two women setting up tent while winter camping

Winter camping 101

If you’re a summer camping enthusiast, now may be the time to put your skills to the test in a different season. Winter in our parks is a beautiful time. It’s quiet and still. The air is clean. And everything is covered in fresh snow.

Here are some tips for a safe, fun winter camping experience…

Before you go:

Be prepared

thumb_D9777B115877400086F6B9046A5AAD6FCamping in winter is more challenging than in the summer, so it’s best to go with one or more people who are experienced.

You can also take a winter camping workshop to learn the basics, including trip planning, equipment details and safety. Workshops are offered by some of the parks, including Frontenac, which also features an overnight outing to let you practice the skills you learned at the workshop.

Plan your trip

couple with map

Not all parks are open for winter camping; check our park locator or winter camping page to make sure your favourite park is winter-ready. You should also ask about weather and ice conditions and find out whether or not there is cell phone coverage or if you’ll need to bring a satellite phone in case of emergency.

Draw up your itinerary

Provide details on your trip route (including campsite numbers, if available), start date and expected time/date of return. Leave your itinerary with a friend or family member.

Create your menu

two women warming hands at campfire in snow

You’ll be burning up the calories snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or hiking through snow-covered terrain, so it’s really important to bring hearty food you can reheat quickly.

Stews, soups, mac & cheese, and meat pies are all yummy choices. Don’t forget to bring snacks like granola bars, and pack lots of hot chocolate!

winter menu

Don’t forget to stay hydrated. Melt snow over your stove or fire, and pour it into your (reusable) water bottle. Snow should be fresh and should boil for at least one minute prior to consumption.

Pack the right equipment

pack for winterYou’ll need a four-season tent, a sleeping bag (rated to at least -15°C), a mattress or pad (remember: this is what protects you from the frozen ground), a cook stove and a first aid kit. Make sure they’re all in working order before you leave home.

You’ll also need a waterproof backpack to hold your food, cooking utensils, a plastic mug, spoon and bowl, toiletries, headlamp or flashlight and batteries, pocket knife, matches and candle, as well as your clothes.

Staying dry is key to staying warm, so take clothes you can put on in layers. And for those dark nights, don’t forget to bring a book, a deck of cards and some games.

When you get to the park:

Register at the Park Office

park office registration

Introduce yourself to the staff, give them your itinerary and pick up your camping permits. This is also a great time to get insider info about which trails / rinks are open, where to spot winter wildlife and whether any winter programs are running.

Play it smart

Arrive in plenty of time to get to your first site and get set up while it’s still light.

light in tent at night

Be safe

Put the clothes you’re going to wear the next day in your sleeping bag with you and get dressed under the covers. When you set out in the morning, make sure you’ve got a detailed map of the park, a first aid kit, waterproof matches, extra sweater, wind-proof outer shell, mitts, hats, socks, flashlight, liquids and high-energy snacks. And don’t forget your phone!

Have fun

couple in igloo

Winter is a great time to be outdoors exploring nature. Look for animal tracks. Listen for birds. And revel in the quiet and solitude.

Check out

Let park staff – and your friend or family member — know you’re heading for home.

When you get home:

Do an equipment check

Make sure everything is dry and in working order before you put it away, so it will be ready to go on your next adventure!

What are you waiting for? Get out and enjoy one of our parks this winter!  Try winter camping once and you’ll be hooked.