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Winter Beach Activities

Winter Beach Activities

We’ve all been there. It’s January (or November or February or whatever month brings the most drearies to your neck of the woods). It’s cold and wet and cloudy, the kids are restless, and everyone is struggling to find motivation to get out the door.

If you’ve been around the Tales of a Mountain Mama Community for a while, you’ve probably heard us use the phrase: There’s no such thing as bad weather. If you haven’t, we highly recommend you pick up the fantastic book by Swedish-American author and mama Linda Åkeson McGurk.

It’s kind of a catch phrase, but there is so much truth to the idea that you can get out with your kids in almost any conditions – as long as you have the right gear and the right mindset.

photo of two children silhouetted against a cloudy sky and running on the beach
One thing remains constant throughout the changing seasons: kids have energy and need to move!

Let’s Head to the…Beach?

Winter really puts this to the test, especially for those of us who live in moderate climates that stay dark, cold, and rainy for months on end. One of the best kept secrets we’ve discovered to get winter wiggles out when there’s no snow on the ground? Believe it or not, it’s winter beach play!

There’s something magical and unexpected about playing at the beach in winter.

photo of two children dressed in Jan & Jul rain gear playing in the mud for winter beach activities
Trade in the swimsuits for rain suits and a whole new world of fun opens up at the beach!

We practically live at the lake in the summer, but when the conditions change it becomes a whole new world for kids to explore. Familiar spots take on new life, and the idea of wading in the water fully geared up inevitably brings everyone so much joy.

If you’re not convinced, keep reading for some tried and true gear and winter beach activities along with tips to help you prepare for memorable fun even without the sun.

photo of a child dressed in rain gear and kicking mud on the beach
Never underestimate the entertainment value of kicking things into the water and making a splash…

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Winter Beach Play: Make a Plan

What to Bring for Winter Beach Activities

Preparing well for a winter beach day does take some extra effort, but it’s well worth it. One of the most important things to always remember is a complete set of dry clothes for each kid, along with some beach towels that you don’t mind getting sandy or muddy.

We also often toss in an extra set of gloves or mittens (in case one pair gets soaked) and some hand warmers because extremities are always most vulnerable in cold, wet conditions.

photo of a child crouched down on the beach dressed in rain gear and searching for rocks on the beach
Bare hands are great for picking up small objects and digging around in the dirt, but they also get cold quickly.

If you’re looking for a sustainable alternative to disposable hand warmers, check out Amelia’s review of Aurora Heat Reusable Hand Warmers.

As long as the ground isn’t frozen, digging tools are also a winner in winter conditions. Wet sand is perfect for building structures (or monster truck obstacles courses), so as long as your beach toys aren’t too flimsy they’re great to bring along.

photo of two children dressed in rain gear and playing with sand toys on the shore of a river
Simple sand toys work just as well in winter!

How to Build Excitement for Winter Beach Play

As with any outdoor adventure, getting kids in on ideas ahead of time can help motivate everyone to stay positive and engaged regardless of weather or conditions. What will keep them engaged the longest? What ways can you utilize the water for some unique and memorable experiences?

photo of two children in rain suits playing on the beach
When kids help come up with ideas or choose which toys to bring to the beach, they tend to stay engaged with play for so much longer.

Depending on how long you have (or how long you’d like to stay outside), you may want to have a couple of plans for what to do once you get to the beach before you’re out in the elements. We’ve found that if kids have something to focus on right away it helps them get moving which in turn keeps them warmer and happier for longer.

Photo of two children on the beach in winter, one balancing on a log and the other leaning on the log
Everything is more fun when friends come along.

Another great way to get kids excited for winter beach activities is to invite some friends to come along with you. Let’s be honest, this is true for almost any adventure! But it can be especially helpful if they’re less than stoked about getting out the door.

Warming Up after Winter Beach Play

One of the ways we build enthusiasm for winter beach play is to brainstorm fun ways to get cozy after we get the wiggles out. If you can, come up with a special craft, game, or even a fun movie for them to look forward to when they get home.

Bonus if it’s something they don’t get to do very often and you’re able to make a positive association between the wet weather adventure and something that really feels like a treat!

photo of two children on the shore of a lake in the winter, one splashing in the water and one standing on the edge of the water
Winter beach play almost always involves significant splashing, so prepare ahead for how to get dry and cozy after your adventure!

Another way we love to get cozy after wet weather outings is to have a mid-day bubble bath with either a fun bath bomb, bathtub crayons, or glow sticks. After everyone is clean and dry, have a nutrient-dense snack and a warm beverage to keep the warmth going and the positive vibes flowing!

