Winter camping in America is growing in popularity and is available in a variety of landscapes, climates & terrains across the entire USA. However, with that popularity comes the need for some to go a little deeper into the wilderness to get away from the crowds.
If you crave spectacular beauty, solitude, and enjoy winter camping in the wilderness, these incredible winter camping destinations are right up your alley!
20. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Michigan
Pictured Rocks in the Winter is regarded by campers at Town and Tourist to be the best time to visit! Less crowds means, you have the wondrous lakeshore to yourself, in true peace! Spanning over 40 miles around Lake Superior, the beauty of the largest great lake is an astonishing thing to wake up to!
However, it should be noted that the camping is pretty basic, so be prepared for a raw experience.
If your in any other time of the year, be sure to check out the cascading waterfalls and Grand Sable Dunes, which span over 5 square miles and tower over lake superior.
19. Red Rock Canyon State Park – California
What better shelter from the icy winter winds then the red cliffs of Red Rock Canyon State Park. Located between the El Paso Range and the Sierra Nevada, this all year round camping destination is great for families.
The camping is rustic with 50 sites located in Ricardo Campsite. You cannot make reservations & spaces are given on a first come first served basis.
There is a few great trails which take you through the red rock formations and over water brimming canyons. They are family friendly so feel free to bring the little ones.
18. Crater Lake
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Famous for its deep blue color and clarity, Crater Lake was formed around 7,700 years ago by the collapse of the volcano Mount Mazama.
Crater Lake is 5 by 6 miles across, with a caldera rim ranging in elevation from 7,000 to 8,000 feet and an average depth of 1,148 feet, making it the deepest lake in the U.S., the 2nd deepest in North America, and the 10th deepest lake in the world.
When considering the mean, or average depth of lakes, Crater Lake becomes the deepest lake in the Western Hemisphere and the 3rd deepest in the world.
Due to several unique factors, mainly that the lake has no inlets or tributaries, the waters of Crater Lake are some of the purest in the world because of the absence of pollutants.
Crater Lake is also known for the “Old Man of the Lake”, a full-sized tree which is now a stump that has been bobbing vertically in the lake for over a century. The low temperature of the water has slowed the decomposition of the wood, hence the longevity of the bobbing tree.
There are two islands in Crater Lake:
Wizard Island is a 315.85 acre island formed from a cinder cone that erupted after Crater Lake began to fill with water.
Public access to Wizard Island is only available during the summer months when boat tours on Crater Lake are in operation.
Phantom Ship (pictured above) is located on the southeast end of Crater Lake and projects 656 feet out from the wall of the caldera. The 500 ft by 200 ft island has seven trees living on it.
Crater Lake National Park provides detailed trail maps for winter camping and hiking trips. All backcountry campers must register at a park visitor center for a free permit before camping; and, campers must ski or snowshoe to their campsite.
For those desiring a winter backcountry adventure in a spectacular setting, skiing around Crater Lake on the unplowed Rim Drive is an unforgettable experience. The trip is about thirty miles long and typically requires three to five days, depending on the weather.
While having no indigenous fish population, the lake was stocked from 1888 to 1941 with a variety of fish. Several species have formed self-sustaining populations.
If you aren’t quite ready for winter camping and would prefer to wait until things thaw out a bit, check out Crater Lake Lodges for more information about the lodge, cabins, and campgrounds.
With an average of 44 feet of snow falling annually in Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, you would be wise to pack an extra pair of socks before embarking on this winter camping adventure!
17. Joshua Tree National Park – California
Joshua Tree National Park is a Photographers dream! A variety of terrains, weird trees and towering mountains. Oh and did I mention the stars at night! In the Winter, you avoid the crowds and experience a different side of the National park.
Check the weather reports, as some lucky campers have seen the odd snowfall here. Rare but possible.
The views at Joshua Tree National Park at Breath-taking and varied. The most scenic spots include:
Cholla Garden, here you can check out infamous jumping cholla cacti! The good news is even after a few online videos scenics reports suggest that the cacti will not actually jump at you on purpose.
However they are weakly attached so it can seem that way! So either way be careful and cover arms and legs, shouldn’t be a problem in the winter.
Barker Dam: Afterwards head over to Barker Dam to catch a glimpse of desert animals at the watering hole.
Camp near the famous Joshua Trees to see some real wildlife around. The trees themselves are pretty intriguing growing just 1 inch per year and reaching heights up to 40 feet.
