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Winter Hiking Tips

by Patressa Kearns

A little bit of planning will help ensure you have a good time and get back home safe and sound. Here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare for your winter hike in Shenandoah.

             1) Let someone know your plans. Before you leave home, let a family member or friend know your hiking itinerary. Leave the Park’s emergency number—800-732-0911 – with that person, too.

            2) It’s colder in Shenandoah than in lower elevations...as much as 20 degrees colder. Plus, it’s usually windier and there’s a higher chance of snowfall and ice. Dress accordingly. Layers are best. Toss a warm blanket in your car, in case you break down in the Park or along the way.

            3) Cell phone coverage is spotty, especially on the east side and in hollows. Bring your fully charged phone, yes, but make note of emergency phones located throughout the Park.

            4) Many facilities are closed. Byrd Visitor Center, at mile 51 on Skyline Drive, is open on weekends, as are most entrance stations and many restrooms. But that’s about it. Make note of where restrooms and water are available along Skyline Drive before you leave home.

            5) Don’t forget winter extras—traction coils for your hiking boots, a flashlight or headlamp, and a good hiking map. Bring plenty of food and water. Even in winter, you need calories and hydration!

            6) Choose hikes that don’t have rock scrambles or canyons, especially in wet or icy weather. Old Rag and Little Devils Stairs are rewarding treks, but very unsafe (and not much fun) when they’re icy. And never climb waterfalls or cross waterfalls at their tops.

            7) Know your limits. Winter is a great time to get to know the Park intimately and to get in touch with your own physical capacity. But don’t overdo it. It’s harder to get help in winter, when facilities are closed and there are fewer hikers.

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