To be honest, our summers are usually pretty hit or miss as far as camping trips. We do most of them in the spring or late fall when my wildland fire husband is more available. So, this winter I was determined to book as many winter camping weekends (or mid-week *homeschool perk*) that I possibly could. Let’s just say it’s made the last few weeks very busy (and very fun!)
Camping in the winter is easily overlooked by families who worry that there are too many variables and unknowns. Quite frankly, I enjoy winter camping in many ways far more than summer camping for a variety of reasons:
- Cozy cabin days and nights
- No bugs or creepy crawlies
- In general less traffic and hikers
- Easier to store food
- Bears are hibernating (usually)
Over the past month we have done 4 different cabin/yurt stays with our 4 young kids (aged 10 mo – 7). Some of locations we were able to drive right up to, but some we had to work a little harder to get to them!
This post is all our best tips AND gear recommendations!
Quick tips for winter camping (in a cabin or yurt!)
Plan ahead or visit during the week
Cabins are booked many months in advance for holidays and prime expected winter conditions. I sort of got on a last minute kick as far as booking up and we took advantage of the fact that we could leave during the week. We also scored with great snow wintery conditions perfect for skiing and playing, though that’s always a gamble.
Stay at least 2 nights
The first night is always the hardest, the second night is always much better. And going less than two nights just doesn’t make all the hard work worth it!
Do you need a 4WD vehicle? Will you be skiing/snowshoeing in your gear?
Don’t forget to get your code/key/combination!
It’s super easy to forget you actually need to be able to get IN the cabin. Call ahead the day or two before you go (be aware of weekends and holidays) for the combinations.
Be ready for changing conditions
Winter camping is obviously in the winter. A bluebird day can turn into blizzard conditions very quickly. Check forecasts, bring layers, and plan on the possibility of needing extras of hats, mittens, and clothing.
There is nothing worse than being caught without enough clothing and gear to be safe for the entire family.
Plan on a cold cabin/yurt
Build a fire and haul in gear, shovel snow and play while you wait for it to warm up. Avoid arriving after dark just for convenience sake. Usually the cabin/yurt starts out colder than the outside air. Realistically, a cold cabin can take hours to warm up adequately.
Some cabins have access to water and others don’t. Do your research and plan accordingly! If you know there will be lots of snow, plan to melt and boil it for water (but bring some too just in case).
Don’t forget lights
Winter days also means shorter days. Your headlamp is your best friend for outside play, trips to the outhouse and hauling firewood. Bring extra batteries too!
Bring games, reading material and prepare to relax
It’s all about getting those cheeks nice and rosy outside and then warming up inside. Here are a bunch of our favorite games we always pack along (affiliate links!)
It’s ok to wear just about the same thing the entire time (depending on how many days you stay, of course). I use the Deuter Zip Packs and can fit all four kids in a small duffel. We have what we need, but not more than that. Layers, layers, layers!
Plan sleeping arrangements
We (Mtn Papa and I) usually split up and have one of the youngest kids with us. Because M is still nursing, I prefer to bring a double sleeping bag so we both have some room to move AND keep warm.
Be aware that many top bunks in cabins don’t have railings so are not ideal for young kids.
Simplify your meals
We usually have soup and bread for one dinner and hot dogs or spaghetti for the second. Breakfasts are sometimes pancakes or eggs, but more likely bagels or yogurt and granola. Plan on the face that you’ll be expending more energy staying warm, though, and may need extra food!
A Packing List of Must-Have Items:
- Cabin Slippers. Do NOT forget this one. Not all cabin floors are super clean and snow will be tracked in. I highly recommend the Baffin Cush slippers (starting for kids about aged 5 – adults). They are warm, have a nice thick sole (because I guarantee you someone will walk outside in their slippers) and pack very well. Some of our family has the bootie style and some have the lower style. Both are great.
- Headlamps. Even if the cabin has electricity, they come in super handy for after-dark potty breaks. Make sure you have one for every person.
- 2 Pair of Base Layers (one can be used for sleeping – Wee Woollies are great sleepers for the kids).
- Extra wool socks – We always bring 2-3
- Hand sanitizer – washing hands isn’t always super easy, so we rely on this to at least cut down on germs.
- Clorox Wipes. I like to put about 10 in a Ziplock and bring them with us. Great for wiping down surfaces as needed.
- Action Wipes – our favorite shower-alternative. And they also take off marshmallow goo like a boss!
- Pack and Play if you have a crawler. Not all cabins are crawler-worthy. I’ve been super thankful for ours just as a place to put the baby down.
Specific Tips on Local (MT/ID) Winter Camping Facilities
The Mill Creek Cabin is easily accessible. If the fenced-in work area is snowed in, you can park and walk only a few hundred yards. It has two bunk beds, so our family was tight, but doable. I brought a Pack-and-Play for the baby which was invaluable just as a place to set her down. The floor was pretty filthy and not suited for crawling babies (even for this mom who usually easily overlooks dirt).
I appreciated the fact that there was no evidence of mice, a clean outhouse and firewood readily available.
This cabin is heavily used and some people leave it cleaner than others (don’t be the one that leaves it a mess for the next people!)
We also got lucky with some great snow and were able to ski right from the cabin up the nearby trails.
I have been talking about visiting Harriman State Park for over 5 years now. We were swayed for years by the fact that they don’t allow dogs to stay in the yurts, but really wondered why we waited so long.
There are two yurts at Harriman that are nearly identical. We visited with our friends (who also have 4 kids about the same ages as ours). The yurts are far enough away from each other for a little privacy, but close enough to be able to easily access each others. To be honest, I don’t think I would have liked it as much if someone we didn’t know was in the other yurt, but this worked out perfectly.
There is tons of room for the kids to run around the yurts and play.
The yurts are very clean (really the cleanest place we stayed this winter, by far). The two bunks (double on bottom, single on top) are comfortable and safe (great railings on top) for kids. The husband and I tend to split up and each take a younger kiddo in a bottom bunk, and that worked great here too.
Water is available, but there is no electricity (which I kind of like!) It was -20 degrees when we were there and we managed to play and ski and hardly notice.
The ski trails actually hadn’t been groomed yet, so we didn’t have to pay the ski pass fee, but they were fine for classic skiing. We got a ton of snow while we were there.
B Bar Guest Ranch
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