Winter, with its less-than-hospitable weather, is a difficult season for many people, even some who generally enjoy the outdoors. Add a global pandemic to the cold, dark mix with its anxiety stirring, isolation exacerbating, and hardship magnifying impacts that many in our community are now facing, and winter can begin to feel like a 2020 version of a natural disaster.
Thankfully we live in an amazing part of the country with plenty of close-to-home opportunities to get outside in nature. Stepping out into the fresh air can boost all-natural mood-enhancing chemicals in our bodies. Just being in nature, even without strenuous exercise, can be a healthy distraction from life’s troubles. Bundle up, safely grab a loved one or two, and get out there and embrace this COVID winter armed with this list of favorite winter pastimes from some of our region’s most passionate devotees of the great outdoors.
Daniel Shaw, Coeur Climbing Company Climbing Gym Co-Owner
Fat Biking All Over. “I usually ride the trails of Canfield Mountain (Cave Trail 4 usually being the best), but 4th of July pass, Saltese Flats, Liberty Lake, and Farragut are also good. Some of these trails are groomed for fat biking but I usually just ride in preexisting tracks or fresh snow.”
Ice Climbing. “Ice climbing is fickle around here but can be guaranteed to be in all winter in Hyalite Canyon near Bozeman, Mont., and Banff, Canada (which is off limits to us Americans this season because of COVID). I also love Banks Lake ice climbs, but they are rarely in good condition. I can keep up my ice climbing strength by dry tooling in my basement.”
Running Tubbs. “My wife and I run 3-6 days a week, and we are never kept indoors due to weather. Our favorite run is from our house around Tubbs Hill and back. We have rubber band studded spikes to help with traction.”
Playing in the Snow with the Kids. “We usually sled, ice skate, and play in the snow with the kids all winter long. I have three boys: Payson 11, Nolan 9, and Naty 7 who love Fernan Saddle and Fernan Lake for all those activities.”
Jane Huang, Greasy Fingers Bikes N’ Repair Bike Shop
North Idaho Fat Biking. “Section 16 in Bonners Ferry or Indian Creek at Priest Lake are great.” Huang also likes to fat bike Round Lake State Park and the Selkirk Recreation District Trails near Sandpoint, and she lists snowshoeing the trails at Round Lake to pack the trails in for fat biking as another favorite winter pastime.
Ice Skating around Sandpoint. Huang is keeping her fingers crossed for solid ice on North Idaho lakes for some wild ice skating this winter. She also banking on Bonners Ferry opening a rink at the fairgrounds like in past years. (Editor’s Note: Skate rink did open in Dec. 2020.)
Derrick Knowles, Out There Outdoors Publisher
Walking Errands. “I often plan walks to the grocery store or post office with my 5-year-old son. It’s about a mile from our house to our neighborhood grocery store and a little farther to the post office. We usually pack up snacks, drinks, and lots of warm layers in our Thule stroller which we also use to haul groceries and my son when he gets tired of walking and playing along the way. It’s a great way for us to get exercise, spend time together outdoors, and check a chore off the list.”
Justin Short, Truck Driver & Out There Contributor
Editing Adventure Videos. “Honestly, I really enjoy a little downtime sitting in front of a crackling fire with a dog in my lap, sipping tea, and editing video of previous adventures. I have to keep up on the Gravel Braintrust YouTube channel in case that trucking thing doesn’t work out.”
Getting Fat Bike Air. “The snow has to be juuust right, but there’s nothing like ripping my favorite jump lines at Beacon Hill on Wheelie Nelson, my trusty fat bike.”
Planning a Winter Suffer Fest. “The idea of an almost 200-mile gravel loop from Spokane down to Steptoe Butte through the Palouse in the blistering heat of summer sounds nothing less than daunting. So why not ride it in the dead of winter?” And so the Mt. Doom Fun Ride was born.
Zach McCall, Inland Northwest Winter Fishing Fanatic
Fishing Rock Lake. “Rock is my favorite lake to fish in the winter and is known for producing large German brown and rainbow trout.” Trout are typically the most active fish in the winter, says McCall, although he notes that anglers can also hook largemouth bass, perch, or crappie. “Some of the best fishing in this lake is done by boat, but don’t let that stop you from fishing the bank at the launch. I have caught my fair share of fish right there with my feet on dry land.”
Ice Fishing 4th of July Lake. This lake near Sprague, Wash., is one of the area’s true winter-only fishing lakes, says McCall. “4th of July Lake opens the day after Thanksgiving and stays open until March 31.” When the lake isn’t frozen, there are plenty of shore fishing possibilities that can be accessed by hiking one of several trails from the parking lot, says McCall. “When frozen there is full lake access for those willing to brave the elements to fish through the ice.”
