23 ways to make the most of outdoor winter fun in Pittsburgh
Photo: Inquisitive kids love learning about nature. Photo courtesy of Allegheny County Parks.
Keeping kids healthy and active takes on a new magnitude this year as we strive to keep our families safe. Fresh air and exercise help with their mental health, too. Set aside the screens and layer up to make the most of the great outdoors, with or without snow. The possibilities are endless with any number of exciting activities. It’s the perfect time of year to challenge kids to try a new skill or explore undiscovered parks. Here are some ideas to get you started.
1. Tree Identification Hike: Identifying trees can be a little trickier when branches are bare. This free guided hike with Allegheny County Park Rangers will provide insight into the pertinent characteristics of trees. The hike covers about two miles over moderate terrain. A session is scheduled for Feb. 13 at Hartwood Acres, Feb. 14 at North Park, Feb. 20 at Harrison Hills Park and Feb. 21 at Deer Lakes Park. Pick your date to register and watch for additional classes to be added.
2. After School Hike: These free hikes are geared toward kids ages 5 to 10, but siblings outside the age range are welcome. Topics cover everything from bugs to animals to birds. The hike is about one easy mile in length. The hikes are planned for March 3 at Round Hill Farm and March 17 at Boyce Park.
3. Night Hike and Campfire: Shake off the doldrums and clear your heads with a brisk Night Hike and Campfire at Succop Nature Park and Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve on Feb. 20. At the event, hosted by the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, expect to gather around a crackling campfire for a story or two, then head onto the trails for a walk under the stars. Registration for either of the two locations is $10. Masks are required.
4. Birds and More Nature Hike: Looking for a fresh air outing with your kiddos? Join a naturalist on the trails at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve every Wednesday morning and at Succop Nature Park on Thursdays. Return often and watch the woods transform through the seasons. The guided walk is free, but registration is required.
5. Allegheny County Parks Trails App: This free app puts 180 miles of trails in all nine Allegheny County Parks right in your hand. It’s a fine way to discover different parks and add adventure to your family outings. Choose your trail according to elevation, length and difficulty. The GPS-enabled location tracker switches between terrain, typographic and imagery maps to keep you from getting lost. Download from the App Store or Google Play.
6. Allegheny County Parks: Options for ice skating at South Park include an NHL-sized rink and an ice trail through a wooded path. North Park’s ice facility is not quite as spectacular but makes for a fun outing. Browse the county’s activities calendar to find skating lessons, hockey classes, open stick time and public sessions and to make reservations. Admission for county residents is $5, including skate rental, and tickets must be purchased in advance. Concessions and lodges are closed. Learn more about safety protocols here.
7. Schenley Park Ice Skating Rink: Citiparks’ ice rink located in Schenley Park offers competitive, kid-friendly pricing — with skate rental and skating sessions just $3 each. Adult admission is $5. Tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis for up to 100 skaters per session, following temperature checks and medical screenings. Catch all the details here.
8. The Rink at PPG Place: The Downtown setting of The Rink at PPG Place couldn’t be lovelier, with reflections of lights and skaters in the surrounding buildings. This season, advance tickets are required to keep a handle on the limited crowd size and masks are necessary. Take advantage of Tuesday Family Nights, when you get a free kid’s admission with each grownup ticket. Another bargain is Wednesday Student Night with $4 admission. Buy tickets here.
9. Moon Park Ice Rink: Skate for free on the acrylic surface of the Moon Park Ice Rink, even on warmer winter days. The surface performs like ice but doesn’t require freezing temperatures. Skate rentals are not available. The rink is open from dawn to dusk Sunday-Wednesday, and from dawn to 9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Hockey Night is 5-9 p.m. on Fridays.
If you can walk, you can snowshoe, we’re told. Modern snowshoes look nothing like those old-fashioned tennis racket contraptions. Today’s snowshoes strap onto boots, giving adventurers command over snowy paths. Here are some ways your family can master this new skill.
10. Step into Snowshoes!: Jennings Environmental Education Center offers free snowshoe loans in its Step into Snowshoes! Program at Jennings State Forest through Feb. 28. The snowshoe are provided when trail conditions allow, with the right amount of snow on the ground. Borrow snowshoes on a first-come, first-served basis between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and on snowy Saturdays. At least one person in your party must be 18 and hold a valid driver’s license. Call 724-794-6011 to check snow depth and trail conditions.
11. Intro to Snowshoeing: Boyce Park offers free Intro to Snowshoeing sessions for age 5 and older on Jan. 29, Feb. 12 and Feb. 24. Park Rangers will teach the beginner course on the Boyce Park ski slope. With the snowmaking equipment, there are no worries about a snowy forecast here. Select your date to register in advance and watch for additional classes.
