“How did I not know this trail existed?” my friend Laurie wondered.

In one small step, the GeoTime Trail in west Waterloo catapulted us from the Hadean eon into the Archean eon. In our quest to soak up a drop of vitamin D, we set out to move our slow-as-winter-molasses bodies with a brisk walk on a trail neither of us had hiked before. We found a hidden gem that is entirely worth it.

Winter feels like a good excuse for hibernating, but fresh air, exercise and nature improves mental health, brain function and even creativity. Your mind and body will thank you once you’ve overcome the magnetic pull of the sofa, a good book and warm blankets. The City of Waterloo has over 150 kilometres of trails and one of the best ways to explore is to walk – and reap the benefits of the outdoors.

The GeoTime Trail, opened in 2007, is a 4.5 km loop trail marking 4.5 billion years of the earth’s geological history; that’s one metre of trail for every one million years of geological time and one millimetre represents 1,000 years.

Dr. Alan Morgan, a professor emeritus of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Waterloo conceived of the trail as a way to illustrate the idea of geological time.

“Just imagine,” he urges, “the very last centimetre of the trail represents modern human time, including early man. And the dinosaurs go extinct only in the last 65 metres of the trail.”

How’s that for some deep contemplation of our place in the universe on a winter afternoon walk.

Beginning at a common parking area on Sundew Drive (at Mayapple Street), the trail winds through 80 foot tall hardwood forests over rolling terrain. It skirts the edges of the Waterloo Moraine, an environmentally sensitive area in the middle of a growing suburb. Interpretive signs along the way point out geological time periods and features such as kettle lakes, which would have been part of the landscape millions of years ago.

FYI: The GeoTime Trail does not have directional signs so pay close attention to the map on the interpretive signs. The City of Waterloo plans to add wayfinding signs soon.

Winter is winter and yes, it happens every year whether we like it or not. Railing against it does no good when that energy could be spent on a good walk or hike outside. No specialized equipment required, just some good layers and a thermos filled with a warm beverage.

Spending time outside in a Waterloo Region winter isn’t just limited to the GeoTime tail. Here are a few more Waterloo trails and activities to get you outside, moving and exploring:

1. Laurel Trail (8 km) crosses from Hillside Park in the east end of Waterloo all the way to Laurel Creek in the northwest where it twins up with part of The Great Trail. Stop for lunch in uptown Waterloo, which is conveniently at the mid-point of the Laurel Trail.

2. Find groomed trails for cross-country skiing at Laurel Creek Conservation Area and Bechtel Park. Ski and snowshoe rental is available at Laurel Creek CA, Saturday & Sunday, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. No rentals at Bechtel Park, bring your own. Walking and snowshoeing is also welcome on these trails but practice good trail etiquette and don’t walk in the ski tracks. Be sure to bring a container of sunflower seeds for the chickadees.

3. Want something more regular? Join the Waterloo Region Nordic Ski Club, which provides ‘learn to ski’ and training for youth and adults in Bechtel Park and Waterloo Park. They attend races and loppets (all ages mass participation events) and organize ski trips and tours for members.

4. Lace up your skates and head to one of 22 outdoor rinks across Waterloo. The Waterloo Public Square rink is open 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. Check out the Skate Night Date Night with live music on Feb. 22, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.   

5. Looking for something a bit more heart-thumping? Join the crew from King Street Cycles and The Hydro Cut for a Wednesday night winter fat bike cycle ride. Riders meet at The Hydro Cut (Snyder’s Road Parking lot) at 7:00 p.m. Bring your own bike and lights or rent one from King Street Cycles or East Side Cycles. Trails at The Hydro Cut are open year round according to conditions. Always check before heading out.

6. Join a local outdoor group, many of which can be found through sites like Meetup.com. The Grand River Outdoor Adventure and Recreation Seekers has weekly hikes, walks and more.