Water Trails as a Winter Wonderland: Tips for Enjoying our Favorite Rivers in Winter

New Year's Day Snow in Clarkdale, AZ, 1/1/15

Today’s post is by guest author Susan Culp, Verde River project coordinator

In the Verde River Valley, we rang in the New Year with a rare treat – a winter storm that brought a steady, beautiful snowfall, with accumulations measuring over a foot throughout many parts of northern Arizona. In the desert high country of the Verde Valley, even an exceptional winter storm can’t shackle local residents or tourists to stay indoors. Instead, as my husband and I ventured out to hike, take photos, and enjoy the snow dusted scenery near Sedona, we were joined by a multitude of neighbors and visitors to the Valley. And the hearty souls from the Verde River Yacht Club have been thrilled with all the winter precipitation, organizing several winter paddles on the increased flows – although actually getting out for an on-river may not always be possible if you live farther north.  But that being said, there are many activities and experiences that can connect us to our favorite rivers in wintertime.

Wildlife Watching. I recently attended an excellent presentation by the Arizona Game & Fish Department on developing watchable wildlife opportunities in connection with development of other sustainable river recreation plans. While some species are in hibernation, or on migration to more seasonable southern climates, winter can provide a unique chance to view other year-round wildlife residents and their tracks and traces. With a snow covered background and leaves off the trees, visibility is much better for spotting wildlife, as well as for discovering tracks, scat and other signs of wildlife presence. Check out a few more pointers for viewing wildlife in the winter here.

 Cross-Country Skiing or Snowshoeing. For those fortunate to live near streams that have hiking trails along their banks, a brisk ski or snowshoe can be a great way to stay active during the winter months and enjoy the different seasons along the river. Snowshoeing in particular can be a terrific means to discover wildlife tracks and follow them to the animals that are foraging, pursuing prey or wandering along the riverside. If the snow drifts aren’t too deep and the trails are relatively clear, a simple hike along the riverbank can be an excellent way of experiencing your local river in a new light. Wintertime, often free of the crowds, noise and bustle of summertime recreation, is the perfect season to appreciate the restorative quiet, peace and solitude of nature.

Photography. Capturing the picturesque beauty of a river in winter on camera is incredibly rewarding. Numerous tips and suggestions are available online for photographers of all skill levels to practice taking photos of winter landscapes – ranging from planning your day or adjusting the appropriate settings on your camera, to selecting and framing the photographic targets.

 Stargazing. The cold, crisp air of winter can provide some of the best conditions for viewing the night sky. Atmospheric haze is greatly reduced in the winter months which allows the relatively dry winter air to yield a clear and transparent night sky that seems positively bursting with stars and constellations that often go unseen in other seasons.

These are just a few of the activities that can get you outdoors during these long winter days, get a little post-holiday exercise, and connect with nature on your local stream. While the type of pursuit we choose may be different, the still, quiet beauty of winter on the river is an experience everyone can enjoy. What are your favorite wintertime activities? Share with us on our Community Forum.

Susan Culp is the principal of NextWest Consulting, LLC and has over 15 years of experience in natural resource management, research and policy analysis, conservation advocacy, community engagement, collaboration and coalition building, and issue and political campaign management in the Intermountain West. She currently represents American Rivers as their Verde River project coordinator.

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