America has rediscovered its love for the great outdoors, with National Parks and private establishments open all year long with camping spaces and cabin rentals. The enthusiasm for winter camping is on the rise. Winter camping brings its own forms of recreation; such as snowmobile riding, skiing, sledding, ice skating and snowboarding. Festive occasions, such as winter holidays and carnivals, are experienced best in a fairy tale land of ice and snow, with the brightly twinkling lights nestled into glistening white blankets of frozen silence.
Know Your Climate
Winter camping can be one of the most magical experiences of your life, or it can be a disaster for the unprepared. Before packing your winter gear, learn the geography of your location. An easy rule of thumb is the higher the altitude, the colder the region. Amount of precipitation is another factor. Low land areas that are generally hot and dry in the summer, have less snow fall in its higher elevations in the winter and will often have a wind chill that feels colder than the actual temperature. Snowfalls, however, are described by skiers as “powder snow”. The accumulation is light, dry and ideal for skiing and snowboarding.
Warm, wet climates generally have heavy snowfalls in the upper elevations during the winter. The mid-latitudes will usually have very wet snows, snow mixed with rain and slush. Regions with heavy accumulations of wet snows are the most at risk for avalanches. Check with the National Park Services for avalanche warnings or winter storms before planning your trip .
When More is Better
That sleek pack you used during the summer will be as least twice as heavy with winter clothing, and that’s before you start on the outer gear. The most vulnerable parts of your body for frostbite are the ears, hands and feet. Wear a knit or woolen cap that covers the ears. For extra protection during winter activities, wear the cap under your hat or hoodie. Wear lined gloves or leather gloves over knit ones. Bring twice as many pairs of socks as you would ordinarily wear, and an extra pair of shoes along with your boots. You may find you need to dry out your feet at least once a day and warm them up with fresh socks and shoes.
Layered clothing works best in cold climates or climates with fickle weather. If you pack thermal under clothing, some fleece and wools, you can avoid the necessity of bulky winter coats and snow pants, unless you plan to go out in a harsh, Arctic climate or brave a few days tent camping.
Rent a Cabin
Unless you’re a veteran camper who has hiked a few mountains in the winter and is prepared to load and carry a fifty pound pack, the best way to enjoy a winter trip to the high country is to rent a cabin. Cabins are readily available through the Park Service and private enterprises and range from minimal shelters with standard cots and a wood stove, to fully accommodated home-sized cabins with electric power, fireplaces and Internet access.
The Smoky Mountains are an ideal place for a winter trip. Lowland temperatures can be as mild as seventy degrees during the winter, with temperatures that gradually become colder as you reach the higher elevations. Snowfalls are frequent in the high elevations, with accumulations of two – three feet during a storm.
Winter activities include skiing, snowboarding and the Winterfest Celebration, in which Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville decorate their streets with festive lights and host a number of holiday shows and arts and crafts displays. The Gatlinburg Ski Resort features a state of the arts snow tubing park and freestyle terrain park.
When renting a cabin, check the website carefully for the type of cabin you will be renting, and prepare accordingly. If it’s a cabin with a wood stove, bring along extra wood, especially if you are renting through a Park Service, as the supply may not always equal the demand, and in some cases, may not be there at all. Choose a cabin you can realistically be comfortable with as nothing can spoil a winter trip worse than never feeling like you’re warm. If you’re a novice, begin your winter camping experience with a full service cabin or a stout cabin with easy access, kitchen facilities, and an efficient wood stove for warm, relaxing evenings and the feeling of being a pioneer in a winter wonderland of adventure and romance.