The first time I went winter camping in Minnesota, it was what you might expect.
…Cold, windy, and the snow was a foot deep. But, it was pretty fun.
I convinced a few buddies to camp with me at Lake Maria State Park, just outside Monticello before the seasons changed.
We arrived at the park just before noon on Saturday. Temperatures peaked at around 20 degrees. The wind would blow through, chilling everything that it whipped past. When it died off, though, it was quite nice outside, especially with the bright sun high overhead.
Our campsite rested on a slight outcropping of land, seemingly surrounded by an inner lake, which was frozen and covered with snow. It also gave way for rushing gusts of wind as it came through from the north.
But, during the night, when it ceased, the cloudless night sky let the moon shine down brightly, bouncing light off of the snow-covered ground to show the deep, creaking hardwood forest.
It’s an experience that’s attainable only during these cold, dark months, and it’s worth every minute.
Winter Camping At Lake Maria State Park
Arriving earlier in the day gave us enough time to set up camp and march out for a sunny hike. However, during this time of the year, the sun seems to set faster than it rises.
Hiking into our campsite at Lake Maria State Park, the snow would be roughly a foot deep in areas, making it feel like you’re walking on sand. This made it easy to work up a sweat when paired with a 40- to 50-pound pack.
The hike in was about a mile, but regardless, we stopped a few times, taking a quick five to cool down (It’s best not to sweat when you’re winter camping, because it increases your chances of hypothermia). Soon enough, we arrived at site B2.
This was a tent-only site, so we propped up my two-person tent — which was tight with three of us — and put on water for coffee before heading out.
If you’re not into tent camping on snow, some state parks, Lake Maria included, offer camper cabins, which are wooden cabins that feature bunk beds and a fireplace.
After having our fill of coffee, we hit the trails. It helped to dump off the gear, but marching across the snowy landscape was still fairly difficult, at least compared to hiking the same trails a few months prior.
But, one of the biggest perks of winter camping is that there are so few other people out and about.
During the summer, you’re constantly sharing the trails, especially at parks like Lake Maria or Interstate State Park since they’re so close to the Twin Cities. Not in the winter. And, despite the below freezing temperatures, it’s not too difficult to warm up, not when the nonexistent canopy lets so much light through.
And, despite the below freezing temperatures, it’s not too difficult to warm up, not when the nonexistent canopy lets so much light through.
Even at night, hiking the snowy trails wasn’t so much cold as it was keeping your balance. The moon shined so brightly that we didn’t need headlamps or flashlights to help us navigate the paths.
It was one foot in front of the other well into the night before turning back to cook dinner and sip warm tea.
The Best Part of Winter Camping
Just like during the summer months, camping is still camping. Only, during the winter, it’s a slightly different ball game.
Instead of battling with mosquitoes or ticks, it’s typically the wind that bites — which is actually bearable. Unlike the summer, you’re not sweating constantly, rather staying conscious of your body temperature.
It can be a little rough at night, admittedly, unless you know how to stay warm. But, other than that, winter camping is a rich outdoors experience in itself that every hiker, backpacker, or slightly outdoorsy person should take a shot at.
The best part about it has to be the acute awareness of nature’s sounds that reverberate throughout the forest. Camping during the summer, for all that it’s cracked up to be, does allow for noise to travel quite like it does during the winter.
At night, you’ll hear creaks and cracks that sound as if they’re taking place right next to you, and then, with all the sharp noises being so noticeable, so is the silence.
The weather seems to bring extremes with it, because for periods of time, not a sound will penetrate the air until finally, a loud snap breaks the natural tension of your surroundings.
Again, it’s something every person who enjoys the outdoors should experience.