Winter Solstice: 5 Fun Ways to Celebrate

Moon hangs over the trees in winter


The winter solstice on December 21st marks the official beginning of winter. For those of us in the North, this means snow and ice, and usually lots of it. At the time of the winter solstice, the sun has reached its southernmost position, making December 21st the shortest day and longest night of the year. Afterwards, days will progressively become longer and nights shorter.

Illustration of what daylight will look like on the winter solstice from space

View from space of the winter solstice. Notice how the North will receive nearly 24 hours of daylight! [Image:]

People around the world have been celebrating the solstice since Neolithic times. It’s believed that the Stonehenge in Britain and Newgrange in Ireland were both carefully aligned to the movements of the winter solstice sunrise and sunset. Traditionally, this solstice was celebrated communally with bonfires, outdoor activities, music, warm drinks and good food. Lucky for us, none of these things have gone out of style. With that in mind, here are five ways to make the most of this day.

  1. Visit an ancient site

Rock walls that make up America's Stonehenge in New Hampshire

America’s Stonehenge in Salem, NH [Image:]

Can’t get to the British Isles in time for the solstice? No worries! We’ve got some ancient sites right here in the States that are hosting winter solstice events. Indiana’s Mounds State Parks is holding a winter solstice wander to the large prehistoric earthworks built by the Adena-Hopewell people. These mounds were once gathering places for religious ceremonies, and, like Stonehenge, appear to be astronomically aligned. Or celebrate the solstice under the towering Redwoods at the Muir Woods National Monument in California. There will be activities all day long, including crown- and wreath-making, guided walks, storytelling, luminaries and live music. Located in southern New Hampshire, America’s Stonehenge, a site that includes standing stone structures, is hosting their own celebration with a hike and New Age solstice ritual. (Did we mention there’s an alpaca farm there, too?!)

  1. Get hiking

Get out and enjoy the day by joining one of the many winter solstice hikes hosted at the state parks. Jones Beach State Park in New York is hosting a casual stroll along its shoreline. For a more thrilling adventure, go for a night hike and then gather by the campfire for s’mores and warm drinks at McKinney Falls State Park in Texas. At Tryon Creek State Park in Portland, Oregon, there will be an evening guided walk followed by treats cooked using a Dutch Oven.

  1. Revel in your shadow

A person takes a picture of their very long shadow on a midwinter day

Snap a winter shadow selfie on the solstice! [Image:]

Your shadow in the winter months will be longer than your summertime shadow. At noon on the solstice, your shadow will be the longest of the year! Take a shadow selfie and share with us on Instagram.

  1. Bust out the snowshoes

If there’s snow on the ground, head to the state parks for some solstice snowshoeing. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park in Minnesota is hosting a guided snowshoeing adventure and bonfire to celebrate this astronomical phenomenon. Download your state’s free Pocket Ranger® app to locate more snowshoeing trails and winter events near you.

  1. Party!

People hold hands around a winter's bonfire


After all, the heart of winter solstice is celebration! The popular West Valley duo Silverback will be playing a solstice concert among the cacti and gardens at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park in Arizona. Native American storyteller, Loren Russell will also contribute to this event with his masterful flute playing. In Florida, a lively solstice gathering will take place at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, complete with drum circle, bonfire, and belly dancing. Bring your own drum and picnic fare, and get ready to join in the fun!

If you’re looking for even more December fun, the state parks have plenty of great upcoming state park events for the whole family. Just use the Events Calendar feature within your state’s free Pocket Ranger® app to discover more festive winter happenings near you!

How to Distinguish Elk, Reindeer, Caribou and Moose

Deer in the mist.

Who is that beyond the mist? [Image:]

On a misty morning behind the tall trees, a deer appears with startled eyes from the nothing, timidly standing around. There’s a mythical air that hangs about this beautiful creature. It’s no wonder Ancient Japanese and Chinese considered them divine messengers and symbols of tranquility.

