When it comes to holiday travel, restrictions seem to be in place at every turn. If you’re feeling discouraged about the places you can’t go to and the trips you can’t take, winter camping might be an option. Granted, camping might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about a holiday getaway—but it could be one of the lower risk and more enjoyable ways to break the monotony of staying at home.
“Outdoor camping can be a four-season experience if you are well-equipped and prepared,” says Caleb Hartung, CEO of Campspot, an online marketplace for RV resorts, family campgrounds, cabins, and glamping options across the U.S. and Canada.
Why camp this winter?
Some of the pluses of camping include;
- Get away from the day-to-day routines of home and work
- Opportunities to immerse oneself in nature and the outdoors
- Options to participate in healthy, heart-pumping physical activity
- Choices of accommodations from rough to luxury
- Being able to choose relatively safe destinations where positivity rates are lower and devoid of crowds
- Being able to maintain a safe social distance from anyone outside your “travel bubble”
But, can you really camp in winter?
Hartung admits that when it comes to RV and tent camping, winter camping can be tricky. For that reason, many campgrounds close in mid-October. “When temperatures drop below freezing, the pipes that bring water to campers are vulnerable to freezing and, worse, can burst,” he says. “However, campgrounds with cabin or lodge rentals operate year-round, allowing campers to partake in winter activities.”
Even if a campground has the infrastructure to support winter RV and tent camping excursions, Hartung suggests campers come prepared with insulated water hoses, filled-up propane tanks in their campers, a snow shovel in case of heavy snowfalls, and tire chains for driving in rough terrains. Because of the effort, preparation and equipment required, he finds that most campers opt for the convenience and ease of a cabin or RV.
What are some of the best destinations for winter camping?
“Search within areas that tend to be open and offer popular activities like skiing, snowboarding, or ice fishing,” says Hartung. He suggests considering the Adirondacks, Lake Tahoe, the Rockies in Colorado, the area surrounding Salt Lake City, and the Yellowstone region in Montana, among others. “If you want to ice fish, look at lake-oriented areas, like parts of northern Maine, Wisconsin and Minnesota.”
Those averse to cold winter weather can choose warmer parts of the country, for example, campgrounds in the Carolinas, Florida, Texas and California, he says. Glamping (luxury camping) offers many of the amenities of a stay at an upscale hotel or resort coupled with the chance to hike and enjoy the outdoors..
But what about the pandemic?
Campspot saw a surge in bookings over the summer and fall that it expects will continue through winter. Mid-week reservations are generally easier to come by than weekend ones. In advance of your trip, make sure the park or campgrounds you are visiting are open and what facilities are operating.
While it is safest to stay home and avoid contact with other people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website lists ways to mitigate the risk of contracting coronavirus while camping. These include:
- Choosing a destination close to home to avoid contacts along the way and exposures to contaminated surfaces
- Camping or hiking with people in your immediate household. If you do expand your bubble to others, camp in separate tents
- Stay at least 6 feet ways from anyone else on a trail, campsite or other area of a park
- Avoiding sharing utensils or condiments; and multi-serving beverage containers
- Bring hand soap, hand sanitizer and supplies to disinfect commonly-touched surfaces including doors and handles, water fountains, laundry facilities, ice machines, trash and recycle cans, payment stations, vending machines and other camping amenities
- Be mindful when using public restrooms
- Wash your hands often and wear a mask when you’re around other people
Where they’re going
Forbes.com spoke to some inspiring travelers from across the country who have winter camping plans in place. Here’s a sampling:
Wilderness State Park, Carp Lake, Michigan
Erin Drummer of Lombard, Illinois (outside Chicago) wanted to go someplace new, relatively close to home, and do something she had never done before. With another couple, she and her husband are planning to camp at Wilderness State Park in northern Michigan about six hours away, in November. They’ll sleep in separate tents from their friends and maintain social distance. They’ve also talked about everyone getting tested beforehand. Other than stopping for gas, they aren’t planning on making pit-stops and will bring everything they need from home, including a Coleman camping stove, warm layered clothing, hats, gloves, warm sleeping bags and blankets. “We plan on making warm, hearty meals like soup or chili to keep us warm,” says Erin.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California
Over Thanksgiving week, Chris Emery and his family (who live in San Diego) also want to camp close to home. Although they typically use a tent, they’re renting a camper trailer for the first time. They’ll spend four days at two different sites at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, about an hour and a half from home, where winter temperatures are typically in the 50s at night and 70s during the day, ideal for camping. Because they’ll be in the dry desert, they’ll bring plenty of water as well as all food for their meals ”We are just sick of being stuck at home all the time and camping, hiking and biking are really attractive to us right now. Infection rates are pretty low in the area and there really aren’t many people there,” says Chris.
Anastasia State Park and Fort Clinch State Park, Florida
Rosanna Mitchell’s family of four typically spends the holidays with relatives, some of whom are now at high-risk for COVID, in Virginia Beach. This year, they’re taking their 2019 Forest River Wolf Pup 16BHS, a 16-foot travel trailer to Anastasia State Park and Fort Clinch State Park, located in two northern Florida counties where infection rates are lower than their hometown in Naples. The trailer has a queen-size bed and bunk beds for the kids, who are 4 and 5 years old. The weather will be more temperate; it can reach 90℉ at home, even in winter. They were seeking a mix of outdoor adventures and cultural experiences. “Anastasia State Park is close to the historic city of St. Augustine, which will be decorated with gorgeous holiday lights and displays,” she says. “Fort Clinch, on the other hand, will allow us to enjoy pleasant hikes and gorgeous Atlantic coast beaches,” says Rosanna. “As avid travelers, and being a microbiologist myself, I feel confident in our decision and the precautions we’re taking,” she adds.
Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina
Kristi Haight and her husband, of Greensborough, NC are headed to Huntington Beach State Park. The holidays are the one time of year the family ordinarily gets together with their adult daughters and grandchildren out west. But during the pandemic, they decided it was safer to stay in their own space. The couple has a small RV, a 17’ cargo trailer conversion they built themselves. They bring all their own food so they don’t have to grocery shop and sufficient supplies so they don’t have to stop along the way, except for gas paid for with a credit card. They’re going to a site they’ve been to before so they know precautions are being taken. “The one problem right now in the Southeast is that everyone is camping because of COVID so finding a campsite has been difficult,” says Kristi.
Advice for first-timers
“For those new to camping, a two-night trip—preferably close to home—is an ideal amount of time to test the waters,” says Hartung. “For your first camping experience, we recommend not investing in any gear and option for a glamping experience instead. It’s easy to get in over your head and ruin the trip by being too ambitious,” he warns.
As travelers are increasingly taking to the road and seeking outdoor destinations close to home, they can use Campspot to discover and book over 350 campgrounds (100,000 campsites). The site offers an intuitive, easy-to-navigate way to plan a camping trip, including use of remote, contactless check-ins with automated communication and electronic signature capabilities.