Winter Camping

While some people think that camping season ends when summer does, fall and winter can actually be one of the best times of the year to go camping and has become our favorite season to explore some of our favorite places… the Utah desert is amazing this time of year! It’s still warm enough during the day but isn’t sizzling hot like it can be during the summer months and you’ll avoid some of the crazy crowds of people that you run into during the peak of summer camping season too.

Plus in the fall and winter months campground reservations can be a little easier to snag on shorter notice and hiking through trails with trees covered in red and golden leaves makes everything feel a little more magical. Even though it takes a little more preparation to make sure you have the right supplies and gear to stay warm camping in colder weather it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Here are some tips to make sure you have an epic fall camping trip.

Staying Warm During the Day 

It’s important to always check the weather before you head out camping, but it’s more important in the fall and winter months as the weather can change quickly and storms roll in fast and fierce. Always plan for the unexpected and be prepared for freezing temps, rain and/or snow especially in higher elevation. 

The clothing you bring with you camping and hiking in the cooler months is so important. We love clothes that are easy to layer on and off, keep us warm and don’t take up too much room. We get a lot of our clothing and gear from REI and Backcountry (both websites are having great Black Friday Sales right now!!)

When layering start with high quality base layers that aren’t cotton. It’s best to avoid cotton because when it gets wet from sweat or rain it will most likely stay that way. We prefer materials like merino wool (or something similar) so it will help wick moisture away from your body and keep you warmer. I like to bring a lighter set and heavier set that we can use depending on how cold it gets (they are also nice to sleep in too – especially for our kids!) Next you’ll want a mid layer – like a light fleece or pullover to help keep you warm, then use a waterproof outer layer to help keep you dry. This can also be a heavy winter coat during colder months for extra warmth. Some of our other “musts” we always have with us are wool socks to wick moisture away from our feet to keep them warm and dry. Also waterproof shoes or boots, a warm hat and a nice pair of gloves.

San Rafael Swell, Utah

We like to start our hikes earlier in the day as the days are shorter and we won’t have as much daylight as we do during the summer. Definitely be prepared for the weather to unexpectedly change and have enough supplies in your day-pack to stay the night on the trail in case of an emergency. (Which is a good practice any time of year when you’re out hiking!) We always make sure to have a good knife, a lighter, extra food and water to last an extra day in case we get stranded and a headlamp in case we end up getting back to camp after the sun goes down. We’ve also learned not to rely on cell phone service as it usually isn’t available in some of the remote areas we go to so we download maps of the area and trails that can be used offline and we always bring an old fashioned map book just in case.    

Maple Canyon, Utah

Staying Warm at Night 

There are a few things to consider for staying warm at night. One is choosing a good reliable tent for shelter and the other is the sleeping bag you use. Sleeping bags have temperature ratings so make sure you have one that will keep you warm enough for the expected cold temps at night. You can also grab a sleeping bag liner to add extra warmth and sleeping pads can also offer extra insulation from the ground – we love our Klymit pads. If you have the luxury of space you can always bring extra blankets to throw over you at night too. I’ve also brought hand and feet warmers and hot water bottles to throw in the bottom of my sleeping bag to stay warm when we are camping in freezing temps during the winter because every little bit helps! 

We also always make sure to have a waterproof rain-fly for our tent and we like to bring extra tarps that can be used to cover ground or cover tables to keep areas dry for cooking and eating and they can also be used to help block the wind! Campfires can also help keep you warm when the sun goes down and always feel a little cozier in the fall and winter months. Just check to make sure there isn’t a fire ban in the area and bring a hatchet and any fire starting material you’ll need. Never leave a fire unattended and always make sure to distinguish it properly at night and before heading back home.

Maple Canyon Arch Trail

Next up… just enjoy your trip and have fun! Hopefully you’ll get lucky and see and hear the wildlife that are more active in the fall and winter months, enjoy the fall scenery and fall in love with camping in colder weather just like we have.

14 Comments on “Winter Camping

  1. In Queensland Australia where I live – the very best time to go camping and hiking is winter and autumn. It gets way too hot in summer so many national parks close to walkers then. Beautiful photos.

  2. Great fall photos Melanie. Winter camping might be more of a challenge up here, but having the place to yourselves would be a bonus. Stay well. Allan

    • Thank you for reading Allan- we definitely love places where we aren’t around too many crowds of people! There is always something good about every season!

    • Thank you! It definitely comes with more work but we love it! There is always something good to be said about all of the seasons!

  3. Your pictures look beautiful with all the fall colours. I enjoy camping during the fall too. The campgrounds are usually quieter and there are no bugs. It can be a lot of fun, especially when you have the right gear and company!

    • Exactly!! And I’m definitely all about fewer bugs too!! Hopefully one day we can make it up to your area and visit some of the amazing trails and parks you showcase too ✨

  4. Fall is the perfect time to enjoy so many areas. Love all you fall leaves! This is an area we haven’t spent much time. It’s now on the list! Love, love all the family photos!!
    To reply to your comment on our blog post on the Bisti Badlands…You and the family will LOVE this place. The biggest problem for some is the almost 2 mile hike to get to the features. It’s a flat easy hike but tough with the little ones.

  5. Okay, I’ve got to say – I went right to the comments after reading the first sentence. Yes, fall camping is amazing! The best time of the year for it, agreed! I love that selfie shot of all of you, you’re all just so cute! These are also all great tips! I had my first experience fall camping last year in Capitol Reef and Bryce. Both are at elevation, and my goodness, the overnight lows were 9 degrees, 13 degrees, and 18 degrees. Our water bottles froze overnight! It was so cold! Now I have a warmer bag, thanks to that trip!

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