Camping in the winter is a lot different than camping in the summer. But even though you can’t go swimming or sunbathe, there are still plenty of fun winter camping activities to enjoy.
The trick is to be safe. As seasoned winter campers, Ross and I are well aware of the risks. In freezing temperatures, you need to be extra careful to avoid frostbite and hypothermia—both of which can set in when you least expect it and potentially be deadly.
That’s not to say that winter camping can’t be perfectly safe and a total blast, of course. As much as they are fun, they also need to be approached with caution.
Winter camping activities require preparation, no matter what kind of trip you’re planning
If you’ve never camped in the winter before, you may want to try renting a yurt, winter cabin, or other shelter to make your winter camping trip more bearable. We personally love hot tent camping, which involves setting up a large canvas tent with a wood-burning stove inside of it for a heat source.
However you choose to winter camp, you can certainly enjoy a variety of different activities. Here are a few of our favourite to help keep you busy and make your trip a memorable one.
Snowshoeing is our preferred way to get around by foot when there’s three inches of snow or more. (Hiking in boots is too much work in deep snow.) You can explore snow-covered trails and even frozen lakes as long as you know that the ice is thick and they’re safe to walk on.
Although traditional snowshoes have that classic voyageur look that everyone loves, we prefer modern snowshoes because they’re lighter and easier to use. They also have extra features like heel lifts that make walking uphill less tiring.
2. Cross-country skiing
Cross-country skiing is another great winter activity that gets you outside and moving. Like snowshoeing, skiing a great way to explore your surroundings—including trails and frozen lakes.
Although skiing may be a bit more challenging than snowshoeing because it requires balance, coordination, and some upper body strength to propel yourself forward. But it’s also a lot of fun!
3. Sledding or tobogganing
Sledding or tobogganing is perfect for family trips with young kids. If you don’t have a sled or toboggan, you may be able to rent one at a local outfitter or winter sports shop.
Make sure to choose a hill that’s not too steep and has a wide, flat run-out at the bottom. And be sure to sled with someone else so that you can keep an eye on each other in case anyone takes a spill.
Snowmobiling is a great winter activity for those who want to explore the winter landscape and enjoy the scenery without having to work too hard. Unless you own your own snowmobile, you’ll probably need to rent one or more depending on how many people are going with you.
You’ll also need to have the required licensing, insurance, and registration permit to drive a snowmobile. If it’s your first time going snowmobiling, be sure to take a lesson or go with someone who’s experienced driving them along snowmobile trails.
5. Ice fishing
Ice fishing is a great way to pass the time and potentially catch something to cook for dinner. It’s not exactly as exciting as three-season fishing since it requires sitting next to a hole in the frozen ice, but it can be very peaceful and therapeutic.
You’ll need to make sure the ice is thick enough to support your weight before setting up your ice fishing equipment. Unless you’re winter camping in a spot where the ice fishing holes are already done for you, you’ll need an ice auger to make your own.
Skating is a great way to get active, test your balancing skills, and maybe even play a game of ice hockey! If you don’t have your own skates, you may be able to rent them at an outdoor rink or winter sports shop.
Depending on where you’re camping, like in a campground, there may be a communal skating rink for all campers to enjoy. If not, you’ll need to create your own.
Ideally, you’ll need to do it on a frozen lake or pond that’s at least four inches thick. Bring a shovel to clear away the snow and make sure there’s no grass or rocks poking through the ice.
7. Dog sledding (as a winter camping trip excursion)
Many outdoor adventure businesses operate dog sledding tours in and around parks that see lots of snow in the winter, which is a great activity for people who love dogs and family members with young children.
You’ll have to do your own research to find out what’s available in your area. Some businesses offer casual day trips where the guide does all the work while others offer multi-day winter camping expeditions where you learn how to mush your own team of dogs.
8. Visiting hot springs
Hot springs are natural pools where the water is heated by the earth’s heat. They’re usually located in mountainous areas and winter is a great time to visit them since you can often find them near ski resorts.
If you don’t mind winter camping in a more developed area, then hot springs are definitely worth checking out. Be sure to bring your bathing suit so you can enjoy a relaxing soak in the warm water.
9. Snowman or snow sculpture building
This is a classic winter activity that’s perfect for family time. It’s also a great way to test your creativity and see how much snow it takes to make a really big sculpture.
If you’re camping in an RV, you may want to build your snowman or sculpture next to it so that you can use the RV’s headlights to give it a nice glow at night. Just be sure to take a picture of your masterpiece before it melts away!
