If you love to camp, the start of winter might mean that your fun is over and you start packing up your gear for the season. Or, you could be the “tough as nails” type who camp no matter what the season.
Either way, camping in the winter months has both positives and negatives. On the positive side, cooler temperatures often translate to no bugs and no crowds. If you’re heading to a frigid region, frozen lakes and streams mean you’ll be able to explore previously unreachable spots, or simply get to them more easily and quickly. On the not-so-positive side, it takes a little planning to camp when it’s cold, especially if you’re a bit of a novice. You need to learn how to layer your clothes well (so you are warm but do not overheat), and you will have to bring more food, as you burn more calories during colder weather.
There are so many great destinations to head on your first winter camp, but to help you get started, we’ve put together this list!
Sand dunes? Really? In Colorado? Yes, and they’re actually the tallest dunes in North America. Sitting in the southern half of the state, Great Sand Dunes National Park includes not only massive sand dunes, but a diverse landscape comprised of grasslands, wetlands, forestland and even alpine lakes and tundra. One of the most popular activities, summer or winter, is sandboarding, sledding or even skiing on the dunes. It’s quite the experience, and you never have to worry about rocks or trees. You can also hike dunes year-round.
Like all National Parks, this park is usually packed with summer guests, who then clear out in the winter. Visit during these cooler times and you’ll be treated to clear skies (day and night), solitude and quiet. Yes, it quite cool during the days, but it’s also typically quite sunny. In fact, the sun can even make the sand feel warm to the touch. Still, be prepared for subzero temps and blizzards. [source: National Park Service].
Yosemite is one of the National Parks that everyone knows. One of the first wilderness parks in the United States, it’s famed for its numerous waterfalls, ancient sequoias and deep meadows. Not surprisingly, it’s a popular choice for summer visitors, but crowds quickly vanish come winter, when the mercury drops significantly and the snow begins to fall [source: National Park Service].
Plan to visit December through March, when much of the park is going to be draped in a blanket of snow. You can still access the Yosemite Valley and Wawona areas by car (the Tioga Road is closed, usually by sometime in November), so head there. Once you’ve set up camp, you can look forward to skiing, snowshoeing and hiking. The Glacier Point/Badger Pass Road is plowed to the Badger Pass Ski Area, a popular spot for both downhill and cross-country skiing. You can also cross-country ski along the Wawona Meadow Trail to Mariposa Grove, filled with towering sequoias. Don’t forget to head over to Yosemite Falls! While the water won’t be rushing as fast as it does during springtime, there should still be a small flow [source: National Park Service].
This 14,000-acre state park has been declared a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve. Highlights of winter camping here include the massive collection of Redwood trees (some towering at over 300 feet, making them the tallest living creatures on Earth) and sightings of the native Roosevelt elk. Temperatures during winter hardly go below 0F, but it’s still wise to prepare for the cold and layer appropriately. During the winter the beauty of nature is sharpened as the rain washes off the dust from the greenery.
Winter is one of the best times to visit Pictured Rocks. The National Lakeshore runs for more than 40 miles along Lake Superior. Lots of people head here in summer and fall to enjoy its impressive cliffs, waterfalls, lakes and the Grand Sable Dunes, a 5-square-mile area of unusual, overlapping dunes rising high above Lake Superior [source: National Park Service].
Yet in the winter, the crowds fall away, leaving the stunning lakeshore for those who make the journey. You should be one of them. This is your winter wonderland for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, ice climbing, winter camping, ice fishing, and snowshoeing [source: National Park Service]. All campsites, however, are quite rustic. Make sure to keep your eyes open for the numerous animal tracks that are easy to spot come winter.
Looking for excellent ski trails? Then head to Gooseberry Falls State Park! The variety of ski trails allows skiers to choose a trail that suits their skiing skills, from beginner all the way to advanced. The trail along the river is popular with winter visitors as it offers a great view of Lake Superior. Campers can drop by the visitor center and warm themselves by the fire while they learn trivia about Gooseberry Falls State Park.
Locals who live nearby are in on the big secret! This popular summer getaway is a great place to head in winter – maybe even more so than in summer. 20 miles east of Portland, this area is hugely popular for snowsports, such as downhill skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, skating, sledding/tubing, and more. The forest here is so large, that you have a countless number of places to choose from when picking a place to set up camp.
Do you have a favorite winter camping destination? Please share it with us below!
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