26 ways to have outdoor fun in Pittsburgh this winter
This article first appeared at NEXTpittsburgh.com, a media partner of Kidsburgh. Sign up here for NEXTpittsburgh’s free newsletter filled with all the latest news about the people driving change in our city and the innovative and cool things happening here. Photo above of skiers at Nemacolin by Jordan Millington.
The latest snowstorm prompted our friends at NEXTpittsburgh to update this guide to outdoor fun in Pittsburgh for the whole family. Whether you want to hike, skate, snowshoe, ski, sled or curl, we’ve got you covered. Just be sure to pack your masks and visit each organization’s website and social media to stay updated about Covid safety protocols and guidelines.
1. Birds and More Nature Hikes: Looking for a fresh air outing? Join an Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania naturalist on the trails at Buffalo Creek Nature Park on Tuesdays, Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve on Wednesdays and at Succop Nature Park on Thursdays. Return often and watch the woods transform through the seasons. The morning walks are free, but registration is required.
2. Groundhog Hike: Celebrate our favorite rodent on Jan. 29 at Moraine State Park for a fun hike that highlights groundhog trivia. Choose your trail difficulty and length. Dress for the weather and bring water and trail snacks. Reservations are required for this free activity.
3. Winter Tree ID Walkabout: Learn tricks and tips to identify trees during this self-guided hike at Jennings Environmental Education Center. Pick up a printed guide at the center and follow the designated route from Jan. 29 through Feb. 6. No registration is required for this free family activity.
4. Owl Prowl: Explore the after-dark world of owls in Allegheny County parks. Park rangers lead the way along 3-mile trails in search of these fascinating birds. All-ages Owl Prowl events are on the calendar for Jan. 29 and Feb. 4 at North Park, Feb. 5 at Hartwood Acres and Feb. 12 and 13 at White Oak Park. Registration is $6. A special adults-only Owl Prowl is planned for Feb. 11. The evening of romance includes an easy 1-mile hike, a campfire, hot cocoa and BYOB (wine). Registration is free.
5. Full Moon Hike: Allegheny County Park Rangers will guide hikers along 1- to 3-mile trails. Flashlights will be provided but be sure to bring water and wear solid shoes or boots. The all-ages Full Moon Hikes are planned for Feb. 19 at Deer Lakes Park, March 18 and 19 at Round Hill Park and March 19 at Harrison Hills Park. Registration is free.
6. 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 2 miles over moderate terrain. A session is scheduled for Feb. 26 at Settlers Cabin Park. Registration is free. Watch for additional sessions to be added.
7. Cherry Pie Walks and Hikes: Jennings Environmental Education Center commemorates George Washington’s birthday and his 1753 mission to force the French withdrawal from British territory. A full day of programming on Feb. 26 includes 30-minute history walks, 75-minute nature walks and a 7-mile hike. Expect historical displays, costumed reenactors — and a slice of cherry pie! Registration is free, but a $3 donation is suggested for the guided walks and hikes.
8. 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.
9. 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 times and public sessions — and to make reservations. Admission for county residents is $5, including skate rental. Tickets must be purchased online.
10. Schenley Park Ice Skating Rink: The Citiparks ice rink in Schenley Park offers competitive pricing with skate rental and skating sessions just $3 for kids, $5 for adults and $4 for seniors and veterans. Family Skate events on Thursday nights offer free child admission with a paying adult. Tickets can be purchased at the gate or online. Watch for special events like Disco Night on Feb. 5 and Valentine’s on Ice on Feb. 14.
11. The UPMC Rink at PPG Place: The Downtown setting of The UPMC Rink at PPG Place couldn’t be lovelier, with reflections of lights and skaters in the surrounding buildings. Take advantage of Tuesday Family Nights when you get a free kid’s admission with each grownup ticket. Another bargain is Half-Price Wednesday Student Night with $5.50 admission. Ticket prices range from $10-$12 and are sold online only.
12. 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 Sundays to Wednesdays and dawn to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.
13. Winter Ice Rink at SouthSide Works: Head to the South Side for outdoor ice skating. Find the Winter Ice Rink, new this season, on South Water Street, next to the Hyatt House. Tickets are sold online and priced at $7 for ages 10 and younger, $10 for adults. Skate rental is available.
If you can walk, you can snowshoe — or so 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.
14. Intro to Snowshoeing: Allegheny County offers free Intro to Snowshoeing sessions for ages 5 and older on Jan. 29 and Feb. 12, 18 and 23. Park rangers will teach the beginner course at Boyce Park. With the snowmaking equipment, there are no worries about a snowy forecast here. Registration is free but required. Watch for additional classes and outings to be posted on the county website.
