33 ways to enjoy cold weather fun in Pittsburgh, from snow festivals to tubing and more
Above photo courtesy of Nemacolin Mountain Resort.
Dress for the weather and head outside to make the most of cold-weather adventures in Pittsburgh. Fresh-air family outings are trending with a wealth of activities that fire up energy. Don’t let dropping temperatures hold you back. If you’re looking to end those “I’m-so-bored” days, look no further! Here’s our guide to cold weather fun in Pittsburgh:
1. Ligonier Ice Fest: This annual outdoor festival on Jan. 21 and 22 includes more than 50 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 Jan. 21 and Candle in the Wind plays at 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 22.
2. Boyce Park Snowfest 2023: The Boyce Park Snowfest fills the day on Feb. 4 (noon to 5 p.m.) with exciting activities like Mini Junior Olympics Ski and Snowboard Races for age categories from 5 to 12 years. Don’t miss the seventh-annual Cardboard Box Snow Tubing Derby (registration opens at 2:30 p.m.), which allows kids to bring sleds constructed from cardboard and duct tape to compete on the snow tubing hill. Kids race in two age groups: kids up to 15 years and kids 16 years and older. The entry fee is $10 (or $5 with donation of a canned good). Entry fees benefit the Boyce Park Ski Patrol, and canned goods will be donated to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
3. Winterfest: Winterfest celebrates the cold weather season at two Pittsburgh-area State Parks on Feb. 4. Ohiopyle State Park will offer free snowshoe and cross-country ski demonstrations, horse-drawn sleigh rides for a donation and a bring-your-own-sled opportunity to slide down the hill. Moraine State Park offers winter-themed activities like kids’ crafts, winter recreation demonstrations, chainsaw carvings, cold water fishing lessons, live music and a bonfire. Free for both locations.
Guided nature walks and hikes
4. Birds and More Nature Hikes: Looking for a fresh air outing? On various dates throughout the winter, join an Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania naturalist on the trails at Buffalo Creek Nature Park, Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve and Succop Nature Park. Return often and watch the woods transform through the seasons. The ongoing morning walks are free, but registration is required.
5. Fledglings outings: These preschool sessions offered by the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania are designed for 3- to 5-year-olds. Adult caregivers and their preschoolers will share a seasonal story, activities and a walk along the trails at Buffalo Creek Nature Park, Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve or Succop Nature Park. The theme changes each month. January (happening Jan. 10-13 at one location each of the days) offers Who Gives a Hoot (with a special visit with an owl); February’s focus (Feb. 8, 9 and 14) is Run For Cover (discovering holes and hiding places); March heads Down the Maple Trail (making maple syrup) on Mar. 8, 9 and 14. Registration is $8 for kids, and free for accompanying caregivers.
6. Seedlings: Winter Wonderland: The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden series, which runs on Thursdays from Jan. 18 through Feb. 22, presents a different theme each week that focuses on winter in the garden. Kids will look for animal tracks, explore the garden’s different habitats and enjoy a story reading. Designed for ages 3-6. Registration is $15 per week.
7. Hike With a Naturalist: Winter Tree Identification: Walk through the woodlands of Frick Park with Naturalist Educator Stephen Bucklin to practice your observation skills with an in-depth look at bark and buds. This hike, planned for Jan. 21, is geared toward teens and grownups. Registration is $5.
8. Guided Hike: Winter Animals With the Park Rangers: Explore the ways that animals have adapted in order to survive winter conditions on Jan. 21 at Round Hill Park and Jan. 22 at White Oak Park. Bring water for this 2-mile hike with moderate elevation changes. Registration for this all-ages activity is free.
9. CSI: The Case of the Vanishing Birds: This homeschool program welcomes families to join with staff at the Jennings Environmental Education Center on Jan. 26 (9 a.m. to noon) to unravel the mystery of “The Case of the Vanishing Birds” through hands-on activities, games, observing and counting birds at the feeders. Kids will learn how to contribute, as a family, to bird citizen science and conduct their own bird investigations at home. This program is designed for ages 5 and older. Register here by Jan. 24 for the Jan. 26 session. The cost is $3 per person, with a maximum of $12 per family. The program repeats on Jan. 29 with a free session for the general public. Register for the Jan. 29 session by Jan. 26.
10. Winter Weeds Walk: Join a State Park guide on Jan. 26 to explore the winter beauty of the remnants of last year’s plants along the Pleasant Valley and Sunken Garden Trail with an easy 1.5-mile hike along Lake Arthur, looking for dried grasses, seedpods and other treats of nature. You’ll learn about native plants and how to bring the beauty of nature to your home. Meet at the Pleasant Valley Picnic Area, straight past the South Shore park office, 225 Pleasant Valley Rd, Portersville, PA 16051.
11. Guided Hike: Winter Birds with the Park Rangers: Head to Harrison Hills Park on Jan. 28 to learn about our year-round and winter resident birds. Binoculars are recommended but not required. This hike will be approximately one mile with moderate elevation changes. Registration is free for this all-ages activity.
