Go Camping This Winter

Camping was a great way to spend the summer of the pandemic: you naturally got social distancing, you didn’t need to spend time indoors with someone you didn’t know, and if you chose a spot near your home, you didn’t. There is no need to deal with the navigation risks of airports and mass travel. Well, here’s your winter alternative: camping in the lodge.

Many public parks have cabins, and some also have private campgrounds. Check with your favorite state park system or campsite to see what they have to offer in winter. Some cabins are for summer use only; others may be accessible all year round and are often warm.

Do your research

The key to planning a hut trip is realizing that there is no single definition of what a “cabin” is. I spent one summer weekend in a hut in Bowman Lake State Park in New York City, which was just four walls that surrounded a group of beds. Another year, I took my family to a cottage in Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania that had a fully equipped kitchen and bathroom, including a shower and refrigerator. Most cabins fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

It often helps to learn the jargon of the park system. In Pennsylvania, the “modern cabin” has other amenities than the “country cabin”. In some places you can find yurts, houses or other buildings to live in.

The list of features on the park’s website may not tell you the whole story, which is why I always love looking at photos, especially of the interior. This will tell you if the kitchen has a microwave oven, whether there is a dining table in the room or not. You can also search for reviews and other photos on social media, perhaps by flipping through photos tagged with the name or location of the campsite.

Things you may need to bring

Don’t expect a hotel-level experience where everything is there for you. In most cases, you will still have to provide some of the basics yourself.

Sheets and pillows

The cabins I’ve stayed in often have a vinyl covered mattress and nothing else. You can bring your own bedding, including sheets and pillows, and make your bed feel like home. Another option is to take your sleeping bag with you and just sleep in the bag at the top of the bed.

If you bring sheets, be sure to check the bed sizes. Twins and sons are common, but you never know. If you’re unsure, a flat bed sheet with angled straps may be more versatile than a fitted sheet.

Towels and toiletries

If no sheets are provided, then most likely there will be no towels. Bring your own bath towels, washcloths and hand towels (including tea towels if your cabin has a kitchen).

Cabins don’t necessarily have bathrooms, so check where the toilet and shower are before leaving home. You may need to move your toiletry bag to a separate building every night to make your travel toiletries more convenient. Better than assuming you can arrange your belongings like in a hotel bathroom.

Campfire accessories

Often, the booth is equipped with a fire ring and a picnic table or similar outdoor dining facility. Check what’s on offer. Even our hut with a fully equipped kitchen in the yard had a fireplace and a barbecue. Consider bringing fresh food items and any cooking utensils you would use over the fire. (Always buy firewood at your destination to make sure you don’t introduce invasive pests into new territory.)

Chairs and other useful furniture

Camping chairs are not only suitable for campgrounds; they are also a great addition to the front porch of the hut. You might also want to consider other handy items, such as a folding table, if the furniture in your salon is fairly basic. A rug by the bed can also be a nice addition on a chilly morning.

Garbage bags and cleaning supplies

Garbage bags are something that you take for granted in the house, but when we travel around the house, we assume nothing. Bring trash bags and some basic cleaning equipment with you.

I experienced both extremes again. The decorated cabin had a full set of cleaning products and we had to use them before we left. The simplest cabin I stayed in didn’t even have a broom to sweep up the dirt we accidentally found.

Warm clothing

If we’re talking cold weather camping, the first thing you should check is if the cabin is heated. And then understand that even if there is a heater in the cab, this does not mean that it will necessarily be warm in it. There can be drafts on a cold night, and it is always possible that the heater will not make it in time. So bring warm sweaters and socks or, better yet, fluffy slippers.

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