As the cold weather sets in, taking time to get outside and experience nature is one of the best ways to support mental & physical health.
But many people find it difficult to connect with nature during winter months.
Sometimes it’s the discomfort of being in the elements, or feeling generally a bit depressed during the dark time of year. Or sometimes it just feels like there isn’t much happening in the frozen landscape.
Luckily with a bit of creativity, winter can actually be a fantastic time of year to develop your deeper relationship with nature.
The key is choosing the right activities to get you into your body and activate your senses, while doing it in a way that feels easy and rewarding for your own personal interests & lifestyle.
So let’s explore 10 of the absolute best ways to connect with nature in winter:
1. Make A List Of Your Favorite Winter Activities
If you want to connect with nature in winter, the most important thing is to focus on activities that YOU genuinely enjoy.
I’ve noticed that many people lock themselves into unhelpful expectations about what’s required to have rewarding nature experiences during winter.
You may think you need to plan a big weekend getaway requiring hours of driving before you even get to step outside.
But in actual practice, you don’t have to travel far and it really doesn’t matter what activities you choose to do as long as you’re getting into your body and activating sensory awareness.
So how do you know if you’re getting into your body and activating sensory awareness? Well, it feels fun, inspiring, refreshing, uplifting & nourishing!
For most people, these connected states of mind can be experienced from even the most basic sensory activities like a walk to get the blood pumping in a beautiful snow covered landscape.
Everyone has their own sensory triggers for connection so it’s important to know and be honest about what works best for YOU.
When you focus on what genuinely interests and brings you joy, you will naturally feel pulled to spend more time outside in the cold months.
So let’s start by grabbing a journal and write:
- What helps me feel connected during winter?
- What are my favorite winter memories?
- What are the easiest ways to do more of these activities?
And don’t worry if you haven’t got many ideas yet, just keep reading and see what resonates from the rest of this list.
2. Embrace The Elements (Cold Training)
One of the reasons nature has such a profound positive effect on mental & physical health is because it pushes us to grow beyond our comfort zones. And perhaps the biggest comfort zone in winter is being exposed to cold and wet conditions.
When faced with cold and wet, it’s very common for people to constrict their body and resist the discomfort, which inadvertently causes you to shut down your senses.
If instead however, you practice gently and progressively embracing the cold and allow yourself to expand and relax into that cold discomfort (even just a little bit), this can actually be an amazing incentive for your body/mind to rise to higher states of awareness.
Have you ever seen little kids playing in the snow? You’ve probably noticed how they can be soaking wet with icicles frozen to their nose and yet their bodies somehow stay perfectly warm (even while the adults stand around freezing!)
This is a perfect example of the bodies natural ability to generate heat from being in a connected state of awareness.
A great example is Wim Hof, also known as the Ice man.
Wim’s method demonstrates how the combination of cold exposure, deep breathing & mindfulness has tremendous mental and physical health benefits.
And Wim himself even says that he learned his entire method directly from immersing himself in nature.
I’ve been practicing Wim Hof method for a couple years now and I have to say it’s a fantastic experience. There’s just something incredibly enlivening about being out in a snow storm with minimal clothing and yet somehow feeling charged up by a furnace of heat inside.
Nature connection is a state of embodied sensory awareness combined with amplified emotion. The result is that your body feels warm, happy & fully alive regardless of the weather.
3. Go For Night Walks
Winter is a time of long nights which provides the ideal opportunity to develop your latent capacity for nocturnal sensing.
So what do I mean by “nocturnal sensing”? Have you ever noticed how being out in the dark, you instantly become more tuned with listening and being aware of your senses at a deeper level?
The night has a special way of waking up ancient feelings and instincts:
- Your peripheral vision sharpens up like an owl.
- You begin to hear subtle sounds from longer distances.
- You experience that primal taste of fear/adrenaline which brings you fully into the present moment.
- You’re suddenly more conscious of your sense of balance, and how the ground feels beneath your feet.