For hikers there are many short loops which will take you through the desert and allow to experience some fantastic views.
Joshua Tree National Park is climbing heaven. With over 9,000 climbing routes and 400 granite rock formations you won’t be disappointed. The variety means there are ranges of rocks to suit all levels.
250 miles of horse trails means Joshua Tree is a real playground for you and your furry friend.
Just at Short drive from Joshua Tree National park is Palm Springs / Joshua Tree KOA a great starting point for your adventure.
16. Death Valley – California
Death Valley has over 3 million acres of natural wilderness to enjoy, making it the largest national park in the U.S.A (outside Alaska). It’s great all year round but camping in the winter is a cooler way to experience the park death valley is hottest and dryest place on earth in the summer!
The hottest temperature ever measured on Earth came on July 10, 1913, when Death Valley hit a boiling 134 degrees F (56.7 degrees C). I will stick to winter camping thanks!
15. Mt Hood National Forest – Oregon
Mount Hood is a real gem of Oregon, a vibrant spot in the summer…and the winter is even greater! Located 20 miles east of Portland. The wilderness spans 60 miles to the south from the Columbia River Gorge, through a variety of scenic geography from mountains to lakes.
During the winter, you can have some real fun with a variety of activities from cross country Skiing, downhill skiing and snowshoeing to Snowmobiling and of course sledding or tubing! Great for the whole family.
Mount hood National Forest is vast and there are many places where you can choose to camp. A favourite spot of mine is Trillium Lake Campground, Trillium Lake is a scenic but small lake with a perfect view of Mount hood, so a prime winter camping destination.
The rustic roads close by are perfect for cross country skiing, snowshoeing and even Ski jouring (Where you dog pulls you along on your skis!)
14. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Oh the sand Dunes of Colorado….wait did I just say that! Although, the Rocky Mountains are not usually thought of as a hub of Sand Dunes, Colorado is actually home to the tallest sand dunes in North America!
Located in the southern half of Colorado, just 35 miles north east of Alamosa. Great Sand Dunes National Park, is home to the gigantic Sand dunes and plenty of other diverse terrain. From alpine lakes, to grasslands and forested wilderness.
Skiing on Sand Dunes?
Skiing or Sledding on the great Sand Dunes, is a real winter bucket list experience! In the summer, try sand boarding for a similar thrill! Hiking the dunes is also a nice challenge and is possible in all seasons. Skiing and Snowshoeing is also great on all the surrounding mountains.
Is the Winter Quieter?
Like lots of U.S National Parks, when winter strikes…the places get quieter! This is perfect if your really just wan’t to get away from it all in some scenic peace and quiet.
A recommended Winter Campground is Piñon Flats which is open throughout the winter. Although, it is a little chilly while at the National Park, the alpine sun actually provides a healthy dose of heat.
Pack carefully and be prepared for subzero temperatures and the odd blizzard, especially at night.
13. Cumberland Island – Georgia
Cumberland Island is 50 mile barrier island, filled with wild horses running free! This is one of the best budget camping destinations to go and is just a short boat ride from the mainland. However, spots can sell out quick so book in advance. Campfires are only allowed at Sea Camp and on Stafford Beach.
12. Bend – Oregon
Bend, Oregon is a quaint Mountain town and ideal winter camping destination. With Mount Bachelor Ski Resort on your doorstep, offering 50 miles of cross country trails, you will have no shortage of places to try fun winter activities! Great Winter Activities range from Dog Sled rides to snowmobiling.
For those that fancy snowshoeing, a variety of tour are on offer, a few favourites are the Moonlight & Starlight tour or the Shoes, Brews & views!
For traditional camping Redmond / Central Oregon KOA great camping spot, with breath taking views of the Cascade Mountains, you will never won’t to go back home! For RV check out Mount Bachelor, Willamette Pass and the two below:
Mt. Hood Meadows offers fresh tracks, incredible alpine views and 14 overnight RV spaces
Hoodoo Ski Area offers 32 RV sites with electrical hookups, and 24-hour facilities including restrooms & showers.
Hiking & Caving
For avid hikers, Smith Rock State Park and Pilot Butte are perfect places to strap on the hiking boots! If your looking for a snow free trail, try the Oregon Desert Trail. When you want to turn up the heat, decent underground into the numerous caves and lava tubes nearby.
11. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – Arizona
Organ Pipe National Monument is where Summer Spends the Winter! Located on the Mexican border and is a Sonoran Desert preserve filled with the intriguing Organ Pipe Cactus.
