Tubes and trees, bikes and rocks, stars and skis . . . they’re all part of staying delightfully outside during the coming colder months.
There’s a time in every outdoor enthusiast’s life when you look outside, check the thermometer, and cringe: Winter, it’s finally, really here. When the temps dip low and you break out your flannel, never fear, there’s plenty of outdoor fun to be had for all ages in Virginia. From snow tubing to frozen waterfall hikes to planning the ultimate bonfire with friends, there’s no shortage of cold weather adventures in the area—all it takes is a little planning, a few extra layers, and a willingness to be up for whatever the blustery winds may bring.
Take the Plunge
When I was a kid, snow tubing was the consolation prize to my first, almost-fatal attempts at skiing. “Not good enough to hit the slopes, OK, go tubing with your mother.” These days, however, tubing is an entirely different beast. At Wintergreen Resort in Nelson County, you can slip and slide your way down Virginia’s largest tubing park at The Plunge. With over 10 lanes carving a hill more than three football fields long, you can speed your way past friends and family in an all-out downhill race. And if you get too cold, just grab a cup of hot cocoa and sit by the lodge’s fire to thaw yourself out.
Make Like a Tree
Have you ever wanted to scramble up an oak like a squirrel? Ever thought that it would be cool to sway from a sycamore’s canopy? Now you can, thanks to Bob Wray of Blue Ridge Tree Climbing. Located in Meadows of Dan, Wray runs tree-climbing classes that combine skills similar to rock climbing with good ol’ fashioned childhood fun. Yes, you’ll be hooked in with harnesses and ropes, but that won’t detract from the bird’s eye experience. Don a few extra layers and a beanie and you’ll be warm enough most winter days to hang with Wray—but beware, most people say that after taking one of his classes, they were totally addicted to the sport!
Here We Go A’Caroling
While shadowed by its larger cousin, Luray Caverns, Grottoes Caverns is actually America’s oldest show cave. When temperatures plummet in December, head up to this central Virginia cave to descend to far more temperate (around 50 degrees Fahrenheit) climes. Every December, for one night only, the Grottoes Ruritan Club offers nighttime candlelight caroling tours of the caverns. Don’t worry, if you don’t think you have the voice of an angel, these tours don’t require you to sing, but do feature local performers celebrating the songs of the season in several of the cavern’s main chambers. Plus the evening offers a rare chance to experience the cavern as it was first discovered—stalactites glittering to the flicker of lighted candles. Check with the Grottoes for the updated 2015 date by calling 540-249-5705 or visiting their website. grandcaverns.com
A Fresh Angle on Mountain Biking
Winter is prime season for mountain biking, if only for the trails’ respite from the biting wind. When it’s too cold to hit the streets, throw your bike on your rack and head over to the Anglers Ridge trail system near Danville. Recently crowned the best trail system in Virginia by Singletracks.com (and #41 in the nation), Anglers Ridge features 35 miles of both flowy and technical singletrack for beginners and advanced riders alike. With plenty of downhills to match each climb, the trails allow for hours of fun in the mature hardwood forest—with gravity drops, moguls, rock gardens, and stream crossings to boot. While maybe not as popular as Carvins Cove or Douthat, Anglers Ridge is a must-ride mountain biking destination, both in winter and warmer months. svmba.org
Get a Grip
Sometimes, it really is just too rainy-cold to go outside. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hone your rock climbing skills indoors. Venture out to River Rock in Roanoke’s River House in the Wasena neighborhood. Featuring 4,500 square feet of bouldering (peak height of 16 feet) and 4,000 square feet of rope climbing (over 30 top-rope and lead routes with a peak height of 37 feet), River Rock is one of Virginia’s largest climbing gyms. From individual and group lessons to bouldering competitions to community yoga, there’s a little bit of everything for any climbing buff stuck indoors. Plus, it’s a great way to make new friends to head outside with when the weather proves more agreeable. riverrockclimbing.com
Explore the Universe
Have you ever wondered how to find each major constellation in the night sky? Contemplated staying up to watch a big meteor shower? Winter is the perfect time for night sky viewing, with its clear (and, yes, cold) nights. December 13 brings the Geminids Meteor Shower with up to 120 meteors per hour at its peak. Similarly, the Quadrantids Meteor Shower might showcase 40 meteors per hour on January 3. Chances are good that the Roanoke Astronomical League will organize an event to view both, often at the Cahas Knob Overlook at milepost 139 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Just check their website for details on upcoming observation nights.
Tread Lightly at Mountain Lake
While skiing and snowboarding are often preferred winter outdoor activities, snowshoeing is aimed to make a comeback this winter, thanks to Mountain Lake’s newly revamped winter outdoor activities. With 22 miles of trails crisscrossing Mountain Lake’s property, it’s easy to strap on some snowshoes and spend the day enchanted by its high-elevation beauty. Though the lake may be dry or frozen, plenty of deer, rabbits, hawks and other wildlife abound on the protected property, and views are more plentiful with the tree foliage gone. Snowshoes can be rented from the lodge, and, if you’re new to the sport, ask for a guided tour to make the most of your experience. mtnlakelodge.com
Frozen in Time
Few hikes are more awe-inspiring than one to a fully frozen waterfall. There’s something majestic about the extreme gush of water frozen in time that puts the wonder in your eyes, not to mention the satisfying workout of hiking over icy and snow-packed trails (snowshoes, or crampons, could come in handy for this). Two favorites are Apple Orchard Falls (Botetourt County) and Cascades (Giles County). Wait for deep winter to hit Virginia and then hit the trails in search of ice—your best chance of a frozen fall is after a one- to two-week deep freeze sets in. While a little more challenging than on a summer hike, both trails are medium-difficulty, even in snowy and icy conditions, and easy to finish in one afternoon.
Not all winter adventures require a car trip; some stick closer to home—or even at your home. Create a winter getaway in your own backyard by building a bonfire and inviting good friends over. Firewood is easy to find at your local grocery store (or in your backyard)—just dig a pit, build a fire, cook a pot of chili over the open flame, roast some marshmallows, and pop the tabs on a few brews. From campfire cooking to shooting the breeze and stargazing, bundling up and throwing an outdoor bonfire party is just the ticket for curing winter blues. Plus you don’t need a cooler, as the great outdoors will supply all the ice and chill you need!