A young child holds up a mushroom to show her mother outside in the woods. The mother wears a backpack.

Outdoor winter activities for kids when there’s no snow

My children stared longingly out of the living-room window, willing the dark, heavy clouds to make their wish come true. They’ve never seen a winter quite like this one. Weeks have gone by, and no snow has fallen to transform the outside world into a snowy playground. 

“Why isn’t it snowing yet?” my 11-year-old son asked me.

“It’s too warm for snow,” I replied, mentally counting on one hand the number of winters I’ve seen no snow in my lifetime.

Here in the Great White North, Canada’s nickname, fresh snow is synonymous with winter, but sometimes the white fluffy stuff fails to fall. For some cities in Canada, this is the norm. Vancouver and Victoria, on the west coast, get little and sometimes no snow during the winter months. Other times, climate patterns like El Niño, which happen every five to seven years, make winters warmer. This happened in 2016 and again in 2023-2024. 

Even though snow provides many opportunities for fun and play, there are plenty of fun outdoor winter activities for kids and families when there’s no snow on the ground. In this article, I’m going to share 13 of my family’s favourite no-snow outdoor winter activities that will get your kids outside, moving, and having fun!

Visit an outdoor skating rink

You don’t need snow or freezing temperatures to go skating outside. Many cities and towns have special outdoor ice rinks with refrigeration systems that freeze water as long as it isn’t too warm, windy, or humid outside. Many of these outdoor ice rinks also rent skates, making this activity accessible for families. 

A mother helps her daughter put on her ice skates at an outdoor skating rink on a sunny day.

Explore nature at night

During winter, days are quite a bit shorter, but outside fun doesn’t have to end once the sun sets. Going for a stroll outside in the dark is a neat activity that most kids really enjoy. Bring along a headlamp, flashlight, or glow sticks to light your way. Notice how your sense of hearing amplifies while walking outside in the dark.

Search for geocaches

Geocaching is a real-world treasure hunt that uses the Geocaching app to discover hidden caches placed outside. There are over 230,000 active geocaches in Canada and 700,000 in the US! When there’s snow on the ground it’s very challenging to find them, but in the winter when there’s no snow and deciduous trees have lost their leaves, geocaching is much easier.

Go sledding anyways!

If your child is desperate to go sledding, grab a sturdy piece of cardboard and find a grassy, sandy, or muddy hill to slide down. Who says you need snow for sledding?

Drink hot chocolate outside

Getting outside when it’s cold but there’s no snow can feel challenging. Encouraging your child out the door with a thermos of hot chocolate works well. If you’re feeling even more motivated, bring along some snacks and enjoy a winter picnic outside.

A mother, father, and two young daughters sit near a pond outside on an overcast day.

Make a nature maze

Gather up some sticks, rocks, pinecones, or anything that is easily accessible outdoors and make a maze on the ground. This is a fun winter tradition that’s usually done around the winter solstice, but it’s easier to find items to use when there isn’t snow on the ground.

Try a winter activities scavenger hunt

Get active outside with this great winter activities scavenger hunt printable. See how many you and your child can do together. No snow is needed for this activity!

Ride a (fat) bike

There’s no need to put bikes away to hibernate come winter, especially if there’s no snow on the ground. While cooler temperatures mean you’ll need to help your child bundle up, wear mitts and make sure their bicycle tires are at the right pressure. (Experts suggest filling them to the lower end of the recommended range so that they grip the ground better when it’s cold.) Most bike trails will be quieter than normal, which is great for biking. If you and your children want an extra challenge, rent fat bikes to try out. These bikes are also fun to ride in the snow too.

Jump into a (frozen) puddle

No snow? Chances are there might be puddles lurking about. If it’s cold enough some of those puddles might even have a thin layer of ice covering them. There’s something extremely satisfying about playing in puddles.

Build a fort 

While a snow fort might not be a possibility, how about making a fort outside with sticks, cardboard, tarps, or even old blankets? Encouraging kids to make forts helps them build their problem-solving skills and creativity and gets them playing outside.

Play snowflake tag

Running is a great way to stay warm when it’s cold outside. To play snowflake tag, choose a couple children to be old man winter, old woman winter, or Jack Frost and another couple children to be the “sunshine.” When the “it” children tag other children, they become snowflakes and must stand frozen with arms and legs extended. If the frozen children are tagged by the sunshine, they melt and return to the game.

Go on a winter hike

Hiking in the winter season is an often overlooked outdoor family activity, but winter hiking has much to offer even when there’s no snow on the ground. Trails tend to be quieter since there are fewer people about, making it easier to spot things like birds, squirrels, and abandoned nests. Pair an outdoor winter hike with the winter activities scavenger hunt activity for some extra fun. 

Make a nature mandala

A nature mandala is a circular design created from bits of nature on the ground outside. To make a nature mandala gather up rocks, shells, pine cones, sticks, and leaves and lay them out into an artistic pattern. For a helpful guide check out this article on how to create a nature mandala on your walks this winter.

A nature mandala made of yellow leaves, acorns, and pinecones.

If it’s winter but there’s no snow outside, take heart! There are many fun outdoor winter activities to do with your kids. I hope this list of 13 no-snow winter activities gets you outside into the fresh air and having fun with your children.

Do you have favourite outdoor no-snow winter activities? Share them below!

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