10. Quinzee building
A quinzee is basically a giant snow pile that’s hollowed out in the middle to create a igloo-like structure. It’s a fun winter camping activity for groups of all ages and can be done with just a few people or a whole bunch.
Building a quinzee is easy if you have enough snow. First, shovel snow into a giant pile that’s big enough for everyone to fit inside. Then, let it sit for an hour or so to let it harden a bit.
After that, start hollowing out the centre of the snowball until you’ve created a dome-like structure with walls that are about a foot thick. Once you’re done, crawl inside and enjoy your winter camping retreat!
11. Sunset or sunrise viewing
In winter, the sun sets earlier and rises later, which means you don’t have to stay up late or get up very early to see either one. Just bundle up and head outside to enjoy the show.
If you’re winter camping in a spot with lots of trees, you may want to find a clearing so that you have an unobstructed view. And if there’s snow on the ground, you may want to build a small platform or sit on top of a sled or something so you don’t have to sit in the cold snow.
Again, since the days are shorter during the winter season, you have a greater opportunity to see the stars at night. If you’re winter camping in an area with little light pollution, you may even be able to see the Milky Way and several different constellations.
Just be sure to bundle up when you’re out there! Temperatures can drop well below freezing late at night—and feel even colder with the wind chill while you’re watching the night sky.
13. Northern lights viewing
The more north you are, the greater your chance of seeing the northern lights or aurora borealis. This winter camping activity is best done in the dead of winter when there’s little to no light pollution and the nights are long.
The woods are typically quiet in the winter, but you may be able to hear and spot certain birds species that don’t migrate for the season. Birds like chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and cardinals are all common in wintertime.
If you’re winter camping with kids, birdwatching is a great activity to get them interested in nature. Bring along a pair of binoculars and maybe some birdseed to see if you can attract any feathered friends to your campsite—or maybe even the palm of your hand!
15. Snow angel making
This is another winter camping activity that’s perfect for family members with young children. You’ll just want to make sure that you have a full snowsuit on to avoid getting wet and cold.
To make a snow angel, simply lie down in the snow and wave your arms and legs around until you’ve made an imprint of your body. You can also make a whole bunch of snow angels in a row to create a winter wonderland scene.
16. Having a snowball fight
A snowball fight is sure to bring out your inner child. Just be careful not to hit anyone in the face—snowballs can pack a punch! You may want to consider wearing a baclava and ski or snowboard goggles just in case.
If you’re winter camping with a group, you could even have a team snowball fight. You may even want to take it up a notch by building a snow fort or wall to use as cover.
17. Throwing snowballs at a target
This winter camping activity is great for practicing your aim. All you need is a target—a tree, a stump, an aluminum can, whatever you have—and some snowballs.
You can also make this activity more challenging by trying to hit smaller targets or targets that are further away. If you’re feeling really competitive, you could even have a contest to see who can hit the most targets!
18. Creating a snow maze
A snow maze is a great way to test your problem-solving skills. To create one, simply use a stick or your hands to draw a maze in the snow. Then see if you can make it through without getting lost!
You could also up the ante by building a bigger one that you could walk or run through—similar to a corn maze. Depending on how much snow there is, you could shovel it or simply stomp it down with your feet.
19. Painting the snow
This winter camping activity is similar to painting with chalk, but you’ll be using food colouring or eco-friendly watercolours instead.
Simply mix the food colouring or watercolours with some water in a spray bottle and then start painting the snow! You can create any design you want—just let your imagination run wild!
20. Going on a winter scavenger hunt
Scavenger hunts are a great outdoor activity for children and people of all ages—even in winter! All you have to do is make a list of winter-themed outdoor items and see if you can find them all while you’re winter camping.
Some common winter scavenger hunt items include pinecones, acorns, bird feathers, animal tracks and snowflakes. You could even add a time limit or make it a competition to see who can find the most items!
21. Playing snow golf
This winter camping activity is a great way to get some exercise while you’re outdoors. All you need is a golf club and a brightly coloured ball—you can even use a tennis ball if you don’t have a golf ball.
To set up your course, simply find an open area of snow and start placing your “holes”—or targets—around the area. Then see how many strokes it takes you to hit each one!
You could also make this activity more challenging by setting up your course in a wooded area or by adding obstacles like trees or logs.
22. Looking for animal tracks
In undisturbed areas where the snow has fallen, you may be able to find fresh or day-old animal tracks. Depending on where you’re winter camping, you may be able to find tracks from deer, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, foxes, wolves, moose, and more!
