Is Polar Bear Camping For You?
It can be the best of times or it can be the worst of times.
Charles Dickens knew what he was talking about a couple centuries ago. His often quoted words weren’t about camping, but ask anyone who has camped when the snow is flying and they’ll likely have quite a story for you.
So what do you need to know to make it the best of times? For starters, you need to recognize that 90% of all campgrounds aren’t even open between November 1 and April 1. The ones “up north” that are open for business cater to a population that understands the challenges and the benefits.
Here’s a checklist for anyone venturing into the woods that we at Lock 30 Woodlands reference when we get an eager camper on the phone seeking a campsite.
1. Temperatures in Ohio (and throughout the Midwest) regularly plummet below freezing. If you want to use water at your campsite, arrive with heat tape. A heated hose protects only that which runs from the spigot to the camper. Anything above the ground can and will freeze, putting your RV and the campgrounds’ water system at risk. Heat tape can be purchased inexpensively at home improvement or hardware stores. Some campgrounds, such as Lock 30 Woodlands have heated restrooms, laundry facilities and rec centers, but many do not. Invest in heat tape.
2. Make a reservation and carry campground phone numbers—including after-hour phone numbers—with you. Kids, dogs, weather conditions, the stars above and a host of other unintended catastrophes can and will happen. Staff employed at campgrounds catch up on maintenance during “low “ season or work at RV shows, making their hours shorter or not as consistent as they would be during a summer holiday. Ask staff upon arrival how you can reach them in the event you’ll need them during your stay.
3. Plan on arriving during daytime hours. Days are shorter, so either leave your starting point earlier or break up your travel time so you can arrive fresh, alert and oriented to your winter wonderland. Gated communities may be locked after dark, so remember to inquire about after hour arrival options.
4. Got snowshoes? Pack ‘em! There’s nothing as blissful as trekking across a field of new fallen snow, especially under a full moon! Winter recreation is under-appreciated, unless you’re a kid at heart. Hiking in the woods can reveal wildlife and birds you’ll only see against a white or leafless canvas. Bring a camera.
5. Heating your unit with propane is usually cheaper than electric, so plan accordingly. Electric heaters might offer convenience, but often they are not safe. Newer model RVs are better insulated than older models, but dress like our pioneer forefathers might have dressed. Layers. Wool. Warm boots. Down jackets.
6. Ever deep fat fry a turkey in the woods? Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys were fried “around the campfire” at Lock 30 Woodlands in recent years. What an event for a family seeking quiet time for reflection!
7. If you don’t own a crockpot, now is the time to get one. Stews, soups and slow-cooked pork roast, accompanied by crusty bread replace hot dogs on the grill and never will a slow-cooked meal taste as good as it does when you are hungry after a wintry day outdoors.
8. Walk through your RV before you leave home and check the batteries in your carbon monoxide detector. Pack more than one flashlight and roll up a piece of indoor /outdoor carpet to set outside your camper door. There is going to be ice in the winter. When it melts, there’s slush, then mud. A cheap piece of carpet can be cleaned or replaced, but it’s no fun if you track crud on an RV carpet.
9. Mothers of young kids know that coloring books, board games and DVDs can save the day when going outdoors isn’t an option, but think craft time, too. Twigs, pine cones, rocks, pieces of wood or dried berries can be gathered for next year’s wreaths or winter gifts. Pack a glue gun and wreath frames or Styrofoam and plenty of newspaper to protect surfaces. Some campgrounds will have clubhouses or rec centers with space for crafts. Make your winter camp trip a “digital detox” leaving tech stuff at home. You won’t regret it.
10. Pets need to be indoors in cold weather. Pillows, toys and treats are nice but nothing beats focused attention from family members after a long walk outdoors. Pack their medicines, proof of inoculations and alert the campground that they are a member of the family, too. Ask for phone numbers of local vets or emergency clinics, because like kids, when they get sick or injured, it’s an all-hands-on-deck emergency.