Fishing Long Lake (aka Lake Spokane). “This lake is possibly one of the most overlooked bodies of water for winter fishing in the area.” There are several areas along the lake anglers can access from shore, says McCall. Winter boat access is also possible using the Spokane House launch (water level permitting) or the Willow Bay Resort (when open), he says. “Rainbow trout are the most common catch in the winter, but it is not unheard of to hook a northern pike, walleye, or smallmouth bass.”
Holly Weiler, Trail Advocate & Out There Contributor
Hike Somewhere New. A recent new hike for Weiler involved checking out the Hauser Conservation Area, but, she says, “it’s easily replicated by picking some place that’s within a 30-45-minute drive and checking it out for the first time.”
Hiking & Fishing Lake Roosevelt. Weiler likes winter fishing from the shore on Lake Roosevelt, which she says is usually very good, but whenever it’s not, she switches gears. “I quit fishing early and hike along the shoreline with a trash bag and pick up a bunch of trash. There are usually bald eagles, too, and once there was even a family of otters near my favorite fishing spot (which is, of course, a secret).”
Hike in the Snow with a Pair of Hoks. “They’re awesome,” says Weiler about the ski/snowshoe hybrid created by Altai Skis based in northeast Washington. “Once we have enough snow on the ground, playing with my Hoks is one of my favorite things to do.”
Ice Skating on a Pond or Lake. “I used to have a goal to pick up a new sport every year. One that I’ve been trying to pick up but haven’t been able to pull off yet is ice skating on a frozen lake. I need to have the perfect weather window to make it happen, but I picked up a pair of used hockey skates at a thrift store a couple years ago, and I’m waiting for nice solid ice without too much snow on top. Probably someplace like Hog Lake or 4th of July.”
Hike the High Desert. “If I ever get tired of playing in the snow, I head to the desert for some winter hiking or backpacking instead. There are places I’d never go in the middle of summer that are pretty awesome for mid-winter.” Check out the book “Best Desert Hikes: Washington” for hike recommendations.
Katie Wiseman, Outdoors Ambassador & REI Spokane Employee
Snowshoe with a Slide Back Down. For a fun twist on snowshoeing, Wiseman suggests taking “a pow surfer or sled with you on your snowshoe adventure. You can hike up and sled down.” Make sure you can carry your snowshoes on a backpack, she warns. Wiseman recommends exploring areas off of I-90 between 4th of July Pass and Lookout Pass in North Idaho away from potential avalanche terrain.
Picnic in the Snow. “Bring a shovel and dig out a place to eat and cook. Sit on an insulated pad and enjoy the quiet.” You can go all out with favorite warm and tasty dishes, says Wiseman. Just don’t forget your headlamp and backup batteries.
Play Frisbee Golf in the Snow. Round up some discs and some friends and “be prepared to snowshoe or posthole and bring extra warm gloves,” says Wiseman.
Dig Chrismer, Schweitzer Mountain Resort Marketing Manager
Go Skiing. “Granted, I am seriously biased, but skiing frees my mind. While I’m out there, I’m not thinking about my finances or what’s for dinner or how on Earth I’m going to help my kids get their homework done. I’m just skiing, breathing the cold air, looking at those beautiful glades, enjoying the feel of the snow. One can forget for a little bit and just enjoy. That’s such a gift.”
Wandering Sandpoint’s Public Lands Trails. Chrismer has high praise for the Syringa and Pine Street Woods trail systems. “There are some really cool sculptures tucked into the woods on the Syringa Trails near Sandpoint, and I love being able to go say hi to them when walking in the woods. The concept of ‘shinrin-yoku’ or forest bathing is just what we all need this winter, and a stop at the windchimes really makes my soul feel good.”
Skate Skiing at Schweitzer. Trying something totally new, in her case skate skiing at Schweitzer, is a great way to shake things up this winter, says Chrismer. “Our Nordic trails happen to go uphill, both ways, and that’s a great challenge! Not being a particularly gifted Nordic skier, trying something new this winter has been a blast. I fall down, I go too fast, I laugh, I sweat, and I see another side to one of my favorite places. It’s really been good to open myself up to something new right now. I’m very grateful for that.”
