10 Spectacular places for winter camping

Doug Williams

If you love camping, you might hate it when summer ends and winter rolls around to spoil the fun. But don’t worry, camping in winter can be as much fun as it is in the middle of summer, if not better. Whether you rent a cozy cabin in the woods or pitch your tent in the middle of the forest, winter camping can be a challenging, but wonderful experience.

If you’ve already set your mind to try winter camping this winter but you don’t know where to go, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here is a list of ten places that are great for enjoying the wonderful wintery outdoors.

Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon

Mt. Hood National Forest

Oregonians living near Mt. Hood National Forest have been keeping a huge secret. This popular getaway in the summertime could be an even better getaway during the winter. The National Forest is located 32 kilometers (20 miles) east of Portland. It is a sprawling parkland 60 miles south from the Columbia River Gorge and includes forested mountains, lakes, rivers, and streams. During the winter this area is very popular for a variety of snow sports, such as skating, snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, downhill skiing, sledding/tubing, Nordic skiing, and even skijoring, which is an activity where you put on your cross-country skis and have your dog, preferably a Husky, pull you across the snowy landscape.

You will have several locations available from which to choose your camping spot since the forest is so large. One option you will thoroughly enjoy is the Trillium Lake Campground. Trillium Lake is a small, beautiful lake with a superior view of majestic Mt. Hood. There are numerous unpaved roads in the forest area, which are particularly good for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Red Cliffs Campground, Utah

Red Cliffs

The Red Cliffs Campground is a truly unspoiled jewel. The campground is located in the picturesque Red Cliffs Recreation Area, 14 miles northeast of St. George, OR. It is known as a wildlife haven. Here you will be able to see the Mojave Desert tortoise, a  threatened species, as well as view many historical, cultural, and natural resources. A succession of unforgettable trails is easily accessible from the campground. One of them, the Silver Reef Trail, leads to a viewpoint for the Silver Reef, a chunk of red rock sandstone laced with silver ore. This is notable because the silver ore is not known to be found in a sandstone formation, making this the only place in the world where it can be seen.

Keep checking the ground as you walk, too, so you don’t miss the early Jurassic dinosaur footprints. The Red Reef Trail is 6 miles long and leads into the mesmerizing Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness and the half-mile Anasazi Trail makes its way to the Red Cliffs Archaeological Site, where you can see several ancient, ancestral Pueblo Indian sites.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

One of the best times to visit Pictured Rocks is actually during the winter. The National Lakeshore stretches for more than 40 miles along Lake Superior, the largest and most unspoiled of the Great Lakes. Huge crowds of people head here during the summer and never fail to enjoy its impressive sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, lakes, and the Grand Sable Dunes. The Dunes are a 5-square-mile area of abnormal, overlapping dunes that rise high above Lake Superior.

But in the winter, the crowds just disappear, leaving the stunning shore for those few who dare to visit. There’s a plethora of activities to do: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and ice climbing, to name just a few. All campsites, however, are quite simple and basic. Make sure you are on the lookout for the many animal tracks that are easy to see when the winter snow arrives.

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite is one of the granddaddies, if not the granddaddy, of all of America’s National Parks. One of the first wilderness parks in the United States, it’s famous for the large number of majestic waterfalls, the ancient Sequoias, and its deep meadows. To nobody’s surprise, it’s very popular among summer visitors, but the crowds vanish during the winter when the mercury drops and the snow begins to fall.


Plan your winter visit from December through March, when most of the park is covered with snow. The Yosemite Valley and Wawona areas will still be accessible by car, so make your way through there. Once you’ve set up camp, you can choose what to do next among the activities of skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking. The Badger Pass Ski Area is a popular area for both downhill and cross-country skiing, and the Glacier Point/Badger Pass Road is plowed so you shouldn’t have any difficulty getting there.

The Wawona Meadow Trail to Mariposa Grove is filled with towering Sequoias and makes a magnificent sight as you are cross-country skiing. And don’t forget to make your way to Yosemite Falls. While the water won’t be rushing as fast as it does during springtime, you will be able to take some magnificent pictures of the frozen water as it seems to be frozen in place as it began to flow over the falls.

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

Padre Island

The campgrounds on Padre Island are open all year-round. The Island is home to the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world, approximately 70 miles. Not unexpectedly, there are numerous ecosystems on Padre Island, including a rare coastal prairie, a sand dune system, wind-brushed tidal flats, and one of the few remaining hypersaline lagoons in the world, the Laguna Madre. Padre Island also is situated on the Central Flyway bird migratory route, and so is a critical area for more than 380 migratory, resident, and winter-stay bird species; nearly half of all documented bird species in North America.

There are five sites on Padre Island where you can camp: Yarborough Pass, North Beach, Malaquite Campground, Bird Island Basin, or South Beach. Bird Island Basin is one of the best camping areas. It sits in close proximity to the waters of the Laguna Madre where visitors can enjoy fantastic kayaking, bird watching, boating, and fishing. One of the best activities to enjoy on Padre Island is windsurfing, and there is an area that is ranked by Windsurfing Magazine as the best flat water wind sailing site in the mainland United States.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park

When you imagine sand dunes, does Colorado come to mind? It doesn’t? Well, they’re there, and they’re actually the tallest sand dunes in North America. 35 miles northeast of Alamosa, located in the southern half of the state, is the Great Sand Dunes National Park. The Park encompasses a diverse landscape, not only massive sand dunes, but is also comprised of alpine lakes, forests and grasslands, wetlands, and even tundra. One of the most popular and unique activities, summer or winter, is sledding, skiing, or even sandboarding on the dunes. It’s quite a novel experience, and you never have to worry about trees and rocks. Hiking the sand dunes is also available year-round.

