Winter (Van) Camping

We like to get outside every chance we get, whether it’s a quick run, a day-long hike, or a weekend camping trip. You can see all of our outdoor adventures here, and more of our Colorado hikes here.

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Last weekend we packed up the van and headed into Rocky Mountain National Park for an overnight adventure! Since winter camping is not a common past time, especially if you have little kids, I thought I’d share some details about our adventure, and hopefully encourage you to take off into the snowy mountains for a weekend of fun.

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Within RMNP, Moraine Park is the only campground that’s open year-round, and in the winter it offers 77 sites on a first-come-first-served basis (for only $18/night!). When we arrived on Saturday, there were a handful of other campers, but most of the sites were open!… at that point, Calder and I considered this trip a success, because it’s often impossible to get a campsite in Colorado without reservations made months in advance.

The Moraine Park area is a wide valley within the park that’s great year-round for wildlife watching and in the winter, it provides a beautiful backdrop for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

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What do you do during a winter camping trip? Much of the same stuff that you do in the summer. Instead of just hiking, you do it with snowshoes, and instead of shorts and a t-shirt, you do it with plenty of layers.

We arrived Saturday afternoon, set up our site and let the boys explore, and then went out for an adventure. Calder skied with Alex on his back while I snowshoed with Luc. Once we got back to the van, we lit a fire and started in on dinner. After breakfast the next day, we headed out to the Fern Lake Trailhead for a long hike, and then we hopped in the car, drove into Estes for lunch, and headed home.
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What gear did we take? Great question. Since we were van-camping, we had the luxury of being able to bring more gear than we would on a hiking trip, but even so, we keep it very simple.

CLOTHES : We are notoriously light packers, and even for this trip we kept it simple. Since we already do a lot of winter day-trips, it’s easy for us to pack our bags with the exact winter layers that each person needs. For each of us, that includes good boots, a hat, gloves, coat, snow pants, and an under-layer. We brought a change of clothes for everyone, but honestly, Alex is the only person that needed extra clothes because he has a knack for covered himself in muck. The rest of us were too lazy and warm to change out of our clothes for day two.

SNOW GEAR : We brought the chains for our van (they are always packed), a snow shovel, a sled, snowshoes, and a pair of skis fitted with AT bindings and skins.

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CAMPING GEAR : I talked about most of this gear in another post on van camping, but I’ll give you a quick run-down here. We brought our camping box that contains all the basic necessities for eating – matches, cookware, camping stove, silverware, french press, can opener, etc. During the winter, we’re serious about a warm and cozy bed set-up, so we bring two extra large thermarests that cover the van bed, and two down comforters, one for under us and one for over. Luc sleeps in the bed with us, while Alex sleeps in his own nest on the floor (he is snuggled into one big down comforter).

ENTERTAINMENT : We rely on nature to keep the kiddos happy while the sun’s out. When we go into the van for the night, we’ve started playing Go Fish and other card games with Alex (while Luc makes it his goal to disrupt the games in any way possible). We also packed a few good books for everyone, knitting for me, and podcasts for Calder.

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FOOD : Just as with the clothes, we keep it simple. For this quick trip, I’ll tell you exactly what we brought (all packed in one large cooler).

  • drinks : coffee, tea, milk, hot chocolate mix, G&T fixings (obvs!), and water
  • lunch/dinner : soup, hotdogs & buns, smoked oysters
  • breakfast : bacon & eggs
  • misc. : marshmallows, oranges, sugar

The soup was leftovers from the previous week. It was actually a blend of this broccoli & cheddar and this creamy chicken – we had a little of both, and the mixture turned out to be delicious! Does that seem weird? We’re soup-mixers from way back (we’re guilty of making soup cocktails at every soup bar we visit). Soup is great for a winter trip because you’ll want something warm, and having it pre-made makes reheating really easy.

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I love to take the fixings for G&Ts on camping trips. The easiest way I’ve found to do it, particularly for a short overnight trip, is to take just the shot (or two) of gin in a flask, and the appropriate number of 8oz cans of tonic from Trader Joes. Those cans are the perfect size for a single drink. And they’re cute.

The smoked oysters may seem a bit random, but they are a common Schu-family appetizer. They are particularly awesome on a cold-weather camping trip when the extra calories may come in handy and when you need something quick to eat while you’re waiting for the fire to get going and your drinks are already flowing.

Our boys love smoked oysters, but I’m sure many wouldn’t even want to try them. Although as all parents know, kids are more risky eaters on camping trips, so if your kids have never had them, your next camping trip is the perfect time to introduce them to this little piece of oily heaven.

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Most of the photos above were from our first day of our trip. The photos below are from our second day. Hot Chocolate in the van, followed by our hike on the Fern Lake trail. The trail is so well-traveled that on the day we went, snowshoes were unnecessary.

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This was our first winter camping trip with two kids, and it was a major success. As I’m writing this post, Alex is talking to Calder about the trip and wondering when we can go again (soon, little guy, soon!). We had a great time, and I’m so happy that we’re introducing the little guys to year-round camping adventures.

I know that getting out into the snow with kids can be daunting on a typical day, so camping may seem like an absurd idea, but really, if you have the right clothes to keep everyone warm, and you’re ready for a weekend of adventure in the snow, you’ll have an amazing time!

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One thought on “Winter (Van) Camping

  1. Such approachable inspiration + ideas for anyone looking to do some winter camping! I only have cold, cold, painful memories of backpacking in snowy central PA – good on you for starting out your kids with only the best adventures!

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