Winter Camping

Cold weather doesn't have to put camping off-limits. Here's how to put an easy outdoor overnight back on the family-fun agenda.
Cabins in snow

Hardcore winter camping in tents staked in snow is probably not your idea of simple family fun. But enjoying the hushed tranquility of nature's off-season is. To do that, you don't have to go far, and you don't have to go to a lot of trouble. You can even stay toasty-warm doing it.

A cabin in the woods. There's nothing like a mini Henry David Thoreau Walden-style overnight in the woods to reconnect you with your family, yourself, and nature. With kids along, the path of least hassle is to choose accommodations that put you out in the woods but not out in the elements. Make a cabin your camp. This way, you have shelter and a home base, a relatively comfortable place from which you can foray into the outdoors and to which you can return when you've had your fill of chill.

Finding a cabin. Check your local state, county, and national parks for those that offer cabin-like accommodations; the Web site for your state's department of natural resources should list camping areas and the amenities at each, including those with cabin camping. Or do a search on the Internet with keywords like "cabin camping" and the name of your state or region or the area you'd like to visit. Make your stay especially easy by choosing a cabin that has electricity, and running water and toilet facilities nearby or in the cabin.

In the Yosemite Valley in California, for instance, you can stay in elevated canvas cabins with wood floors. Though not much more than glorified unheated tents, at least you're out of the wind. And warm showers and bathrooms are just a (sometimes muddy or snowy) walk away. In the winter, it's a veritable city of skiers, snowmobilers, backpackers, and rock-climbers -- an instant community of like-minded nature lovers.

In Oklahoma, the Army Corps of Engineers built wonderful cabins in state parks across the state; some have full kitchens complete with microwaves and hearth-like stone fireplaces. Outside of Vail, Colorado, the Tenth Mountain Division ski-hut network offers 24 cabins connected by 300 miles of cross-country ski trails. These European-style huts are communal, so you might bunk and eat family-style with others -- and make new friends because of the experience.

The point is that there are many versions of cabin camping across the country. In your area, there are bound to be interesting accommodations in rural or wilderness settings that provide the rustic rush of country with the comfort of a roof over your head. Regardless of where you are going and how "dead" you think it will be in the off-season, reserve ahead of time. Be sure to check what amenities are provided so that you can bring any bedding or cooking and eating utensils that you might need.

Continued on page 2:  Food and Activities for Camping