If you love to camp, you may hate it when winter rolls around and spoils the fun. Or, you may be so tough that you don't care if there's a little snow on the ground under your sleeping bag. You may even enjoy the challenge. Of course, it doesn't have to be such a challenge if you "camp" in an RV or cabin, or simply head south to a warmer clime.
Either way, there are some things to keep in mind when you're pondering a winter camping trip. On the positive side, winter camping often equates to no crowds and no bugs -- perfect conditions if you want to really enjoy nature, along with a large dose of peace and quiet. 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 [source: Adirondack].
On the not-so-positive side, it takes a bit more planning to camp in winter, especially if you're a novice. You need to figure out a good layering system for your clothes that will keep you warm without overheating, for example, and you'll have to take in more calories, as you lose more during cold weather [source: Adirondack].
You've already decided when you're going camping, now you just have to decide where. We've picked 10 places, listed in no particular order, where you can enjoy the great, cold outdoors.
Oregonians living near Mt. Hood National Forest are in on a big secret: This popular summertime getaway is actually a great place to head in winter -- maybe even better than summer. Sitting 20 miles (32 kilometers) east of Portland, the forest sprawls 60 miles (97 kilometers) south from the Columbia River Gorge, passing through forested mountains, lakes and streams [source: USDA Forest Service]. The area is a popular spot for a variety of snow sports, such as downhill skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, skating, sledding/tubing, Nordic skiing and even skijoring, which involves getting on cross-country skis, then having your dog tow you across the landscape.
The forest is so large, you have a number of places to choose from when selecting a camping spot. One good choice is Trillium Lake Campground. Trillium Lake is a small, pretty lake with a prime view of stately Mt. Hood. There are a number of unimproved roads in the area, which are particularly nice for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing [source: Great Oregon Vacations].
Red Cliffs is a true gem. The campground is tucked into the scenic Red Cliffs Recreation Area 14 miles (23 kilometers) northeast of St. George, which is a haven for wildlife. You can also see many historical, cultural and natural resources, including the threatened Mojave Desert tortoise [source: Bureau of Land Management]. A series of impressive trails is easily accessible from the campground. The Silver Reef Trail, for example, leads to a lookout point for Silver Reef, a chunk of red rock laced with silver ore that's notable because there's no other place in the world where silver ore can be found in a sandstone formation. Look down while you're walking so you don't miss the early Jurassic dinosaur tracks. The 6-mile (10-kilometer) Red Reef Trail leads into the beautiful Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness, while thehalf-mile (0.8-kilometer) Anasazi Trail leads to the Red Cliffs Archaeological Site, where you can peer at several prehistoric Ancestral Puebloan sites [source: Bureau of Land Management].
Winter is actually one of the best times to visit Pictured Rocks. The National Lakeshore runs for more than 40 miles (64 kilometers) along Lake Superior, the largest and most pristine of the Great Lakes. Throngs head here in summer and fall to enjoy its impressive sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, lakes and the Grand Sable Dunes, a 5-square-mile (13-square-kilometer) area of unusual, overlapping dunes rising high above Lake Superior [source: National Park Service].
Yet in the winter, the crowds melt away, leaving the stunning lakeshore for those few who dare to come. You should be one of them. There's certainly plenty to do here: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice fishing and ice climbing, to name a few [source: National Park Service]. All campsites, however, are rustic. Make sure to keep your eyes open for the numerous animal tracks that are easy to spot come winter.
Yosemite is one of the granddaddies of America's National Park System. 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 vanish come winter, when the mercury drops and the snow begins to fly [source: National Park Service].
Plan to visit December through March, when much of the park is almost certain to be smothered in a blanket of snow. You can still access the Yosemite Valley and Wawona areas by car, 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. And make sure 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: Erb, National Park Service].
All campgrounds are open year-round on Padre Island, which contains the longest stretch (70 miles, or 113 kilometers) of undeveloped barrier island in the world. Not surprisingly, numerous ecosystems can be found, including a rare coastal prairie, dune system, wind tidal flats and one of the few remaining hypersaline lagoons in the world, the Laguna Madre. Padre Island also sits on the Central Flyway, and so is a critical spot for more than 380 migratory, overwintering and resident bird species -- that's nearly half of all documented species in North America [source: National Park Service].
You can camp on one of five sites on Padre Island: Bird Island Basin, Malaquite Campground, North Beach, South Beach or Yarborough Pass. Bird Island Basin is a prime spot. Sitting on the waters of the Laguna Madre, visitors enjoy fantastic kayaking, boating, birding and fishing. Even better, there's a windsurfing area ranked as the best flat water sailing site in the continental United States by Windsurfing Magazine [source: National Park Service].
