Get out of the House

Get out of the House: National Parks & Winter Camping

by Grace Bonney

National Parks print by Ello There

After a few days of unseasonably warm weather, it’s gone back to being cold and drizzly here in Brooklyn. While that’s perfectly expected for this time of year, I’ve been struggling to get out of the house and stay active (at least in terms of staying inspired). One of the things I committed to doing in 2013 was finding ways to get outside and see new things. That idea turned into a new column that I’m excited to launch today: Get out of the House. As a city-dweller, I relish any chance I have to get outside and enjoy that feeling of being so small compared to the vastness of nature. Few places drive that home for me as much as national parks, so I thought they’d be the perfect places to celebrate for my first post!

Shenandoah National Park, photo via Kwaree Blog

Like a lot of people I grew up with, I was one of those kids who preferred to stay indoors and read, draw or watch TV over outdoor activities. I’d found ways to wriggle out of most physical activities (except for my beloved field hockey) until I hit college and discovered that my school had a kinesiology requirement. In order to graduate, I had to complete two classes, so I begrudgingly signed up for winter camping and winter whitewater kayaking. While the latter was an exhausting exercise in avoiding drowning and frost bite at the same time, winter camping was an utter delight. Along with 10 classmates, we learned basic survival skills (tailored for the cold) and got to go on two trips to Shenandoah National Park, which introduced me to the Appalachian Trail. Until those trips, I hadn’t even considered visiting national parks in the winter, but it’s become one of my favorite seasons to plan a visit. I know a lot of people would wonder why you would bother to camp when it’s so cold, but the stillness and sense of peace you get from camping or hiking in the winter is indescribable- and definitely worth the effort.

Continue reading after the jump for national park resources, maps, activities and ideas for keeping warm and cooking outdoors . . .

Vintage map of Acadia National Park on Etsy


Twenty-seven states (and two US territories) have national parks ranging from huge spaces like Alaska’s 13.2 million acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park to smaller protected areas like Thaddeus Kosciuszko’s National Memorial in Pennsylvania. Whether you’re looking for something wild and adventurous or more manicured and easy to hike, there’s a park out there for you. Here’s a list of options to get you going:


Arches National Park at night, photograph by Aaron Thompson on Etsy


I’m a big fan of just hiking and enjoying the simplicity of walking through silent nature, but if you’ve got kids (or slightly antsy adults) on your list, it’s always good to have a few activity ideas. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Drawing nature and wildlife
  • Hunting for crystallofolia, or frost flowers
  • Constellation spotting
  • Tent within a tent
  • Traditional winter sports: skiing, snowshoeing, skating
  • Snowball fight!
  • Snowmobiles
  • Horse-drawn carriage rides


Vintage Yellowstone Plate at Etsy


When I did my college camping trip, we were forced to eat some pretty gnarly MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). As much as I appreciate the easy-to-carry nutrition, I was longing for some tastier snacks. With temperatures low, it’s best to focus on hearty food that will warm you up after a long winter’s hike. Also, here are some tips on using snow water for food/drink.


*Remember to always clean your campground thoroughly and hang food in a bear hang/sling to avoid attracting animals.*

Grand Canyon Print at Etsy


Depending on where you’re visiting or camping, you’ll need to make sure you focus on these basics: staying warm, staying dry and wearing layers that you can easily add to/remove. If I learned anything from my first camping trip, it’s this: always pack more socks than you think you will need. When your feet get wet and it’s cold, everything feels awful. It may sound extreme, but my winter camping teacher taught us the phrase “Cotton Kills,” as a reminder to use wicking fabrics (which pull moisture away from your skin) and to avoid cotton.

  • Base Layer: These are the things closest to your body. Underwear, long underwear and any thin layers like a long-sleeved wicking t-shirt.
  • Middle Layer: This is where I learned the value of fleece. Fleece shirts, zip ups and sweatshirts are your best friend.
  • Outer Layer: This is your “shell,” and it should be a jacket that is at performance-wear level and that is wind and waterproof.
  • Boots: Waterproof is the name of the game. You’ll be glad you spent the extra money on waterproof boots when you step into a puddle or ice patch.
  • Accessories: Hats, mittens and socks are all necessary and should be made of a wicking (and non-cotton) material. SmartWool makes excellent hiking socks that keep moisture away from your feet.



Safety is important any time you enter the wilderness but especially in the winter when the weather is a major factor. Please be sure to consult these guides for basics and tips specific to your type of trip.

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  • Thanks for this lovely post. My husband and I hit six National Parks on our honeymoon last June, and now our bedroom is filled with NP prints like those featured here. Now we’re planning a trip to Rocky Mountain NP for our one year anniversary. This just helped to fuel the fire!

  • Lovely prints! Esp. the Grand Canyon one. We have a year round membership card, and always hit a few parks over the summer. I am starting a mug collection of the more remote parks we visit!

    xo annaofgreengable

  • National Parks are a family favorite! During my childhood, we spent every Thanksgiving at Big Bend National Park (one of the least visited and most underrated parks there is, in my humble opinion!).

    Now my husband and I plan our yearly vacations around National Parks. This year? Arches!

  • We are so lucky to live in the middle of the wilderness. The Tongass National Forest is the largest in the country and incorporates 17.9 million acres- much of the islands in Southeast Alaska. We use the Alaska Marine Highway Ferries to travel between communities. There are many out of the way places to get off the beaten track with a tent and cabins to rent from the forest service to stay out of the rain. Of course having a boat opens up a whole new world!

  • Great post and beautiful photos. The timing is perfect for me as I am going to the Grand Canyon next week! Yellowstone and Yosemite are both gorgeous in winter; they also have lodging if you want to enjoy winter nature but spend the nights in a toasty lodge. Looking forward to more inspiration to get out of the house.

  • So fun! I went to W&M too, but thankfully they’d done away with the kinesiology requirement by the time I got there. It’s a good thing too, because all the good ones were impossible to schedule!

  • The Grand Canyon is so beautiful in the winter! It is one of the best kept secrets of the NP system. I moved to the northeast and for the first time in five years, I am not going there this winter. My husband proposed to me while we were hiking there on Valentines day two years ago. Bundle up and go!

  • My husband and I are National Park baggers. With intentions to visit each one extensively. I hope your readers who visit this will seriously consider reading more on the Pack it in, Pack it out policy that most parks hold; especially if you are new! I love meeting people who are visiting for the first time, but it’s essential we help keep the parks pristine! To Sarah at the top, you will love my “home park”, Rocky Mountain NP! Enjoy your anniversary!

  • so timely, I spent the weekend snowcamping on the PCT with my sons boy scout troup. As in a snowshow backpack…and ten above in the morning. Two years ago it was 25 below. YOu do need to know what you are doing though…as frostbite happens. Snow caves are awesome.

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