A cold, deep breath and crunching ice underfoot are familiar sensations for winter hikers in Nova Scotia.
There’s something peaceful about a winter walk in in the woods, with the sun struggling to warm the air and the snow quieting the forest.
However, using trails in the coldest season means less daylight. Taylor’s No. 1 tip is not to gamble with sunset and be extra cautious of time to avoid getting stuck in the dark. He also encourages hikers to use a popular winter layering tip: ‘Be bold, start cold.’
“You want to start with your minimal layers because you’re going to warm up quick as you start going,” says Taylor. Hikers should avoid too many layers in cold temperatures because sweat can turn to ice.
Knowing the duration of the hike helps inform a hiker on what to pack. Bringing a first aid kit with an emergency blanket is good practice in the winter. Taylor also suggests telling someone where you are going, bringing water, high-calorie snacks like nuts or chocolate, a map of the trail, an external battery charger and warm layers.
Winter hiking brings sometimes slippery conditions and for hikes with changing elevation, it is best to have gear that will combat any falls. Having a variation of waterproof hiking shoes, trekking poles and safety soles like Icer’s or crampons is recommended. Taylor always has a pair of traction cleats in his pack during this season.
If you are looking for a new trail to trek, here are five hikes that pair well with a blanket of snow.
Shaw Wilderness Park
This 4.4 km out and back hike in the Purcell’s Cove Backlands starts with a wide accessible trail to Williams Lake and continues on a narrow trail to Colpitt Lake with various hills to climb. Sticking close to the red trail indicators will keep hikers on track, as it is easy to get lost and divert from the trail. Other than the beautiful lakes and rugged scenery, streams and large boulders fill this Acadian forest. The hike is extendable around Colpitt Lake but is not well marked.
This trail is dog friendly and has a large parking lot. It is bus accessible by route 415.
McIntosh Run Singletrack
There is 23 km to explore in this trail system. The trails are the width of a single hiker or mountain biker, hence the name singletrack. These are popular mountain biking trails, so hikers and bikers must keep alert and use caution on the trails. An interactive trail map provides information for all routes, like the total distances, trail conditions and elevation. Trails are well marked throughout.
These trails are dog friendly, however, while on Halifax parkland pets must be kept on-leash. It is bus accessible by route 25 or 9A/9B from Mumford Terminal.
This trail boasts views of an impressive waterfall a short distance from the trailhead. Hikers start on a rough terrain road for about 1km until taking a right turn at the bridge and moving upstream through the woods on an unofficial trail. Be mindful of ice and winter conditions here, especially when exploring around the waterfall. The main trail continues past the waterfall; however, this unmarked trail system is not monitored or maintained and should be used with caution.
Pets should always be on-leash as people have reported live bait traps in the area. There is no official parking lot for the trail and be courteous of the no parking signs. This trail is not bus accessible.
Hobsons Lake Trails
This 40 minute up and back trail is part of a larger 5.2 km loop that links Hobsons Lake, Ash Lake and Fox Lake, part of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area. This sparsely marked hike is well used but exercise caution in the snow as there are spots prone to freezing. Old-growth forest, granite boulders, lake views and a waterfall are major features of this loop. There are limited maps and trail signage throughout, so it’s important to have a map of the route available as a guide.
This trail system is dog friendly and accessible by several bus routes with a walk to the trailhead. Parking is available at the trailhead.
Sackville Lakes Provincial Park:
All multi-use trails in this provincial park are wide, well-maintained and marked with trail maps and signage. There are benches scattered along the trails to enjoy the old-growth scenery. Great Oak and Second Lake Trail is about 5.3 km and is one of several trails to explore.
These trails are dog friendly, but pets must be on-leash. The main parking lot for this trail system is located off First Lake Drive and the trail is also accessible via multiple bus routes.
Be sure to use Leave No Trace principles on all hikes.