoe rentals and even snowshoe tours located all around the state, including Catamount Outdoor Family Center in Williston, the Viking Nordic Center in Londonderry, and the Nordic Center at Stratton Mountain.
Keep in mind that centers may or may not be open due to weather or a lack of snowfall. Always remember to call ahead!
ACTIVITY #4: CROSS COUNTRY SKIING
Having lived in the south as a child, I haven’t cross country skied since the Tennessee snowfall of 1995. Skinner mentioned that one great spot for cross country skiing is Jamaica State Park. The West River Rail Trail is flat and follows the West River. It’s perfect for beginners or those looking to see a lovely landscape.
ACTIVITY #5: SLEDDING
For those of us who still have a playful spirit, or those of us with children, sledding (or snow tubing!) is always a fun winter activity. Mt. Philo State Park is an excellent place for intermediate sledding and offers exceptional views of Lake Champlain as a bonus.
ACTIVITY #6: ICE SKATING
Most towns in Vermont have dedicated recreational areas that are shoveled or plowed for everyone to enjoy free ice skating. Here in St. Johnsbury, Four Seasons Park on Winter Street and Fred Mold Park on Concord Avenue are two popular ice skating locations. For more information on ice skating in other regions of Vermont, check out these articles from Seven Days and the Burlington Free Press.
ACTIVITY #7: WAITING FOR SPRING
For those who don’t particularly like the cold, waiting for spring is also a great winter activity! While the snow falls outside, you can nestle up next to a fire with a hot drink and a good book, cozy up on the couch to watch a movie or schedule a game night over Zoom. It all counts!
For more ideas on what to do and places to go, ask your friends and family, check out the Vermont State Parks Winter Activities Page, and reach out to your local recreational department for fun and affordable winter activities.
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