ALERT: Full hookup sites now available at Arrowhead Park, Botna Bend Park, and Hitchcock Nature Center for $30 per night.
ALERT: Closure of L-55 Bridge over I-80 (exit 23) to Arrowhead Park scheduled for July 1st. May be closed through early August.

Outdoor Winter Activity Ideas for the Family

Posted on 12/29/2023
by Environmental Education Team
Are the kids starting to get cabin fever? The Pottawattamie Conservation Environmental Education team has you covered!

Did you know the average American spends 90 percent of their time inside? Take a break from screens and the couch and experience something new by getting outdoors this winter—even a few minutes makes a huge difference for your health and mindset.

Here are a few activity ideas we suggest you try with your family this winter season and beyond:


Look for winter tracks and signs

The morning after a fresh snowfall is the best time to discover what kinds of critters are about, but even when the snow melts there are some other interesting animal signs to pay attention to in the winter, including scat, rubbings, and nests. Below are some examples of what to look for, and here's a helpful article about snow tracks from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Winter tracks ID guide.

Animals signs no snow.

Test your tree bark and twig ID skills

Can you tell a tree by its bark? This identification skill may come in handy one day—and at the very least can provide a nice distraction for the kids while encouraging them to engage with their environment.

Tree bark id guide

Twig id guide


Take a hike, or switch things up with a night hike adventure

A family walk around the block can do wonders for your mental and physical health, especially if you've been cooped up together for a few days. What's even better for your health is venturing somewhere more wild like your favorite county park. Check out Botna Bend Park (which also has elk and bison herds), Arrowhead Park (which also has a 17-acre fishing lake), or Hitchcock Nature Center for a getaway hike. 

Switch things up and try something new together by going on a winter night hike. There is so much beauty, wonder, and contemplation to be had underneath the starry winter sky. Botna Bend and Arrowhead are open until 10:30 p.m. and Hitchcock is open until 10 p.m. for your outdoor nighttime adventures.


Participate in Project Feederwatch

Project FeederWatch turns your love of feeding birds into scientific discoveries. FeederWatch is a November-April survey of birds that visit backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. You don’t even need a feeder! All you need is an area with plantings, habitat, water, or food that attracts birds. The schedule is completely flexible. Count your birds for as long as you like on days of your choosing, then enter your counts online. Your counts allow you to track what is happening to birds around your home and to contribute to a continental data set of bird distribution and abundance.

Click here to learn more about how to participate in Project Feedwatch this season (there's now an option to count mammals!).


Watch the sunrise or sunset together

Simply spending time together while watching nature unfold can have a powerful effect on your mindset and connection to others and your environment. One of our favorite spots for both sunrises and sunsets is Hitchcock Nature Center. You're welcome to enjoy the views from our observation deck or tower, or get a little wild and hike out to a Loess Hills ridgeline trail like Badger Ridge (medium), Westridge (difficult), or Fox Run Ridge (easy).

Sunset at Hitchcock.


Outdoor recreation and activities don't have to be reserved for more temperate seasons. There's still so much wonder and fun to be had during the winter months—just be sure to prepare with proper winter gear and protection from the elements!

Check out our program calendar for upcoming winter events at your county parks.

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