Winter doesn’t need to be a season enjoyed indoors. Outside of curling events in town, or even snowshoeing, there’s something about the solace and solitude of just going for a hike. Gordy Yeager Nelson Tract, which you can access just off of Collegeview Road, and also just off of East Circle Drive Northeast (look for a tiny lot and some signage across from the Quarry Hill Nature Center road entrance) is quite different in winter.

Gordy Yeager is more hidden than most of the parks and trails in Rochester, and thus, is filled with less people and more animals. I haven’t seen anyone else yet in the winter months. The big draw with Gordy is that you will almost always hear and see a saw-whet owl. Since 2004, Quarry Hill Nature Center has tracked the birds. Some travel to Rochester from Canada.

If you take time to move with purpose and a bit of silence, you’ll almost always hear one flap overhead. I’m sure plenty more sit quietly watching you as you trek. I have yet to photograph the owls, but definitely keep a camera by your side at all times!

Travelling in Gordy is serene but slightly uphill. Once you get atop where you need to be, pay attention to public and private land. It’s easy to get deep enough into the woods to forget where you are. Especially when you travel it when it’s covered in snow. Everything looks a bit different under the white stuff.

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If you enter Gordy from East Circle Drive, you can walk along Silver Creek. Just make sure to wear cleats here, as it can be a bit of a dramatic drop-off toward the water. And be super mindful of trying to park right now, as the snow is plowed into the lot and difficult to get into.

When you hike into the canopy of trees you’re met with a lot of hills, and just a large space to explore. You have to be careful as there is private land that separates this part of Gordy from the section that usually has owls. But you’ll know you’re to it when you hit a fence. There’s just a lot of open space and a good area to really get a workout. It’s fun to see what is in front of you every time you go up a new hill.

Looking for someplace less off-the-beaten-track? Check out Whitewater State Park. This place is just beautiful to hike around at any time. Of course, there are a lot of steps and vertical areas. You’re going to want to stay on the trails, away from edges, and mindful of your footing at all times. But it’s worth travelling around by foot. Especially if you’re a photographer looking for some cool photos.

A big plus is this place is perfect for dogs as well. My buddy brings his pup all of the time.

Also of note is the fact that you can fly-fish at Whitewater in the winter. Trout are there year-round. Now, if midges and scuds don’t mean anything to you, it probably isn’t a good idea to go fly-fishing on your own for the first time. But if you can find someone who knows what they’re doing, you can slay fish without driving out on ice and drilling a hole (also fun).

One final note: snow pants are not just for children. Buy a good pair and learn to love them. Plus, sliding down snow-covered steps at Quarry Hill is both a fun and effective way down the hill.

"Snow pants are not just for children. Buy a good pair and learn to love them."