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Snowshoeing is my favorite winter activity because of the access it brings. Unlike hiking or skiing, I can walk right off the trail, alone into the woods and feel strong and confident. I don’t feel this same desire to venture off trail in the summer when the woods are thick, shaded and full of obstacles. I also don’t hike at night in the warmer months, but a moonlit snowshoe stomp is one of my favorite things. I feel a unique combination of safety and freedom when I am snowshoeing in the open woods, on an empty trail bathed in winter’s blue light.
Snowshoeing has become a popular recreational sport because you don’t really need lessons, and it’s basically just walking (with less of the slipping and falling that occurs with walking on snow). My first time snowshoeing was in 2010, the best winter of my life. I spent 20+ years hating winter…then something snapped. We got a TON of snow that December, the metrodome collapsed, my house was infested with ice dams and streaming water into the kitchen….and my friend loaned me her d*mned snowshoes. She was my first cool, outdoorsy friend, so I had to try it. I started by running around in the yard, then the elementary school playground while the kids were sledding….and then graduated to my beloved local park. I found a pair of vintage bamboo ski poles next to someone’s garbage can, cut them to fit and declared myself a novice snowshoer!
For the Love
In addition to now loving all things winter… I enjoy organizing group snowshoe outings for adults and youth, am a Snow Sports Merit badge counselor for Boy Scouts of America and have acquired 7 different pairs of snowshoes for my family since that first loaner pair. I blame that winter of 2010 and my friend’s Atlas Elektras.
So you got a pair of snowshoes for Christmas and you’re dying to use them.
Or maybe you have a dusty pair hanging up in your garage.
Maybe someone told you that you have to have just the right conditions.
Or you don’t have a pair and don’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars quite yet.
Maybe you are blaming global warming…
…whatever your reason is, let’s talk about my favorite winter sport.
From time to time I also hear “we don’t all have time to drive hours to the wilderness and tromp into the forest” or something to that effect…so, below are my top 3 urban spots for the busy snowshoer in the Minneapolis area. If you live elsewhere, check out your local parks, your kid’s school playground or other green spaces in your community. We started by hiking along railroad tracks, and the sledding hill at our local city park.
Top 3 spots for the urban snowshoer:
- Theodore Wirth Park
This park is my go-to favorite. Easily accessible, family friendly and you can choose your own adventure. Last weekend we hopped off trail and ran (some of us crawled) up the big hill by the wildflower garden. We have crossed Railroad bridges, frozen creeks, bridges made of 2x4s and its right next door to Utepils Brewery. Don’t forget to take the tiny Bassett Creek trail that inches along the creek with views of the abandoned Glenwood Inglewood water treatment plant. Its totally sketchy in the warmer months, but beautiful in the winter.
- Elm Creek Park Reserve
Lots of options at this park as well. Easy groomed trails with a few hills or you can bust out and walk across the lake, woods and there are maps posted everywhere (so you can just kind of wander without really worrying about getting lost). I like to avoid the Chalet/Tubing hill side in the winter and meet friends on the Nature Center side where it is quieter. You can also rent snowshoes here for $5 as I write this.
- French Regional Park
This is the park I first snowshoed at. If you don’t want to go more than 5 miles or have a lot of time this spot is great. Lots of opportunities to go off trail and this is the park where I saw the weirdest thing I have EVER seen snowshoeing.
Types of Snowshoes:
There are basically three types: Flat, Rolling and Mountain. Here’s a great reference article on how to choose from REI.
I have all three styles and for me, it’s less about the snowshoe structure and comes down to weight and the ease and comfort of the bindings. I like a binding that can be easily adjusted with one hand while wearing mittens and removed easily. Plenty of choices, but I lean towards a nylon webbing loop style.
Other gear notes: check out my post on winter layering and winter hacks to keep ya warm. Snowshoes can be worn with hiking boots or winter boots. Use or lose poles. I hardly ever use mine, but they are helpful on hills and give you a better cardio workout. Easy peasy.
How to get a pair:
Borrow or rent.I have never paid full price for my snowshoes. Mostly because I’m typically trying to outfit my family and I’m super cheap. But when you are ready to buy, REI Garage Sales, Craigslist, Thrift Stores, local gear swaps and online gear swap pages are great places to start!
How to make it even more fun:
- Invite your friends, and start and end at a brewery or coffee shop. I started a thing called a ‘Hike n Pint’ where we start and end at Utepils, which borders Theodore Wirth Park and even your non-snowshoer friends can join afterwards.
- Race up a hill, make funny tracks, a curly labyrinth, dance or bust out your favorite yoga pose. A headstand with 5lbs of gear on your feet is especially challenging.
- Trade snowshoes with a friend. Try a new style and learn what you like.
- Challenge yourself to go places the you can’t on shoes or skis
How do you keep up your hiking game in the winter months? Any snowshoeing tips I missed? Post your comments here and ‘get it before it melts!’