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Laura DeMarco's guide to beat the winter blues in Northeast Ohio

Looking for something fun to do?

CLEVELAND — Northeast Ohio winters can be bleak even in “normal” years. This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic limiting activities, it’s likely to be tougher than ever. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of ways to stay active and beat the winter blues. 

We won’t have a lot of the usual winter festivals this year, but the Cleveland area offers a wide array of safe and fun ways to embrace the season.

Rent an igloo: Dine out, winter style, at one of several area restaurants and bars offering private igloo rentals as a COVID-19 precaution. Locations include the always tasty food-and-drink spot Felice Urban Cafe; Lakewood Truck Park; Betts Restaurant outside the Kimpton on East Ninth Street; the South Side in Tremont; and the lovely patio at Georgetown, 18515 Detroit Road, Lakewood, 216-221-3500. Mickey Krivosh’s chic eatery was ahead of the curve, offering igloo rentals a full year ago. Complete with cozy personal heaters, they are a delightful and safe way to enjoy  winter. Reservations necessary at all locations mentioned, call well in advance.

Winter Riverfest, Rivergate Park and Merwin’s Wharf: The Cleveland Metroparks Winter RiverFest will transform Rivergate Park and Merwin's Wharf into a Winter Wonderland through Jan. 18. The festival along the Cuyahoga River in The Flats features synthetic ice skating, light displays, a beer garden and fire pits, retail shop and an igloo village at Merwin’s Wharf. To allow for social distancing, rink reservations are recommended and capacity on the rink will be limited; $7 for adults, $5 for children (12 and under). Rentals, $3. The private outdoor igloos can be rented by visiting merwinswharf.com.

Snow Trails skiing, 3100 Possum Run Road, Mansfield: Mansfield’s charming Snow Trails opened in late December with more than a dozen trails and lifts working. Reservations must be made in advance and capacity is limited due to COVID-19. The quaint lodge restaurant and cafeteria are open with social distancing and mask requirements. I visited with my daughter and we were both very impressed with the protocols in place — and the swiftly moving lines and groomed slopes. A cup of hot cocoa on the open-air second floor patio was the perfect apres ski way to end the day. (There is also a heated outdoor picnic pavilion.) A great winter getaway just an hour down I-71. Info and lift-tickets: https://www.snowtrails.com/

Rink at Wade Oval: There’s still time to skate through the season at the Rink at Wade Oval, open through Feb. 15. Admission for the fun and affordable winter experience is just $2 and skate rentals are $3. Skating by the stunning buildings and grounds at University Circle is the perfect way to beat the winter blues (and get a little exercise, too). Open 3-9 p.m. Fridays, noon-7 p.m. Saturdays and noon-5 p.m. Sundays.

COVID-19 protocols include capacity reduced from 100 to 30, and face masks must be worn at all times. Staff at The Rink will spray rental skates with sanitizer after each use. All public areas will be continuously cleaned, and benches will be spaced to allow for social distancing. Concessions will be limited to pre-packaged items and coffee.

More info:https://www.universitycircle.org/events/2020/12/04/the-rink-at-wade-oval

Toboggan at the Strongsville Metroparks: Live life in the fast lane in Strongsville at the twin, 700-foot toboggan chutes, open until early March. No snow is needed, but advance reservations are required this year, and the Chalet will be closed due to COVID-19 safety precautions. Facial coverings required. For info and reservations: https://www.clevelandmetroparks.com/parks/visit/activities/event-activity-types/tobogganing

Kurentovanje 2021: Cleveland Kurentovanje 2021 is going virtual, and worldwide! The festival will be held the week of Feb. 7, with events daily. The virtual events this year are focused on cooking, connecting people, and creating a celebratory time for people to enjoy with their "quarenteam." The full schedule will be posted on https://www.clevelandkurentovanje.com

Order dinner at Irie Jamaican Kitchen, 4126 Pearl Road, Cleveland: Heat up your winter with take-out from this fantastic Jamaican spot that opened in Old Brooklyn a year ago (an offshoot from their beloved location on East 185th Street). The menu is a fusion of traditional and modern Jamaican cuisine, including curries, jerk entrees, sides and drinks. Order online, or walk in. They are also offering family packs this winter.

Book a private movie showing: Cleveland Cinemas, like so many theater chains, is suffering due to COVID-19. So, they’ve come up with an innovative way to provide viewers with a safe theater experience and help the business, too: private theater rentals. Both the Cedar Lee and Chagrin Cinemas are offering private rentals for you and up to 20 of your closest/socially-distanced friends and family. Watch one of your favorite films in your own private theatre at the Cedar Lee Theatre or Chagrin Cinemas for up to three hours! You can bring your own DVD or watch a new release (also requires purchase of a ticket for each attendee). Packages are as follows:

  • 1-20 guests - $99 for private theater auditorium Monday plus a minimum $50 concessions purchase
  • 1- 20 guests - $149 for private theater auditorium Fri-Sun plus a minimum $100 concessions purchase

Book your rental here.

Snowshoeing: I tried snowshoeing for the first time last year, and, truth be told, it was nothing like the movies. It was A LOT of work. Still, it was a great work-out and way to get out of the house on a dreary winter day. The Metroparks offers several good places to strap on your shoes — which can be rented at Big Met, the Hinckley Boat House and REI — including North and South Chagrin Reservations, Hinckley and Big Met.

A walk in the woods: There are few things more restorative than a winter hike through a quiet, wintery, snow-covered woods. And there are few better places to get your hike on than a Cleveland Metroparks Reservation. There are dozens of local possibilities, but some suggested hikes include around Hinckley Lake; the Rocky River Reservation, which has winter wildlife, recently upgraded natural trails, a new boardwalk and a new footbridge on the West Channel Pond’s family friendly half-mile loop; and the Acacia Reservation All Purpose Trail on the East Side, an easy paved loop trail for all ages.

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