If you can hike, you can snowshoe. So can your kids. This fun and relatively safe activity is the fastest growing winter sport in the United States. That’s probably due in large part to its small learning curve and relative affordability.
What do you need to know before you hit the snowy trails with your family? We break it down here.
Snowshoes are designed to displace your weight evenly across the snow’s surface so that you don’t sink far into the snow. So instead of trudging along and struggling with steps, you can walk or hike or even run more easily.
The length of snowshoes depend upon how much the user weights—the heavier, the longer the snowshoe. The most common sizes, according to Snowshoe Magazine, are 25 inches, 30 inches and 36 inches. For children weighing under 50 pounds, a 16-inch snowshoe is appropriate; for those weighing between 50 and 90 pounds, lengths of 17 and 19 inches are recommended.
There are three different categories of snowshoes: those for recreational hiking on flat or rolling terrain; those for runners who seek a sleek design and sturdy structure that can handle running and climbing; and backpacking snowshoes that are ideal for deep snow as well as steep terrains. There are also poles used in snowshoeing, those these aren’t necessary for leisurely, flat hikes.
For beginners as well as those hiking easier trails around Central Pennsylvania, the flat terrain snowshoes are best. According to equipment seller REI, these snowshoes are easy to walk in and have bindings that are easy to adjust. They’re also the least expensive type of snowshoe; you can get a new pair for as low as $50, though we’ve seen most of this entry-level snowshoe priced around $100 per pair. Unless you are confident you and your family will love this winter sport, you might want to try a trial run before purchasing equipment [see below for snowshoeing destinations that include snowshoe rentals]
As far as other gear needed, it’s much like that used for other winter activities like skiing, snowboarding and sledding. For your feet, wool socks and sturdy, insulated and waterproof snow boots or hiking boots are a must. For clothing, think layers: long underwear that wicks away sweat; a middle layer for warmth; and a waterproof outer layer. Then top it all off with a warm hat, insulated and waterproof gloves or mittens, and sunglasses of you’re lucky enough to be out on a sunny day.
One of the great things about snowshoeing is that you can do it almost anywhere that has snow: your backyard, an area park, a local golf course, or your kids’ practice fields. As long as there are at least a few inches of snow on the ground, you’re good to go. The activity also lets you explore some great winter hiking trails. Beginners will want to stick to mostly flat terrain. We checked with AllTrails.com, a site that provides detailed, hand-curated trail maps as well as trail reviews, to learn what trails in Central Pennsylvania are specifically recommended for snowshoeing.
Mary Ann Furnace Trail in Codorus State Park, York County, is rated easy. It features a 3.8 mile loop and the lake.
La Ho Trail, also located within Codorus State Park and also rated easy, is a 1.7 mile heavily trafficked loop trail.
Kings Gap Hallow in Kings Gap State Park near Carlisle is rated moderate. It has a 6.5 mile loop with a winding river. There are some rocky areas and steeper terrain.
Grings Mill Trail, 4 Allison Road, Reading, is rated moderate and features a 9.5 mile trail that’s flat and runs along a creek.
Lebanon Reservoir Loop in Pine Grove Township is rated moderate. It features a 4.1 mile loop around loop around the Lebanon Reservoir.
Hickory Run State Park, PA-534, Jim Thorpe. Valley to Summit offers day-long snowshoeing excursions in January, February and March with its Hickory Run Lehigh River Hike. Traversing five miles, you’ll explore a fire tower and stream-side trails while enjoying expansive views of the Pocono Mountains and the Lehigh River. Snowshoes and poles are included in the $90 cost.
Promised Land State Park, 100 Lower Lake Road, Greentown. The park has heated cabins available for winter rentals at $42 per night as well as snowshoe equipment rentals. The Bruce Lake Natural Area and Conservation Island are ideal for snowshoeing.
Seven Springs Mountain Resort, 777 Waterwheel Drive, Seven Springs. The resort offers guided snowshoeing tours for $30, including equipment rentals. If you like skiing and/or snowboarding as well, check out their “Winter Family Memories” packages that include two nights of lodging in the Main Lodge, unlimited skiing and snowboarding at Seven Springs, and credits toward meals.
Skytop Lodge, One Skytop Lodge Road, Skytop. They offer snowshoe rentals and trails along the lake or the stream. For two hours, the cost is $12 for adults and $6 for children (must be at least age 5).