Tips for Winter Hiking

by | Jan 19, 2012 | Impressive Places, Tips & Tricks | 10 comments

A few winters ago, my brother Jonathan and I did something we had never done before. With several inches of freshly fallen snow on the ground and predictions for more in the forecast, we jumped into the Envoy and headed out to Coopers Rock State Forest in the mountains around Bruceton Mills, WV. The chance to get a good workout while doing some West Virginia winter landscape photography was something I had been hoping to do for a long time!

The park was a completely different place in winter than in summer. Instead of driving out to the famous rock outcropping that overlooks the Cheat River, we had to hike in 3 miles and out 3 miles on snow-covered roads and trails. What a fun day!

Here are a few things we learned from our memorable afternoon excursion:

  • Most park roads are closed during winter. This should be common knowledge, but I don’t go to parks in the winter very often. Just prepare to do a lot of walking.
  • Calculate exact distances before you set a timetable. When I was planning the trip, all I read was, “During the winter months, you must park at the entrance parking lot and walk in.” No problem, park entrances are close to the main attraction, right? Well, not always. It wasn’t until I had arrived at the parking lot that I realized it was a three-mile hike to our destination. Three miles isn’t far, but it is a long way to walk for an afternoon excursion.
  • Plan more time than you expect. Things like what I just describe happen to me more often than not. Smile
  • Dress in layers. This is also common knowledge, but it’s especially important for photographers. While hiking, it’s easy to stay warm, but while composing pictures and waiting for the light to cooperate, you cool down quickly.
  • Drink the water you bring. When it’s cold, you tend to not get as thirsty, but it’s just as important to drink water to keep from getting dehydrated.
  • Bring a map and follow it closely. Trails are hard to follow in the snow so check to make sure you are going the right direction at every fork or questionable passage. Though it’s easy to retrace your steps, it’s always more convenient not to have to.
  • Hike with a companion! On an adventure such as this, it’s not hard to find volunteers, but the old saying that “two are better than one” is especially true when normal hazards are magnified by cold weather, snow, and ice.
  • It gets dark sooner in the winter. It was a rare opportunity to shoot a winter sunset at Coopers Rock, so we stayed at the overlook until sunset. This meant hiking in the dark even though it was only 5:30 in the afternoon when we started heading back.

Having learned these pointers in combination with the photography and hiking, our trip was a very positive experience! I can’t wait to do something like it again.

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  1. Bethany

    That last picture is stunning!

    Oh, and thanks for the tips for if I ever go hiking 🙂

  2. Sarah

    Hey James thoughs were some great tips you posted! I have a question I was woundering when did you get intrested in photography? I have a little sister who loves it and is quite good at it for an 8 year old, we got her her own digital camera for Christmas she hopes one day she will be a great photographer.

    • James

      Glad you asked, Sarah. A post I wrote a while back might be a good place to start in answer to your question: My uncle also had a big impact on my love for and style of photography; he traveled the world on business and the images he came back with were always an inspiration to me.

  3. Bethany

    That would be neat if you posted about when you got interested in photography and tips for people who are not so good at it (like me :P)!

  4. Sarah

    Thank you James that was an excellent post on how you got to were you are! I was very happy to read how much the Lord and your uncle has impacted on your career!
    God Bless Sarah!


    I used to do some winter hiking and photography when I lived in Oregon, but now that I”m in Arizona it is quite a drive to find any snow. I wanted to mention that to be sure and take a little extra food and water with you on these hikes if possible and you should always have a lighter and a flashlight with you too, just in case!! I love the last photo you posted.

    • James Staddon

      Thank you for the additional safety advice! Safety is always higher priority than pictures.

  6. Bev

    Great pictures! It’s also important to let someone know where you are going, in case winter conditions worsen or someone is injured. Some food and survival blankets, a flashlight and extra batteries, a rescue flare a few plastic garbage bags and some strong cord all pack up small and can mean the difference between getting home safely or not. I live in an area where winter conditions are unpredictable. Better safe than sorry.

    • James Staddon

      Great thoughts. One of the reasons we went on the hike was because my brother was preparing for something called ALERT Academy ( so we could load up his backpack with all the extra supplies we wanted. 🙂


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