Couple snowshoeing in a blizzard

How to have a safe winter hike

During the snowy season, parks can feel like our own personal winter wonderlands. Meandering through snow-covered trails and frozen forests can make an awesome day in the outdoors.

Here’s how to have a fun and safe time on your frosty foray:

Dress appropriately

The most important safety tip for winter hiking is making sure you are dressed appropriately for the weather.

Family smiles in the snow

Like any winter outdoor activity, it’s all about layering. Start with a good base layer, add a mid-layer, and then a shell on top. You can always take off a layer as you warm up during your hike. You should feel slightly chilly before you start moving.

Don’t forget to cover your head and neck as well! You’ll also need sturdy, waterproof footwear with a good tread.

Gear up

Here are a few suggested items to bring along while on your hike:

Flashlight or head lamp: it gets dark earlier in the winter, so bring a light source along with you just in case. You don’t want to get stuck on a dark trail with no light!

Extra clothing: bring a puffy jacket or extra layers in your pack in case you get cold.

Smart phone: having a cell phone is important in case you have an emergency while on the trail. Plus, you can document your hike with photos! Make sure to protect your battery from the cold by keeping your phone close to your body heat.

Hand warmers: these can make all the difference on a cold day. Try sticking some in your boots as well!

Snowshoes: snowshoes are a great option for areas with deep snow and unpacked trails. In northern Ontario, snowshoes are a must for accessing trails with deep snow.

Plan accordingly

Hiking in the winter is more challenging than in the summer. You may not be able to hike as far in the cold and snow. Plan to start with a shorter hike to gauge your ability.

Forested trail in the winter

You should also start your hike early in the day.

Walking through the snow may slow you down, and you want to leave with plenty of time before dark.

Be sure to check the weather conditions before you hit the trail. No one likes hiking in a blizzard!

Know your park

Man and woman looking at trail map in winter

Make sure to look over a map of the park before you head out, or bring one along for good measure. As you walk along the trail, pay attention to all of the signage you see.

You should also check in with park staff before you head out. They can let you know about what facilities are available, and what areas of the park are best for a winter hike.

Fuel up

Winter hiking is hard work! You’ll be burning tons of calories throughout your hike. Make sure to bring a snack to refuel.

Woman eating taffy

Don’t forget to bring lots of water as well. Hydration is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer. You may not realize how much you are sweating during a winter hike.

Bring a buddy

It’s safer not to hike alone during the winter. Plus, hiking with a group is always more fun! Bring along your friends and family for an enjoyable and healthy winter activity.

Group of three standing over lookout in winter

Don’t have a friend available? Make sure you let someone know where you’re going, what route you’re following, and what time you’ll be back before you head out.

Watch your feet!

Stay away from slippery surfaces and fast moving water.

Bridge over river in winter

Avoid travelling on ice unless absolutely necessary. Remember that ice needs to be at least four inches thick to walk on!

Time outside is good for you all-year-round, so take a hike this winter!

Not a hiker? There are lots of other ways to stay active in the cold!