Spending time outdoors can reduce stress, boost mood, and even boost your immune system. There’s no need to wait for spring to enjoy these benefits and experience the local landscape and wildlife right here in Massachusetts. Sure, the days are short and chilly, but with some preparation, winter can be a great time to explore the outdoors. Use this list of winter activities and cold weather tips to enjoy the outdoors in the early months of the new year.
Dress for the weather
With With a little planning, you can stay comfortable even on chilly days. Dress in layers of fleece or fleece, wear warm shoes, and make sure the outer layer blocks the wind. Don’t forget the scarf or face mask. Sunglasses (or clear safety goggles if it’s cloudy) can provide protection for your eyes from the wind. Traction for your feet, like Microspikes, will help you stay upright even in icy conditions. Chemical heating pads can help keep your hands and toes warm.
You don’t need to hike for hours to experience the physical and mental benefits of being outdoors. Even a short walk can reconnect you with the natural world, improve your mood, and renew your sense of wonder. Start small and extend your outing if you’re warm and still having fun. Pack some snacks and water with coffee or hot chocolate to keep you going.
Watch out for wildlife
Some animals migrate or hibernate, but many remain active throughout the winter here in Massachusetts. Tracks left in snow or mud can reveal the whereabouts of birds or small mammals. Click here to learn how to identify common animal tracks. (Note: snow that has melted will distort the size and shape of the animal’s track, so look for tracks in fresh snow or in mud.) You might also consider setting up a game camera in the area where you see interesting tracks. Fewer foliage means more wildlife photos and fewer photos of leaves blowing in the wind!
birds in winter
For starters, winter can be a great time to learn about the sights and sounds of common resident birds like titmouses, bluebirds, ravens, woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, and even bald eagles. With fewer leaves, it’s easy to spot the silhouette of a hawk perched on a branch or the flapping motion of small birds in a forest.
Winter is also a good time to hunt for unusual birds. Seabirds that spend most of the year as far north as the Arctic seek the Massachusetts coast for milder temperatures. Bird watchers in coastal areas can spot flocks of colorful harlequin ducks, striking black-and-white grouse, golden-eyes, skatrons, long-tailed ducks, acrobatic gannets, submersible doves, and guillemots! If you see waterfowl, ask for help with post identification Ducks at a distance By the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Embrace the dark
Early sunsets in winter mean longer periods of darkness for the stars. Pop your head out to nearby fields and hills or even your own backyard for stargazing without having to stay up past your bedtime. The cooler air retains less moisture, which makes the stars appear larger and brighter.
Try ice fishing
Ice fishing is a fun way to spend time outdoors with friends and family. Make a day of it packing food, folding chairs, plenty of hot drinks, and even some sledges or snowshoes for the kids or the young at heart. If you’ve never been ice fishing before, join MassWildlife for a clinic learning how to ice fish this winter. If you just need a quick refresher on ice fishing equipment and techniques, visit our ice fishing page.
Be sure to check out the ice safety information and don’t forget your 2023 Freshwater Fishing License!
Explore something new
Find a new area to explore in the new year! MassWildlife operates nearly 230,000 acres of Wildlife Management Areas that provide a habitat for wildlife and give people a place to explore the landscape (no protected trails). WMAs are open to the public for hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Use MassWildlife’s Lands Viewer to find a property near you.