12. Snowshoe Stroll: Venture Outdoors hosts the Snowshoe Stroll through Frick Park on Feb. 20. It’s an exciting way to explore a mile or two of trails. Snowshoes, which strap easily onto boots, will be available for even little feet. Your family will try them out, then head out on a relaxed stroll. Munch on cookies and sip hot cocoa at the end of your adventure. Registration is $5 for kids, $12 for their grownups or $25 for the whole family.
13. Full Moon Snowshoe Hike: Latodami Nature Center in North Park offers a free Full Moon Snowshoe Hike on Feb. 27. In February, the full moon is called the Snow Moon, adding to the promise of snowy trails. Register here to save spots for the whole family.
Skiing, Snowboarding and Snow Tubing
Mastering downhill snow skills is all about accepting gravity with grace. It’s thrilling, heart-pounding and great cardio to boot. These local spots will get you started.
14: Boyce Park Ski Area: Boyce Park keeps its slopes operational with snowmaking equipment that adds to the natural snowfall. The season runs through mid-March, as weather conditions allow. Following Covid safety protocols, the lodge and concessions are closed. Masks are required. All activities must be reserved in advance. No walkups or spectators are allowed.
Newbies can take advantage of ski and snowboard lessons for ages 7 and up offered multiple times per day. Registration is $30. Those who’ve conquered the basics can hit the slopes by purchasing a daily ski lift ticket, which includes equipment rental and costs between $22 and $32 for Allegheny County residents. Snow tubing offers a plus over your neighborhood hill with a track that hauls you easily to the top. Tubers must be at least 42 inches tall. Those between 42 and 50 inches must be linked to an adult. Registration is $17 for county residents.
15. Nemacolin: Mystic Mountain at Nemacolin maintains six slopes for skiing and snow tubing on 25 acres. Kids must be at least 3 to try snow tubing. Kids ages 15 and younger must be accompanied by an adult. You’ll also find unique challenges for tweens and grownups. Try out the Sno-Go ski bikes and the 17-inch, high-tech Skiskates for zipping down the slopes in crazy style. Winterfest at Mystic Mountain includes outdoor games and a kids’ craft station on Feb. 6. Reservations and masks are required along with other safety protocols.
16. Seven Springs: At Seven Springs Mountain Resort, ski school starts with Tiny Tots from age 3. Advanced kids and their grownups can hit the 33 slopes and trails for a refreshing arctic kick. Snow tubers ride the Magic Carpet up, then fly down one of the 11 lanes to go again. All tickets must be purchased in advance and masks are required.
17. Hidden Valley Resort: The 26 slopes and trails at Hidden Valley Resort will fill the day with thrills and chills. Group ski lessons begin at age 8 for beginners. The tubing park is open for ages 4 to 9 (accompanied by a grownup). Kids ages 10 and older can fly on their own. Tickets can be reserved up to 14 days in advance. Covid safety precautions are enforced.
Other outdoor stuff
18. Dog sledding: You missed the Iditarod, but your family can have a chance at playing a musher without traveling to the Great White North. Dog sledding at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort offers a rare opportunity for the entire family. The minimum weight for kids is 45 pounds. The experience consists of a kennel tour when you meet the dog sled team, followed by an exhilarating 30-minute ride led by Alaskan Husky sled dogs. Can you holler “mush?”
19. Hearts in the Park: Take the family out to celebrate Valentine’s Day with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. The outdoor, socially distanced Hearts in the Park revelry takes place in front of the museum in Buhl Community Park from 4 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 13. Expect kid-friendly activities and exhibits that spread joy, creativity and kindness. You can add a personal message to the evening’s video projection by sharing a line on social media tagged with #heartsinthepark. The event is free, with no registration required.
20. Geocaching: Celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day with a special edition of Venture Outdoors’ geocaching session. The competition heads to Frick Park, where participants will find hidden cache containers and learn about celebrated women in sports along the way. Registration, which includes GPS unit rental, is $5 for kids, $8 for grownups or $20 per family.
21. Backpack Lending Program: We got to know the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s Backpack Lending Program last summer. Stuffed with materials to explore meadows, streams and forests, the supplies enhanced park outings. A winter-themed backpack helps families explore nature in cold weather, with items like hand warmers, an animal track pamphlet, hot cocoa packets and binoculars. Reservations are $10 and must be made one week in advance. Pick up backpacks at Frick Park.
22. Mini Golf: Between cold weather and Covid rules, mini golf at the RMU Island Sports Complex looks a little different but remains insanely competitive between siblings. The waterfall is turned off and the water features are empty, making it that much easier to retrieve a runaway ball. Bring your own putter if you have one, or borrow a sanitized golf club. During the off-season, mini golf play is $5.
23. Zumba in the Park: This high-energy Venture Outdoors class on Feb. 21 will get your heart thumping in time to the music. Zumba in the Park with Kemah is free, but donations are welcome. Once registered, the location will be provided. Kids can participate in the class or have their fun at a nearby playground. Sign up here.