Still, with 90 deer species in the world, it’s hard to say what you’re looking at. When it comes to the largest of the bunch we have you covered. Elk, reindeer, caribou and moose all share major characteristics, including behavior, size, antlers, and coat. They are easily recognized from afar due to their enormous size, but can be hard to differentiate. Though mostly docile, the viewer should approach deer with caution as they can react when provoked, especially during mating season. Here are some clues on how to distinguish elk, reindeer, caribou and moose— best learned before your next scouting day.


Elk laying in the snow.


Called wapiti (light-colored deer) by Native Americans, the elk is the second largest deer after the moose. Its antlers can grow up to 4 feet, weighing about 40 pounds. This is especially important to females who pay close attention to males with larger antlers, usually gathering around to pursue them. Healthy bulls with large antlers are great at winning battles and dominating small herds. Males typically shed antlers in March and grow them back in May, which they’ll use during clashes to determine who gets to mate with whom. Elk measure 4 to 5 feet tall and weigh anywhere between 300 to 1,100 pounds. Their coat ranges from light tan in the summer to a darker brown coat during winter; typically their neck and legs are darker than the rest of their body. Males have a thicker, darker mane on their neck. Elk calls include barks, mews, squeals, grunts, coughs, and the bugle, which can be heard through the mountains during breeding season. Look for elk in dense forests and open spaces, such as aspen groves, mountain meadows, and desert valleys.




Famous for pulling Santa’s sleigh, reindeer don’t actually fly (shocking, we know), but they are good swimmers! Reindeer are considered domesticated caribou that travel in herds or roam within pastured land. Their furry, hollow hairs provide a cozy insulation during the cold. And like us, their noses take in cold air and turn it into warm air! Their fur color varies, from brownish to white depending on range and season. Prehistoric nomads relied on reindeer herds for their meat, hides, antlers, milk and most of all, transportation. These practices are still found in the Arctic and Europe, most notably Alaska and Siberia (See Nenets herding reindeer in Siberia). Female or cow reindeer are the exception to the rule; they grow antlers unlike other female deer. Male reindeer (bulls) shed their antlers in December whereas females shed their antlers in the summer. This means come Christmastime, females will be pulling Santa’s sleigh. Reindeer communicate by making a clicking sound with their knees as they walk, making a discernible sound even from ten meters away. Bulls measure about 80 inches in length and weigh between 200 and 650 pounds. Females are smaller at 71 to 84 inches in length, weighing 180 to 260 pounds. Their antlers can reach 39 inches in width and 53 inches in length.




Reindeer and caribou share similar characteristics; after all, they’re cousins. Their paths diverged during the last Ice Age. Caribou are the wild ones, while reindeer prefer the comfort of home. In North America, reindeer are called caribou, though the names are used interchangeably. Caribou travel more than 600 miles along annual routes, sometimes going up to 3,000 miles during winter migration— the longest migration among mammals. Like their cousins, they survive mainly on lichen, and can be found roaming in forests, mountains, and in the tundra up north. Their hooves are perfect for harsh winters, and allow them to dig through snow for moss. Reindeer and caribou that still have antlers late in the year are known to be pregnant. Their antlers come in handy when defending their food and scaring off larger caribou from suitable areas meant for their offspring. The woodland caribou is considered endangered in the U.S., with only a few surviving south of the Canadian border.


Image: www.

Image: www.

Moose are easily discernible by their massive antlers, which measure up to 6 feet in length. Antlers are true only for males, and noticeable after one year of age, as they continue to grow. As in other deer, growing antlers are covered with soft, furry skin called “velvet.” Moose antlers are broad and flat with finer pointed edges. After reaching maturity, moose antlers start to recede each year until it dies. If antlers are not present, moose are easily recognized by their long face and loose skin hanging under their throat, making them appear sad. Moose use their antlers during mating season to intimidate competitors and spar with rivals (called rut), and make calls (bellows) to woo females. Adult male coats differ from young ones: adult moose are dark brown, and young ones are reddish brown. Their keen sense of smell, hearing and swimming ability makes up for their poor eyesight, so don’t underestimate them. Moose are tall, so expect them to be hiding out in high grasses and shrubs; lowering their heavy heads to ground level is rather difficult. During winter they eat shrubs and pinecones, but also mosses and lichens.

