Vol. 15 Issue 4, Winter 2010
By Jim McWalters
Well, old man winter is upon us, but this doesn’t mean you can’t experience the great outdoors in Loudoun County. Though it may be cold out there, winter is an ideal time to take a hike with trails to yourself, breath-taking views, and no bugs to bother you. No matter what time of year you go hiking, however, it is always important to plan ahead and be prepared. Here are a few simple things to keep in mind before you set out on your winter hike.
It may sound like common sense, but a few simple preparations before you leave will make your walk more enjoyable. Checking the forecast is always a good idea. Weather can change rather quickly in winter, and it is always best to be ready for anything. When exercising outside in the winter months, it’s important to layer your clothing and wear a hat and gloves. Appropriate footwear is a must, especially after rain or snow when the trails are sloppy and wet.
Bring plenty of water to stay hydrated and an energy-boosting snack like a granola bar. A small backpack is handy for carrying these items and discarded layers as it warms up. Many of the trails in our area are rocky and can be slippery. To provide additional balance you may consider using walking poles or picking up a sturdy walking stick along the trail. Other useful items include a camera, cell phone, compass, flashlight, matches/lighter, sunscreen, and a note pad and pen. Many smart phones have useful applications which identify plants, animals and wildlife tracks. These ‘apps’ can be a lot of fun and help you learn about our native plants and animals without carrying heavy field guides.
Finally, if you go out on a hike alone, let someone know where you are going. You never know what can happen and being stuck in the woods in cold weather is dangerous.
Good Time to Go
As they say in show business, timing is everything. There is nothing like a hike at dawn when the air is crisp and wildlife is active. Hiking after snowfall is very peaceful and an excellent opportunity to study tracks and discover what else has been ‘hiking’ in the woods. For hikes later in the day, find a trail with a westerly view and be treated to a gorgeous Loudoun County sunset — just make sure you have enough time to get back to your car before dark.
Choose the Right Hike
I’ve hiked in Loudoun County for over 15 years and enjoy old favorites as well as discovering new trails. To find your own favorite places, check out Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Great Places.
When choosing your hike, pick a trail that is best suited for you or the group going with you. Some trails in the western portion of Loudoun County include fairly significant changes in elevation that can be especially challenging in winter conditions. Determine the length of the trail and allow yourself enough time to enjoy it at a comfortable pace. When possible, print a copy of the trail map to bring along. Although most trails in this area are fairly well marked, it is always wise to know where you are going and your options. Also consider planning your hike around other activities. For example, a hike followed by a stop at one of Loudoun’s wineries or restaurants is a great way to warm up. In addition, many of our county trails have historical significance dating back several centuries. Walking in the steps of those who came before us offers a unique Loudoun County experience.
Hiking is a privilege and we must respect the natural environment. Remember, take only photographs and leave only footprints. Carry a bag to remove trash found on the trail. Do your part to keep Loudoun beautiful.
To discover more about the county and fully experience its beauty, I encourage you to get out and hike. You don’t need to travel far to take advantage of the natural wonders that exist here in our own backyard. See you on the trail!