You may not be a big winter fan and you probably don’t have any aspirations to climb Everest but snow camping is its own category of a fun but challenging nature vacation. The lack of crowd and bugs is just a bonus.
Now that it’s officially winter in the U.S. and snow is beginning to accumulate plan for an exciting adventure to sleep outdoors and enjoy peace and quiet as well as majestic views of trees, mountains, streams and lakes covered with ice and snow – all of that while you enjoy a glass of bourbon in front of a campfire.
Camping in the winter can help a lot with fighting the winter blues – or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) according to science – because you spent a lot of time outside soaking as much sunlight and fresh air as you can. You can still enjoy your favorite winter activities even if you choose to sleep outside. Most camping sites are in national parks where you can ski, snowshoe, snowboard, sled…
Preparation is crucial for snow camping. With just a little of it, you may be surprised how pleasant and relaxing snow can be. But you can’t just pack a few things and go. Know the weather forecast but expect sudden changes, storms and wind. It’s the mountain, you can’t predict anything. Wear warm clothes and dress in lots of layers. No jeans, of course. It’s mandatory that your boots are waterproof. You want them to be comfy and not too tight so they won’t affect blood circulation. Sunglasses and sunscreen! Winter is not synonymous with “my skin doesn’t need protection.” The white snow reflects on your face and you’ll be burned before you know it. Don’t forget to bring batteries, flashlight or headlamp, and WATER.
You’ll be out in the cold while performing activities that generally burn a lot of calories. You need warm drinks and foods that boost your energy a lot. So look for items that are rich in carbs and protein (and some fat). Mac and cheese is a good option.
Familiarize yourself with the camping area so you know what to do if you decide to bail. Tell someone who is not coming with you where you plan to stay so they know where to look for you if they have to (hopefully not). Last but not least, make sure you have the right tent of winter camping. They are a bit heavier but that’s necessary for snow and wind safety. Camping in a tent is only one option. You can always stay in an RV or a cabin for more comfort.
Now that you are familiar with what it takes, choose your destination.
Adirondack Mountains, New York
If you want to go hiking in the Adirondacks, you should do it in the winter because the snow cover can make things much easier – you basically slide through and opposed to walk in mud. Frozen lakes give you access to places you may not be able to reach, at least not easily or fast, in the summer. Try camping in an Adirondack lean-to. It’s a three walled log camping structure. You can find them on Lower St. Regis Lake and also along the south shore of Osgood Pond near Paul Smiths.
Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon
This awesome getaway spot is very popular in the summer. But going there in the winter can be much better as you want to escape crowds, enjoy the snow covered forest without pumping into people, or go downhill skiing freely without worrying you may hit someone. Nordic skiing and skijoring are the things to do in the winter there. The Trillium Lake Campground is a good place to settle. The lake is beautiful and small, and you get a magnificent view of Mt. Hood.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
This park has the tallest dunes in the country. So go camp near them and enjoy try sandboarding. You can also sled or ski on the dunes in the winter. The Piñon Flats Campground is open but you have to make a reservation. It’s always peaceful there this time of year. It’s also almost always sunny but very cold. The weather can change in an instant as the Great Sand Dunes is a high elevation park. Bonus: You may come across deer or elk in their natural habitat.