To see where all these wild deer roam, download our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps to find a state park near you. And if you spot a cool deer, share it on our social media sites, like our Pocket Ranger® or Trophy Case Instagram accounts.

Tips for Wheeling in the Snow

Every year during winter, many outdoor enthusiasts head out for wheeling in the snow. Before running out the door, here are some helpful tips to ensure you have a safe adventure!


Tools for a car


You should always keep your gear light in order to stay on top of the snow. Pack everything you need, such as a tool kit, Hi-Lift jack, tow hooks, snatch straps and winches. Since you are wheeling in the snow, it is important to carry a snow shovel to dig out tires, axles and frames when your vehicle is pushing the snow and you are not moving.


Four wheel jeep wheeling in the snow going up a hill


One major tip is being able to know snow conditions. Soft, wet snow in the sun is very different than cold snow that is found on slopes and in the shade. Wet, heavy snow is the easiest to get on top of, while dry snow can cause your vehicle to stall. Also be aware of slopes. If you drive back the same way you came, check snow consistency. If the snow is slushy and melting, make sure that you are able to get back on the hill the same way you came.


A line of jeeps snow wheeling

Don’t get stuck in the snow! [Image:]

When you are going nice and smoothly, you may have the urge to accelerate, but this can cause your vehicle to dig holes in the snow. If your tires spin too much it can melt the first layer of snow. When the water re-freezes, it turns to ice and this can cause damage. If you do get stuck, reverse about a foot, and try going forward onto different lines or tracks, in order to get away from the problem spot.


A tire on a jeep with snow for snow wheeling

Check your tires before heading out! [Image:]

For wheeling in the snow, you can have narrow tires and high contact pressure to drive through the snow. If you have wide tires, it provides larger footprints and lowers contact pressure. Lowering pressures to single digits allows tires to make an even larger patch. The mild tread pattern allows the tire to propel across the snow without digging. You may want to travel with an air source for your tires, such as an electric pump or a belt-driven compressor and be sure not to lose your lug nuts.

Cooling System

White toyota snow wheeling

Nothing better than a little snow wheeling. [Image:]

Wheeling in the snow gives off a high amount of resistance that can cause your radiator to overheat. Make sure that your radiator does not get clogged with snow, which limits the airflow through the radiator and the engine. If you are driving an automatic vehicle, run the biggest transmission cooler. Clean fluids are more effective so do regular maintenance schedules, which includes the right mixture of anti-freeze. Running water alone can cause frozen cooling systems and can crack under extreme pressure.


Girl sitting in deep snow

Snow fun! [Image:]

Keep in mind that even though you will be inside of a vehicle, you want to stay warm as the day ends. Dress in layers to retain heat and to stay dry if you are making stops to play in the snow! Inner layers keep moisture away, and outer layers should repel water and wind. Warm footwear is important as well.


Three jeeps snow wheeling in groups

Always travel in groups! [Image:]

Wheeling in the snow requires extreme caution, so it is advised that you travel in groups. It’s best to go with others who have been snow wheeling before. Remember to bring first aid kits. In case something goes wrong, you want to plan and pack the right materials should you get stuck overnight in your vehicle.

Suggested Gear  

  • Snow boots
  • First Aid/Medical Kits
  • On the go snacks

You can never be too safe, so go ahead and make these gears a necessity and check out more at our Pocket Ranger® gear store.

Download your state’s Pocket Ranger® app to search for great trails for wheeling in the snow or even off-roading areas, if you are in a state that doesn’t get snow!

Related articles

Winter Poems

The breeze is fresh and invigorating, almost inviting except for the pesky cold running up your bones. It’s winter outside your window. Do you face the challenge of going outdoors? A blizzard is enough to keep anyone away from the winter wonderland outside. But fear not, there’s much to discover in the wintery fields of nature. Whether hiking, ice skating, or simply contemplating the endless white snow, tread lightly and enjoy our selection of winter poems to keep you inspired!

Snow outside the window.


Winter Trees 
William Carlos Williams

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

A man walking through a snowy pathway with tall trees on each side.


