Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area

Courtesy of Kathryn Lloyd

Jay Lloyd's Getaway: Low- to no-cost winter fun

December 21, 2018 - 6:00 am

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — There's no such thing as a free lunch or a free puppy — they all come with a cost. 

But we can at least boast of free or very low-cost winter outdoor recreation. 

Let's consider the ways. 

If you go fishing in the winter, you can either spend a lot of money to drop a line in Caribbean waters, or spend no money by sitting with a line on the ice.

If you go ice skating, you can go to crowded pay-as-you-go rinks, or skate for free on a nearby frozen lake. 

You can pay for high-priced lift tickets, transportation and lodging at a ski resort, or you can go cross-county on a local, scenic trail. Hiking is free and exhilarating. 

OK, you got the idea. Now here's the where and how.

Ice fishing

Close to home, Deep Creek Lake on Green Lane Park in upper Montgomery County draws local ice fisherman for its bounty in trout, crappies, bluegill and bass. 

It's easily accessible from Route 29, and there's plenty of parking. Fisherman can hit the ice when it's 5 inches thick. The best bet is to call ahead for daily information on ice conditions — 215-234-4528. 

Elsewhere, some of the top ice fishing spots in the region can be found at Pennsylvania state parks. 

Marsh Creek Lake in Chester County is a pristine 535-acre oasis, brimming with fish. You'll find largemouth bass, muskellunge and walleye, along with an assortment of smaller panfish. 

Other options include French Creek State Park in Berks County and Lake Nockamixon in Bucks. 

One warning: The state park ice is not monitored and park management recommends making sure that the ice is at least 5 inches thick, which means you must carry an auger to check the thickness. 

Some important tips:

  • Always carry safety equipment, including rope and a life cushion that can be thrown.
  • Wear a life jacket, especially on deep lakes and ponds.
  • Drill several test holes to make sure the ice thickness is safe.
  • Always fish with a partner.
  • Dress in layers.

Ice fishing at Deep Creek Lake on Green Lane Park in upper Montgomery County
Jay Lloyd/KYW Newsradio

Ice skating

One of the region's best bets for free skating on a picturesque lake is within sight of the fishing area at Green Lane Park. They test the ice for 7 inches of thickness and have a section of the lake set aside for skating. 

Lakes at area state parks are also prime for skating, but be aware that they are not monitored. Forget about those legendary tales of driving a truck onto the ice to test it — they say if the monster doesn't sink, it's safe. 

A better idea is use an auger. Here's another thought: A friend of mine ordered a low-cost backyard ice rink, available from dealers or Amazon for around $350. You can also order online direct from manufacturers for prices ranging from $45 to $2,500.

A backyard ice skating rink
Courtesy of Brian Vassalluzzo

Cross-country skiing

It's free, it's fun and you do it in the snow, which is also free: it's cross-country or Nordic skiing. 

The only investment is equipment. I recently found three nearly new sets of cross-country skis, complete with boots and poles for $8 a set at a local thrift shop. New equipment can run as low as $125, and it lasts a lifetime. 

So now that you're all geared up and togged out in layers, here are some of the most exhilarating local spots to start sliding and gliding. 

Head for the open spaces of Valley Forge Park. Snow sports enthusiasts will find the paths and cross-country trails — alongside Revolutionary-era huts — to be a tranquil time trip. 
Most of the park's acreage is comprised of open fields and wooded glades that are ideal for Nordic skiing. Or, a skier can simply follow the existing paths. Parking is plentiful. Restrooms are located at the visitor center. 

Nearby, there's nearly 20 miles of easily accessible skiing on the Perkiomen Trail. It opens a world of point-to-point skiing, which offers the feeling of travel by skis to an ultimate destination. 

You'll glide along gently graded pathways through changing scenery along the banks of the Schuylkill River near Valley Forge into the upper reaches of Montgomery County on the Perkiomen Creek. 

On the way, you'll ski alongside pristine streams, through small towns and rural settings. There are more than a dozen trail heads where parking is available, including Pawlings Road, Collegeville, Schwenksville, Spring Mount and Green Lane Park. You'll need your own equipment, and restroom facilities are sparse. 

There was a time when Ridley Creek State Park in Delaware County actually carved tracks and laid down a blanket of manmade snow for cross-country skiing. The weather proved too fickle, but when the snow flies, the park welcomes the Nordic ski crowd.

Jay Lloyd's wife and daughter cross-country skiing
Jay Lloyd/KYW Newsradio, file


Among the most dynamically scenic hiking backdrops in our broader region lies on a Pocono Mountain bend of the Delaware River. 

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area extends more than 30 miles and embraces marked hiking trails for most skill levels. They rise both gently and steeply with overlooks that provide panoramic vistas of the "Gap" and the meandering river. 

As a young Boy Scout during the weekends, the southern portion of the vast park right behind the village of Delaware Water Gap was our starting point. 

To this day, it's still among the favorite trail areas for hikers who also enjoy skiing at nearby downhill areas.