When the leaves fall from the trees and there is a chill in the air, most people pack away their camping gear with a sigh of regret and prepare for a long hibernation.

That’s most people but not all.

My family watch the leaves and temperatures fall with anticipation. We look longingly out our windows each chilly morning with hopes of seeing snow on the ground. Each falling leaf brings us closer to the winter camping season. 

Most of our friends think we are a bit odd for wanting to go camping in the middle of winter and some ask why we do it. The answer is this: The cold, bright days of winter are perfect for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and watching out for wildlife.In winter, the trails are quieter, with no crowds and no insects, and the chance of seeing wildlife is greater. The cold, dark nights are perfect for looking up at the clearest sky and brightest stars you have ever seen. Then, when it’s time to warm up, share a meal and settle down to sleep, we’re together as a family,chatting, playing games or just enjoying each other’s company.

While we now embrace the cold, we haven’t always been winter campers. I used to think that heading out to camp in sub-zero temperatures was reserved for the hardest of hard-core adventurers. That all changed a few years ago, when we learned about yurts. These insulated little huts were nestled in snowy forests and perched on the shores of frozen lakes. The images were beautiful and I was intrigued at this method of camping. Then, I learned that yurt’s have heat and electricity.To me, that seemed like a perfectly reasonable way to camp during the winter.The promise of some comfort from the cold was what I needed to embrace the idea of camping during the cold Canadian winter.

On our first yurt trip, the outdoor temperatures dipped below -30°C as Ontario experienced its first “polar vortex” and the indoor temperatures of our yurt dipped down to 15°C as the little electric heater worked hard to fight the frigid air. We were prepared with the right clothes, the right gear and, most importantly,the right attitude, so the chill in the air only seemed to make the mounds of snow sparkle brighter and the call of the chickadee even more cheerful. The night skies were beautiful, the forest was enchanting and our first winter camping experience was surprisingly comfortable.

Since that first trip, we have gone on a frosty winter camping trip every year and, each time, we have experienced extremely low temperatures, with lots of snow. One of our most memorable trips was in 2016 when we stayed in a yurt in Algonquin Park during the coldest recorded temperatures in the history of the park. We also learned on that trip that a tent heated by wood stove can actually be warmer than a yurt and decided it was time to take the next step in our winter camping journey.

Last year, we went winter camping in our own hot tent, warmed by a well-stoked wood stove, and outfitted with cots, camp chairs and plenty of warm blankets.This has been a game-changer as we can now camp wherever and whenever we want—and we can bring our dog, Buddy. We now have a list of places we plan to go winter camping, including a few locations on the Niagara Escarpment that we haven’t had a chance to explore in the snow.

Cold air? We don’t care. Winter has given us some of the best camping experiences we have ever had as an outdoor family. With some research,preparation and a sense of adventure, camping season can be all year long for your family too!

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Last modified: February 15, 2019

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