Against Winter
Charles Simic

The truth is dark under your eyelids.
What are you going to do about it?
The birds are silent; there’s no one to ask.
All day long you’ll squint at the gray sky.
When the wind blows you’ll shiver like straw.

A meek little lamb you grew your wool
Till they came after you with huge shears.
Flies hovered over open mouth,
Then they, too, flew off like the leaves,
The bare branches reached after them in vain.

Winter coming. Like the last heroic soldier
Of a defeated army, you’ll stay at your post,
Head bared to the first snow flake.
Till a neighbor comes to yell at you,
You’re crazier than the weather, Charlie.

Girl laying on a bench in the middle of winter.


Thin Ice 
Gary Snyder

Walking in February
A warm day after a long freeze
On an old logging road
Below Sumas Mountain
Cut a walking stick of alder
Looked down through clouds
On wet fields of the Nooksack—
And stepped on the ice
Of a frozen pool across the road.
It creaked
The white air under
Sprang away, long cracks
Shot out in the black,
My cleated mountain boots
Slipped on the hard slick
—like thin ice—the sudden
Feel of an old phrase made real—
Instant of frozen leaf,
Icewater, and staff in hand.
“Like walking on thin ice—”
I yelled back to a friend,
It broke and I dropped
Eight inches in

Girl is skating over thin ice.


The Sky is low (1075)
Emily Dickinson

The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean.
A Travelling Flake of Snow
Across a Barn or through a Rut
Debates if it will go —

A Narrow Wind complains all Day
How some one treated him
Nature, like Us is sometimes caught
Without her Diadem.

A girl standing in the middle of heavy mist.

When the mist is endless. [Image:]

Morning Nocturne
Jill Bialosky

I am glad today is dark. No sun. Sky
ribboning with amorphous, complicated
layers. I prefer cumulus on my
morning beach run. What more can we worry
about? Our parents are getting older
and money is running out. The children
are leaving, the new roof is damaged by
rain and rot. I fear the thrashing of the sea
in its unrest, the unforgiving cricket.
But that’s not it. The current is rising.
The dramas are playing out. Perhaps
it’s better to be among these sandpipers
with quick feet dashing out of the surf than
a person who wishes to feel complete.

Girl reading a book and drinking tea while staying warm with a blanket.


Grab a good book, warm tea, and wrap yourself in a blanket. You deserve it after facing the cold, the snow, and the grueling winter hikes. For more nature poetry, see our most recent collection of bird poems.

How to Choose a Real Christmas Tree

It’s that time of year again! Bring everyone together by picking and cutting down a real Christmas tree. But first, read this simple guide before heading out, so you and your family can pick out the perfect tree for your home.

Step 1: Measuring

Father and daughters measuring xmas tree in snow


The most important step in purchasing a Christmas tree is to know what size tree can fit in your house. Measure the height of your ceiling, but remember to subtract the height of your stand and the tree topper so you get the maximum tree height that can fit. Also, clear the space where the tree will be placed. Species of trees vary, so you want to be sure you won’t be crushing the branches against the wall. The next thing you want to measure is the size of your stand to make sure it’s big enough to keep the tree upright.

Step 2: Smelling and Touching

Tree farm worker taking the tree to be wrapped

Found the perfect tree! [Image: Lisa Narine]

Choose a great tree farm that you have researched. Once you have arrived at the farm, it is now time to pick out your Christmas tree! Through this process you should use two important senses, which we all possess: smelling and touching. Grab any branch on the tree between your thumb and forefinger, gently clamp down and pull towards yourself. If you end up with a handful of needles, the tree is already past its prime.

Crush the needles in your hand and check the scent. If the tree doesn’t have a smell, don’t buy it!

Bounce the tree by holding it a few inches above the ground and dropping it. If the exterior needles fall off, it’s not good. Make sure the tree’s trunk fits your stand. Trimming the diameter of the tree by cutting away the bark will strip the tree of its layer that absorbs water. If this happens, the tree is damaged.

