Julia Daly

Winter Fun with Kids: Trail Tips and Tricks

January 29, 2020 Claire Polfus
Trail Suggestions, Winter Adventures, Recreate Responsibly, Kids & Teens, Aroostook County, Greater Portland & Casco Bay, The Kennebec Valley, Maine Highlands, Maine's Lakes & Mountains

Getting outside in the winter with the whole family can be a bit daunting – keeping track of everyone’s layers, mittens and gloves alone seems like it requires an organizational mastermind. Once out in the snowy landscape, however, the magic of winter can make the whole family feel like kids again! The glow of rosy-cheeked smiles and the glee of gliding down hills (on skis, butts or sleds!) make the extra effort well worth it.

Beat the winter malaise with these pointers for getting outside on some of Maine’s most family-friendly winter trail systems!

Dress warm (but not too warm)

When it’s cold outside, you have to plan out your kids’ adventure outfits a little more thoughtfully than in the summer months. You don’t want them to wear every layer of insulation you own or else they will break a sweat as soon as they strike out on the trail. And when they sweat, they will get cold as soon as they stop moving. But, you also don’t want them to be cold right from the get go!

Here’s the solution: Dress your kids in layers that can be removed when they get warm from hiking up the sledding hill for the 100th time, but put back on when they are ready for the downhill ride (think zippers, not pullovers!).

Remember that kids are going to play in the snow, so the outer layer (and their mittens) should be as water resistant as possible. And cold toes hurt, so make sure their snow boots fit! For the really small tots, dress them in one more layer than you would wear.

Here’s a list of the layers that are helpful to have on hand:

  • Hat (hats are warmer than headbands)
  • Neck warmer/scarf
  • Long underwear
  • Fleece/sweater
  • Wind/water resistant winter jacket 
  • Mittens (mittens are warmer than gloves)
  • Snowpants
  • Wool socks
  • Snow boots

Bring snacks and cocoa

Hot drinks like cocoa and cider are a special treat in the winter. Throw a thermos in your backpack full of your family’s favorite and bring it out for a quick sip while resting on the side of the trail or when you get to a warming hut. It is hard to drink enough cold water while exercising in the winter -- hot drinks are a great way to stay hydrated when it is chilly. Special snacks for winter adventures can help incentivise kids to get out on the trails in the winter. Remember that everyone burns more calories outside in the winter, so throw in extra food to make sure everyone stays happy and warm.

Pick fun trails!

Snow and ice add a new dimension to every trail. Exploring your favorite summer trails in a new season can be fun for everyone. Everything looks different in the winter! Snowshoeing to your favorite waterfall will often reward you with views of ice cascades and without leaves on the trees you can see much farther into the forest. Moreover, tracks on the snow leave a record of all our furry and feathered neighbors who make the winter forest their home. It is fun for kids of all ages to identify and follow tracks in the winter.

Look for warming cabins and yurts

Trails with warming cabins are ideal for winter adventures. Quarry Road Recreational Area in Waterville has a yurt at the start of the trails where you can change into your warm layers, buy a trail pass, look at maps and prepare to ski or snowshoe. Stop in after your adventure to warm up frosty fingers and toes and sip cocoa! 

Rangeley Lakes Trail Center also has a warming yurt, gear rental, refreshments for sale and an extensive network of trails for cross country skiing, snowshoeing and fatbiking. Keep an eye out for gnome houses hidden in the woods along the trails!

Find low cost or free equipment rentals

Don’t worry if you don’t have snowshoes, skis or skates for the whole crowd. There are many places in Maine with low-cost or free equipment rentals. 

Roberts Farm in Norway, run by the Western Foothills Land Trust, has a warming cabin and trails for skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking. When the warming hut is open (Saturdays and Sundays 10-4 and school holidays 10-2), there is a free equipment lending program for trail users!

The Penobscot River Trails system north of Grindstone has gear rental by donation at the trailhead visitor center. Along their trail system, they maintain two trailside cabins, which make great destinations, especially for older kids. A little break and treat mid-ski is the best way to make a day of your wintertime adventure.

The Millinocket Public Library has a gear lending program -- all you need is a library card (must be a Maine resident) and you can borrow skis and snowshoes at no cost. There is gear available for kids, but it must be checked out by a guardian who is over 18. There are many places in the Millinocket region to explore after you check out your gear!

For long-term rentals, the Midcoast Conservancy runs a low-cost ski leasing program, which allows you to rent skis for the whole season. Once you are outfitted you can check out trails, like Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson, which has both a starting cabin as well as trailside warming cabins making for a great place to adventure on particularly cold days!

Make sure there is something for everyone

Multi-sport days keep everyone happy. Look for places that offer trails as well as other activities like ice skating or sledding. At Mt Blue State Park there are ski trails, snowshoe trails and an ice skating rink as well as a warming yurt stocked with ice skates of all sizes available at no cost for users of the Park. It is a winter adventure-land!

At Sebago Lake State Park, the ski trails go right by the playground! Snow makes playing on equipment even more fun and novel. Just make sure to be careful because snow also makes everything more slippery!

Sledding at Quarry Road. Photo credit: Waterville Recreation Department
Sledding at Quarry Road. Photo credit: Waterville Recreation Department

Bring friends

Kids love playing outside with their friends. Reduce potential complaints and keep everyone happier by bringing buddies on your next outdoor adventure. If you don’t know any other active families, or if you just want to meet new friends, attend one of the great family-friendly events on our events calendar.

There are once-a-year events like the Winter Family Fun Days at Maine's State Parks as well as regular meet-ups like the Royal River Conservation Trust's Rain or Shine Club, which meets every Thursday to explore the Royal River Watershed, rain or shine (or snow!). 



Not sure which of these trail recommendations is closest to you? Check out this map of all the trails mentioned in this article. Find your neighborhood winter trail system and get outside!



Always remember, bring a sled!

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