Organ-pipe cactus, grows up to 26 feet tall, and is likened to Organ Pipes of course! If your a bird watcher then this is the Winter Camping Destination for you!
During the Winter warm days are on average in the (60s F) and chilly nights in the (40s F), with occasional rain. The Winter rains, welcome the wonderful spring wildflowers. During the summer temperatures average in the 80s to 90s (F).
For info on the road status, call the visitor center at 520-387-6849, ext 7302, between their opening times of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
10. Winter at Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Winter camping in Yellowstone National Park means fewer crowds, frigid temperatures, and steaming geyser basins. Skis, snowshoes, snowcoaches, and snowmobiles become the primary modes of transportation as roads close, rivers and lakes freeze, and snowstorms transform the park into a winter wonderland.
Yellowstone has a designated backcountry campsite system, and a backcountry use permit is required for all overnight stays; however, while most of Yellowstone’s campgrounds close in mid-September, Mammoth Hot Springs Campground is open year-round to tents and RVs.
There are nine lodging facilities in Yellowstone National Park; however, only two are open during the winter: Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.
Castle Geyser (pictured above) is a cone geyser in the Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park. It is noted for the particularly large geyserite sinter deposits, which form its cone.
These deposits have been likened in appearance to a castle. The Castle Geyser has a 10- to 12-hour eruption cycle. The geyser erupts hot water for about 20 minutes in a vertical column that reaches a height of 90 ft (27 m) before changing to a noisy steam phase that issues for 30 to 40 minutes.
The Grand Prismatic Spring (pictured above) in Yellowstone National Park is the largest hot spring in the United States and the third largest in the world.
It is located in the Midway Geyser Basin and was noted by geologists working in the Hayden Geological Survey of 1871, named by them for its striking coloration.
Its colors match the rainbow dispersion of white light by an optical prism: red, orange, yellow, green, and blue.
9. Grand Canyon National Park – AR
The ever popular Grand Canyon National Park attracts over 6 million visitors every year, so is no secret! However, as most people visit during the spring or summer you can be a real smart camper and head down during the winter!
With less people, the experience is alot more peaceful and it really allows you to experience the Grand Canyon National Park how it was meant to be experienced.
Hop into your Car or RV and take some truly awe inspiring drives through the through the Grand Canyon National Park, pull up and take some epic instagrammable photos! As there are less crowds the wildlife is often much braver! So keep your eyes peeled with an abundance of wildlife from Mule deer, to bald eagles, elk, condors and ravens.
Grand Canyon National Park is a hikers real life fantasy! An abundance of trails make it perfect for the avid hiker, however caution should be taken as there are some dangerous parts. For more info and tips check out the National Park services hiking tips web page, where they offer info on trail conditions.
Winter Camping at Grand Canyon National Park:
The Grand Canyon National Park is perfectly suited to RV’s, Cabins and of course basic tent camping. A popular campsite is the Grand Canyon / Williams KOA Journey.
8. Red Cliffs Campground – Utah
Red Cliffs in Utah, is a hidden gem nestled in the wondrous Red Cliffs Recreation Area, just 14 miles (23km) north east of St George. A great camping spot indeed to observe the fantastic wildlife, such as the endangered Mojave desert tortoise and still history preserved in the red cliffs. Other great highlights include the incredible range of scenic hiking trails.
Silver Reef Trail:
A must try one is the Silver Reef trail, this leads to a scenic lookout over silver reef. Silver Reef is unique in that you can observe the red rocks laced with silver ore and Jurassic Dinosaur tracks preserved!
Red Reef Trail:
Another popular trail is the Red Reef Trail which spans over 6miles (10km) into the breath-taking Cottonwood Canyon. Take the half milf Anasazi Trail which will take you up to the Archaeological Site!
Zion National Park is another great Winter camping destination just 1 hours drive from red cliff.
7. Mt Baker-Snoqualimie National Forest – WA
Located in Seattle, Washington, the Mount Baker-Snoqualimie National Forest is home to one of the most ancient Forrests in the U.S.A, guarded by scenic mountains all around. A popular spot during the summer, the winter is the perfect time experience an entirely different vibe.
Less people, means braver wildlife head to one of the specially designated wildlife spotting/birding areas where there are binoculars and spotting scopes ready for you to catch a bald eagle on!