Step 3: Shaker & Wrapping

Men wrapping a xmas tree


Once you have found your perfect tree, have the worker put it through a shaker, if they have one. This will remove any dead, interior needles. If needles fall off, don’t worry. It is normal for an evergreen tree to have dead needles. After this, have the tree sent through the machine to wrap it in netting for easy transport.

Step 4: Cutting the End

Man getting end of tree


Cutting the end of the trunk opens up the veins, which will deliver water to the branches. Use a saw and take at least an inch off, or you can have the worker do this for you before leaving the farm. If your drive is more than four hours, you should skip this step and do it when you are home because the end will glaze over and the tree will not take up water.

Step 5: Putting Up the Tree

Christmas tree stand with tree inside


Now that you have your Christmas tree home, fit the tree into the stand. Most stands have small prongs in the bottom to hold the center of the tree. Place the tree into the stand and drive the stand’s prongs into the trunk and tighten up the thumbscrews that hold the tree into the stand. Before tilting the tree vertical, set down some newspaper or an old rug under where the stand will be to catch any spilled water. After you succeed putting up the tree, add clean water into the stand. For the next two days, the tree will consume up to two gallons of water, so make sure you are refilling the water frequently.

Step 6: Spread out the Branches

Decorated xmas tree in a house


Cut off the mesh and spread out the branches. Now, it’s finally time to decorate! If you have small children in the house or as guests, make sure to keep glass ornaments at the top of the tree. Dispose of the tree responsibly when Christmas is over.

Download your state’s Pocket Ranger® app to find tree farms in your area by using the Nearest Me map feature. Using the Events Calendar feature, you can even search for Christmas state park events.

Gifts for Outdoor Enthusiasts

On the hunt for great holiday gifts for the outdoor enthusiasts in your life? Look no further than our Pocket Ranger® Gear Store! We’ve combed through our inventory to help you narrow down the top gifts that are sure to make any “outdoorsy” person merry.

Stocking Stuffers

We’ve got plenty of steals for under $20 that will fill up those stockings. This time of year, everyone is wishing for a new pair of mittens or gloves, and we’ve got plenty to choose from! We can’t resist this knitted pair with pink squirrels on them.

A collage of gifts for outdoor enthusiasts including socks, ninja mask, mittens, and survival gear


Instead of another boring scarf gift, why not a ninja mask, which we think is perfect for a day spent on the slopes. Follow it up with a pair of SmartWool socks, which are legendary for retaining warmth and shape. We also recommend tucking some survival gear into those stockings. The Ultimate Survival Technologies ParaKnife Survival Kit 3.0 includes a 3-inch tang knife, whistle, bubble compass, spark wheel, and tinder-starter all encased in an easy-to-pack nylon sheath.


Tubbs Womens Snowshoes


For those times when hitting the slopes is too much of a hassle, snowshoeing is the answer. Tubbs is renowned for their quality snowshoes, and their Frontier series is no different. With Quick-Step binding, it’s easy to slide into these snowshoes and begin your trek outdoors. The bindings are adjustable, and because they perfectly center your boot, you get more directional stability and safety. The slightly upturned frame at the back of the snowshoe reduces musculoskeletal impact. Tubbs Frontier Snowshoes come in both men’s and women’s sizes in our Gear Store.

Down Parkas

Truth be told, it was hard to pick just two winter coats from the hundreds we have available in the Gear Store. We know that warmth is priority #1 for anyone venturing into the outdoors this winter, and we have both down and synthetic fiber jackets in stock.

Two down parkas for men and women


Our Mountain Hardwear Downtown II Down Coat for women is warm enough for lengthy adventures spent outdoors and yet classy enough to wear out on the town. Water-resistant and lined with high-pile Volboa fleece, this coat’s extra-long cut gives you lots of coverage. For men, we like the Craghoppers Cleveland Jacket, which keeps you warm and dry thanks to its AquaDry waterproof membrane. Roomy enough to wear over a sweater and featuring a removable hood, we think this could be someone’s new go-to, three-season jacket.