Winter Beach Activities: Gearing Up

Best Base Layers

Another mantra of the TMM team is to just say no to cotton next to the skin whenever possible. This is especially true where there is potential to get moisture sneaking in around the cuffs or if there’s high potential for kids to get sweaty. Cotton soaks up moisture and traps it next to the skin, and when you combine that with cold it can get both uncomfortable and dangerous quickly.

photo of a child smiling and wearing a Jan & Jul Cozy-Dry play suit and waterproof mittens
Warm and dry kids are happier kids!

For some of our top recommendations for kids base layers (and discount codes!), check out Stephanie’s Best Base Layers for Kids post.

In cold, wet weather we always recommend wool base layers if you have them. Wool retains about 75% of its insulating power even when it’s wet, which makes a huge difference in keeping temperatures regulated.

photo of two children walking in the tidal flats in winter, one with his jacket open
Even in colder temps, kids can get warm quickly when they’re moving around.

The downside to wool is that it is typically more pricey than other materials and takes some additional care. If that’s not your jam, there are also great synthetic options out there (like polyester, spandex, nylon or a blend of these) that will keep kids warmer and drier than cotton. REI has a great post on How to Choose Baselayers that goes through different fabrics and their properties if you want to learn more!

It’s important to remember that active play can cause kids to heat up (and sweat!) quickly even in colder weather. The wet and cold combo is an instant fun killer and a recipe for disaster, so pay extra attention what’s next to your kids’ skin and you won’t regret it.

Warm Footwear

Another piece of gear that often doesn’t get enough credit is a quality pair of socks. Again, material is critical (following the same guidelines as with base layers) and you also want to make sure socks are long enough to cover the entire area underneath the boots.

photo of a child dressed in a Jan & Jul rain suit and waterproof mittens, splashing in the water
Always be prepared for water above the ankles…

Darn Tough, Smartwool, Icebreaker, and REI all make high quality kids socks that keep feet as warm and dry as possible.

If you’re heading to the beach, where there is potential for kids to be splashing in water that’s ankle-deep or higher, you want to make sure their boots are as tall as possible to minimize the chances of water intrusion. Lower boots with pull-on holes are great for lots of other kinds of play, but the beach really requires maximum coverage.

photo of two children dressed in rain gear playing at the edge of the water with a brown dog
Tall boots make a world of difference in keeping socks dry, especially when the cuffs of rain pants creep up during active play.

If your kids are really serious about their splashing, you may be interested in the KidORCA over-the-knee boots that gets high marks from TMM team member Jami. For more moderate splashers, the Puddle-Dry Rain Boots from Jan & Jul, Stonz Rain Boots (use code MTNMAMA15 for 15% off), and Muckboots for kids are all excellent options.

Regardless of the boots you have, it’s important to make sure that the soles and seams are intact and that rubber isn’t cracked before you head out. Even the best boots don’t keep out water once they’re compromised.

photo of a child's feet wearing rain boots standing in mud
Securing pants over boots is ideal for keeping out water and mud.

We also find that securing rain pants OVER boots works best for keeping out water. This can be tricky when rain pants are a bit on the shorter side or when the elastic on ankle cuffs is weak, but we find this to work much better than trying to tuck the bottoms of rain pants inside of boots.

Outerwear

There are two main options for wet weather outerwear: one-piece rain suits or a jacket/pants combo. Suits work best for smaller kiddos and for keeping out water from all possible angles, while a jacket and pants can provide more versatility and ease-of-access for bathroom breaks.

Suits

A quality one-piece rain suit is an absolute game-changer for super active kids or littles who will inevitably end up rolling around on the ground or sitting in puddles. Our absolute favorite suits are the Cozy-Dry (fleece lined) and Puddle-Dry (unlined) Play Suits from Jan & Jul. Their waterproofing is super impressive (and eco-friendly!), and their gear comes in lots of fun, bright colors and patterns.

photo of two children dressed in Jan & Jul Cozy-Dry play suits and playing in the water
Jan & Jul’s Cozy-Dry Play Suits and waterproof mittens are an awesome combo for winter beach play!

Another suit we love is the Stonz Waterproof Play Suit (use code MTNMAMA15 for 15% off). Also incredibly waterproof and durable, this suit is thinner than the Jan & Jul suits and works best layered over warmer base- and mid-layers in the winter. We also LOVE that it has elastic straps to help secure the bottom of the pants underneath the soles of boots!

Jackets & Pants

Again, Jan & Jul is at the top of our list for quality and durability in this category. They make rain bibs, pants, and jackets in both the Cozy-Dry and Puddle-Dry options, and their gear holds up to some serious hard play while still keeping kids dry. We especially love the length of the jackets and the fit of the hoods.

photo of a child sitting on a log at the beach in the rain wearing Jan & Jul rain gear
Jan & Jul’s Puddle-Dry Waterproof Rain Jacket, Puddle-Dry Waterproof Pants, Puddle-Dry Rain Boots, and Toasty-Dry Waterproof Snow Gloves combine for a successful beach outing in the nastiest PNW winter weather.