As a privlegded home to four different ski resorts, you can plenty for avid skiers among you. Skiing areas include:
- Crystal Mountain Ski Resort
- The Summit at Snoqualmie
- Stevens Pass Ski Resort
- Baker Ski Area
If you would prefer Nordic skiing, have ago at the cross country ski trails spanning 120 miles.
For adrenaline junkies out there, hop on a snowmobile and explore the 170 miles of trails all over the parks winter wilderness.
After all the fun winter activities, you must be feeling tired! Head down to Seattle / Tacoma KOA, close to famous landmarks like Pike’s Place Market, Puget Sound and the Space Needle!
6. Tettegouche State Park
Tettegouche State Park, Minnesota
Tettegouche State Park is located on the north shore of Lake Superior. The 9,346 acre park contains six inland lakes (four of which support northern pike and one supports walleye fishing), four waterfalls, and a beach on Lake Superior.
The 70-foot-tall waterfall High Falls located on the Baptism River is the highest waterfall located entirely within Minnesota.
The park contains 22 miles of hiking trails, 12 miles of ski trails, and access to the Superior Hiking Trail. Tettegouche is bordered to the north by the Finland State Forest and shares the Red Dot motorized trail with it.
The trail is for use by all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles and is the only ATV trail in a state park.
The park is one of only four state parks in Minnesota offering rock climbing. Both Shovel Point and Palisade Head cliffs are popular spots offering climbing directly over Lake Superior.
Tettegouche State Park has camping facilities available year-round. When the park office is not open, Minnesota State Park permit fees and camping fees are payable at the self-registration station located at the park office.
In addition to their campgrounds, Tettegouche State Park has several other lodging options, including:
Only accessible by foot, mountain bike, cross-country skis, or snowshoes, Tettegouche Camp is located in the interior of Tettegouche State Park and offers a shower building, a lodge, and four year-round rentable cabins. There are no bathrooms in these cabins; a shower building and toilet facilities are a short walk away.
These cabins do not have running water; however, jugs are provided and guests may use the shower building or the hand pump to collect water.
Illgen Falls Cabin
Without a doubt the most popular cabin in Tettegouche State Park, the 2-bedroom Illgen Falls Cabin overlooks the falls and is available year-round.
5. Padre Island National Seashore – Texas
An all seasons campground, Padre Island is most famous for containing the longest stretch of natural barrier island in the entire world! Spanning over 70km, of stunning terrain.
How was the Barrier Island Formed?
Many scientist theories, suggest that the barrier island longest stretch was formed 18,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice age. When the glaciers melted, the sea levels rose and the currents swept sediments from beach ridges out into the ocean to form the unique barrier islands.
Wildlife at Padre Island:
Padre Island is located on the central flyway making it’s a prime spot for over 380 migratory & resident birds! Which is nearly half of all documented species in North America!
Camping at Padre Island:
As you might have guessed, Bird Island Basin is a popular spot, just on the waters of the Laguna Madre. Here campers can enjoy, kayaking, boating, fishing and of course Bird watching!
For those of you which like water sports there is a windsurfing area which is ranked “best flat water sailing site in the entire U.S.A, by windsurfing magazine! Source.
Other camping sites include, Malaquite Campground, South Beach or Yarborough Pass and North Beach.
4. Telluride/Montrose – Colorado
With the highest peaks in Colorado, the Telluride/Montrose region is an epic winter camping destination. If your would like Panoramic scenic views and a winter adventure playground then head over to here this Winter.
Skiing at Telluride:
Telluride Ski Resort was named Top SKI Resort in North America by Town and Tourist, peaking over lots of tough competition. With over 325 inches of snow evert year you can see why this is fast becoming a Winter Favorite.
Think of it like Aspen but less crowded…which means short ski lift lines! Nordic skiing or Cross Country is also immensely popular here. Other great activities include calorie burning shoesnow hikes, snow mobiling and even sleigh rides!
Head down to Telluride Town park or Mountain villages hotel Madeline to experience some fantastic ice skating rinks, (great for couples!). Afterwards, sip on some piping hot chocolate in one of the cozy cafes nearby.
Montrose / Black Canyon National Park KOA, offers a great winter camping experience.
3. Hot Springs National Park – Arkansas
A real popular National Park, for all those into wellness, relaxation and the natural healing properties of the hot springs. Don’t jump into the main spring as that comes out from the rocks at 143 degrees Fahrenheit, instead head to the popular bathhouses where the water is piped and released at a more comfortable temperature.
