Winter Activities You Can Do Without Snow

Kid playing with bike in melting snow

Don't let a lack of snow keep you indoors. Check out these snowless winter activities to stay active and embrace the season.

Every winter, Vermonters count on our Green Mountains turning white. Snow sports like downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing keep us active in the colder months and help ward off cabin fever. But what happens when the white stuff doesn’t fall from the sky? Or worse, when the temperature soars and snow already on the ground melts?

You don’t have to let a lack of snow keep you inside. To help you get outdoors when the ground is bare, we’ve compiled these ideas for snowless winter activities. Some need little or no equipment or training. Others require investing in gear and learning how to use it properly. In those cases, we’ve provided some resources to help you get started. 

  • Winter hiking. With hundreds of miles of trails at various elevations, hiking in Vermont is truly a year-round activity. There are trails for all skill levels, from easy walks for beginners to challenging climbs for experienced hikers. You may not need snowshoes in the winter, but you should have boot tread attachments with either micro spikes or studs to provide traction on ice. Purchasing them at a local outdoor sports store is best because you can check how they fit your boots before you buy. The Green Mountain Club has published winter trail suggestions and hiking advice on its website. 
  • Ice skating. When there’s no snow on the ground, it may still be cold enough to go ice skating. Some Vermont towns and resorts offer outdoor skating rinks where you can take a spin. For example, the Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee maintains a 4.5-mile outdoor loop and rents skating equipment. If you are venturing out on a pond or lake, be sure to check that the ice is safe – at least 4 inches thick.
  • Cold dips or plunges. Taking a short dip in open water is another way to enjoy Vermont’s ponds and lakes in the winter. People who do this say it has a wide range of health benefits, including reducing inflammation, improving mood, and decreasing stress. It’s important to begin with one- or two-minute dips and gradually increase their length as you get more used to the exposure. Don’t start this alone - you should always have someone with you. There are also local groups you can join. Cold dipping does stress the heart, so if you have heart disease or other cardiac risk factors, you should skip this activity.  
  • Gravel riding. With more than 8,000 miles of unpaved roads, Vermont offers plenty of places for gravel bicycle rides. This popular summer sport can be done safely and comfortably in the winter with a few adjustments, like using mudguards. Online guides, like this one for the Burlington area, offer many suggested routes. Winter gravel riding can also get you ready for organized rides held in Vermont during the spring and summer months.  
  • Winter camping. Like hiking, camping in the winter can be fun with a few additions to your gear. You’ll need a tent sturdy enough to withstand winter winds and a sleeping bag rated for cold weather. A stove that can operate in cold temperatures is also essential. Check out these winter camping tips from the Green Mountain Club, which has several cabins for rent in the winter. Some Vermont state parks offer off-season camping, although water supply and restroom facilities are closed. Campers must apply for an off-season camping permit
  • Ice climbing. Vermont has excellent places for ice climbing, such as Smugglers’ Notch and the cliffs above Lake Willoughby in the Northeast Kingdom. Ice climbing allows you to experience some of Vermont’s most beautiful locations from an unusual perspective, but don’t try this until you’ve been trained by a professional. Fortunately, there are ice climbing courses available in Vermont and knowledgeable local guides
  • Kite flying. One thing there is no shortage of during Vermont’s winters is wind. Why not take advantage of this by flying a kite? Normally associated with warm summer breezes, if you bundle up kite flying can be a thrilling winter outing for the family. Find an open field or a lake with ice thick enough to be safe and let your colorful kite soar.  
  • Geocaching. This is a modern treasure hunt guided by technology. Containers filled with trinkets are hidden in outdoor locations and participants try to find them with the help of a smartphone app or GPS device. It’s a challenging game that you can play in snowless winters, getting plenty of exercise and time outside. There are almost 5,000 geocaches placed around Vermont, including in state parks. Learn more about geocaching 
  • Trail running. Many runners stick to their indoor treadmills or paved roads during the winter. But when there’s no snow, it presents an opportunity to run on Vermont’s many trails. Dressing in layers is essential, as is having traction devices to provide grip on ice. Learn more about winter trail running and check out this trail running idea for a beautiful Vermont winter run.     
  • Ice fishing. Many of Vermont’s lakes and ponds are dotted with shanties in the winter, as ice fishing is a popular winter past-time. The gear needed to get started is inexpensive, and you can get exercise by walking to a fishing spot. Learn the basics of ice fishing from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, including some of the best places on Lake Champlain to drop a line.
  • Forest bathing. Despite the name, there’s no water needed for this healthy activity. Forest bathing originated in Japan and is gaining popularity in the U.S. It involves spending time in a forest (without any electronic devices) and taking in the sounds, smells, and sights of nature. The health benefits of forest bathing include lower blood pressure, stress reduction, and improved mood. With forests covering almost 80 percent of Vermont, you won’t have to go far to find a spot. Vermont’s state parks are open in the winter with no access fees, so they’re great places to visit for a forest bathing session.   

There’s no doubt that winter is more fun when there’s plenty of snow to play in. However, occasionally the weather just isn’t going to cooperate. When that happens, we hope you’ll try one of these snowless activity ideas and continue to enjoy your time outside.