For a balance of quality and affordability, it’s hard to beat the Reima Lammikko rain bibs. Paired with the Reima Lampi jacket, kids can withstand hours of hard play in the rain and wet (and again we love that the bibs include a strap to secure pants to the soles of boots!).

photo of two children standing in the water next to each other wearing Reima Lammikko rain bibs and jackets
Reima’s Lammikko Waterproof Rain Pants are an awesome options for kids who love to splash!

Waterproof Mittens

Hands are often the first things to become uncomfortably cold, especially in wet conditions. And while mittens and gloves definitely compromise dexterity for fort building and sand sculpting, they also make it possible for kids to last A LOT longer on winter beach adventures.

photo of a child crouching in the water playing with toys dressed in a Jan & Jul Cozy-Dry play suit and Jan & Jul waterproof mittens
Kids know how to put waterproofing to the test!

Even if my kids resist wearing them initially, I always have gloves or mittens available just in case they end up wanting or needing them.

One option is to wear non-waterproof liner gloves under a waterproof shell mitt like the 360 Degree Reflective Waterproof Shell Cuff Mitt from Polarn O. Pyret or the Kura Unlined Rain Mittens from Reima.

If you want mitts that are insulated AND waterproof, look for ones that have longer cuffs that extend past the wrist and cinch down around the opening. The Jan & Jul Toasty-Dry Waterproof Snow Mittens and Stonz Kids Mitts are a couple of our favorites that also work well in the snow.

photo of a child wearing a Jan & Jul Cozy-Dry play suit and Jan & Jul waterproof mittens, playing in the water
With or without mittens, be prepared for hands to go in the water.

Whatever brand you choose, just know that all things are not created equal when it comes to waterproofing. Evo has an excellent guide on How Waterproof and Breathability Ratings Work that can help you understand the tech specs on the gear you have or are considering.

For a full round-up of all our favorite rain gear recommendations, check out Amelia’s Best Rain Gear for Kids 2022 post!

Rain gear discount codes

  • Use code MTNMAMA to save 20% on Reima gear
  • Use code MTNMAMA15 to save 15% on Stonz Gear

Winter Beach Activities

MUD!

There are few things that get (most) kids squealing with delight quite like good ole fashioned mud. It’s squishy, it’s sticky, it’s often “forbidden”, and it looks like poop. What more could a kid ask for?

photo of a child smiling while kneeling in the mud wearing a Jan & Jul Cozy-Dry play suit
Mud = magic.

There are also few things that get (most) parents squirming quite like mud. It sticks to everything, it makes its way into every nook and cranny of the house, it gets caked under fingernails and dried into clothes, and it looks like poop. What more could it do to add to our workload?

Of course that’s an oversimplification, but it does take some deep breaths for a lot of us as parents to truly embrace mud play. Especially in the colder weather when rinsing off is a more uncomfortable and complicated task.

photo of a child wearing a rain coat with her face and body covered in mud
Muddy kids are almost always happy kids.

But here’s the truth that stands the test of time: Mud is SO MUCH FUN if you can embrace it. Need convincing? Go read Ginny’s post Preserving Wildhood: Go Play in the Mud and give it an honest try.

Gear yourself up and stomp along the mucky shore of a lake. Challenge your kids to make mud balls and toss them as far as they can into the water. Watch their faces light up when you give them permission to get downright dirty. It’s magic.

photo of a woman jumping into the air and clicking her heels together on the shore of a lake while a child stands next to her
Moms need to stay playful too!

Sand

If you’ve spent much time at the beach in the summer, you know that wet sand is ideal for building. It’s packable, moldable, and typically requires you to collect bucket after bucket of water to get it to the perfect consistency. Great news about winter beach play? That perfectly sculptable sand is ABUNDANT without you having to do a thing.

photo of two children wearing Jan & Jul Cozy-Dry play suits building a stick fort on the beach
Winter is perfect for building epic beach forts.

Building forts is one of our favorite winter beach activities – we use rocks, branches, logs, and sand to construct some epic hideouts and castles and imagination playgrounds. You can even bring along a carrot nose and try your hand at constructing a Frosty-esque sand person!

photo of a family walking on a sandy beach in winter
Walks on the beach are perfect when sand is damp.

Another way to add some memorable flair to winter sand play is to pick up some holiday-themed cookie cutters and use them as sand molds to decorate your creations.

Water

One of life’s great simple pleasures, there’s just something about creating a big splash that is immensely satisfying. If you’re in a temperate climate like the Pacific Northwest like we are, the lakes never get cold enough to freeze over and are perfect splashing grounds throughout the winter months.

photo of a child splashing in the water wearing rain gear next to a brown dog
Never underestimate the joy that comes from a good splash.