- You get quiet inside as navigating the dark environment requires a higher degree of focus, awareness & concentration.
Overall what this means is the increased sensory demands of being outside at night are like a meditation aid to help you access deeper states of connection with nature.
And interestingly, you’ll also discover that even though we’re in the dark time of year, winter nights can actually be surprisingly bright.
The winter moons rise higher in the sky, and with all the leaves off the trees, more light penetrates to the ground. If you have snow, it’s pretty amazing how much light gets reflected back.
Definitely try some slow night walks and see how it feels!
4. Sit In The Snow
I always say the best exercise for connecting deeply with nature is to adopt a daily sit spot practice (which I discussed in great detail in my complete guide to using a sit spot in nature).
And as crazy as it may sound, if you’ve never taken the time to just sit in the snow and quietly observe the winter landscape, I highly recommend it!
You might be surprised at just how peaceful and interesting nature becomes when you get into a truly present state of mind and turn your attention towards what’s happening in the natural world around you.
You might suddenly realize there are more things happening in nature during winter than you previously realized. Very often the little flocks of chickadees only become apparent after several minutes of being quiet.
I often fondly recount how my first close encounter with an owl happened while I was hunkered down in a pile of snow, listening to the gentle sounds of snowflakes falling in the dark coniferous forest.
Just look for a peaceful experience and you might be surprised what (or who) shows up!
5. Go Snow Tracking
Of course one of the truly unique and amazing opportunities of winter is snow tracking.
Sometimes it isn’t until you get out tracking in winter that you realize there are some pretty cool animals living right in your own backyard.
Winter is a fantastic time to build your confidence with tracking in good substrates whether you’re a beginner or already more experienced with looking at tracks.
You can have hours of fun learning to identify the signs of local squirrels, rabbits, deer, cats, dogs and their wild relatives.
A few simple challenges to help you get started:
- Learn to identify the difference between cat and dog tracks
- Find a deer trail and see how far you can follow it.
- See if you can map out a complete circuit of squirrel or rabbit trails
- Study the track patterns to understand local animal behavior
- Learn to identify the tracks of animals in very deep snow, or partially melted tracks that obscures the clear prints.
6. Build A Snow Fort Or Shelter
Have you ever built a snow fort or shelter in winter?
Do you remember what it feels like to be fully engaged in that activity?
If you’re like most people, it probably felt weirdly fantastic and primal. But why does something so simple and universal feel so good?
In this world of fast-paced technology, building forts can easily seem like something that’s just for kids. But it’s important to realize just how much sensory and bodily engagement is required to build a shelter from scratch in the snow.
- It gets your blood pumping
- Your heat generating abilities become activated
- It engages your eyes, ears & mind while encouraging a timeless state of relaxed focus
If you’ve never felt this before, I highly encourage you to try it out and pay attention to how you FEEL before you get started, during and afterwards. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Building shelters really wakes things up and connects your entire nervous system in a very ancient way, so be like a kid and go make shelter!
7. Put Out Winter Bird Seed
If you ever find yourself complaining that there just isn’t enough wildlife during winter, the simple answer is bringing the animals to you!
One of the big secrets about wildlife in winter is that their populations become significantly more concentrated around scarce food larders.
This is why it sometimes seems like there are no birds around. It’s because they’re all gathering around key points of concentrated resources in other parts of the forest.
This also means if you can find or create a point of concentrated resources, animals will be drawn from far and wide to enjoy the harvest.
In general, I recommend that you don’t feed birds on a large scale during the warm season because it can spread disease. But winter is actually a fantastic time to do put some seed out.
During winter there’s less overall food spread across the landscape, so it’s actually easier to attract larger groups of birds and animals by putting out a feeder.
8. Give Yourself Good Indoor Routines
I often tell my mentoring students that winter is a great time of year to embrace fun indoor activities that build your inspiration & knowledge about nature.
There’s absolutely no shame in watching some good nature documentaries and hunkering down with delicious warming herbal teas.