12. Groundhog Hike: Celebrate our favorite rodent on Feb. 2 at Moraine State Park for an energizing two-mile hike that highlights groundhog trivia. Choose your trail difficulty and length. Dress for the weather and bring water and trail snacks. Meet up at the Pleasant Valley Picnic Area on the South Shore. No registration is required for the free activity.
13. Hike With a Naturalist: Lichen Exploration: Join Naturalist Educator Stephen Bucklin on Feb. 4 for a walk to learn about lichens. This two-hour guided walk will give you hands-on experience observing lichens in their habitat and learning about their growth forms, structures and ecology. Hand lenses are recommended for appreciating the minute details of lichens and will be available for borrowing. This hike is geared toward teens and adults. Free.
14. Leave No Trace Hike: Hikers learn about the seven principles of “Leave No Trace” for minimizing your impact after you have enjoyed the outdoors. The session will also explore some of the tracks and signs of animal movement in Boyce Park. The program takes place on Feb. 5 and Feb. 15. Free, but registration is required.
15. Latodami Birding by Smartphone: Learn the basics of the Merlin Bird ID and eBird apps on Feb. 11 at North Park in preparation for the Great Backyard Bird Count happening Feb. 17-20. This program will help birders of any skill level identify birds by sight and ear using the Merlin app and keep count of them using eBird for smartphones. Best for ages 13 and older. Free, but registration is required.
16. Winter Tree ID: Learn the basics of tree identification in the winter at McConnells Mill on Feb. 15 from 1 p.m. to 2:30. A staff guide will lead a family-friendly walk that visits a variety of trees, using forestry techniques and tools. Dress for the weather and bring a drink or snack and a desire to learn. Meet at Kildoo Pavilion for this free event.
17. 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. 25 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.
18. Junior Ranger: Story Time with the Park Rangers: A park ranger will read an animal-themed story, followed by a lesson about the wildlife that lives in our parks. Catch a session on Feb. 25 at Round Hill Farm, March 11 at South Park and March 12 at North Park. Best for kids ages 3-7 years. Registration is free but required.
19 . Guided Hike: Women in Conservation: Celebrate an early International Women’s Day on March 4 at Settlers Cabin Park and March 5 at Hartwood Acres by discovering the stories of women who helped shape the modern environmental and conservation moment. Bring water for this two-mile hike that includes moderate elevation changes. Registration is free.
20. Woodcock Watch and Owl Prowl: Join Jennings Environmental Education Center staff and members of the Bartramian Audubon Society on March 18 for a Woodcock Watch and Owl Prowl. After a short indoor presentation, the group will venture out onto the prairie area trails in hopes of hearing owls and seeing the male woodcocks demonstrating their courtship display. Registration is required by March 15 for this free program.
21. Owl Prowl at Raccoon State Park: Venture along dark paths on a guided three-mile hike to hear and maybe see some of the nightlife in the park. Along the way, you will learn about the owls that live in the park. This free program on March 18 requires registration.
22. Nature Journaling: The Friends of Raccoon Creek State Park have teamed up with Naturalist Betsy Bangley to bring you this Nature Journaling program on March 19. The class will cover the fundamentals of recording observations and sketching in nature. Dress warmly for nature walks and bring a notebook or sketch pad. Registration is $15.
23. Hit the trail with the Park Rangers: Explore the scenic hiking trails at Deer Lake Park. Bring water for this two-mile hike and expect moderate elevation changes. Free but registration is required,
24. 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.
25. 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, plus $2 for skate rental if you need it. Tickets may be purchased online.
26. Schenley Park Ice Skating Rink: The Citiparks ice rink in Schenley Park offers competitive pricing with skating sessions priced at $3 for kids younger than 18, $5 for adults and $4 for seniors and veterans. Skate rental is $3. Family Skates 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. 4 and Valentine’s on Ice on Feb. 14.
27. 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 Nights with $5.50 admission. Ticket prices range from $10-$12 and are can be purchased online to reserve a spot and prevent a long wait in line. Skate rental is $5. Open through Feb. 26.
28. 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.
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.
29. Intro to Snowshoeing: Allegheny County offers free Intro to Snowshoeing sessions for ages 5 and older on Jan. 26 and Feb. 2, 5 and 16. Park rangers will teach the beginner course at Boyce Park. With the snowmaking equipment, there are no worries about whether or not there is snow in the forecast. Registration is $5 for ages 5-10, $10 for ages 11 and older. Watch for additional classes and outings to be posted on the county website.
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.
30. Boyce Park Ski, Snowboarding and Tubing: 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, can 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.
31. Seven Springs: At Seven Springs Mountain Resort, ski and snowboard school starts with classes for kids from ages 4 and older. 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 can be purchased in advance to prevent disappointment.
32. 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 4. Online tickets are available for all activities.
33. 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. Reservations are required for all activities, including Winterfest at Nemacolin festivities on Feb. 11.