15. Pop-up Snowshoeing: Venture Outdoors hosts occasional pop-up snowshoe outings at local parks. Follow Venture Outdoors on social media to join the fun. The organization provides the snowshoes; you bring the energy.
Skiing, snowboarding, sledding and snow tubing
Mastering downhill snow skills is all about accepting gravity with grace. It’s thrilling, heart-pounding and great cardio to boot. While there are many monitored places you can go, you can always grab a sled and hit one of the popular spots that Pittsburghers flock to: Flagstaff Hill (Schenley Park); Cowboy Hill (Point Breeze); Blue Slide Park (Frick Park); and Dormont Park (Dormont). Here are other local spots to get you started.
16: 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. This season, the lodge, concessions and indoor restrooms are open. All activities, including lift tickets and classes, must be reserved in advance.
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 for $15-$20 for Allegheny County residents. Equipment rental, including a helmet, is $20. Lift tickets are free for kids younger than 5. 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 for 2-hour sessions is $17 for county residents.
17. Seven Springs: At Seven Springs Mountain Resort, ski school starts with Tiny Tots classes for children aged 3 to 7. Advanced kids and their grownups can hit the 33 slopes and trails for a refreshing arctic kick. Snow tubers ride the Magic Carpet up the slope, then fly down one of the 11 lanes to go again. All tickets must be purchased in advance.
18. Hidden Valley Resort: The 26 slopes and trails at Hidden Valley Resort will fill the day with thrills and chills. Group and private ski and snowboard lessons begin at age 8. The tubing park is open for kids ages 4 to 9 who are accompanied by a grownup. Kids ages 10 and older can fly on their own. Online tickets are required for all activities.
19. Nemacolin: A getaway to Mystic Mountain includes six slopes for all-ages skiing and snowboarding on 25 acres. Kids at least 33 inches tall can hop on a snow tube in tandem with an adult. You’ll also find unique challenges for tweens and grownups. Try the Sno-Go ski bikes and the 17-inch, high-tech Skiskates for zipping down the slopes in crazy style. Reservations are required for all activities, including Winterfest at Nemacolin festivities on Feb. 12.
And a wintry mix of other stuff
20. Ligonier Ice Fest: This annual outdoor festival on Feb. 22 and 23 includes more than 40 ice sculptures, carriage rides and two free concerts, giving revelers the chance to warm up in the Town Hall Auditorium. Big Fat Jazz performs at 2 p.m. on Feb. 22 and Candle in the Wind plays at 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 23.
21. Winterfest: Pennsylvania State Parks’ annual cold-weather festival takes place at two regional parks on Feb. 5. The Winterfest celebration at Moraine State Park takes place on the North Shore and features fun snowy and cold weather activities, entertainment, vendors and demonstrations. Winterfest at Ohiopyle State Park offers sledding, wagon rides and a food truck at the Sugarloaf Sledding Area, cross country skiing at the Train Station and snowshoeing at the Kentuck Campground Amphitheater.
22. Pittsburgh Curling Club: With attention from the Winter Olympics, interest in curling rises. Pittsburgh Curling Club offers a 2-hour introductory class to the sport on its new, dedicated four-sheet ice facility. The session includes instruction on and off the ice, plus game strategy and instructed gameplay. If you love it, jump in and become a member to play in a league or join pick-up games. Wheelchair curling is available, too.
23. Sliders Ice Curling: This four-lane competitive curling facility was built behind the Millvale location of LumberjAxes. The Sliders Ice Curling experience does not include the sweeping element, but staff will facilitate and score your competition. The fun works for groups of between two and 16 players per session.
24. 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 offers a rare opportunity for the entire family. The minimum weight for kids is 45 pounds. The experience consists of a kennel tour to meet the dog sled team, followed by an exhilarating 30-minute ride led by Alaskan Husky sled dogs. Can you holler “mush?!”
25. Backpack Lending Program: Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s Backpack Lending Program continues to enhance park outings. Backpacks are stuffed with materials to explore meadows, streams and forests. 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. Backpacks can be picked up at the Frick Environmental Center.
26. Mini-golf: Despite the cold weather, mini-golf at the RMU Island Sports Complex remains insanely competitive. With the waterfalls and stream turned off and water hazards, it’s that much easier to retrieve a runaway ball. Take advantage of the off-season rates of $5 for grownups, $4 for ages 5 and younger.
Along with outdoor fun in Pittsburgh, there’s plenty of cool stuff happening indoors in our region through the end of February. Check out our guide to this year’s winter entertainment events.