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If this winter has prevented you from getting out and hiking, now is the time to take advantage of the warmer temps!

Charlie and I spent an entire afternoon hiking the trails at Dells of the Eau Claire County Park this past week and miraculously had the place all to ourselves!

Most parts of the trail were packed down from snowshoe traffic but the recent inch of new snow was marred only by deer tracks. Layers of snow and ice still blanket the river, but if I listened carefully I could hear the faint babbling of water flowing underneath. Animal tracks covered the frozen river everywhere, making the place seem alive with wildlife even in the absence of their physical presence.

We veered off onto lesser-used trails away from the river and although the path narrowed from lack of human use, the quantity of deer tracks increased to the point where I had to wonder if we were actually on a deer trail.

Since I know this area well, I recognized several landmarks and knew we were on the right path. Charlie was insistent on exploring the multitude of deer tracks that intersected the foot trail and quickly tired out from plowing through deep snow, sometimes covering her completely in its depths!

Away from the river, the only sounds to be heard were the wind blowing through the fragrant pines, tree limbs eerily rubbing against each other and the occasional tweet of a bird.

We stopped and took a break at a stone picnic shelter where I filled Charlie's travel bowl with water. I could tell by the amount of snow she was eating that it was time to get a drink. We had a light snack and warmed up in the sunlight before continuing on.

More on hiking: Hiking news from around the state | Your hiking photos | Create a map for your next hiking trip

I've become so tired of bundling up in bulky layers this winter so I took a chance and wore jeans instead of my usual insulated hiking pants. The wind was chilly on my legs but the sun was warm and kept me comfortable enough. Wearing a thinner layer made me feel light and energetic, encouraging me to hike longer than usual. I was so grateful to have more range of motion with the reduced layers!

Optimism toward the change of season brightened my spirits and I caught myself smiling more than once during our hike. Basking in the glow of Charlie's enthusiasm for being outside along with the fresh air and sunshine, I picked up the pace and ran up and down the hills with her, making up for lost time from hibernating all winter.

It's been a long winter with record snowfall and sub-zero temperatures but amazingly we made it through and the end is near. I highly encourage you to get out and explore your favorite hiking trails, breathe some fresh air and soak up some sunshine; you’ll be glad you ventured out!

Read more posts from Heather Burt.

Heather Burt documents the ongoing journey with her dog as they play, hike and road-trip around Wisconsin in her blog www.HikingWithHeather.blogspot.com. Burt hopes to bring awareness to our state's bountiful natural beauty while encouraging people to enjoy nature.

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