Warm up to Winter car camping
Go winter car camping, that is.
There is no good reason not to camp in winter.
You hate being cold when you sleep at night? Bad excuse for two reasons: One, sub-zero sleeping bags. Two, fleece blankets, layers and layers of fleece blankets. There is no better sleep than that had snuggled in a comfy, coldbomb-proof sleeping bag, the world outside crisp, quiet and dark — and with minimal threat of ornery critters lurking about.
You hate being cold when you play outdoors? Again, please. Maybe back in the days of drafty denim and cotton, both of which spelled your quick demise should you work up even a modest sweat. But in this, the era of high-tech, lightweight layering systems? Check the weather forecast, check your gear supply, load your daypack accordingly and you can whip just about anything the natural world throws at you.
You hate being cold in the evening, after dinner, before tucking in for the night? Are you familiar with the concept of a campfire?
There are so many good reasons to car camp in winter.
Few people do. You know the anxiety you face speeding to your favorite campground on a summer’s weekend, hoping there’s just one spot left? In winter, you have your choice of spots. That primo spot at meadow’s edge? Yours. That cozy spot nestled in the rhododendrons? Yours. Your favorite spot in all the outdoors, on a west-facing ledge above a creek where the sunsets are unforgettable? Yup, yours.
Fewer rowdies. One of my biggest dreads is being settled into a sweet campsite as the sun begins to set only to have an SUV full of testosterone-addled guys pull into the vacant spot next door and commence with their annual sleep-free camping weekend. In winter, you may get a few hardy souls who stay up until 9, but the cold eventually drives them into their sub-zero bags — or better yet, to the nearest Motel 6.
You have the natural world to yourself. One gorgeous summer day a few years back I remember being on the Art Loeb Trail atop the Shining Rock Ledge and thinking they should institute a “Take-A-Number” system so the throngs could pass one another safely. In winter, a much different, much more serene story.
The magic of winter. Ridgeline views thanks to a naked canopy and the penetrating sunlight of a winter’s day are reasons enough to endure a little cold on a winter weekend getaway.
You may be thinking, Sure, there are plenty of good reasons to spend a winter weekend in the wild, and maybe some of my excuses for not doing so are lame. But there’s one glaring reason people don’t winter camp that you haven’t mentioned.
All the campgrounds are closed during the winter.
Most campgrounds are closed. There are exceptions.
North Carolina’s Division of Parks and Recreation does indeed close most of its campgrounds for the winter, but not all. Ditto the National Forest Service. Some of the campgrounds that remain open offer limited services. Some campgrounds shutter the majority of their sites, but not all. Some of the campgrounds that remain open have few to no services to begin with. But the fact that they officially remain open means the local sheriff won’t be cruising by at 2 a.m. and rousting you from a sound sleep. Been there. No fun.
Where are these year-round camping oases? You’ll find a rundown on a guide we compiled as part of our collaboration with the Great Outdoor Provision Co. of North Carolina. Here, you’ll find our rundown of 15 campgrounds in both North and South Carolina (our southern half is more open to the notion of winter camping). You’ll find all the details you’ll need to plan a winter car camp trip, plus a rundown of what activities — from hiking to mountain biking to climbing — you can do nearby.
If you lose that address, a quick rundown of winter camping options will live on the left rail of GetGoingNC.com with links to the Great Outdoor Provision site.
So, no excuses. Pack the fleece, pack the car and enjoy a weekend of winter camping.
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Winter car camping
Find our 15 places to winter car camp here.
We've told you where to go, below are some helpful tips on how to do it:
- 9 Tips for Winter Camping
- Preventing Hypothermia, or Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Staying Warm in the Wild But Didn’t Know You Needed to Ask.
- Tips from the masses. A newbie seeks advice and gets it, from the Trailspace Outdoor Gear Community.