Jeff Lambert, Executive Director of the Dishman Hills Conservancy
Hike Spokane’s Slavin Conservation Area. “The Slavin Ranch is a favorite for hiking during winter. It is close to town with an easy drive, the trails are relatively flat and wide, and waterfowl are always there for viewing,” says Lambert, who especially recommends this hike during winter evenings because the trail is easy to follow without a headlamp. Lambert also suggests trails on the nearby Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge for similar wildlife viewing and hiking opportunities.
Hike Rocks of Sharon. “A sunny day after a snowfall means the Rocks of Sharon and pine trees will be adorned with white coats shimmering in the sun.” The trail in the Dishman Hills Conservation Area in Spokane Valley climbs steadily and snowshoes or, more likely, micro spikes, might be needed, says Lambert. “The view over the Palouse is spectacular with striated fields…and Steptoe Butte poking up in the distance. And you might see a moose.”
Cross-country Ski at Mount Spokane. The Nordic trails at Mount Spokane State Park offer some of the best cross-country ski trails in the Northwest, says Lambert. “Extensive trails mean physical distancing is easy. Even on a busy day, the trails seem uncrowded.”
Stroll along the Spokane River. “A walk along the swirling Spokane River is a boost to the morale. The walk on the Centennial Trail from Riverfront Park east takes one past Gonzaga and the No-Li Brewery if one is inclined to grab a beer or food.”
Brenda Christensen, Two Wheeler Dealer Co-Owner
Winter Biking Farragut State Park. “Cycling has become a year-round activity for me. My mountain bike gets the most use although once we get a base of snow I’ll start using my fat bike more. Farragut offers great beginner-to-intermediate mountain bike trails, says Christensen, and when there is enough snow they have groomed and marked XC ski and fat bike trails, as well as snowshoe and hiking trails too.
Work Out at Home. “I try to stay on top of my strength training at home,” says Christensen, whose home gym setup includes three different size weights, an exercise ball, and a mat. “When getting outside just isn’t an option, I also use my indoor trainer,” she says. “I have training DVDs that offer about an hour of focused training and have also been testing out a few of the training apps. Rouvy has been my favorite so far.”
Ammi Midstokke, Nutritionist & Out There Contributor
Under-the-Stars Sledding. “Night-time sledding parties down our wicked driveway—a 1/4 mile luge run-of-death that requires a helmet, a headlamp, and a cocktail of courage and stupidity. We make a fire pit at the top, put some hot chocolate in a few thermoses, and fire up the ATV to drag survivors back up the hill. The best part is the laughter and hysterical screams that echo down the hill, forever etched in my memory like some of the scars on my forehead.”
Snowshoeing to the Summit of Schweitzer. The path from the Firehouse to the top “is usually well-worn, and it winds through a Narnia of trees before creeping out of the tree-line to the exposed snow drifts of the ridge,” says Midstokke. “At the very top, we see skiers floating by. This is also a favorite of Freya the Brown Dog.” Be sure to heed any private property signs you might encounter along this route and respect the ski area boundary line.
Fat Bike Sandpoint Trails. Midstokke raves about the fat biking trails at Syringa and Pine Street Woods in Sandpoint. “The collaborative efforts that have gone into these beautiful networks of trails is remarkable. The trails wind through hundreds of acres of wooded lands and offer every kind of view one would hope for, just the right amount of traffic (a hello from time to time, usually some friendly person you know), and lots of happy dogs. I particularly love the quiet pace of fat biking in fresh snow and the way it’s so magical. Also, crashing hurts less.”
Adam Gebauer, Biologist & Out There Contributor
Ski in the Middle of Nowhere. “When conditions are right, backcountry skiing is one of my favorite outdoor activities. It combines the fun of finding untracked lines with a great workout and plenty of time to watch the day unfold around you.” There are many great backcountry skiing and splitboarding spots in the Inland Northwest, but like great fishing holes, most backcountry powder stashes are best left vaguely defined to help protect what makes them so special.
Urban Dog Walks. “Dog snow romps are an accessible activity that let you say hi to your neighbors who are out strolling or shoveling their driveway. It is a COVID-safe activity too where we can see faces and engage with our neighbors.”
Carol Corbin, Outdoors Junkie & Public Land Advocate
Pretend It’s Summer. “I do the same things in the winter that I do in the summer,” says Corbin, just with the requisite winter gear to make those activities more fun, safe, and comfortable.
Desert Bike Packing. “Another thing is heading out to the desert if you’re tired of snow.” Corbin says a recent bike packing trip she organized in central Washington was pretty rad. Just map out a scenic, mostly gravel route, load up the bike, and go.
Originally published as “47 Things to Do Outside This Winter” alongside sidebar content in the January-February 2021 double issue.