Much of this time of the year is spent with friends and family. From the days before and after Thanksgiving to the end of the year with Christmas and New Years, there is ample opportunity to take an afternoon or full day and spend it catching up with the valued people in your life. What better way to spend that free time than in the outdoors, but the cold temperatures and snow fall can easily persuade everyone that it is a better idea to stay indoors. Well we’re here to get you motivated and off the couch so you can make full use of the holidays, and don’t worry, you can always start a fire in the fireplace after you get back home in the evening. Here are some ideas for winter day trips.

Winter Hikes

Some of the most rewarding hikes actually take place in the winter. The colder temperatures can quiet the landscape, and a light snowfall can provide a feeling of solitude unmatched by any other hike. There is also a chance to see fresh, untouched snow, giant icicles and the animals still active in winter like birds, deer, and others. Many worry about the possibility of getting cold on a winter hike, but the continual movement of a hike will keep you warmer than you might expect. A good thermos of coffee, tea or hot chocolate never hurts either. Don’t forget about bringing plenty of water too as a winter hike will actually demand more water for hydration than a summer hike. Choose your location carefully, and since winter travel is usually slower, a short trail is more than enough for most hikers.

If you live in environments where the snowfall is more substantial, consider trying out snowshoeing. While it can be a workout, it is far less of one than tromping through thick snow in your boots. Snowshoeing is also a way to explore winter environments as an alternative to skiing. Cross country skiing is another option for winter travel, but it is a bit more advanced than snowshoeing as far as technique and gear required goes.

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However you’re setting out on a winter hike, you should have a good day pack, waterproof boots, and a reliable method to transport a decent amount of water before you head off. Quality outerwear, gloves and a warm stocking cap are must-haves as well. Finally, if you want a bit more traction than your boots provide, you can pack a pair of crampons for especially slippery terrain. There’s no need to get a pair of aggressive crampons for a winter day hike though, the smaller strap on models will more than meet your needs.

Ice Fishing

Ice fishing is one of the most popular winter activities for outdoor enthusiasts, and it can range from a simple afternoon of casual fishing into a substantial trip to an ice fishing hut depending on where you live. Safety is always the most important aspect of ice fishing, and you’ll need to ensure the ice can hold your weight before ever venturing out onto it. An extended period of freezing temperatures is a prerequisite for any ice fishing outing, and some areas of the country, particularly the northern parts of the country, will be far more friendly for regular ice fishing. 1800Gear contributor Robin Follette wrote a detailed guide on ice fishing, and we recommend reading it before considering this activity: Ice Fishing – Cold Weather Tradition.

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As for gear, ice fishing requires thick, waterproof apparel since you’ll be working near the snow and ice for several hours, and waterproof gloves are very wise to have when drilling through the ice. In addition you’ll need an ice fishing rod and reel and tackle to go along with it, and an auger, either hand or gas powered, will help you get through the ice. Those who are serious about ice fishing may consider a portable ice fishing shelter for longer outings as well. Finally, don’t forget some good, strong rope for a safety line. If you end up fishing farther from shore, have a throw line handy so it can be thrown to anyone who might fall in.

Rabbit Hunting

While the availability of this activity will be limited by the season and the health of the rabbit population in your area, rabbit hunting conjures up images of trudging through the snow, kicking brush and trying to drive rabbits from their hiding places. This is a good activity for several people, and it provides a serious workout even if you only hunt for a couple hours. Make sure to practice proper firearm safety when hunting, and never shoot at a rabbit unless all other members of your party are clear.

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Rabbit hunting requires a reliable shotgun, good boots to walk several miles in, and a game vest to hold any rabbits you may harvest while out. As far as clothing goes, you’ll want to balance staying warm with being able to walk several miles. Shooting gloves are a good idea for younger hunters or those who still want to handle a shotgun while keeping their hands warm.

Christmas Tree Hunting

This activity is a great one to do between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it is far more rewarding than driving to a local Christmas tree lot and haggling with the tree salesman. A Christmas tree hunt is something the whole family can enjoy, and it can double as a good day hike option in many areas. You’ll want to make sure you have permission to harvest a tree or that it is allowed in the area, and you’ll need a good saw to get the job done. A good Christmas tree isn’t too big or too small, but you’ll likely find that choosing the “right” tree can be a daunting task if you’re too much of a perfectionist. Instead try to remember that a wild tree isn’t going to be perfect, and whatever you come back with will be just fine.

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Gloves, warm hats and good outwear will be important to bring along on this adventure, and hardy boots and snow pants are wise if the snow is going to be thick around the trees. The difference with tree hunting and hiking is that tree hunting usually takes place away from the trail. You should expect the going to be a bit tougher and the snow deeper than other places when you go.

Clay Shooting / Rifle Range

Plinking and shooting clay pigeons is just for the warmer months, right? In fact, this can be a year-round activity, and a day at the range can be just as pleasurable in the snow as it is on a sunny, warm day. Your provisions will have to be a bit different, and a thermos of warm coffee or tea will be nice to retreat to when the chill sets in. While you can expect these winter outings at the range (or field) to be shorter than summer sessions, they are still worth doing, especially if you’re just looking to get out of the house or you don’t get a chance to shoot with friends and family very often.

Bring all your typical range gear including gun cases, ear and eye protection, etc., and make sure to bundle up with warm clothes since you’ll be doing less moving around than the other activities listed above. The good news is you can always retreat to your vehicle parked close by if you get cold.

Images one and thumb, two and three courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.