There are all kinds of classic lakefront activities that are just as fun in the winter – rock skipping, digging channels and making “islands” at the water’s edge, and splash contests are just a few. Our kids also love to tie long blades of grass to sticks and pretend to fish – I’m always amazed at how long this can entertain them.

photo of two children wearing rain gear and crouching next to the edge of a lake pretending to fish with sticks
Teach a paper gingerbread person to “fish” and you feed them for a lifetime…

The novelty of wading into the water fully geared up is real! And on windy days when the lake has “waves” it becomes especially giggle-inducing for kids to let themselves get splashed by the tiny breakers.

photo of a child wearing a Jan & Jul Cozy-Dry play suit and standing next to a log getting splashed by waves
Lake “waves” on windy days are a novelty that kids love!

If you’re in a coastal area, watch the tides and go on a low tide exploration! Tidal flats are full of interesting treasures and perfectly gooey mud.

photo of two children dressed in rain gear and playing in the mud of the tidal flats
Low tide in temperate climates makes for memorable winter adventures.

Whatever you do, prepare yourself to be outside for longer than you anticipate. Once kids get started with winter beach play, you’ll likely have to drag them away. Pro tip: the more you play with them the longer you’ll last as well!

Know Your Environment

Of course it should be noted that the water in winter, even if it’s well above freezing, is cold and can be unpredictable. Creeks and rivers often move quickly and it’s important for kids to be aware of their environment.

photo of two children standing at the edge of a creek wearing rain gear
Moving water has a mind of its own, especially in winter months. Teach kids to understand and respect their surroundings and there is plenty of safe fun to be had!

It’s always wise to have a “warm up kit” easily accessible with essentials like a blanket, towel, extra hand warmers, and a thermos of warm water or herbal tea.

Winter Beach Play: Managing the Aftermath

Getting Home

Once you’ve embraced the chaos and eventually dragged the kids away from the beach, the reality of parental responsibility begins to set in. What on Earth do we do with all this disgusting gear?!?

photo of a child's feet standing up to their ankles in mud wearing boots and rain pants
Don’t let the fear of clean-up intimidate you from letting kids embrace the fun of muddy play.

We always have a complete set of extra clothes (including socks and underwear) and a towel readily available in the car so kids can take off outerwear and any damp or dirty layers before buckling in.

Once dirty, wet gear is off you can place it in a bag or a tub or pile it on a tarp in the trunk depending on your preference. Just try to separate it from where kids are sitting in the car if you can to avoid spreading mud or sand as much as possible.

Another great hack is to have kids stand inside a bag or tub as they peel off their wet outerwear, that way it’s already contained and you can just lift them out into the car!

photo of a child wearing a Jan & Jul Cozy-Dry play suit and waterproof mittens holding a handful of dirt and smiling
“Hey, Mom! See how much dirt I got all over my mittens?!?!?”

We also typically have a cozy blanket, stuffy, or lovey in the car to help with the transition.

Cleaning Gear

Once you’ve unloaded your mound of winter beach carnage, rinse off as much excess sand, dirt, and mud as possible either with a hose or in a utility sink. Next you’ll want to either move straight to drying things out or – if necessary – wash the especially or stubbornly dirty stuff.

photo of a jacket hood with beads of water on its surface
Caring for waterproof gear properly helps it do its job longer and more effectively.

Keep in mind that technical gear will wear out much more quickly and lose its waterproofing properties if it’s not washed properly. For some great tips on how to make your gear investments last, check out Jami’s post on How to Clean Your Outdoor Gear and Kristin’s post on How to Wash Wool.

Drying Out

Hang drying is always optimal for outdoor gear, although it can be tricky finding indoor space in rainy or cold weather. As much as possible, try to keep wet things separated as they dry (don’t hang jackets or suits on top of each other).

For fleece-lined suits, jackets, and pants like the Jan & Jul Cozy-Dry line, we recommend turning them inside out initially to dry out the lining. Boots can either be dried on a boot dryer (like this one from DryGuy or the larger capacity PEET Advantage Plus), or upside down on a floor vent.

When good gear does its job, kids think nothing of dangling their feet in frigid water while they make nature creations.

Avoid storing anything in an enclosed space if it’s still damp – if anything err on the side of leaving things hanging longer than you might think you need to in order to avoid unnecessary stank.

Winter Beach Activities: The Bottom Line

Like most outdoor adventuring, winter beach play requires creativity, preparation, patience, and proper gear in order to maximize fun and minimize tears. With all of these things, however, the beach can be just as memorable and fun in the winter as it is in the summer and is a fantastic place to burn off energy even when the weather is less than ideal.

photo of two children silhouetted against a cloudy sky running through tidal flats
The beach: it’s not just for summer!

What are your favorite ways to play on the beach in the “off season”? Share your ideas in the comments! If your beaches are frozen, check out TMM Team Member Kristin’s post on Ice Play!

Related Articles:

Winter Beach Activities

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