Camping Gear

From tents to sleeping bags, our Gear Store has got you covered. Give the backpacker on your list a quality headlamp to see them through all those starry (or stormy!) nights. The Mammut X-Shot Headlamp has a combination of floodlight and spotlight LED bulbs with adjustable brightness settings. We also think a portable water filtration system, like the Katadyn Mini Ceramic Microfilter looks nice all wrapped up with a bow.

A collage of camping gear, including a tent, water purifier, headlamp and sleeping pad


Most already have a favorite sleeping bag, but a sleeping pad is the key to a good night’s rest on the trail. We’ve got an array of sleeping pads available, such as the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Trekker Sleeping Pad. Wanting to get a big ticket item for that serious alpine adventurer on your list? We think they’ll love a featherweight Mountain Hardwear EV2 Tent. Made for camping in all four seasons, this tent’s single-walled Evolution Tension Arch design can withstand the worst snow and wind.

Pocket Ranger® Apps

Feeling crunched for time? The most thoughtful gift of all may be just a download away! Download our free Pocket Ranger® apps onto any mobile device, so the lucky recipient will have complete access to great features, like Advanced GPS Mapping, GPS Tours, waypoint marking, and more!

Oswego County Snowmobiling

With the winter gearing up and snow on the ground, we’re beyond thrilled! After all, it’s the season for a whole slew of fun, cold weather activities, like snowshoeing, ice climbing, skiing, snowboarding, ice fishing, and one of our faves, snowmobiling.

Oswego County Snowmobiling on a sunny day

Snowmobilers take a moment to ready themselves before a thrilling ride! [Image credit: Oswego County Division of Promotion and Tourism]

This year, we’re extra excited to get our engines revved because we just got wind of a snowmobiling paradise where there are nearly 400 miles of groomed paths! With more than enough trails for all of us and all of you, there’s no reason why we can’t spill the beans on where to go. In fact, we want you to invite all of your friends and family for an unforgettable experience!

Oswego County Snowmobiling in a raging snowstorm

There’s plenty of snow in Oswego for this snowmobiling trip. [Image credit: Oswego County Division of Promotion and Tourism]

So, where is this snowy wonderland? Oswego County, NY! Centrally located in the heart of New York State, Oswego County is easily accessible to snowmobiling enthusiasts making it a prime locale for your next wintry getaway. We can’t rave enough about this place, and for that we can thank our latest sponsor Oswego County Division of Promotion and Tourism.

They gave us the lowdown on how to maximize the fun while staying safe, which of course we’re going to share with all of you. Here’s the scoop:

  • Stop in at one of the ten snowmobile clubs that maintain the trails to become a member and for a trail map.
  • Your snowmobile must be registered and insured when using public trails.
  • All snowmobilers must wear helmets at all times.
  • All riders have to stay to the right of the trail.
  • There is a trail speed limit of 55 mph unless it’s otherwise posted.
  • To ensure the safety of our junior snowmobilers, children between 10 and 17 must take a snowmobile safety course enabling them to receive a certificate upon completion.
  • Children 10 through 13 are allowed to operate a snowmobile off their own property when accompanied by (or within 500 feet of) a person at least 18 years of age.
  • Get trail conditions before you go or call 1-800-248-4FUN (4386) for more information.
Snowmobilers getting ready for a ride at Oswego County

Image credit: Oswego County Division of Promotion and Tourism

We think Oswego County Division of Promotion and Tourism has thought of it all. They even have an app where you can get interactive maps of the snowmobile trails, information on public parking locations, details on restaurants, lodging areas, and other businesses along the Oswego County trail system. Click to download the free Snowmobiling Oswego County app, available in both Apple’s App store and Google’s Play store.

While you’re at it, download our free Pocket Ranger® Guide for New York State Parks and Official New York Fishing, Hunting & Wildlife Guide to help you explore the beauty of New York’s natural areas year-round.

We know you don’t need any more reasons to head over to Oswego County, but here’s one more before you hit the road. By paying club dues and registering your snowmobile, you’ll be contributing to the development and upkeep of the trails throughout the County. That means you’ll be able to make your Oswego County snowmobiling vacation a tradition for years and years to come!