Winter Hiking & Other Free Frolics for Surviving February in Vermont

Sure, Vermont is known for its world-class alpine skiing and snowboarding. And rightly so. But for a substantial proportion of Vermonters, dropping a few hundred bucks for a family day at the slopes is prohibitive. Fortunately, Vermont’s landscape offers plenty of opportunities for free or low-cost frolicking – even in deep-freeze February. Many of them are probably right in your own backyard. You just need to know where to look.

For some of us, bundling up for outdoor fun in the deep freeze of Vermont’s notoriously long winter is daunting. Others find it exhilarating, reveling in the bracing cold, deep snow, and sparkling ice. Wherever you are on the spectrum of winter love (or hate), getting outside is a great mood-booster. After all, diving under your down comforter and not coming out till May – tempting though it may seem on that frosty 20-below morning – is probably not the best strategy for surviving winter in Vermont. Sorry, but comforter-diving doesn’t count toward your daily exercise goals.

Need inspiration? Watch this short video with clinical psychologist Cath Burns, Ph.D. clinical supervisor for COVID Support VT and quality director for Vermont Care Partners.

Shaving Costs off Winter Thrills

Downhill skiing or riding is of course one way to get a good winter workout, even if affordability is a barrier. Plenty of Vermont families have found ways to give their kids the experience without breaking the budget. School-based programs in partnership with local slopes increase access to lessons and lifts. Shopping ski-swaps or end-of-season sales can reduce the sticker shock of outfitting a family. For young kids who are learning, year-long equipment rentals offer a more affordable option. Best prices on rental equipment are often found off-season. The same rule applies for lift tickets. Shop in spring or summer for the best deals on next year’s passes and avoid the spendy day pass. 

These money-saving strategies also apply to Nordic or cross-country skiing, ice-skating, snowshoeing, mountain hiking and other winter activities where at least some special equipment is required. 

Layer Up for Winter Safety

You don’t have to spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars to gear up and enjoy the Vermont outdoors. You can just take a walk in your ‘hood. Even then, of course, proper clothing is essential. In fact, dressing appropriately is probably the most important rule of any winter activity. 

“Proper layering can make or break your trip. Start with a synthetic wicking base layer on both top and bottom; add at least two insulating middle layers, and be sure to top it off with a water- and wind-proof outer shell later. You may want rain or snow pants, and accessorize with wool socks, a winter hat, and lightweight gloves. Heavier options and spare socks in your pack are also critical. As always, remember: no cotton.”

~ Everything You Need to Know About Winter Hiking in Vermont, from the Green Mountain Club

If your feet are wet or you can’t feel your nose, you’re not going to enjoy yourself. And you could actually harm yourself. It’s no joke. Frostbite is a real risk in sub-zero temperatures. If the temperature is in the double-digit negatives, frostbite can happen surprisingly quickly to exposed skin. Be sure to check the weather before you go. Take note of wind-chill factors, especially if you’re heading to the mountains, lakeside, or other areas where the winds whip. And cover up your nose.

Where to Go for Winter Fun

Once you’re all suited up, where will you go? Fortunately, Vermont has plenty of free and open spaces to partake of winter’s beauty without having to drive hours. If you’re wondering where to go or looking for a new adventure, here are some tips to inspire your thinking.

  • Local parks, natural areas, state forests, and wilderness reserves
  • Beaches and water access areas
  • Rail trails, recreational paths and public walkways
  • Outing clubs
  • Golf courses or other private clubs
  • Large public cemeteries
  • Your neighbor’s field? (Ask for permission!)

Learn More and Find Resources 

Find more tips for safe winter hiking from a Vermont Search and Rescue Coordinator. He’s one of the team that would be called to rescue you if you got into trouble.

The Green Mountain Club (GMC) is Vermont’s go-to source for all things winter-hiking related. Start here: Everything You Need to Know About Winter Hiking in Vermont.

Wondering where to hike? Check out the Green Mountain Club’s listings of winter day hikes throughout Vermont. Find hikes in a range of challenge from easy family-friendly walks to difficult 4,000-foot peak ascensions. For a full-on winter-hiking primer from the pros, watch this 1.5-hour webinar, Introduction to Winter Hiking, from the GMC.

Tips on how to get through winter from COVID Support VT on Vimeo.

Blog written by Brenda Patoine on behalf of VCN/Vermont Care Partners for COVID Support Vermont, a grant funded by FEMA and the Vermont Department of Mental Health

Need to Talk?

Call 2-1-1 (in Vermont) for assistance.

In Crisis? 

If you or someone you care for is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can: call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-825; text VT to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor 24/7; connect with your local community mental health center for 24/7 support. 

Find Help

Find resources and tools for coping with stress at

One-click translation to 100 languages of most everything on the website, plus Multilingual Resources.

Find your local community mental health center by visiting Vermont Care Partners.

COVID Support VT is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency, managed by Vermont’s Department of Mental Health, and administered by Vermont Care Partners, a statewide network of 16 non-profit community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disability services and supports. 

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