As happens at most national parks, the Great Sand Dunes are usually crowded with summer visitors, who then seem to disappear in the winter. So, if you visit Piñon Flats Campground during the winter, you’ll be treated to solitude, quiet, and clear skies day and night. Yes, it can get quite cold during the day, but the sun usually shines brightly. In fact, the alpine sun can shine so bright, the sand will actually feel warm. But remember the Boy Scout’s motto – you will have to be prepared for blizzards and temperatures that fall below zero. When you tire of playing in the sand, you can go skiing or snowshoeing in the nearby mountains. And for a final winter treat, you may get an opportunity to see mule deer and elk frequently crossing the roads.

Hadrian’s Wall, United Kingdom

During the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, an earth and stone structure was built as a defensive fortification against the occupants of what is known today as Scotland. It is called Hadrian’s Wall. It spans an area 73 miles wide and was built in northern England in the year 122 AD. Twisting west to east, the wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, includes ancient Roman forts, milecastles, small forts, temples, and other archaeological sites. A great set-up for winter camping!

Hadrian’s Wall

Some of the most memorable and well-preserved sections of Hadrian’s Wall lie in the county of Northumberland. There are plenty of campsites in the area near the wall that will make a great location for a vacation. Not only is this part of the English countryside beautifully picturesque, with rolling, green hills, but you also have easy access to the Wall, which includes the National Trail offering countless hiking options. The Camping and Caravan Site, at a small secluded sector of Hadrian’s Wall, has access to a centrally heated bunkhouse with a common kitchen and cooking facilities if you want to stay inside in the event that the weather turns a bit unpleasant.

If you wish to hike or walk the wall, the National Trail owners will arrange transportation to and from the location where you intend to start out. At Roman Wall Lodges, where Hadrian’s Wall is only 400 yards away you can rent a cozy cabin or sleep in tents that are available to rent on-site.

Murray Sunset National Park, Australia

Murray Sunset National Park

When it’s winter in the United States, it’s summer ‘Down Under’ in Australia. When you’re there, you don’t have to look too far to find first-class campsites. A great example is the Murray-Sunset National Park in the northwest corner of the state of Victoria. The Park contains one of the world’s only semi-arid regions, and it is fairly isolated and has been relatively undeveloped. Campers flock to the park for its enormity and nonpareil scenery of spectacular sunsets, star-filled night skies, and sparkling, pristine lakes.

There are numerous areas for camping within the park. One campers’ favorite is the Pink Lakes, named for the red algae that live in the lake beds. The lakes change color from dark pink in the winter to a glistening white by the end of the summer when concentrated salt crusts are left behind after the water evaporates. Another favorite, the Shearers Quarters, allows you to camp out with your tent or stay in the historic building where sheep shearers once slept, now converted into a hostel-style accommodation. During the day, campers can enjoy wildland bushwalking and tour the wide-open spaces via four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Ice Hotel, Finland and Québec

Believe it or not, they are actual hotels, not campgrounds. And they also feature conveniences like hot tubs, bars, and dance floors. But the rooms are only available for sleeping during the winter; they’re created purely from ice and snow, and you sleep with your clothes on in a sleeping bag. If you think that’s a no-brainer, then you obviously haven’t tried it yet.

Hôtel de Glace – Québec – Author: Pierre-Arnaud KOPP – CC BY 2.0

The original Ice Hotel opened in 1989 in Sweden. At the time it was only a 197 square foot igloo; now it’s the world’s largest hotel created from snow and ice with an area of approximately 18,045 square feet. The hotel beds are made from blocks of ice that are placed on to wooden bases, covered with a mattress, and covered with reindeer skins. Visitors sleep in sleeping bags placed on top. If you make it through the night without freezing, an attendant will awaken you at 7:30 a.m. for some hot lingonberry juice before hopping into the luxurious sauna.

Just on the outskirts of Québec City, at the Hôtel de Glace, you can stay in one of 36 rooms and theme suites. The rooms vary from small, plain rooms with just a bed and nightstand to first-class deluxe suites furnished with a fireplace and private spa.


So just how tough do you think you are? Here’s one way to find out – pitch a tent on the ice sheets of Antarctica and crawl into it. Seriously, though, if you’ve got the cash (warning, these trips are expensive – we’re talking five figures here), there’s no reason you can’t do it.


If you book with Antarctica Bound, a travel agency, an optional camping expedition is sometimes offered. You’ll settle onto the shores of the Errera Channel, then, after you’ve polished off the delicious dinner your guides have cooked for you, you’ll slip into sleeping bags that are set up in your tent and snooze the night away! They’ll even set up a portable toilet, which seems a bit like cheating if you are to call it camping. But this is roughing it compared to the camping experience offered by Kensington Tours.

If you choose the Kensington Tour, it means you’ll be left on top of a 200 foot icefall in a luxury eco-camp. The eco-camp is set up African safari-style; it consists of two large canvas-domed tents, which are heated and contain a kitchen, dining room, communications area, and library. The large tents contain six sleeping tents, which are also heated and will sleep two people in each. In between sleeping in your classy digs and eating meals that are cooked by a gourmet chef from South Africa, you’ll have an opportunity to explore Antarctica through kite skiing, rock climbing, ice-climbing, abseiling and much more.

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