Wonderlands of frozen, misty lakes and woods of snow-covered branches are reasons to head outdoors. Between state parks, Metroparks, KOA campgrounds, and more, there are several options for a tent or RV winter getaway.
“Don’t let the cold stop you,” says Louis Andres, park services specialist with the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District. “Winter is a great time to go camping. There are less people, you don’t have bugs, and you see more wildlife.” In the winter, Andres looks for outdoor sweet spots where bald eagle nests, wild turkeys, racoon, coyote, and deer are part of the scene. Geese and ducks are frequent visitors, too.
Both Charles Mill and Pleasant Hill Lake, two district parks, have campgrounds with RV and tent sites with groomed trails that are perfect for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. To stay warm, “the key is staying dry,” says Andres. He recommends dressing in layers including polar fleece to combat the chill.
As a boy, tent camping for Ohio native David Klco meant warm-weather trips with his family. These days, Klco camps year-round. Zaleski State Forest in southeastern Ohio is his camping go-to, where winter offers a quiet beauty in the ice formations. “Lake Hope State Park is right across the street,” he says. Michael Reed, his buddy since high school, sometimes joins in on the outdoor escape. “You leave whatever you’re worried about behind you — [camping] stimulates your senses,” says Reed. Both appreciate the heightened challenge of colder weather.
“It feels good to go against nature,” says Klco, who often hikes a mile or two up a trail for the perfect spot. His two-person tent has a rain fly large enough for a chair. To keep warm, Klco wears a base layer of thermals and thick socks. His Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad has a 6.9-R value to combat cold, but 4 or above is sufficient. Before tucking in at night, he changes into dry socks or thermal booties.
Bringing a small amount of wood is another camping must. “You don’t know if you’ll find wood dry enough to burn,” Klco says. “You do appreciate the fire more,” Reed laughs.
Last New Year’s Eve, Amy and Gino Love pulled into their campsite at Alum Creek State Park in their SUV. “Let’s see how this camping thing works for us,” these North Carolina transplants said before they headed out from their New Albany home. After an evening of sitting by the fire enjoying the sky darkening over the lake, they put down the rear seats, bundled up in blankets, and slept on an air mattress. In the morning, they heated coffee on their grill. The camping thing worked fine. Since then, they’ve added a tent that attaches to the SUV’s open hatch, but they see an RV in their future.
Angie Ratliff and her husband are year-round RVers who enjoy Deer Creek and Alum Creek state parks for their proximity to Columbus. Although the metro area offers amenities, the solitude of the parks is a plus. “It’s so quiet. It’s more peaceful here in the winter,” Ratliff says as she enjoys outdoor time with her dog. “This time of year, you can hear the deer,” she says. Their tips: Aim for a sunny campsite near the shower house; bring extra propane; and heat the underbelly of the RV to prevent its pipes from freezing.
Winter Camping Tips
The winter camping season is generally considered to run from Nov. 15 to April 1, according to Ohio State Parks. Before heading out, check campground availability and amenities.
- A dome-shaped tent is best. It’s less likely to collapse if there’s snow. Pitch it on a tarp and away from branches that could fall. Undo the zipper a little to let out moisture from your breath.
- Use a mummy-style sleeping bag with a temperature rating of 20 degrees. A sleeping bag liner adds warmth.
- Bring waterproof matches, a flashlight, and a headlamp. A shovel is useful to clear snow from under an RV and flatten snow before pitching a tent.
- Rugs add insulation on the floor of an RV.
- Make one-pot meals to cut down on prep and cleanup.