Cold weather is no reason for human hibernation. The science is clear that being outside is better than indoors when it comes to COVID-19 risk, so just pretend you’re Scandinavian, as the New York Times has suggested, and adopt a positive and icy mindset! Then layer up — good gear, including a mask, is essential — and go outdoors. There’s no predicting the weather these days. If there’s snow, great — play in it. If not, there’s plenty else to enjoy out in the Hudson Valley elements: frozen waterfalls, lack of crowds, and the crunch of ice underfoot.
Scenic Hudson’s Outdoor Adventures directory offers hundreds of choices for year-round adventures, but here are some additional winter ideas, especially in this always-shifting pandemic. Before bundling up, call to confirm any of the following suggestions are still open, and ask about any COVID-19 procedures. If we’ve learned anything over these past months, it’s that anything can change — and fast.
Last season, ski resorts got the green light to reopen at limited capacity. This year, many of the New York State restrictions have been lifted, but resorts have their own protocols to keep guests safe. Be sure to read up on a resort’s safety plan before you organize a visit. If you want to avoid crowds, opt for cross-country or skate skiing over downhill. For insider trail reports and ideas on where to cross-country ski, bookmark the Shawangunk Nordic Ski Association. If you don’t own skis, rent some by the day (or even by the season) from Rock and Snow in New Paltz. Take your rentals to the Mohonk Preserve; the relatively flat groomed trails at their West Trapps trailhead offer unparalleled views through leaf-barren trees. Some local venues, including Fahnestock Winter Park, rent skis, too (prices vary wildly). They also rent snowshoes, another fun option. Minnewaska State Park’s carriage roads are perfection on snowshoes. For family fun, nothing beats sledding. If you don’t already have a preferred hill or are looking for a new spot, check out Chronogram’s well-researched list for inspiration.
No snow? No problem! Go hiking. Any spot you enjoy in other seasons will feel new again in winter, with ice-gray views, frozen tree branches, giant icicles, and abundant clues of wildlife. The only real choice is open views vs. graceful woods — or both. Benefits of winter hiking include fresh air, no bugs, and some much-needed Vitamin D, plus no crowds. Looking at water, often partially frozen, is a specific treat. To gaze out over the Hudson, try Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve or get close to the river’s edge at Esopus Meadow Preserve. For more great winter hikes, check out Hudson Valley Magazine. Other than dressing appropriately, you don’t need special gear for winter hiking, but spikes and/or poles could be useful. Pro tip: Stash a thermos with a hot beverage in the car to have waiting for you post-hike.
The first sound of the red-winged blackbird in spring is like a yearly alarm clock, letting you know you made it through another winter. Relief! But there’s no need to wait for spring to see inspiring fliers, especially eagles and owls. If you’re new to winter bird watching, scope local birding sites before grabbing some binoculars and going out to look for everything from ducks to great cormorants to waterfowl at first ice. Check out Catskill’s swampy RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary (which Scenic Hudson co-manages with Audubon New York), as well as Hillsdale’s Rheinstrom Hill Audubon Sanctuary & Center. And keep your eyes peeled for local birding groups offering socially distant gatherings or walks you can join. The Edgar A. Mearns Bird Club, founded in 1959, is still hosting near-weekly small-group bird-watching field trips, with pandemic restrictions (if you haven’t been vaccinated, you will need to mask up). Check the club’s website, complete with the upcoming schedule and contact numbers for outing leaders.
Beyond a thickly frozen private pond, one of the most beautiful spots to ice skate at in the Hudson Valley is at Mohonk Mountain House. Typically Mohonk opens its rink — which features a covered wooden roof with open sides and a massive stone fireplace — around Thanksgiving weekend, for overnight as well as day guests. Due to COVID regulations, this year the rink is only open to overnight guests and purchasers of their Winter Sports Pass. The day pass includes access to skating and other winter activities on the grounds. However pass inventory is limited and must be reserved 72-hours before your visit, so call ahead if you’d like to skate in this magical setting. Other outdoor rink options are located in Bear Mountain State Park and the Rudd Pond Area of Taconic State Park. Hudson Valley Parent touts a few other rinks, but keep in mind not all of them rent skates.
Temperatures haven’t dropped enough yet for it to open, but Dutchess County’s Bowdoin Park has built its seasonal skating rink and is ready to go as soon as mother nature cooperates. Call the county’s “Parks Hotline” at (845) 298-4607 for up-to-date info on the rink. And BYO skates!
While the future remains somewhat unclear these days, at some point in late winter or early spring, the temperature will rise and sap will start running in maple trees. If you have big maples, you can easily tap your own trees (the ultimate in socially distant maple tapping). Or you might be able to head to a handful of venues to help or watch the pros. Several locations adjusted their public tapping due to the pandemic in 2021 and aren’t yet certain what they’ll do in 2022. Call around in early February to beloved spots, like Bowdoin Park’s Maple Sugar Shed and the Education Center Quad in Poughkeepsie and The Hudson Highlands Nature Museum in Cornwall, to see what they’re planning. The Ashokan Center’s annual maple fest in Olivebridge was live-streamed in 2020, including a tree-tapping demo, a view of a steaming evaporator, and of course fiddle music. One benefit of watching from home is pancakes made the way you like them — and no skimping on the syrup!