(credit: Thinkstock)

(credit: Thinkstock)

The crowds are gone from state parks, the weather has become crisp and cold, and the wildlife comes down to lower elevations. There are several ways to camp in the winter, from a state campground to backcountry in the mountains, and these are the best options. Before heading out to camp, it is good to take a winter camping class, and learn about the differences in seasonal equipment requirements. Equipment made for the warmth of summer will not be sufficient for the colder weather of winter. A tent should have two exits in the winter, a vestibule (rain-fly) that goes to the ground, and sturdy poles. The tent needs to withstand the weight of snow in the mountains, a cold-blocking insulated pad to sleep upon, a cold weather rated sleeping bag, appropriate clothing and equipment.
The Mountaineers
7700 Sand Point Way NE
Seattle, WA 98115
(206) 521-6001

Price: $60 members (membership starts at $73 for an individual)

The Mountaineers is one of the oldest mountaineering groups in the Pacific Northwest. This organization started out of Seattle in the early 1900s and was part of the Portland-based group called the Mazamas. Today, the organization offers classes in winter survival, mountain/back-country first aid and mountain-climbing skills. Group outings are offered throughout the year for all ages and families. The group has more than 10,000 active members, and its focus has expanded to include hiking, skiing, biking and other outdoor sports.

222 Yale Ave. N
Seattle, WA 98109
(206) 223-1944

R.E.I. is a co-op that offers free memberships, outdoor equipment, classes and outings. The company started in Seattle in the 1930s, and has grown into a multi-state franchise. Its staff is knowledgeable about the equipment needs for many outdoor sports, including winter activities, skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing, snow shoeing, hiking/camping and cycling. Besides equipment, the Outdoor School is a great outdoor learning resource. Classes range from hiking and backpacking to rock climbing and kayaking.

Deception Pass State Park
41020 State Route 20
Oak Harbor, WA 98277
(360) 902-8844

Price: $12 primative/$21 standard/$27 partial-utility/$28 full-utility

Sitting on the shores of Puget Sound, this state campground offers a different type of winter camping experience. The north tip of Whidbey Island is close to the banana belt, which experiences more sunny weather than the rest of Western Washington. Snow is not common at this elevation, though it does happen. The usual weather ranges from sunny to rainy in the winter. Campsites are well maintained, and the restrooms remain open through the winter. The winter season brings fewer campers to the park, and it is very quiet. It’s a great time to bring the tent, sleeping bags and family. For camping, check-in time is 2:30 p.m.; check-out time is 1 p.m.; quiet hours are between 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.

Related: Ocean View Hiking

Stevens Crest Cabin
11920 876th Ave. NE
Skykomish, WA 98288
(206) 219-6427

Price: $150 per night weekdays/$170 per night weekends

This cabin is winter camping luxury. It sits six miles from the Stevens Pass Ski area. The area offers ample opportunities to snow shoe, cross-country ski, sled and build snow people. There is a steep incline and stairs to the entryway of the cabin, which can be difficult for individuals with disabilities or limitations to climb. It can sleep up to six people, has a full kitchen and bathroom, and heat. Other outdoor activities in the area include cross-country skiing at Lake Wenatchee and Leavenworth areas.

Mount Baker National Recreation Area
10091 Mount Baker Highway
Glacier, WA 98244 
(360) 856-5700

Price: $30 recreation pass

This is a fantastic area for back-country winter camping. It’s open to winter recreation, including cross-country skiing, snow shoeing and riding snow-mobiles. The Mount Baker Ranger District office is in Sedro Woolley, at 810 State Route 20. This is on the way to Baker Lake and on the main highway. It is advisable to register with the office before going on a back-country camping trip or other activity. The trail heads start at the end of F.S. Road #13. The trails are Park Butte (#603), Railroad Grade (#603.2), Elbow Lake (#697), and several others.

Related: Guide to Washington’s Cranberry Coast

Karen Ulvestad is a mother and professional writer/photographer, who lives in the greater Seattle area. She graduated from the University of Washington with a BA in English Composition. Her background is in fitness, travel, photography and writing. She continually researches locations to visit, and/or entertainment opportunities for family outings and/or photo shoots. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.