It’s that time of year again. The brilliant foliage has faded, the skies are often low and gray, and the sun is setting a few minutes earlier each day. Although you may be tempted to grab the nearest blanket and sink deep into your couch for a long winter’s nap, there are still many ways to get out and experience Susquehanna Greenway this time of year.
So grab your jacket, pour some tea into a thermos, and head outside to explore your favorite spots this winter. You may just find something you’ve never seen before.
Check Out New Views
Photo by @ayden_bowman, Peters Mountain View
After such a spectacular fall, it can feel sad to watch the colors vanish and the leaves fade—but don’t put away your hiking boots just yet. Fallen leaves can reveal views that are obscured during the summer months.
With spectacular vistas and clear views of the river, hiking in the Greenway can be very rewarding this time of year. Here are a few views that open up when the leaves have fallen:
- West Branch: Hyner View Trail – This moderate to difficult trail runs for 5.2 miles and contains significant elevation gain. The steep climb is rewarded with panoramic views of the valley and the Susquehanna River.
- North Branch: Diahoga Trail – This easy trail is approximately 1.5 miles long and runs alongside the Susquehanna River, making it a great place to watch for Bald Eagles and other birds.
- Middle Susquehanna: Peters Mountain Loop – This moderate to difficult trail runs along the Appalachian Trail for 4.2 miles and offers beautiful vistas and a clear view of the river.
- Lower Susquehanna: Chickies Rock Overlook Trail – This dirt trail is only 0.5 miles long, ending with a sweeping view of the surrounding landscape and the Susquehanna River below.
Look for Signs of Wildlife
Photo by Mike Phillipe, Pileated Woodpecker
As leaves drop and tree trunks become exposed, camouflaged signs of wildlife begin to appear that were previously hidden in the summer and fall foliage.
Keep an eye out for woodpeckers and try your hand at identifying their characteristic signs. For example, pileated woodpeckers tend to dig deep, rectangular holes in search of carpenter ants, while yellow-bellied sapsuckers drill dozens of tiny holes in horizontal lines to capture the tree sap with their long tongues.
The cooler months also offer prime opportunities for tracking. While snow can be a great canvas, the soft or wet ground of winter also reveals the footprints of small and large creatures who are out hunting, grabbing a drink, or just passing through.
You can learn to identify specific animal droppings, or scat, too. Look closer; does the scat contain seeds? Fur? Berries? These clues can help you tell the story of the animals that passed by before you arrived.
So put on your detective hat, grab a field guide, and get out there!
Channel Your Inner Naturalist
Another way to keep things interesting is to identify common plant and animal species around you.
Trails and parks that you’ve visited a hundred times before can start to feel different as you become familiar with the plants and animals that live there.
Printed identification guides or digital platforms offer a host of resources. Apps such as PlantNet are user-friendly and can identify over 20,000 species of plants; you just need to take a picture of the plant in question and the app will suggest possible identifications.
Download Merlin to identify birds by their physical features and calls; you can even play a song directly from the app and see if the bird will respond. Have a question about a plant or animal? Give iNaturalist a try. This app and message board connects you with scientists and amateur naturalists alike.
Get Creative with a Camera
Photo by Barry Truesdell
The cold months are a unique time to capture photos. Try catching a sparkling frost in the early morning hours or the sun setting over freshly fallen snow. Overcast days also offer ideal lighting conditions for taking photos of people as the light is less harsh, which eliminates speckled sunlight and dark shadows on your face.
There are many health benefits of staying active outside, even through the colder months. Just ten to twenty minutes a day of outdoor exercise can boost vitamin D levels, increase energy, and lower your blood pressure.
Spending time in the fresh air also provides many mental health benefits, like reducing stress levels, improving your mood, and increasing concentration.
The Susquehanna Greenway offers many ways to get outside; there is something for everyone. Not a hiking person? Go for a bike ride along a nearby trail. Don’t have a bike? Take a brisk walk, learn to cross-country ski, or simply find a bench and soak up the sun. Even just a few minutes outdoors will do wonders for boosting your mood as we settle into winter.
Get Out There
Whether you’re exploring a new park or learning to identify fox tracks, there’s no shortage of reasons to get outside after the leaves have fallen. So, find a trail, bundle up, and we’ll see you out on the Greenway!
The Susquehanna Greenway is a corridor of connected trails, parks, river access points, and communities, linking people to the natural and cultural treasures of the Susquehanna River. The Susquehanna Greenway Partnership (SGP) is a non-profit organization dedicated to growing the Greenway by building connections along the Susquehanna River, inspiring people to engage with the outdoors, and transforming communities into places where people want to live, work, and explore. For more information and resources for hiking, biking, and paddling, please visit susquehannagreenway.org or email [email protected].