Close up view of feet in snow, wearing pair of sturdy boots and snowshoes.
Snowshoes Winter is a great time to strap on sturdy boots and snowshoes and head outdoors! © Ami Vitale

Stories in Pennsylvania

A Place I Love: Showshoeing at Cathy's Trail

PA's Hauser Nature Center provides many opportunities to connect with nature—even in the winter.

This article was updated on February 1, 2020.

My snowshoes hang on the wall of my garage awaiting winter’s first deep snowfall. Six inches is my minimum for snowshoeing and most winters accomodate my preferences.

When it happens, I go right out the back door of TNC's Hauser Nature Center where I work. There’s a great trail right behind the building. Just past the ballfields, a small wooden sign marks the trailhead for “Cathy’s Trail,” named for a sunshiny volunteer who shared her time and talent with us even when her time was ending due to illness. Cathy would love this trail, as I do. Snowshoes make it possible to enjoy it year-round.

First-time snowshoers, be aware that although snowshoes make walking in snow easier, it’s not necessarily easy, so don’t plan to go far on your first adventure. Second suggestion—be ready to peel off layers. Consider bringing a small pack for discarded clothing.

The beauty of Cathy’s Trail is that it has two loops. So you can head back for hot chocolate after a short or long hike

Two people wearing orange parkas and shoeshows walk single file along a snowy path.
Ellen and Zach Snowshoeing Ellen and Zach Snowshoeing on Cathy's Trail. © The Nature Conservancy

I suggest practicing on the ½-mile scenic Meadow Loop (which is more like a square) to find a comfortable gait. Watch for tracks of snowshoe hares, whose giant hind feet can be up to a foot long. In winter, their brown coats turn white, making them easy to spot when there’s no snow. 

The trail markers are easy to follow. They are made from tamarack trees thinned from the meadow to maintain healthy shrub habitat for birds such as woodcocks. In the spring they display their magnificent courtship flight overhead before plummeting back to earth to dance in the cover of the meadow’s thick underbrush.

The second loop of Cathy’s Trail—the 1.7-mile Forest Loop—offers an entirely different landscape. It takes you into the forest where the single-track path winds among conifer trees, past a boreal swamp and over a small boulder field remnant. Red spruce and hardwoods signal a transition as you head back toward the meadow. 

Be sure to stop, pause, listen and look occasionally. If you see broken twigs at the foot of a hemlock, look up; a porcupine could be huddled high above you!

A white rabbit rests among snow and trees.
Snowshoe Hare A wild snowshoe hare rests among trees in a snowy forest. © Charlie Ott

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t share a little-known fact: snowshoeing by moonlight is a magical experience. It sharpens your senses—especially your sense of wonder. For me, snowshoeing isn’t about exercise; it’s about being and enjoying outdoors even in the midst of winter. By day or night, it's a wonderful way to enjoy winter.

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