Snowy tree with squirrel

Allegheny County Parks Winter Bucket List

Happy Winter! There is an undeniable allure to the great outdoors in winter. Between the chill in the air and the snow-laden branches, wispy snowflakes and the crunch under your boots, there is magic inviting us to step outside the warmth of our homes and into the enchanting canvas of winter. In this blog post, we will embark on a journey through the best ways to spend winter days in your nine beautiful county parks. Each opportunity is either free or very affordable. Some of the ideas may involve getting yourself gear, like snowshoes or a sled, but there are numerous local options to rent equipment if you want to just give the activity a try.  Embrace the chill, bundle up and let the adventure begin!

Snowshoes

1. Go Snowshoeing or Cross-Country Skiing

As the world transforms into a winter wonderland, experience the snow in a fun and fast way by enjoying snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Both options offer a playful and accessible way to explore the great outdoors, allowing you to traverse deep snow and meander through our enchanting forests. Whether you’re a seasoned outdoor enthusiast or a newcomer to winter sports, the fun of snowshoeing or cross-country skiing lies not only in the physical activity but also in the serene connection with the winter landscape.

Try: The perfect spot to enjoy these activities is on the trails and open spaces at Hartwood Acres Park. We recommend the area near the amphitheater, around the meadows or the Orange Trail. The County also permits cross country skiing on both the golf courses in North and South Park when the courses are closed due to snow.

2. Go Sledding

Whether you are a child, a daredevil or a cozy sled cruiser, there’s something so magical about the rush of wind in your face and the joy of plowing down the hill in the snow. Even better than the snow, is the unforgettable memories that are created with friends and family.

Try: South Park’s Sunny Slopes, which has been a local sledding favorite for generations. Three different hills all converge on the same spot at the bottom, bringing laughter and community together in abundance on snowy days. Before you go, check out these historical newspaper articles about sledding at Sunny Slopes in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Ariel view of sledding in South Park at Sunny Slopes
Ariel view of sledding in South Park at Sunny Slopes
young girl playing in snow

3. Be Playful

Play a game out in the cold or play in the snow. There is something so powerful about inhaling cold air as you play outside and games have the added bonus of keeping you warm while it is cold. If it isn’t snowy, you can try games like tag, disc golf or football. If it is snowy you can spend time building snowmen, making snow angels or having a snowball fight. You can even go on a hike and make a game of finding animal tracks in the snow or mud. No matter what you play, one of the best feelings after a cold game is warming up after with the friends you played with.

Try: Disc Golf in Deer Lakes Park. One of the great things about disc golf is that it is a year-round sport. In fact, the winter might even be the best time to try out this game because the lack of vegetation can help you find your discs easier. If you are first time purchaser be sure and pick a disc color that will stand out in the dry leaves or snow on the ground.

4. Support a Local Business

By supporting a local business, we not only ensure the prosperity of our neighbors but also contribute to the regional economy. Local businesses are full of character and reflect the diverse individuality that makes our park communities so special. From cozy cafes, to cool shops and delicious restaurants, you can make a day out of any park visit by staying and supporting the local economy while you are nearby.

Try: Over the Bar in North Park is always sure to have delicious drinks, warm meals and a vibrant ambiance of laughter and good times amongst friends and nearby diners. A visit to OTB pairs great with a run, hike or bike ride through North Park’s large trail system.

sandwich
Wedding Garden in White Oak Park
Wedding Garden in White Oak Park

5. Take Winter Portraits in Your Parks

Winter is a season filled with wonder and charm, and what better way to capture those magical moments than with a family photoshoot in the snow or an artistic attempt to capture the beauty and character of winter trees in the park. Whether you are a seasoned pro with your camera, or just getting started, you can have a great time getting creative with your lens. Some of the best photos we have seen in the parks are at dawn or dusk, so consider taking advantage of the warm hues during our golden hours of the day.

Try: Plan a trip to visit White Oak Park’s Wedding Garden. Even if the flowers aren’t in bloom this beautiful spot is perfect for family pictures or artistic shots. Try experimenting with framing your subjects against the pine trees that surround the area, the wedding gazebo, or a contrasting trail path.

Downy Woodpecker in winter

6. Participate in a Winter Bird Count

Plan to participate in a Winter Bird Count in your local park this February. Each year, the Audubon Society engages the public in this free, fun and easy event to help count the birds outside, which creates a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts, making it an educational outing for all.

Try: The Friends of Harrison Hills Park participates in the bird count every year. This year’s count will take place on February 17 and 18 at the Environmental Learning Center. Learn more

measuring the snow

7. Find Connection in the Parks

One of the best ways to stay warm and fulfilled in the winter months is to engage with others by attending educational classes or participating in park ranger activities together. One idea that can be fun for your whole group or community is to plan an outing or event to participate in outside together. That could be enjoying ice skating as a group, or going tubing, or it could be participating in a self-guided audio tour or community hike.

Try: At Round Hill Park, Farm Tours can be arranged, for daycare to elementary school aged children, to see and learn about the animals who live at Round Hill, for groups of 15 or more people. This can be a great way to gather your favorite community together all while meeting the animals who call the farm at Round Hill home. While the tour and information is geared towards children, adults are sure to enjoy this unique experience as well!

8. Spend Time With Other Outdoor Enthusiasts

One of the coziest ways to spend your winter days is in community, with friends, family and other folks’ who enjoy the same past times as you. There are lots of ways you can find community in the parks – like winter activities and county events so be sure to stay connected even while it is cold outside!

Try: You can find a warm spot of community each winter in Allegheny County’s Lodge at Boyce Park. The nearby ski slopes, terrain park and snowtubing hill brings together a diverse range of people who all love playing outside in the cold. Inside the lodge is the warmth of friends and neighbors all taking a break from their snowy activities. The lodge, where concessions, indoor restrooms, and equipment rental are located for the ski and snowboard area, opens 15 minutes prior to each session.

skiing
trees

9. Take a Hike and Enjoy Winter’s Most Vibrant Trees

We are fortunate in our region to have groves of eastern hemlocks, which are an evergreen tree that is prominent in our region and is our Pennsylvania State Tree. Hemlocks can be identified by their tiny cones and short and flat needles. Another vibrant evergreen tree native to our region is the White Pine, which has fine, feathery needles and a straight trunk. Both of these evergreens can be found in the county parks and offer a powerful reminder of the strength of a diverse canopy of trees.

Try: If you want a beautiful winter hike, then head to Settlers Cabin Park where you can walk among the lively evergreen trees. We recommend the green-trail, which is a 2.8 mile loop that is rated as moderate and has an abundance of pine trees and a sprinkling of eastern hemlock trees. If you are up for a longer hike, then extend your loop to include the Waterfall Trail. Check out our Trail Guide here which features the details of these hiking options.

Winter is a season of enchantment waiting to be explored. From the exhilarating rush of sledding down hills to the serene beauty of a snow-covered forest, outdoor adventures during the winter months offer a special kind of magic. So grab your warmest layers and thermos, and step into the frosty embrace of our region’s winter wonderland. We wish you the best winter exploring your parks, trying new things and finding the peace and adventure you need.

Your next winter adventure awaits just outside your door!