We all make resolutions for the New Year; we’ll eat better, watch less TV, travel more, learn a new skill (like sheep herding or playing the pan flute), but often by the time we start watching for groundhogs, we’ve dumped them like Thanksgiving leftovers.
There is one way to start 2016 off on the right foot, by taking a winter hike in Custer State Park. Study after study has shown benefits of being outdoors and walking, so this is something fun that you can feel good about. Unlike spending your winter weekends binging on Netflix.
The Creekside Trail and the Grace Coolidge walk-in fishing area are both beautiful winter hikes that are easily accessible and not too strenuous with snow cover. The Creekside Trail runs from the Game Lodge Campground to Grace Coolidge Campground, and is two miles one-way. It parallels the creek as well as the highway, so you will see traffic, though it’s greatly diminished this time of year. There’s very little elevation change and is paved, so if you’re not sure about being able to navigate winter trails, this is a good starter trail.
The walk-in fishing area leads from the highway up to Center Lake, so offers more solitude and a more challenging route. The elevation gain is slight on the way up, but since the trail crosses the creek numerous times, you could get your feet wet. Wear water resistant boots, pack an extra pair of socks, and use hiking sticks to help with your balance crossing the creek. Always be cautious crossing iced-over streams since water with a current has less stable ice than still water. The trail is three miles one-way from the highway to Center Lake.
Even though it’s winter, the park still has a lot to offer in terms of scenery. The creek is especially pretty right now, but cold! One bonus to cooler weather is that wildlife is usually more visible than during the heat of summer. Watch for the bighorn sheep near the Game Lodge and Peter Norbeck Visitor Center; they’ve been hanging around that area lately.
Winter hikes are a great way to liven up your January. That way you can at least feel good about your lifestyle changes when you’re buying all that Valentine’s Day candy (for a friend, of course) and the pan flute is lost under the couch.