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Columbia’s Winter Bucket List: 10 Things to Do During Our Cold, Snowy Season

By Inside Columbia
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Photos by L.G. Patterson

Winter in Columbia has arrived, whether you’re ready for it or not. And while spending the season hibernating inside can sound particularly tantalizing, there’s so much to do in our community during these cold, snowy months.

To make sure you don’t miss out on anything this season, we’ve put together 10 of our favorite things to do in winter. So grab a steaming mug of hot cocoa and get into the spirit of the season with Inside Columbia’s winter bucket list!

The Magic Tree

Get Into The Holiday Spirit

When it comes to the early winter season, the holidays dominate the scene. While simply spending an evening driving around to find the best area holiday light displays is always a winner in our book, there are other ways to get into the holiday spirit. One of our favorites, and an iconic Columbia tradition, is that of the Magic Tree, started in 1995 by Will Treelighter. The Magic Tree now sits in the Village of Cherry Hill, at the intersection of Scott Boulevard and Chapel Hill Road, and is lit from 5-11 p.m. every evening until Jan. 6. A second Magic Tree can be found at The Crossing, 3615 Southland Drive, that is lit every evening from 5-10 p.m. through the first week of January.

Go Sledding

When the weather accommodates, there is no better way to enjoy the snowy landscape than to go sledding! While the mid-Missouri terrain offers a variety of hilly landscapes, Columbia’s official sled hill is at Stephens Lake Park and is open when there is a minimum of 4 inches of snow cover. That being said, it’s not uncommon to see sledders at places like Twin Lakes Recreation Area and Three Creeks Conservation Area. Where’s your secret spot?

Sledding at Stephens Lake Park

Get Creative

If you’re looking for more of an indoor activity to enjoy, perhaps on a bitterly cold day, then why not try one of Columbia’s many DIY or craft stores? There are places like the Mud Room on Ninth Street and Pottery Island on the Business Loop where you can paint your own pottery; create your own custom fragrance at Makes Scents on Ninth Street; or check out places like the Columbia Art League, Art Underground or Access Arts for a variety of art classes. You can even simply take in some beautiful masterpieces at any local art gallery, including Sager Reeves or Artlandish. It’s the perfect time to get in touch with your creative spirit!

Take A Winter Walk

Whether you enjoy a touch of bitter cold with a snowy landscape or prefer to wait for those few days where the temperature gets above freezing, there’s something refreshing about taking a brisk winter walk. Stephens Lake Park and Rock Bridge State Park are just a couple of our favorite spots to do just that, though those of us with canine companions also enjoy the off-season dog park at Twin Lakes Recreation Area. Some dogs really love running in snow!

Snow on the Katy Trail

Enjoy Eagle Watching

From late December through early February, Missouri celebrates Eagle Days, the spectacular season of winter eagle watching. During that time, you can watch for eagles perched in large trees along the edge of large bodies of water, like the Missouri River. (Missouri’s variety of rivers, lakes and wetlands make it one of the leading lower 48 states for bald eagle viewing.) While Missouri is home to both bald and golden eagles, it is much more common to see bald eagles, as more than 2,000 are typically reported in the state each winter. For a better chance at catching sight of the noble bird flying and fishing, get out early in the morning and remember to dress for winter weather and bring binoculars and/or a camera. One of the best spots to see eagles is just southwest of Columbia at the Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area on Route K. Find more information on Missouri’s Eagle Days at bit.ly/EagleDays2023.

Cozy Up

It’s a simple pleasure to snuggle up inside on wintery day and, honestly, one of our absolute favorites. Whether it’s time to break out the board games and enjoy the day with family or friends, or just spend some quality time under a cozy blanket with a good book, TV show or movie, there’s no wrong way to do this. But make sure you prep! Remember to pick up some good winter reads at one of our local bookshops, like Skylark, Yellow Dog or Columbia Books. And for a delicious winter standard, check out a few of our favorite hot cocoa recipes at bit.ly/ICMWinterWarmers.

Go Ice Skating

While there is no actual skating rink in Columbia, Stephens Lake is open for ice skating when conditions allow, which means a minimum of 4 inches of solid ice before the city makes any announcement of open ice skating. If you do head out on the frozen lake, first check to make sure the sign that says ice skating is allowed that day has been placed. Keep in mind that city workers do not check the ice on weekends, holidays or evenings, and what was determined safe yesterday, may not be today. You can see the full list of criteria at bit.ly/COMOskaterules. Of course, you can always head down to Jefferson City to use the Washington Park Ice Arena, the only indoor (and year-round) ice skating rink in the area.

Try Ice Fishing

But skating isn’t the only way to get out on the ice. When the ice is thick, Cosmo-Bethel Lake is open for ice fishing. The lake is stocked with trout for the winter months, thanks to a partnership between Columbia Parks and Recreation and the Missouri Department of Conservation. Ice fishing is catch-and-release from Nov. 1 through Jan. 31, but then anglers can take fish, following statewide regulations. All anglers between 16 and 64 must have a valid fishing permit. As with ice skating at Stephens Lake, a sign will be posted at the lake if the ice has been checked and is at least 4 inches think.

Igloos at the Roof

Splurge On An Outdoor Luxury

You don’t necessarily have to freeze to enjoy some of our winter scenery. For those with the means to splurge, there’s a couple of ways to more comfortably enjoy the winter landscape. The Roof transforms its outdoor bar area with transparent, heated igloos that can seat up to eight people. While reservations are not required, they are recommended, and to secure an igloo, you must pay a food and beverage minimum of $200-$300, depending on the day. And CoMo Picnics offers luxurious winter picnics in decorated and heated bubble tents in a variety of available themes. This year, the local business is adding a new offering with holiday-themed picnics at the Village of Cherry Tree Square on weekends throughout December, meaning a perfect view of the Magic Tree. Picnics are available for two or more guests and reservations for the Magic Tree are available for $200 for two guests, with $10 for each additional guest.

Take The Polar Plunge

While this annual event isn’t until March 11, we consider it a particularly special winter activity that is worth doing at least once, just to check it off your bucket list. Oh, and to help a really good cause, as the annual Polar Plunge benefits Special Olympics Missouri by having participants brave the frigid winter waters of our area. Participants must be at least 10 years old and raise a minimum of $75 by the day of the event. Learn more at somo.org/plunge. We promise it’s an experience to remember!

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