In fact, I would much rather you embrace the urge to research and nerd out on book learning during winter so you don’t have to spend your beautiful weather days with your nose stuck in a book!
If you use this time to learn about the local plants & wildlife through books, documentaries & research, then next spring when things warm up you’ll be 100% ready to really make the most of the warm season.
And remember, learning doesn’t just have to be about facts & figures. It’s really about storytelling & filling your mind with exciting ideas that transform your relationship with nature.
So snuggle down with stories about bobcats, wolves & anything that inspires you to connect deeply with winter. Then when spring comes around you’ll be primed and ready to channel all that inspiration into real action and discovery in the field.
9. Feel The Sun Consciously
We all know that winter is a time of year that lacks energy from the sun, and this can have significant side-effects on our mental state, and even our physical health.
All the more reason why you should develop your ability to feel & extract every bit of pleasure from those rare moments when the sun does come out.
Something I’ve learned about the sun is there’s a difference between experiencing the sun passively, compared to being truly present with the feeling of the sun.
In terms of your own solar mindfulness, it’s important to remember that sunlight has two distinct qualities: Light and heat.
- The light quality relates primarily to our eyes and helps to balance our circadian rhythms & neurotransmitters so we feel alert & focused during the day, while getting good sleep at night.
- The heat quality affects our bodies ability to repair and feel deeply nourished… like the deep healing relaxation of sunbathing on a warm sunny day.
In winter, most people tend to focus on the lack of light, but I’ve noticed for myself the biggest struggle comes when my body is lacking that heat quality that really penetrates through the skin and gets into my bones.
So over the years, I’ve learned to really tune my awareness and notice when I feel that solar heat quality on my skin. Then like a lizard, I’ll set myself up against a south facing rock or wall and really tune into how my body is absorbing the warm radiance.
My personal experience is that aches & pains which linger for days or weeks during winter can be completely wiped away from a good 30 minute lizard sit in the sun. I highly recommend playing with this!
10. Keep Window Plants
If you can’t get your plant fix outside because everything is dormant, why not bring the plants in to you!
There’s something incredibly uplifting about being around living, breathing plants during winter.
In my experience, the best plants to keep during winter are those that are:
- Easy to care for
- Help clean the air
- Provide food or medicine
- Do well in low-humidity environments (like a house during winter)
I’ve had great success with Aloe Vera & Rosemary. These are both incredibly tolerant of dry conditions, so I don’t have to worry about watering them constantly.
As a long term strategy, wouldn’t it be amazing if every home in cold climates had a plan for integrating greenhouse or sunroom spaces that can help improve food security and keep us connected to plants all year round?
Indoor plants are an incredibly easy way to get started and stay connected all winter long!
Some Final Tips To Help You Enjoy Nature During Winter:
Along with all the different strategies discussed above, I want to remind you to always go easy on yourself.
1. Keep It Simple
The purpose of having different options is not to prescribe you lots of stuff and make your life super busy.
Rather, in my experience the key to deep connection really comes down to finding your ONE thing that feels truly simple and easy to apply.
2. Be Kind To Yourself
If you are someone who occasionally finds winter a challenging time of year, just remember you’re not alone, and to some degree it’s perfectly normal to feel a bit less motivated during these cold, dark months.
Over the years I’ve observed both in myself and my mentoring students that much of the unwanted feelings people experience in winter don’t come from the actual winter itself. It comes from the personal judgments we have about being in a more internal winter energy.
So I really encourage you to give yourself massive compassion and remember that winter is never permanent. It’s all just part of the natural cycle of life, which means warmer days are coming.
3. Look For Beauty
If ever you don’t know what to do, just do anything at all!
Simply look for something beautiful and let your awareness rest there. Then look for more beauty and repeat. It’s that simple.
And if you want more help getting into nature this winter season, check out my Steady Natural Skill-Builder’s course.
This online course is designed to help you integrate the key mindsets & daily routines that help you identify and connect with your own personal motivation & capacity for meaningful action on the nature connection journey – click here to learn more.