Heart-Stopping Swimming in RockawaysHey, with overall warmer temperatures this winter, maybe this is the year to give the ole Rockaway Polar Bear Club a try....They usually meet for an informal dip on the morning of New Year's Day at Beach 146th Street.
Ice Skating in Queens
Sledding in QueensIf the snow decides to come down -- really come down -- Parks & Recreation will host their Snow Day sleigh-riding fest in Lower Highland Park (Jamaica Ave & Elton St, 718-235-0815; note that Highland is more easily accessible on the Brooklyn side). They'll even provide the sleds, music, and hot chocolate (when it snows, check the NYC Parks site for an announcement.)
If you're looking for something more conveniently located, there's a sweet sledding hill in Bayside's Crocheron Park (on 35th Ave near 216th St), and another in Forest Park in Richmond Hill (Mary Whalen Playground, 79th St and Park Lane South).
Hiking in QueensClear your head and keep moving in the great outdoors of Queens before winter's end. Take a nature walk along the small wetlands trails of Alley Pond (228-06 Northern Blvd, Douglaston, 718-229-4000), stroll along the Atlantic at Rockaway Beach, or do laps around the Unisphere and watch the skateboarders and remote-control cars. If you want to take in some art and good views of Manhattan, meander through Socrates Sculpture Park.
Our top pick for hiking is the woodsy Forest Park -- the Urban Park Rangers recommend a kid-friendly hike on the park's Blue Trail (Woodhaven Blvd and Forest Park Dr).
Beachcombing in the ColdDo real beach lovers love the beach all year round? Yes. The sands of the Rockaways are great for hiking in the winter when there's no crowd, but maybe a few surfers. Top pick for urban explorers is the grounds of Fort Tilden where relics of the fort's past are getting taken over by nature.
Cross-Country Skiing & Snowshoeing in QueensPlease snow! Just so we can say we went cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in Queens. Cross-country ski around Flushing Meadows Park's Meadow Lake (park near Jewel Avenue entrance) or along Forest Park's dreamy winter-wonderland trails, and join organized snowshoeing treks at Bayside's Fort Totten (winter weekends, weather permitting; Cross Island Pkwy and 212th St, 718-352-1769) -- remember to dress warm, because those bay breezes can be harsh!
Birding in QueensWhen all those planes leave JFK for Florida, they have to dodge the flocks of duckies who winter in Queens. It turns out Jamaica's Baisley Pond Park (Baisley Blvd and 155th St) is one of the top NYC winter duck sites. According to the Parks Department, the diverse species that winter here are rarely seen elsewhere in the city.
Playing the Ponies in QueensWinter horse racing in NYC? Yup. Just run on over to Ozone Park's Aqueduct Racetrack (110th St at Rockaway Blvd, 718-641-4700).
Need More Ideas for Winter Fun?How about the best museums in Queens? Most have indoor attractions, but the Queens County Farm Museum will definitely have you outside with winter events. Also the Socrates Sculpture Park has sculpture show of emerging artists on site all season. And the NY Hall of Science has the cure for most eight-year-olds suffering from cabin fever.
Definitely check out the Department of Parks & Recreation's wonderful new free quarterly publication, Outdoors in NYC, for activities, workshops, and events. (The Urban Park Rangers rule!)