by Jennifer AistSnow on the ground doesn’t have to mean hibernation for the camping gear. With a little know-how and planning, your family can enjoy the mountains all winter long, thanks to an explosion of interest in cold-weather camping experiences, even for kids. But for many parents, especially those new to the idea of spending a night in the snowy wilderness, a happy medium is waiting.
| Related: The Ultimate Family Camping Checklist |
Hundreds of public use and private cabins exist for rent across the country. Some come fully stocked with cooking gear, permanent beds, and power. Others are truly bare bones, with rough bunks and wood-burning stoves providing heat and cooking facilities. Whatever your choice, and no matter where you live, cabins are a great introduction to winter camping. From east coast forests to the far north of Alaska, cabin camping is alive and well, thanks to a plethora of government-run or privately owned properties.It’s important to choose wisely, however, based upon your group’s ability, age range, and experience with backcountry life. Consider the following:
– Winter travel can be slower than summer. If you are new to winter camping, choose a destination close to the car. A good rule of thumb is to pick a trail half the distance you would travel in the summer.
– Know the heat source ahead of time. Wood burning stove? Propane stove? Oil burning? Never count on a cabin being stocked with stove oil, chopped wood, or propane. Always bring extra in case foul weather extends your trip. And don’t forget an axe or hatchet, and matches.
– Ensure safety. Your cabin might be located in a wintertime avalanche zone. Talk to local rangers to make sure the trail you plan to take is safe in the winter months.
– Know your recreational neighbors. Find out if motorized vehicles, particularly snow machines, are allowed on the trails. Some areas allow snow machines in alternating years, others alternating weekends. While you may be hoping for peace and quiet in the woods, snow machines do a great job of packing the trail ahead of you, an unexpected bonus.
No piece of gear will become as valuable for winter camping as the pulk sled. The secret to easier backcountry travel when the snow flies, a pulk allows campers to haul extra gear, and even kids, for longer distances. Sleds can be purchased ready-made, or you can construct your own from a bike trailer or snow machine sled. Everything from the packable crib to a bouncy chair and safety gate can make the trip with relative ease; try that strapped on a backpack. Pulks are not difficult to make, and these websites make it simple: Ski Pulk or Wilderness Engineering.
Winter camping is also the perfect reason to eat high-calorie foods like butter, chocolate, and loads of carbohydrate deliciousness. Calories are burned quickly staying warm, so make sure you keep everyone in the party well-fed and hydrated with extra snacks and lots of water. Not an expert at campfire cooking? Pre-make meals and heat them up over the stove, or transport elements of simpler recipes. Food in the outdoors tastes great, no matter how you get it.
This winter, experience the magic of a still, starry night nestled in comfortable silence of the backcountry. Wake up to a whole new landscape created by gently falling snow. Make snow angels and toss some snowballs, then head inside for hot chocolate and a cozy afternoon by the fire. Winter creates a whole new set of joyous memories.
If you go:
Try these resources for cabin overnight stays in a variety of areas:
- Appalachian Mountain Club
- State of Alaska DNR
- Colorado Parks and Wildlife
- Sierra National Forest California
Jennifer Aist lives and works in Anchorage, Alaska, and is the mom of four active children. She is the author of Babes in the Woods: Hiking, camping, and boating with babies and young children. Jennifer also publishes the outdoor website WildernessForKids.com.