Sand dunes? In Colorado? Yep. And they're actually the tallest dunes in North America. Sitting in the southern half of the state 35 miles (56 kilometers) northeast of Alamosa, Great Sand Dunes National Park encompasses 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 many national parks, Great Sand Dunes is usually packed with summer guests, who then clear out in the winter. Visit then (Piñon Flats Campground remains open), and you'll be treated to clear skies day and night, solitude and quiet. Yes, it's chilly during the days, but it's also usually sunny. In fact, the alpine sun can get so intense, the sand will actually feel warm. But you do still have to be prepared for subzero temps and blizzards. When you get tired of playing in the sand, you can ski or snowshoe on the nearby mountains.A final wintry treat: Mule deer and elk frequently cross the roads at this time of year [source: National Park Service].
Hadrian's Wall is a 73-mile (118-kilometer) stone-and-earthen structure in northern England that was constructed under the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the year 122 as a defensive mechanism against the people occupying what is today Scotland. Snaking west to east, the wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, includes Roman forts; milecastles, or small fortlets; temples and archaeological sites [source: Visit Northumberland]. What better place to set up camp for the winter?
Some of the best-preserved, most striking portions of Hadrian's Wall lie in Northumberland, and there are plenty of campsites in the area -- and near the wall -- that make a great vacation spot. Not only is this part of the country scenic, with green, rolling hills, but you have easy access to Hadrian's Wall, which includes a National Trail Path offering innumerable hiking options. At the small, secluded Hadrian's Wall Camping and Caravan Site, campers have access to a centrally heated bunk barn with a common room and cooking facilities if the weather gets a bit testy. If you wish to walk the wall, the owners will also arrange transportation to and from wherever you intend to strike out [source: Hadrian's Wall Camping]. At Roman Wall Lodges, you can sleep in tents you rent on-site, or rent a cozy cabin instead. Hadrian's Wall is just 400 yards (366 meters) away [source: Roman Wall Lodges].
When it's winter in the United States, it's summer Down Under. And you don't have to look too far to find prime camping spots in Australia. Like Murray-Sunset National Park in the northwest corner of Victoria. The isolated park is comprised of one of the world's final semi-arid regions that's been relatively undeveloped. Campers come for the park's vastness and superior views: spectacular sunsets, star-choked night skies, sparkling lakes.
There are several camping areas within the park. Favorites include the Pink Lakes, named for the red algae that live in the lake beds. The lakes change from deep pink in the winter to a glittering white by summer's end, when the water evaporates and leaves concentrated salt crusts behind. In the Shearers Quarters, you can tent-camp or stay in the historic building where shearers once slept, now converted into hostel-style accommodations.
Yes, they're hotels, not campgrounds. And they feature amenities like hot tubs, dance floors and bars. But you can only sleep there in the winter, they're crafted from ice and snow, and you sleep in a sleeping bag with your clothes on. If you think that's a snap, well, then you obviously haven't tried it yet.
The original Ice Hotel opened in Sweden in 1989. The "hotel" was only a 197-square-foot (60-meter) igloo back then; now it's the world's largest hotel crafted from snow and ice at about 18,045 square feet (5,500 meters). Hotel beds are blocks of ice set into wooden bases, then covered with mattresses topped with reindeer skins. Guests sleep in sleeping bags placed on top. If you make it through the night, a guide will awaken you at 7:30 a.m. for some hot lingonberry juice before you hop in the sauna [source: Ice Hotel].
At the Hôtel de Glace just outside of Québec City, you can stay in one of 36 rooms and theme suites, from small, plain rooms with just a bed and nightstand -- the closest to true winter camping -- to premium deluxe suites equipped with a fireplace and private spa [source: Hôtel de Glace].
So just how tough are you? There's only one way to find out -- crawl into a tent pitched on the ice sheets of Antarctica. Seriously. If you've got the dough (these trips are expensive -- we're talking five figures here), you can do it [sources: Antarctica Bound, Kensington Tours].
If you book with Antarctica Bound, a cruising outfit, an optional camping excursion is sometimes offered. You'll snooze in sleeping bags slid into tents set into the shore of the Errera Channel, after you've noshed on the delicious dinner your guides cooked for you. They'll even set up a portable toilet, which seems a bit like cheating [source: Antarctica Bound]. But it's more like roughing it compared to the camping experience offered by Kensington Tours.
Signing on with Kensington means you'll be deposited on top of a 200-foot (61-meter) icefall into a luxury eco-camp. Set up African safari-style, the camp consists of two large, heated, canvas dome tents that contain a dining room, library, kitchen and communications area. Six sleeping tents, also heated, hold two apiece. In between dozing in your posh digs and eating meals cooked by a South African gourmet chef, you'll get to explore Antarctica through kite skiing, rock- and ice-climbing, abseiling -- aka rappelling -- and more [source: Kensington Tours].
Author's Note: 10 Spectacular Places to Camp in the Winter
I'm not really a camper, although I've camped before. And while I enjoy a snowy winter, it's generally from atop two cross-country skis, not from within a tent. But I did rough it once in an igloo created in the courtyard of Quebec's Ice Hotel (at least for a few hours), giving me a little street cred for this article.
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