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The Complete Guide to Winter Camping in the Southeast

What’s not to love about snowy adventures and frozen landscape views? Bring on the cool weather and winter camping! The southeast is packed with some of the most scenic mountain ranges and picturesque valleys in the nation. Matched with a milder climate, camping during the winter months tends to be less harsh than options further north.

Whether you’re an experienced camper or new to it, winter camping can be a fun way to enjoy the cooler months. Best of all, you’ll avoid the high humidity and swarming insects that come with summer camping in the south.

Here are some insider tips and suggestions for optimizing your winter camping experience.


Stunning sights await winter campers. Jeff Bartlett
Stunning sights await winter campers. Jeff Bartlett

Winter camping done right can be a blast. But if you don’t have the right gear, you might experience some problems down the road. To make sure you’re prepared, check out some of the gear we recommend:

  • High-capacity pack
  • Four-season tent
  • Pack cover
  • Warm Sleeping bag + liner (if necessary)
  • Insulated sleeping pad
  • Insulated jacket, gloves, warm hat, and neck gaiter
  • Thermal weight baselayers
  • Waterproof boots
  • Waterproof gloves
  • Headlamp or flashlight and extra batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Water bottles (that can hold hot water)
  • Emergency communicator
  • Gas stove
  • Water filter
  • Trekking poles
  • Fire starter
  • High energy food and snacks


Don’t be afraid to explore the winter terrain, just don’t get stuck unprepared. Jeff Bartlett
Don’t be afraid to explore the winter terrain, just don’t get stuck unprepared. Jeff Bartlett


  • Layer your clothing: You’ll want to have at least three layers. Your base layer should be wicking material, like Merino wool or capilene, so as not to not absorb water or perspiration. The second or mid-layer should insulate your body; fleece is usually a good choice for this. Finally, the third layer or shell should be waterproof, like a rain jacket or snow pants.
  • Shed layers when you sweat: If you start to warm up to the point that you’re sweating, make sure you shed layers immediately. The ultimate goal is to keep your clothing as dry as possible. Otherwise your sweat will cause you to shiver when you start to cool down.
  • Sleep with your water bottle: In below-freezing weather, you’ll want to make sure your fresh water supply doesn’t freeze. The best way to do this is to tuck your water bottle into your sleeping bag with you.
  • Know where the sun will rise: You’ll want to make note of the sun’s position when setting up camp. If you set up in line with the sunrise, you can expect a much warmer morning.
  • Bring sun protection: Although winter isn’t your typical season for direct sunlight, it does reflect off snow. Protect any exposed skin.
  • Pack the snow: Before setting up camp, you’ll want to firmly pack the snow under your tent. If you leave the snow soft, it will be uneven and could melt and leave the bottom of your tent soaking wet.
  • Choose the right sleeping bag: Take a sleeping bag rated for 10 degrees colder than the outdoor temperature in the forecast. A sleeping bag made from synthetic materials is heavier, while down is a better insulator and lasts longer. However, in wet conditions, down becomes virtually useless while synthetic insulation maintains 95 percent of its warmth-retention properties.


Find epic campsites when you head out this winter. Jeff Bartlett
Find epic campsites when you head out this winter. Jeff Bartlett

Winter camping can be a bit of a challenge if you’re not experienced at it. Choosing a location is crucial this time of year. Make sure that you’re in a well-sheltered spot.

Beyond that, there’s no beating winter camping in the following not-so-hot spots:

  • Smoky Mountains National Park: From Tennessee to the Carolinas, spend a chilly weekend in the heart of the Smokies. This iconic national park is an ideal location to set up camp. With more than 10 developed campgrounds and miles of backcountry, you won’t have to worry too much about finding room, though you always need a permit to camp in the park. A couple of our favorites campgrounds are Cades Cove and Elkmont.
  • Elk Knob State Park: Enjoy the wonders of the Blue Ridge Parkway this winter at Blue Bear Mountain Campground in Boone, North Carolina. This four-season state park is one of the only places in Boone where you can camp and enjoy some cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. This secluded campground is a rustic destination where campers can experience the beauty of the mountains and all that the High Country has to offer.
  • New River Trail State Park: If you’re looking for a more primitive option for your winter camping experience, head to New River Trail State Park in Virginia. With hike-in and boat-in options for campers, this park is bound to give you a unique experience this winter. Make sure you call ahead; reservations here are key to ensuring you have a spot to set up a tent.

Originally written by RootsRated for Rock/Creek.

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