See if you can identify which animals made the tracks and maybe even follow them to see where they lead. Just be careful not to venture off too far—you don’t want to get lost or disturb the animals!
23. Drinking hot beverages by the campfire
One way to make winter camping feel a little less cold is to drink something hot. Hot chocolate, coffee, tea, or even hot cider are all great options.
It’s a great way to relax around the campfire while warming yourself up from the inside out. You could even add a splash of Irish cream liqueur like Bailey’s, kahlua, or spiced rum if you’re feeling festive!
24. Making maple syrup snow candy
This is something that Canadians might be more familiar with during late winter and early spring when the maple trees get tapped, but it’s a winter camping activity that anyone can enjoy as long as you have access to fresh, clean snow.
To make it, you’ll need some popsicle sticks, 100% pure maple syrup, a pot, and of course some snow. Start by heating the maple syrup in the pot until it’s boiling and continue to boil it for about 10 minutes or until it reaches its soft-ball point.
Then, carefully pour the syrup onto the snow and let it cool for a few minutes. Once it’s cooled enough to touch, start rolling it into small balls. Once you’ve made all the balls you want, put them on the popsicle sticks and enjoy!
25. Making snow cones from real snow
This winter camping activity is similar to making snow candy, but it’s a little less messy. As long as you’re okay with eating something cold rather than hot, this is a real treat!
To make snow cones, you’ll need a clean, fresh snowball, a bowl, and your favourite syrup or fruit juice. Simply put the snowball in the bowl and pour the syrup or juice over it. Then eat it with a spoon—it’s that easy!
26. Cooking soups or stews
Another great way to warm up on a cold winter’s day is to cook a hot meal. Hearty soups and stews are always a good option because there are so many ways you can make them with all sorts of different meats, vegetables, broths, and spices.
We prefer using a cast iron Dutch oven for cooking over the campfire (or over our wood stove inside our hot tent, in our case), but you could also use a regular pot if you don’t have one. You might be surprised by just how good your soup or stew tastes when you’ve cooked it outdoors!
Tip: Check out how to keep food from freezing while winter camping.
27. Telling stories around the campfire
Want a creative way to take everyone’s mind off of the chill of winter at night and get them to hang out for a bit before retreating inside the tent? Tell stories around the campfire!
You can make up your own stories, or tell popular winter camping tales like “The Legend of Old Man Winter” or “The Abominable Snowman.” Just be sure to keep them age-appropriate if there are young children present.
28. Listening to audiobooks or podcasts
Whether you’re out for a winter stroll or retreating into your tent from the cold, it’s nice to have something that can help you relax. And what better way to relax than by listening to an audiobook or podcast?
We like to download a few audiobooks or podcasts before winter camping so we have something to listen to in the evenings. It’s a great way to unwind and escape from the winter weather for a little while.
You could also just bring along a good paperback book if you really want to feel like you’ve unplugged from technology.
29. Playing card games or board games in your tent
One last winter camping activity to consider, particularly if your tent is roomy, is playing some games to help pass the time and stay warm when it’s too cold to stay outside for long.
Card games and board games are always a fun way to pass the time, and there are tons of options to choose from that can accommodate any number of players. Just be sure to pack enough snacks bring along extra headlamps (and batteries) so everyone can see!
With so many ideas, winter camping is sure to be incredibly fun—whether you’re in a tent, RV, yurt, or cabin
We love that winter camping is such a unique experience. Ideally, it’s a good idea to have one or more activities to do that get you moving (and perhaps exploring), and one or more that are good for relaxing at camp or in your tent.
And although no temperature is too cold to winter camp, we can’t emphasize enough the importance of bringing the right warm layers and winter camping gear to make your winter camping activities as safe and enjoyable as ever.
Here are some winter weather-related safety and general information guides to check out according to the temperatures you’re planning to camp in:
- Camping in 50-degree weather (10°C)
- Camping in 40-degree weather (5°C)
- Camping in 30-degree weather (-1°C)
- Camping in 20-degree weather (-7°C)
- Camping in 10-degree weather (-12°C)
If you’re cold camping, make sure you have a good quality four-season tent and consider bringing along a portable gas-powered propane heater to stay warm. It will make all the difference when you want to fight off winter’s chill with a tent-safe heat source!
Make winter camping your own, including all your activities!
We hope this list has given you some great ideas. Winter camping presents endless possibilities! It’s all about getting creative and embracing the season for all that it has to offer.
Happy winter camping, and stay warm!
Do you have any other winter camping tips or favourite winter camping activities that we missed in our list? Share them with us in the comments below!
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).