The two best bathhouses are Buckstaff Baths, a 100 year old historic baths. Alternatively, head to Quapaw Bathouse, for a less rustic Spa type experience, equip with indoor & outdoor spring pools.
26 miles of Hiking trails surrounding the Hot Springs means there are some nice spots for day time hikes no matter what your level.
Great Camping here can be found at Hot Springs National Park KOA.
2. Dry Tortugas National Park – Florida
Winter Camping in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida is the place where summer never ends! Crystal Waters, Colorful Coral Reefs and paradise islands make this a stunning winter camping destination. Open all seasons, some of the islands are not accessible to the public at certain time throughout the year.
For example, Buch Park is open (October to January) – The rest of the time it’s closed due to nesting season for sooty tern seabirds.
From 2017, these parks are completely closed. East Key, Long Key, Middle Key and Hospital Key.
For camping really the only campsite you have is the Garden Key Campground. Located just south of Fort Jefferson.
For transport, there is limited amount, the Yankee Freedom ferry only takes 10 people every day!! So book well in advance to avoid disappointment.
Popular Landmarks nearby include Fort Jefferson, the largest masonry structure in America, at 100 square miles in size! This gigantic fort was constructed in the 19th century.
1. Yosemite National Park – California
It would have been difficult to over look this beast! Yosemite National Park is the ultimate wilderness, punctuated with waterfalls and lush plains!
With over 5 million visitors each year, the majority of which is in the summer & spring, Winter is the perfect opportunity to experience Yosemite National Park in a peaceful and more natural way. Oh and of course the blanket of snow gives the experience a whole new meaning!
Best times to visit are between December to March, when there is plenty of Snowy scenery to feast your eyes upon! Access to the Yosemite Valley & Wawona areas is possible by car, so I suggest heading there to set up camp.
Afterwards, strap on the skis, snowshoes or regular good ol fashioned hiking boots to experience the terrain. For downhill & cross country skiers head to Badgers Pass Ski Area, the road leading up is plowed normally.
Another popular cross country skiing spot is along the Wagon Meadow Trail to Mariposa Grove. This is a scenic trial surrounded by an army of sequoias. Check out this great article for the Ultimate Cross country Skiing spots in the U.S.A
8 Essential Winter Camping Tips:
1. Layer, Layer, Layer
Wear lots of thermal layers of course, but when the temperature does drop don’t simply pile everything on top. Think about the heat lost into the cold ground, layer up mats on the ground below to stop the heat from escaping.
2. Shake that Sleeping bag!
Scientifically, sleeping bags are more effective when they trap pockets of air which then absorb the heat from your body. Thus for maximum effectiveness, shake that sleeping bag before use to make sure it’s filled with air. This principle is also the same way double glazing windows work, they trap a layer of air between the two glass panes.
3. Don’t put your head inside your sleeping bag…even if it’s really cold!
On my last winter camping trip, in Colorado the temperature plummeted so I stuck my entire head inside my sleeping bag! This seems to warm me up at first but after is just got damp from the water vapor condensing from my breath. After further research it turned out that this really can harm the insulation affect. So keep your head out! Just wear a hat and face protector if it really is cold, plus you can breath better!
4. If you need to go, go!
So picture the scene, your all cozy in your sleeping bag when you feel those camp beers brewing below, making you really need to pee. Although you may not wan’t to go outside in the cold! Holding it in, wastes energy and disturbs your sleep. So when you need to go, just go.
5. Bigger is not always better!
The smaller the tent, the better insulated you will be so choose the right size which suits you. Or if you really wan’t a larger get one with zip up rooms, which trap the air easily and act like a tent inside a tent. The same principle applies to sleeping bags, if your small use a small one.
6. Protect your extremities
Hats on the head, thermal socks on the feat and of course gloves. Bring a few pairs of each incase they get wet.
7. Go to bed with hand warmers in your bag.
Hand warmers can be purchased from most outdoors shops, and they are a great addition to any winter camping experience. So, if you have a pair “to hand” pop them inside your sleeping bag, this makes a great alternative to a hot water bottle.
8. Bring lithium batteries
Lithium batteries are much more reliable in cold conditions than the alkaline or NiMh batteries. They also last longer and weight less so bring some along for touches, lamps etc.
Want a Bucket list Winter Experience?
Check out this epic Article: 16 Bucket list Dog Sledding Tours/Trips: U.S.A
For nordic Skiers check out: