How to Have Fun Outside All Winter Long

Don't let cold temperatures, rain, wind, or snow keep you inside this season.

A mother and son make snow angles in winter coats.
Laugh and play outside no matter the weather.
Guas / Shutterstock

Getting outside in summer’s long, sun-soaked days is easy, but even outdoor-lovers can find the chilly and wet weather that arrives at the end of the year off-putting when it comes time to leave the house.

“Winter can feel more intimidating,” says Brooke Froelich Murray, co-founder of WildKind Inc., a membership-based community geared toward helping families get outside. “But you definitely don’t want to be inside all the time.” As many of us can now attest, staying in puts you firmly on a path to cabin fever. And while the couch and Netflix can be appealing, you wouldn’t want to miss out on the benefits that accompany time outside, including better concentration levels and an improved mood.

So before you mimic the hibernation tactics of bears, get ideas for how you can easily, safely, and comfortably enjoy time outside this winter.

A young child in yellow rainboots and a yellow raincoat jumps in a big puddle.

You don't have to be a child to enjoy jumping in puddles.

Evgeny Atamanenko / Shutterstock

Shift your attitude.

Try adopting the Nordic concept known as friluftsliv (pronounced “free-loofts-liv”). It’s “an attitude of embracing and enjoying the colder months,” says Mike Jensen, outdoor promotions manager at the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Tourism Division. (The state is a hotspot for Norwegian and Scandinavian culture, with residents embracing friluftsliv despite an average of 50 days below 0° Fahrenheit each year.)

Instead of dreading the cold and rain, welcome the types of activities and sights that are only possible during this time of year. Torrents of rain can lead to splash-worthy puddles and there’s a certain wintertime-only coziness that accompanies early sunsets. “The sensation of the crunch of snow under winter boots, the cool rush felt flying down a sledding hill, or peaceful snow falling gently along a cross-country ski trail are all things only enjoyed in the winter,” Jensen says.

A woman in a beanie and a warm coat on a hike.

Dress in layers.

Maridav / Shutterstock

Dress strategically.

But of course, it’s easier to embrace the weather if your teeth aren’t chattering. “When recreating outdoors in the cooler months, proper layers of clothing is key,” Jensen says. Follow these tips:

  • Avoid cotton. Since this fabric takes a long time to dry, it’s not a good choice for cold or wet weather. It can trap moisture and leave you feeling chilled and damp. Instead, opt for wool or synthetic pieces that dry faster and keep you warm even when wet.
  • Layer up. To prevent overheating or being too cold from the outset, dress in layers rather than one or two very warm items so you can adjust your clothing as your temperature fluctuates. (You want to stay warm, but not get sweaty.) Experts recommend using three layers. Start with a wool or synthetic layer for your base. “Anything that wicks away moisture is best for this layer,” Jensen says. Add something insulating and warm (like a sweater or fleece) as your second, and then top it off with a shell designed to keep the wind and rain out.
  • Protect your extremities and exposed skin. “Good boots, gloves, and a hat are essential,” Jensen says.

“The key to being safe in the winter is to be dry,” Froelich Murray says—that’s why an outer shell layer that protects you from wet weather is important, along with the base layer that wicks sweat from your skin. 

Smart Tip: Just because it’s cold or cloudy out doesn’t mean you can skip the SPF—up to 80 percent of the sun’s damaging UV rays can reach your skin on overcast days, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Make sure to apply sunscreen to any exposed skin before going outside.

A family runs down a tree-lined path together.

The more you move the warmer you'll be.

Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Get active.

“Staying active in the winter is just as important for our physical and emotional health,” Froelich Murray says. And while the temperature can be a shock when you first walk out the door, it will feel less cold when you’re moving or when your mind is focused on an activity. While it’s true for adults too, a simple activity can be especially helpful to keep kids entertained and interested. Some ideas to try:

  • Go on a neighborhood scavenger hunt. This doesn’t have to be complicated, Froelich Murray says—she suggests asking kids to find a branch shaped like the letter Y, for instance.
  • Take a walk someplace new. Mix up your normal walk around the block by exploring a side street or starting in a different direction. Or level up your exertion. “Snowshoeing is not really that much harder than hiking, and hiking isn’t so much harder than walking around the neighborhood,” Froelich Murray points out.
  • Play. During winter you can splash in puddles (just put your boots on first) and build snow sculptures. And plenty of creative playtime is appropriate in all seasons, like using chalk to create games or art on the sidewalk. Other family-friendly outdoor activities include foraging for pine cones to later transform into bird feeders or looking for wildlife and tracks on local trails, Froelich Murray says.

Time it right.

In warmer months, a late evening walk can be delightful and relaxing, but that may no longer be the case come winter. To get the most out of your time outside, plan your day so that you are out during the warmest, driest part when possible. And be sure to pay attention to sunset—temperatures can quickly drop once dusk falls.

A hiker takes a sip from an insulated mug.

An insulated mug or bottle is ideal for sipping on a warm beverage while you're out.

Jacob Lund / Shutterstock

Give yourself a carrot.

If it’s gray, windy, or especially chilly—or if all three are out in force—motivating yourself or your family members to head out may be challenging. But once outside, you might enjoy it more than you expected. 

A realistic expectation and a simple reward or treat to look forward to can help everyone get out the door. Start small—Froelich Murray often tells her kids they’re just going to go outside for 30 minutes and that they’ll stop for a cake pop on the way home. You can also pack a favorite snack or a hot drink to boost spirits while you’re out. 

Even remembering how good it will feel to be inside after venturing out in inclement weather can be an incentive. “Part of getting cold is the joy of getting warm again, like curling up with a warm blanket and a cup of hot coco in front of a fire,” Jensen says.

Reinvent your space.

If you have access to a yard or porch, you’re in luck—instead of wishing it farewell until the spring, try adapting it so you can enjoy the space throughout the winter.

You can add warmth, for instance, with a fire pit or outdoor heating lamps, which are available at hardware stores. If you have the space, add weather-resistant furniture and amass a collection of warm and weather-resistant blankets, rugs, and cushions. You can also put up a tent, add a roof to a patio, or build a pergola to shield your outdoor space from some of the elements.

For more budget-friendly options, try adding a bird feeder (so you’ll always have an intriguing view out your window) or fairy lights (to brighten up dark nights) to trees or fences.

This article was first published in December 2020 and last updated in November 2022.