With these winter camping tips, you'll be warm and cozy, hiking and snowshoeing with confidence, and loving all the good times around a roaring campfire deep in the woods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
We recorded this episode of the RV Podcast entirely on location at the beautiful Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. We've done a campout up here for 10 years now every January and it's become a highlight of the year for us and the many camping friends who join us in the woods.
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Winter Camping Tips Show and Tell!
We had so much fun doing this podcast. We had a bunch of newcomers join us, as well as many returning winter campers. They came from all over the Midwest and as far away as Nebraska.
The weather was cold but beautiful. The snow gauge at the park measured 16 inches on the level ground.
On Sunday, as we broke camp and headed back home, we were being chased with a massive Upper Peninsula lake effect snow blizzard with 40 miles per hour winds off Lake Superior and a predicted dump of 15 inches of snow. Wind chills were predicted to drop to 20 below zero Fahrenheit.
But except for a bit of white-knuckled windy and snow-blown driving when most of us crossed the five-mile-long Mackinaw Bridge that separates Michigan's Upper from the Lower Peninsulas, we all safely made in over and became trolls once again (trolls are what Yoopers call people who live below the bridge).
Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a great place for winter camping
Probably the best of our winter camping tips is to go to Tahquamenon Falls State Park!
Tahquamenon Falls State Park is one of Michigan's biggest, encompassing some 50,000 acres and stretching over 13 miles of Upper Peninsula wilderness.
The centerpiece of the park, and the very reason for its existence, is the Tahquamenon River with its waterfalls.
The Upper Falls (shown above in a photo I took during this year's campout) is one the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. It has a drop of nearly 50 feet and is more than 200 feet across. The falls always, well, fall. They don't freeze, though the river does up and downstream.
That's because of the swift current. A maximum flow of more than 50,000 gallons of water per second has been recorded cascading over these falls. And if you're wondering about the dark brown/copper-colored water, it's not pollution. The color comes from the tannins of the tree roots and vegetation that grow along the riverbanks.
Tahquamenon Falls is actually divided into two sections – the Upper and Lower Falls.
Four miles downstream from the Upper Falls is a series of five smaller falls cascading around a river island known as the Lower Falls.
Although not as dramatic as the Upper Falls, they are equally magnificent and on our campout, we always snowshoe from the campground to the lower falls. Some years, the most hearty among us then snowshoe the river trail that runs between the lower and upper falls, though is there's a lot of snow, it can be pretty challenging. But if you take your time, it's stunningly beautiful.
Tahquamenon Falls is extremely popular in the summer. In the winter, it's one of only a few state parks in Michigan open to camping. The Department of Natural Resources Team plows out our campsites for us and meticulously maintains the roads, too.
In the winter, the bathhouse and showers are closed. There are several vault toilets scattered throughout the park. And electric service is available at each site despite the remote wilderness location.
So accommodating is the DNR staff at Tahquamenon Falls that they even let us borrow snowshoes and poles. They've even been known to give free lessons.
Winter Camping Tips from our Fellow Campers
As you can see and hear from the podcast, we got many of our fellow campers to share some of their winter camping tips.
- Janet says to keep the heat inside the RV, cut pieces of Reflectex and line the inside of the windows. It's a great insulating material. “And it keeps the heat inside.” she said. “In the summertime though, it keeps the cool inside too.” It's available in rolls at most any home improvement store.
- Dave says to test everything out ahead of time. Make sure the batteries and heater are working, that you have enough propane to run your heater. Check out your appliances. “If you get out in somewhere where it's 10° below, like it was the other night for us, and that furnace doesn't work and you don't have plugins for any alternative heat, you get cold.”
- Jerry is a tent camper who comes up to Tahquamenon and camps in the snow every month. He keeps his feet warm by heating water on a camp stove and putting it in a hot water bottle. He says a sleeping bag rated at 20 below keeps him very warm. If there's electricity, he'll run a small electric heater.
- Steve and Patty collect their grey water in a pan or bucket, since their plumbing system has been winterized. They flush the toilet with RV antifreeze. “We keep electric tea kettle by the sink for hot water when its needed,” said Steve. “As long as our heat's working, we're not really roughing it.”
- Rick and LeeAnne are veteran winter campers who live in the UP. Rick says bringing a steel shovel for clearing snow and ice, especially if you have to clear piles around the fire pit. LeeAnne says dress in layers for the cold. “There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” said LeeAnne.
- Steve says eat a lot. Really. Food keeps you warm. “Google it,” he says.
- Lynne Ellen loves to take photos and her winter camping tips revolve around preserving the battery in your phone in frigid temeratures. “So yesterday, I took my iPhone,” she said. “I took toe warmers that have the adhesive on them and I stuck it to the back of my phone. Then I took two face masks and I wrapped it around. Worked great.” Keep scrolling down to see some of Lynn Ellen's photos taken that way during the campout.
One of the most important of our winter camping tips is to build big campfires!
Our campout trips are usually from a Thursday through Sunday.
We pretty much keep a campfire going from early morning till late at night. We pick one person's campsite – it varies every year – and we all chip in on the wood. It becomes our central gathering place where we have the Thursday night pot luck dinner and social time every evening.
Just like in summer, a campfire sets the ambiance. In the winter, it also goes a long way to keeping us warm.
The temperature when we took the photo above was in the single digits. But we stayed outside around it for hours.
Be sure to explore the area and try the restaurants
Tahquamenon Falls is 10 miles from the nearest town. That town is Paradise. Literally.
Paradise, Michigan is a tiny little one blinking light town on the shore of Lake Michigan.
We always do a group dinner at the Inn Gastropub there, where we have always found great, homemade, UP North comfort food with fast, friendly service. We usually eat there on Friday nights during our annual campout. Here's one of the two big tables we took up for our 2022 crowd.
On Saturday nights, we head to the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery at the Upper Falls, also known as Camp 33 in remembrance of the lumber camps that once worked the woods around the Tahquamenon River. It's what you'd expect in a UP restaurant – rustic decor, a large stone fireplace, lots of animal mounts, and wilderness art. The food is great, as are the craft beers they make on-site.
After dinner, it's usually a moonlight half-mile roundtrip hike to the Upper Falls. If it's clear, we marvel at the stars. There's no light pollution up here. Even on the darkest nights, all that rushing, tumbling water makes the falls surprisingly visible.
Winter Camping activities
We're not big on a lot of organization. Usually, we all head off in different directions during the day. Sometimes, a small group will head one way, other groups other ways.
This year, some of us went to watch dogsled races.
Others cross-country skied. Or snowshoed. Or drove over to Whitefish Point on Lake Superior to hike across the frozen beach.
Here's a collection of some of the many photos we took:
Want more winter camping tips?
We have written and posted a lot of stories and videos about winter camping. Here are a few more:
- 27 winter camping tips for RVers
- Winter Camping From Freezing to Fabulous
- Camping the Lake Michigan Shoreline in Winter
- How to do winter camping the right way
- Staying warm with Reflectix
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