Go Camping with your Family this Winter
Winter and early spring are a great time to go camping with your family. Here's why, and some tips on how to do it.
The amount of joy I get from time in nature makes it impossible for me to consider a happy life that doesn’t include that element. And as a mom, I want to share the joy of being outside with my daughter. So, we camp. And we hike. Sometimes my husband comes along, too. If we only went camping in nice weather, it wouldn't be close to the amount of time I want to spend outside, but not everyone I love enjoys a good tromp through a rainstorm or the sight of clouds in the sky.
But last year, I decided to try camping all year long. And while I didn’t take my family on every trip—I need some time to myself, too—they joined me on the majority of them, regardless of weather. And in the process, I learned something important. The shoulder season, though notorious for its rain and mud, might be the very best time for a family trip. Here’s why:
Campgrounds are mostly empty
We visited Camano Island State Park for two camping trips last year. One was in spring and one in late fall. Both times, we got prime camping sites with spectacular water views. The campground was quiet and the beach was sparsely populated.
It was a joy to watch the sunset from the beach and then head back to the camp to a campfire and watch the stars appear. For kids who might get overwhelmed by a busy campground with plenty of strangers, it’s also nice to enjoy this popular area with a more low-key environment.
You can take advantage of nice weather
When you plan a trip for the on-season, you’ll need to make reservations at most campgrounds to guarantee a site. But by the time you get an accurate weather report, it may be too late to change plans.
In the shoulder season, you should still be able to find plenty of open spaces even when the sun is shining.
No planning required
Because most campgrounds won’t fill up in the off season, it makes it easy to take an impromptu trip. Weather look good? Find you don’t have any pressing plans? Great! Pack up the car Saturday morning and head out for a quick overnight.
And because you probably won’t be fighting for a campsite, you don’t even need to leave early. Just be sure to leave yourself enough time to set up in the daylight. Pitching a tent in the dark while wrangling kids isn’t a lot of fun.
S’mores taste better when it’s cold
It’s a scientific fact, because 100 percent of the 7-year-olds I’ve asked agree.
Have I convinced you to give it a try? I hope I have. If so, here’s a few things that have made our camping trips successful.
- Lots of blankets
It’s nice to wrap up in them while you sit around the fire, but bring ones you’re OK with getting dirty.
- Simple meals
It’s great to have hot food, but if fussing with a stove and cooler and all that stresses you out, keep it simple. We’ve had lovely trips where the fanciest food we had was store-bought muffins. Also, it’s totally fair game to drive to the nearest town and eat in a restaurant.
- Nighttime warmth
We always bring an extra blanket to put under us, either over or under your sleeping pad, to serve as extra insulation. Be sure to pack warm nighttime clothes, too.
On extremely cold nights, try boiling water and pouring it in a hard-sided waterbottle like a Nalgene.
Just make sure you close the lid tightly, and wrap it up in something before you give it to your kid. It’ll be hot enough to burn at first. You can also simply use the bottle to warm up a sleeping bag before you get in. Bliss.
- Lots of lighting
I have a BioLite lantern that I love. It works great on long nights. Be sure you have enough headlamps, flashlights or whatever other lighting you prefer. And it’s always nice to have a lantern for the picnic table.