Embrace the Outdoors to Beat the Winter Blues
December 18, 2023
Layton Ross

In much of the country, winter is in full swing. Roads are icy, days are snowy, and puffy jackets are in style. For some, winter brings the excitement of snowsports or searching for animal tracks in the snow. For others, the cold-weather months keep many indoors, avoiding the constant chill of wintry weather.

Although it can feel more difficult to get active outside during cold weather, there are many enjoyable ways to get moving outdoors this winter—101 ways, at least!

Outdoor Activities for the Winter

The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies has created “101 Things to Do Outside in Winter,” a guide that includes activities ranging from mindful walks in the park to exciting scavenger hunts. Click here for the full list, but first, check out the ten highlighted winter activities below.

To get outside this winter, you can:

  • Power walk in your neighborhood.
  • Go for a nature walk.
  • Go bird watching.
  • Draw pictures or take photos of trees in winter.
  • Watch the sunset.
  • Drink hot chocolate outside.
  • Visit a nature center or nearby park.
  • Eat an outdoor lunch.
  • Go on a guided nature hike.
  • Collect pinecones to make wreaths and decorations.

Not only are these outdoor activities fun, but the simple act of being in nature benefits both your body and mind.

A woman wearing hiking gear stands at the top of a mountain with her dog, surveying the snow-capped mountainous landscape around her.

Embrace the Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Being Outdoors

Ever wondered why a jog in the park feels more uplifting than a treadmill session? A 2022 study revealed that getting active in natural spaces isn't just a breath of fresh air—it's a boost for your brain! Compared to urban environments, outdoor activities in nature significantly reduce anxiety and anger, pump up your energy, and leave you feeling more positively engaged.

And it's not just about feeling good in the moment. Nature workouts have a lasting impact, with notable improvements in reducing anxiety and fatigue, and even chipping away at depression.

This is particularly relevant for combating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that often emerges in the shorter, darker days of winter. Spending time outdoors can be a vital strategy in managing SAD by enhancing exposure to natural light and uplifting mood.

So next time you're planning a workout, remember—a dose of nature could be just what your mind needs!

Upgrade Your Holiday Traditions

Enhance your holiday festivities this year by integrating elements of nature and wellness, guided by NEEF’s Public Lands Engagement: Health & Wellness in Nature resource. This guide is filled with activities and insights into the health advantages of spending time outdoors, including:

  • Natural settings are rich in chemical and biological elements that can strengthen immune systems and bolster human health.
  • The restorative power of nature is significant; it can rejuvenate diminished cognitive abilities and enhance mental performance.
  • Interacting with natural environments offers therapeutic benefits, aiding in the recovery and management of various mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and dementia.
  • Even passive exposure to natural scenery, like enjoying a scenic view, can effectively lower stress levels.

Time outdoors is especially crucial for children. Outdoor playtime is important for children’s overall well-being and can help fight chronic conditions such as childhood obesity, asthma, attention-deficit disorder, and vitamin D deficiency.

A man jogs on a trail in a snowy forest.

Beyond Physical: Outdoor Education in the Winter

Winter in the outdoors is like stepping into a real-life science class. As the landscape turns frosty, it's a chance to see nature's cool tricks for surviving the cold. From frozen lakes to animals getting cozy in their winter homes, there's a whole new world to explore. Studying winter ecology allows students to understand the relationships between living things and their winter environment.

Think of each snowflake as a tiny lesson in nature's art. Winter ecology shows us how animals adapt, from birds flying south to squirrels stocking up on food.  Winter lets us see how trees sleep, and rivers slow down under the ice. It's a perfect time to learn about everything from why we wear coats to how snowflakes form. Winter turns the great outdoors into a frosty classroom full of wonders!

Enjoy Winter Outdoors on Public Lands

Visiting your local state or national park in winter is special. You'll see different animals and birds than in other seasons. On a cold day out, you might see icy waterfalls, mountains with snow, or a frozen stream. Don't forget your camera to take pictures of the beautiful winter scenes.

Your time can be made even more special by volunteering. Outdoor volunteering is an amazing way to support your local public lands. Discover ways to help the environment on Whether you have special skills or just want to help, there's a place for you. There are even virtual volunteering opportunities so you can support public lands from anywhere with an internet connection.

A couple walks with their young child in the snow.

Staying Safe During Outdoor Winter Activities

Exploring the outdoors in winter is just as fun as in summer, but you still need to take the proper precautions. Remember these tips:

  • Always look at the weather report before going out.
  • Dress in warm layers, and don't forget gloves and a hat.
  • If you're walking on snow or ice, make sure you have the right shoes or gear for grip.
  • Drink lots of water to keep yourself hydrated.
  • Use sunscreen on skin that's not covered (it's still important to protect yourself from the sun in winter!)
  • It's safer to go with a friend or let someone else know where you're going.

For more advice on planning your trip, check out the National Park Service's website.

Embrace the Cold This Winter and Get Outside!

As the winter season unfolds, let's embrace the beauty and opportunities it brings. Whether it's a peaceful walk in a snowy park, a fun-filled day of volunteering, or learning about nature's winter secrets, there's something magical about the colder months. So, bundle up, step outside, and discover the joys of winter in the great outdoors.