The depth of winter around the Chesapeake watershed offers a serenity that’s hard to find the rest of the year. The leaves are off the trees, and the landscape opens up. Wildlife is easier to spot, migratory birds are out in abundance, and the bugs are completely gone. The soft light and stunning sunsets make for great photos. Stargazing is unparalleled. Cold days bring in the beauty of skim ice, hoarfrost, and occasional snowfalls.
There are few things in life more satisfying than a roaring campfire on a cold winter’s night, followed by a cozy sleeping bag. If you’re well-prepared, winter camping is an amazing way to take in the unique beauty of this season! The key to staying comfortable is the right cold-season gear, starting with warm clothes, a great sleeping bag, and a sturdy tent. Many parks also rent rustic cabins for your retreat.
Keep an eye on the forecast. In the mid-Atlantic we often have bluebird winter days with mild temperatures – the perfect time to cure cabin fever with a quick outdoor getaway! However, many campgrounds shut down in the colder months, and others have very limited facilities. Below are a few places in the region where you can camp any time of year (though it’s always a good idea to call ahead for the latest conditions).
Beautiful winter sky, photo courtesy Virginia State Parks
High in the mountains of far Western Maryland, New Germany is often covered in powdery snow when lower elevations are bare. The park takes advantage of its winter magic by renting cross country skis and snowshoes so that visitors can explore its 10 miles of trails. It also offers a lakeside warming hut for a perfect pit stop during your fun in the snow. New Germany’s campground is open all winter, with sites available on a first come, first served basis. Keep in mind that the campground road is not plowed, so you may have to hike up if the snow is deep. Cabins are also available to rent.
Cross country skiers at New Germany State Park, photo by Stephen Badger, Maryland DNR
Pocahontas is an oasis of forest on rolling central Virginia terrain, dotted with lakes, ponds, wetlands, and streams. I find there’s no better time to hike the park than on a sunny winter’s day, when the heat and humidity of summer is just a distant memory. During mild weather this time of year, the park also becomes a mecca for mountain bikers enjoying its 26 miles of single-track trails. If it’s calm out, bring your kayak or canoe and paddle Swift Creek Lake. The park’s campground is open year-round and also features cabins and yurts.
Lying along the flatlands of Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore, the Pocomoke River is stained dark by tannin and lined with cypress trees, creating a remarkable and beautiful environment. In the winter, the river is known by hardy anglers as a great place to cast around cover to fish for perch, pickerel, crappie, and bass. For hikers and mountain bikers, there are a multitude of trails in the surrounding Pocomoke State Forest. The state park’s Shad Landing campground stays open year-round, with bath houses with hot water. Small cabins are also available for rent.
Winter is the perfect time to brush up on your campfire cooking skills, photo courtesy Virginia State Parks
This park is tucked in the valley between Massanutten Mountain and the Blue Ridge along more than five miles of the beloved Shenandoah River. Enjoy the 24 miles of trails through forests and fields, with beautiful views of the river and surrounding mountains. The park’s campground and related facilities remain open year round, and cabins and yurts are also available for rent.
Virginia State Parks also offer several other campgrounds open to primitive camping only in the winter where facilities are limited. They’re listed in this helpful blog post.
This national park is transformed in the wintertime, with contrasts of ice and snow on the Blue Ridge and forests creating amazing vistas. While the park’s campgrounds are closed in the winter, primitive camping in the backcountry is still available with a permit, offering a unique adventure for the experienced and well-prepared. While parts of Skyline Drive close down during heavy snow, you can often still backpack in from many of the park’s access points at lower elevations. Remember that the weather can turn quickly, especially at higher elevations. Come well prepared and you’ll walk away with unforgettable memories from a winter backpacking trip.
—Orginally published January 2020
Pocomoke River State Forest and Park provides 17,676 acres for exploring stands of loblolly pine, cypress swamps, and the beauty of the Pocomoke River, a major Eastern Shore tributary.
Located within the 15,000 wooded acres of Pocomoke State Forest in the Southwestern section of Worcester County, Pocomoke River State Park provides a base for a vast array of outdoor and tourist activities.
Deep in the heart of a thick forest in Chesterfield County, Pocahontas State Park is only about 20 miles from downtown Richmond, Virginia's capital. Pocahontas State Park offers a variety of outdoor activities.
Shenandoah National Park is your escape to recreation and re-creation. Cascading waterfalls, spectacular vistas, quiet wooded hollows—plan a hike, a meander along Skyline Drive, or a picnic with the family.
Located just down stream from Bentonville, the park boasts over five miles of frontage on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. The park consists of pastures, forests and vistas of the mountains and the river.
New Germany State Park is located in Garrett County, Maryland nestled between Big Savage Mountain and the eastern Continental Divide. The park has diverse forests with ten miles of multi-use trails and a small lake that is popular for fishing, swimming, and paddling.