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 . . .
THE BASICS: WHERE TO GO
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:
- National Parks (general list by state)
- National Parks Maps (listed by state)
- National Parks with Campgrounds (listed by state)
- Camping Glossary (to aid in searches and map reading)
Arches National Park at night, photograph by Aaron Thompson on Etsy
THE BASICS: WHAT TO DO
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!
- Horse-drawn carriage rides
THE BASICS: WHAT TO COOK
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.
- Bread and Muffins: Mountain Bread and Hush Puppies, Biscuits Baked in an Orange, Guinness Cakes and Bread Pudding Muffins
- Breakfast: Backcountry Breakfast Omelet, Blueberry Maple Pancakes, Power Oatmeal
- Snacks: Muddy Buddies (my fave!), Granola Bars, Gorp Balls
- Hot Drinks: Cocoa, Spiced Cider
- Lunch and Dinner: Farmer Sausage Foil Lunch, Camper’s Beef Stew, Campfire Chicken, Chicken Pot Pie, Campfire Tuna Mac, Campfire Pizza
- Dessert: S’mores, Campfire Eclairs, Campfire Tarts
*Remember to always clean your campground thoroughly and hang food in a bear hang/sling to avoid attracting animals.*
Grand Canyon Print at Etsy
THE BASICS: HOW TO STAY WARM
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.
THE BASICS: HOW TO STAY SAFE
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.