In my last post I talked about some of my favorite small businesses specializing in outdoor gear for kids. But what if you already have rainsuits and sunscreen towels, or would rather spend your money on experiences instead of things?
Winter is still a great time to get outside, and there are new experiences that benefit kids and parents alike. Whether you make one of these trips a gift, or plan something for the family to recover from the hustle-and-bustle of the holidays, there is so much fun to be had outdoors when it’s cold outside.
Every winter I see pictures of people building tables and benches into the snow, bundled up and enjoying a great camping trip in spite of the cold. And every winter, I wonder what that would be like with kids. And while we have been camping with our kids when the overnight temperatures have gotten close to freezing, we haven’t quite made the jump to snow-camping yet. Although, I want to! Back in Virginia, there weren’t as many options for tent camping in the wintertime outside of the backcountry, as most of the campgrounds closed for the winter. Now that we are in Tennessee, there are some year round campgrounds at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as well as more backcountry options along the Cumberland Trail that don’t require a long walk. Further south, there are parks in places like Florida that are open year round as well, so depending on how far you want to travel, a winter camping trip could be the perfect way to have a winter family vacation on a budget, and escape the snow if you are seeing a little too much of it at home!
When planning a tent camping trip in the winter, your gear is obviously going to be more important than in the warmer months. Check out a couple of these resources on winter camping when making your packing list, and then get outside! My daughter has been asking to go camping every other day for the last month, so a tent camping trip will undoubtedly be in our future this winter.
While most resorts and ski towns have plenty of condos and hotel rooms, those may be a little too close to the crowds if your goal is to spend time in nature. But wanting to escape the crowds doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t want easy access to activities like skiing, or visiting state and national parks. Whether you don’t have the winter gear for tent camping, or are trying to accommodate a large group of people with varying ideas of what “adventure” means, look to sites like vrbo.com or airbnb when planning your winter getaway! One of my fondest memories of time with my mom and sister was a trip to Wintergreen Resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains one January. We didn’t go anywhere near the slopes or resort itself, but enjoyed time spent in a small house nestled in the woods, walking to hiking trails and enjoying the quiet away from suburbia.
These rentals are also a great away to explore National Parks or Monuments outside of tourist season. And when traveling with children or large groups with varying needs, a rental home allows you to tailor your accommodations to exactly what works for your family.
Cabin camping is the “goldilocks” of winter camping for us. Finding a cabin isn’t usually difficult, and cabins come anywhere from fully equipped with electricity, a full kitchen, and television (such as in Tennessee State Parks), to primitive, with nothing more than a woodstove and bunk beds (such as the PATC cabins, stretching from Virginia to Pennsylvania).
Even in a primitive cabin, you have more shelter from the elements than you would tent camping–and more freedom to move around when you come in from a hike and want to stretch out! Both the Pocosin Cabin and Doyles River Cabin in Shenandoah National Park offer incredible views from a porch with an outdoor fireplace, where you can sit bundled up and soak in the stillness. Virginia State Parks have a nice balance between these two, by offering cabins with electricity, kitchens, and central heating, but without televisions or phones, so you can come in from a winter hike and thaw out, and still watch the snow fall outside, without ever having to get in the car.
And last but not least….
Okay but hear me out. Maybe this isn’t “outdoors” in the way that typically comes to mind when you picture winter adventure, but it is a new way to experience the outdoors, and can do so much for your mood if the bare trees are starting to get you down.
As mentioned above, there are some beach campgrounds that are open in the winter, but you could also look for RV parks if you have an RV/camper, or again, just find a vacation rental and book a trip. Billy and I LOVE the beach in winter. Sometimes I think I like it even better than the beach in summer. There is a peace that comes from listening to the crashing surf while bundled up and drinking a cup of coffee or hot cocoa, feeling the warmth from the sun despite the chill in the air, and watching the sand and waves without the crowds of people summertime brings. A long walk on the shoreline in hats and coats is as much a hike as trekking through the forest, and with a stretch of empty sand, it’s a great way for the kids to breathe in fresh air, and burn off energy by running as far as they can in a place where you can see where they are.
Whatever your plans are this winter–make the cold weather part of them! The world is such a beautiful place. And while winter is still probably my favorite season to hike, it’s becoming one of my favorite seasons for overnight adventures as well. It takes more planning and preparation, but getting out–whether it’s to the beach or the mountains–gets you up close and personal with the change in seasons, gives you a change in your personal scenery, and offers some excitement to kids that makes the darker months that much more fun.