If you’ve been dreading a long winter trapped inside due to COVID, there’s an easy solution: get outside! Yes, it’s cold. Yes, it gets dark earlier. But there are plenty of spots to visit that’ll keep the whole family from going stir crazy, especially given what seems like endless remote learning screen time. So bundle everyone up, grab some hand warmers and head out into nature for a fun day of activity.
Hit the Slopes
The New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania area is packed with places where you can snowboard or ski for the day. If you’re a first-timer, or looking for a family-friendly locale, head to Shawnee Mountain in the Poconos’ East Stroudsburg, which offers lessons for beginners ages four and up. There are 23 trails for you to master once you’ve got the hang of it, and two terrain parks (like halfpipes) for the more adventurous members of your family. Mountain Creek in Vernon and Mt. Peter in Warwick, NY also offer something for every level with beginner’s slopes, challenging trails, lessons and terrain parks. If you’re looking for a mid-winter getaway, where you can spend a few snow-filled days outside, and snuggle by the fire inside by night, head to a resort in Vermont and New York.
If you love the idea of speeding down a mountain, but don’t want to worry about lessons, equipment or athletic ability, try snow tubing. This easy activity is an updated version of sledding only you hop on a giant inflatable tube instead. The best part? People movers (like at the airport, but on a hill) or tow rigs (where you sit in the tube and are attached to a chain) will bring you up the mountain so you don’t have to climb a hill every time. It’s all the downhill fun with none of the effort! Most ski resorts offer this, including the ones mentioned above, plus Camelback Mountain, in Tannersville, PA, which frequently offers Galactic tubing, a nighttime version filled with LED lights and total fun.
Tap Some Trees
If you get the mid-winter blues in late-January and February, treat yourself to one of the sweetest activities around. Spots like the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center in Chatham or Tenafly Nature Center in Tenafly offer weekly maple sugaring events during the height of the season, where you can walk into the woods, learn to tap a tree and see how maple syrup is made. You’ll get to eat a sweet maple treat when you’re done tree tapping. It’s fun for all ages, including toddlers. Make sure to bundle up and wear warm boots. Even if there isn’t snow, it can be pretty muddy and slippery in the woods.
Take a Hike
Speaking of the woods, winter is a great time to get some outdoor hiking in. It does have its challenges though, since you’ll need to be more prepared for the weather. Dress in layers (and always pack extra) and make sure to have a backpack with plenty of water (you’ll need to remind everyone to stay hydrated even in the cold temps). Make it a game to be vigilant about looking for trail signs on trees, since paths are harder to find when covered with leaves or snow. It isn’t a great time to tackle a huge mountain hike if there are snow drifts (unless you’ve got snowshoes), but nature trails make for lots of family-friendly fun. Head to spots like the Pochuck Boardwalk in Vernon Township, the Teaneck Creek Conservancy in Teaneck, Duke Farms in Hillsborough or Institute Woods in Princeton. All offer relatively easy but scenic walks that are beautiful and less crowded during colder months. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a Hallmark movie.
Strap on Your Skates
Ice skating outdoors is the ultimate winter activity, but unless you’re familiar with a pond, and know its depth, or it’s run and maintained by the town, don’t head out on to random bodies of water. Instead, look to visit outdoor skating rinks like Mackay Ice Rink in Englewood, which is open air, but has a roof, Newport Skates in Jersey City, which has a beautiful view of the city or Roosevelt Park Family Skating Rink in Edison with a lake view. All typically open in December, weather permitting. Check for restrictions or changes due to COVID. Looking for more indoor/outdoor ice skating options? Here’s our list of where to go.