Winter Hiking At Bernheim

Winter Hiking At Bernheim

Winter Hiking At Bernheim

By Mike Nolan

Although many people think of winter as a time for indoor activities, some of the best hiking experiences you can have are during this season. Winter offers hikers several advantages over the other seasons.

First, the winter woods offer many charms not found in the other seasons. The leafless trees and shrubs allow for long views across the landscape. At places like Bernheim, you can find spectacular 360° panoramas from the top of a knob, clear views down tumbling creek valleys, and extensive hillside rock outcrops - all hidden by vegetation during the other seasons.

It''s a lot easier to see wildlife in the winter woods. Deer and turkey are common, and red fox, coyote, raccoons and other mammals are more likely to be seen. Our native woodpeckers are easy to find on leafless trees, and although there are fewer bird species wintering in our woods, they are all easier to see.

If there is snow on the ground, you can find, follow and practice identifying animal tracks. You''ll find beauty in ice formations, and notice the bark, fruits and shapes of trees. Crush some pine needles or cedar to enjoy their wonderful scent. For the curious, there is no shortage of allure in the winter landscape.

Another attraction of winter hiking is that fewer people are out. When you hike in winter you are more likely to have the woods to yourself. That improves your chances of seeing wildlife, and increases the solitude of the season. You''ll enjoy the crunch of your boots on frozen ground, and the sight and sound of your breath in the cold air.

Finally, winter is free of many of the annoyances of the other seasons. Insect pests like ticks, chiggers, bees and biting flies can sometimes torment hikers in spring, summer and fall, but it''s a rare day when you encounter any on the trail during winter. Plants like poison ivy and stinging nettle are leafless and dormant, and far less troublesome this season. Layers of clothing offer further protection. The high heat and humidity that can sap your energy in summer are gone, and you feel more energetic.

So what should you carry on a winter hike? The most important consideration is to dress for the weather, preferably in layers. You need to always keep your head, hands and feet warm and dry, so you''ll need good boots, preferably waterproof, a good hat and gloves or mittens. Wear layers that you can remove if you get warm as you hike - you want to avoid sweating as it can later chill you if your activity level goes down or the weather turns colder. If it is windy, protect yourself with a windbreaker or wind shirt.

Water is as important in the winter as in the summer, so always carry some with you. If you''ll be spending a long time on the trail, bring food or snacks to keep your energy up.

Bernheim is a great place to do some winter hiking. There are 15 trails - three in the arboretum and 12 in the forest - ranging in length from a quarter of a mile to almost 14 miles. You''re sure to find some that suit your experience and interest.

One of the best short trails is Rock Run, Bernheim''s oldest trail, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid-1930s. This half-mile loop along the sides of Rock Run is relatively flat and showcases some of the attractions of winter hiking. The trail passes large outcrops of limestone, where with a little exploring you can find walking ferns growing on mosses even in winter. Scan up the hillsides for a possible view of deer or turkey. Walk the creek bed to look for fossils such as crinoids and brachiopods, and bits of iron ore eroded from the hillsides far above. You can walk this trail in twenty minutes if you march around without stopping, or easily spend an hour or more when you take your time and explore.

You''ll have an entirely different experience on Bernheim''s newest and longest trail, the 13.75-mile Millennium Trail. This difficult hike is only for experienced, fit hikers. It leads from the arboretum into some remote areas of the research forest, and climbs up and down more than a half dozen knobs. The trail typically takes six or seven hours to complete, and offers the best chance to see Bernheim''s native wildlife. You must carry food and water, and after the first couple of miles, the only convenient place to leave the trail is halfway through.

Regardless of your level of skill and experience, you can enjoy winter hiking, especially on one of the varied trails at Bernheim. Take a day this winter to go out into the woods and see all that they have to offer.

Mike Nolan is the director of marketing and development at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest . He leads winter field trips examining the geology of Bernheim.

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