Warm up to Winter car camping

Odds are you don’t do it in winter. Odds are equally good that you don’t have a good reason that you don’t.

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.

* * *

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:


2 thoughts on “Warm up to Winter car camping”

  1. An inexpensive way to keep warm on a sub-zero night without a sub-zero sleeping bag is to slide your +25 degree bag inside another bag. I have a 40 degree bag, flannel lined and rectangular that I use for warm weather camping with the Scouts. I slide my +25 degree mummy bag inside this bag and stay nice and toasty in all but the absolutely coldest NC nights. Since you’re car camping taking an extra bag won’t weigh you down. Clearly this solution won’t work for taking that next cold weather step of winter backpacking. For that you can use your jacket as a thermal booster for your legs by zipping it up over the lower part of the bag with the waist at your waist and the collar at your feet. A light sleeping bag liner will also buy you an extra 10 degrees F along with a fresh pair of long underwear, fresh wool socks and a knit cap.

    1. Good suggestion, Jeff. I’ve got a featherweight silk liner that I use on winter backpacking trips that really does buy you an extra 10 degrees. Best not to have a tent with much mesh, too.

Leave a Reply