11 Surprising Outdoor Winter Activities – No Snow Required!

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Is anyone else looking forward to experiencing all the fun outdoor winter activities? Or, perhaps, you’ve newly resolved to try and embrace winter despite being less than enthusiastic about it?

The only problem for us so far has been that we’ve had very little snow to date. As I was trying to adapt and figure out fun things to do outside without snow, I realized that there are plenty of people out there for whom snow-less winters are the norm.

If that’s the case for you, here are some fun outdoor winter activities to try, no snow required!

1. Fort building

small boy standing at the entrance of fort outside: outdoor winter activities that don't require snow

Building forts is one of those quintessential activities of childhood. And one of the best things about this activity is that you can do it year-round! Leafless twigs and branches just happen to be in abundance during winter, so gather these up and start building! Try out a tepee, lean-to, or an A-frame shelter.

We recently found a bush in our backyard that formed a natural arch with its branches, so we started piling up sticks around it to form walls. We even got a little fancy and wove in some willow branches that I bought at Ikea ages ago. (Sometimes it pays off to hoard things…I just knew I’d find a use for those sticks someday 😀 )

We also had a big yew bush in the front that needed a major trim, so we took all that greenery and used it as insulation for our walls!

Small boy playing in fort outside: outdoor winter activities that don't require snow

Have you seen these fort building kits? They look fun and engaging, so we bought one to give to our little dude this Christmas. We plan to use it inside and outside.

2. Have a fire

fire in backyard

Fires are great any time of year, but I could argue that they’re the BEST in the winter since this is when we’re all probably the most in need of the warmth and comfort that fire provides. Make sure to include hot drinks and something to roast over the fire. Hot dogs, marshmallows….popcorn anybody?

Another thing I love about fires is the opportunity to tell stories! Some of my favorite prompts for storytelling include:

  • What was your worst vacation?
  • What was your best vacation?
  • How did you and your significant other meet?
  • What’s your most embarrassing moment?
  • What are some of your favorite childhood memories?
  • What are your favorite stories from the good ‘ol days? (This one is especially good if grandparents are present.)
  • Tell about a time you got in trouble.

This is such a great way to keep family stories alive and pass them on from generation to generation! It was also a staple of times gone by when entertainment wasn’t so readily available. Let’s bring back the tradition of gathering around the fire and practice the art of storytelling! Reading books by the fire can also be a fun idea. Here’s one book in particular that we LOVE!

More ideas for cozy winter fires:

3. Obstacle course backyard games

I love the idea of this as an outdoor winter activity because one of the best ways to stay warm outside is to get moving! Set up cones or natural obstacles to zigzag around, hurdles to jump over, tunnels to crawl through, things to climb over, balance beams to cross, rocks (or these safer indoor/outdoor stepping stones) to jump across, and so on.

Check out my blog post on creating a treasure hunt in your own backyard. Now most people probably wouldn’t do this pirate-inspired activity in the winter, but I guarentee (can I do that?) your kids would love it since it would be so unique.

4. Have a picnic

Mom and boy having picnic in winter on blanket in the snow

Do this in your own backyard or head to a park! Make sure to bring warm food and drink and a waterproof mat. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, try actually preparing your meal outside over a fire, on the grill, or on a camp stove.

Or, if you’re going for simplicity, just bring some hot chocolate and a small snack. If you want more ideas for a simple winter picnic, read about ours here!

5. Go for a hike

Mom holds small boy on hiking path: outdoor winter activities that don't require snow

Sorry, but this one just never gets old! The great thing about hiking is that every season has a unique experience to offer! Winter hiking generally means no bugs and having trails primarily to yourself. Sign me up for that! If your kids are bored with hiking in general, try something new, like a sensory hike where you pay particular attention to the sounds, smells, and textures as well as the sights around you.

One thing I’d personally like to try this year is a full moon hike! Venture out on your own or search for a guided or self-guided hike at a park near you. Update: we just did this and it was super fun and unique!

For more winter hike ideas, check out this article from Hike It Baby!

6. Visit a botanical garden

These are generally open year-round and offer a mix of outdoor and indoor experiences. A lot of them also have children’s play areas. If you’re not aware of any in your area, do a quick Google search!

We highly recommend Dow Gardens (pictures above), if you happen to be in Michigan. In fact, I wrote an entire blog post on Dow Gardens, here. It’s definitely worth your time if you plan to visit Michigan.

7. Make bird feeders

close-up of pinecone birdfeeder hanging in tree- outdoor winter activities that don't require snow

We did this awhile back, and it’s been one of my favorite outdoor winter activities that we’ve tried! (If you missed that blog post, check it out here!) The birds in our area seemed to enjoy the pine cones that we smothered in peanut butter and coated with birdseed the best!

I love that this activity offers a DIY, the opportunity to get outside and decorate the tree, and the chance to watch the birds after! You can even grab a bird identification book and see if your kids can figure out which types of bird visitors you have!

8. Cardboard box sledding

As someone who typically has winters with snow, I have to confess I’ve never personally tried this one. But I’ve heard that it works! Which is great news for anyone who lives in a warmer climate but wants to experience one of the most classic outdoor winter activities! So go flatten out some of those large cardboard boxes you were planning on recycling and have some fun with it!

If you want some design ideas on this one, just do a quick Google search. I gotta say the images that come up are hilarious! I’m gonna have to try this one soon!

9. Go to the playground

Judging by the lack of people at playgrounds during colder parts of the year, perhaps the general population needs to be informed that playgrounds don’t disappear during the winter only to magically reappear in the springtime. They are, in fact, still there! All year! It’s crazy, I know.

Admittedly, these can be a little hazardous when it’s icy out. But when snow and ice are absent, they’re a great place to take the kids (and yourself) for some fresh air and exercise.

10. Go on a nature scavenger hunt

Close-up of acorns in mom's hands and small boy touching them: outdoor winter activities that don't require snow

Since winter is the time of year that everything is dead, scavenger hunts probably aren’t typically considered when brainstorming outdoor winter activities. But I love doing at least one nature scavenger hunt per season because the things you find are so different!

In the winter, be on the lookout for things like berries, seedpods, acorns, evergreens, and dead flower stalks. Try and see if you can discover where bugs are hiding out. Pay attention to the bark on different types of trees and examine it closely with a magnifying glass. Give each child their own mesh collection bag or plastic storage container and compare what everyone gathered afterward!

I love this idea so much I wrote a whole separate blog post on it! For more winter scavenger hunt ideas, check out this post.

11. Go to the beach

It may not be quite as fun as swimming there in the summertime, but the beach is still worth a visit during winter! Fly a kite along the shoreline, climb rocks or dunes, explore tide pools, check out a lighthouse, watch the waves, or go rock/shell hunting. FYI – You still might want to bring a towel!

Conclusion

It’s too easy to let “dreary” weather keep us and our kids from spending time outside. I hope this list gave you some ideas and inspiration on how to make the most out of snow-less winter days!

Did I miss anything? What are your favorite no snow outdoor winter activities? Let me know in the comments!

Looking for other winter activity ideas, check out my ultimate winter bucket list with over 30 must-do ideas!

PS – Know someone that would like this blog? Please forward it to them!

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