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Keep Kids Warm and Happy in the Snow

Winter adventures can be fun, but they're also chilly! Read some of WTA's tips to keep kids happy during snow play.

Around every corner of a winter hike is the opportunity to see Washington from a new perspective. Snowshoeing or cross country skiing are great ways to introduce little ones to the fun and beauty of winter. Even if you don't have snowshoes or skis, there are plenty of options that remain snow-free year round, so you can get out without having to save up.

But winter is cold! Ensure that your trip isn't cut short because of chilly toes or freezing fingers by reading our tips and tricks to enhance your winter hiking experience.

What to wear

Layers are your friend. Bundle up at the beginning to insulate cold muscles and extremities, and as you warm up, shed that big overcoat, keeping a mid- and baselayer on to fend off breezes or errant snowballs.

bundled up warm baby bobby marko
A warm baby is a happy hiker! Photo by Bobby Marko.
    • Long underwear: Most hiking pants are loose-fitting enough to fit another layer underneath. A good first layer of long underwear will keep you warm, and still allow you lots of movement.
    • Waterproof layer: You don't want your little one to be stuck with a wet, cold outer layer after a rousing snowball fight. Make sure they're kitted out in a waterproof coat and pants (ski pants work great for this). They'll love watching the droplets roll down the treated fabric. Science!
    • Hot hands: Mittens keep little hands warmer than gloves do, and handwarmers add that extra heat that kids sometimes need. Plus, they're fun to activate.
    • Top it off: Much of your body heat is lost from the top of your head. Keep that all in by donning a cozy knit cap. Older kids may be hiking fast enough that just a fleece headband will do.
    • No cotton allowed. Because sweat can't escape as easily from cotton, it condenses and stays close to your skin, making you feel clammy and cold. You don't need brand new or fancy performance clothes on your kids, but stick to wool, fleece and other synthetic materials when you dress them. Bottom line: cotton clothes on winter hikes are bad news.
    • Have extra clothes to change into waiting in the car. A winter adventure is fun, but sitting in wet clothes during the drive home? Not so much. Stow a cozy, dry fleece in the car for a comfortable car ride.

Eat well, stay happy

Calories are key! Eat hearty before going out on your winter adventure, and take plenty of snacks along.

Family enjoying a warm drink Photo by Kindra Ramos
Warm drinks in the snow make for a fun outing. Photo by Kindra Ramos.

It might take a little more planning ahead in the morning, but having soup on a winter hike makes lunch especially rejuvenating. Just be sure it's a brothy soup (miso works great) or you bring it in a wide-mouth thermos so you can get all the good bits at the bottom.

If your kids are devoted to PB&J for lunch, bring a thermos of hot tea, coffee, cider or cocoa to sip on all day long. Bonus tip: Make the cocoa with whole milk to add calories and have a tastier beverage.

Going for a longer hike? Bring your stove and treat your group to a luxurious meal at lunch.

Other great tips to keep it fun

  • Apply sunscreen frequently, even if it's cloudy. Snow is highly reflective, and you might not feel the sunburn until you get home.
  • Bring along a friend. Nothing keeps kids in high spirits like having a friend they can share an experience with. Or throw a snowball at.
  • Bring a field guide. Tromping through fluffy snow can be slow going. Take advantage of the slower pace to notice your surroundings and teach kids about native species.