When Yan Seiner and I first tossed out the idea of a winter RV campout in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we thought maybe, just maybe, one or two others would join us.
So imagine our surprise when 25 people in 14 Roadtreks and a GMC Yukon joined us for a late January weekend at the Tahquamenon Falls State Park where they’ve had over 105 inches of snow in this area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula so far this year. It snows just about every day up there. And sub-zero temperatures are no big deal to the local Yoopers.
Turns out, it was no big deal to us, too, and the cold and snow made for a delightful weekend in a true winter wonderland.
Except for Yan and me, none of us had ever met in person. All signed on to the Winter Wonderland Roadtreking No Rules Rally through the blog or our Facebook Group.
You can see from the video and photos how much fun we had, despite the fact that Saturday night, the temperature dipped several degrees below zero.
We played in the snow like kids. We were outside pretty much the entire weekend, except for meals and sleeping. We had bonfires, cross country skied, hiked through the woods on snowshoes, rode a fat tired bike and explored, photographed and gathered around big camp fires every night.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources rangers and staff at the falls could not have been more accommodating. They plowed out our spacious campsites for us and even lent us all a pair of snow shoes. They checked up on us to make sure we were doing fine and didn’t need any help and we felt they were part of our Roadtreking group.
Carolyn and Dan Wilson, who live in Florida but typically spend two weeks to a month camping every winter at the falls, led us on a guided snowshoe hike to the Lower Falls. The mile out and back was on a narrow up and down trail through the woods. Many had never snowshoed before, and were amazed at how fun it was and what an excellent workout it gave us. The temps were cold but we actually worked up a sweat.
Carolyn is a retired Miami-Dade Police officer. She led and pointed out animal tracks and told us about the area. Dan, retired from the Miami-Dade Fire Department, brought up the rear, helping anyone who fell and showing us much fun it was to walk off the trail and bust our own in the thick snow.
“We think winter is absolutely the best time to go camping,” said Carolyn. “Our trip up here each year is a highight of our year.”
Tahquamenon Falls is one of the few state parks anywhere in the upper Midwest that is open for winter camping. While the running water and showers in the restroom are off for the winter, the pit toilets are open. Most of us, of course, had our own bath facilities in our warm Roadtreks. But the pit toilets were just fine. They don’t smell nearly as bad as they usually do in the summer, yet another benefit of winter camping.
Our group ranged in age from 8 to 71. One couple came from Atlanta with their 140-pound Bull Mastiff, a miniature poodle and a cat. They had never seen so much snow, let alone spent an active weekend in it.
We had several solo women join us, a couple of solo men, several couples and, by my count, at least seven dogs.
One of the solo women, Kiki, winter camps in her Yukon.
Despite some tricky near whiteout driving conditions on the way up, most agreed there are only a few adjustments you need to successfully winter camp. Because of the cold, the RVs were all winterized. So there was no running water. We all just brought bottles and jugs of fresh water. And yes, you can use the RV toilet in the winter. You just “flush” by pouring in some anti-freeze.
We were rewarded with jaw-dropping, gorgeous scenery. The 30 inches of snow that blanked the ground was pristine and peaceful. The waterfall was beautiful, bordered by giant icicles and frozen mist on the shore trees that get coated with the mist from the falling water. And as a cold front moved through Saturday night, several of us walked off, away from the fire to see the night sky. The bitter cold had brought clear skies and the stars were bright and bold and kept us staring up until we started to shiver and headed back to the warmth of our respective Roadtreks.
Big surprise: Around the campfire one night, I looked at my iPhone and saw I had a Verizon Wireless 4g LTE signal. From the middle of the U.P. woods. Those with AT&T groaned in envy. They had no such luck. I have the Mi-Fi card in my Roadtrek and our own Wi-Fi network and was able to work on the blog, send photos and videos to my servers with the same ease I do back home.
We said our goodbyes Sunday morning crowded into one of the Roadtrek 210s in shifts, as Tom and Patti Burkett made warm muffins for us. Jennifer and I brought a jug of Tupelo Honey – the world’s best honey – to sweeten things up. By noon, most of us were on the way home.
Everyone agreed…. same time, same place next year. Enjoy the photos and video. If you have questions, leave them under comments and someone from our group will surely weigh in.