Here in Yellowstone, winter has certainly set in. While we keep hoping for clear "Indian summer" conditions to allow for a little more (fairly easy) camping with kids, it's becoming obvious that may have to wait for a few months. While I am certainly not against winter tent camping, doing it with kids is just not as easy as summer camping. Throw a pregnant lady in there and we're just fighting too many variables for our family right now.
However, we yearn to get away year round and we do our best to take advantage of the snow and cold weather rather than fight it. While lodges and hostels are awesome, we have come to really love the Forest Service cabin rental system. Most cabins (or yurts) are available via winter recreation (skiing, snowshoeing, snow mobiling, etc.) and vary by accessibility. They are much cheaper than a hotel room, have plenty of "rustic charm" and are a great excuse to unplug and unwind as a family.
Cabins on the Forest Service system are available for rent in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, South Dakota, Florida, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. Most cabins are listed on the USDA Forest Service site with the following information: Overview, Natural features, Recreation, Facilities, Activities and Amenities and what you should know before you go (where to get a key, if pets are allowed, how to clean the cabin, etc.) Some cabins are accessible by a quick drive (especially if you have 4WD) and some are a 10 mile ski or snowmobile trip in. Obviously, the ones that are more accessible are used more heavily and reservations fill up on them quickly.
Some things to think about:
- Most require you to get a key or combination from the main local Forest Service office before you can get into the cabin. Plan ahead so you know someone will be available to give you the information you need. A last minute decision to go to a cabin during a weekend (even if it is not reserved) usually won't work.
- Just like you are camping, come prepared. While the cabins are maintained you don't know who was there last and what they left. Bring your own emergency fire wood (even if it says it is available there for your use), matches and cooking supplies.
- Pack it out! Don't leave a mess for the next guests.
- Be prepared for changing weather. Even a short jaunt to a cabin in a blizzard can be tough. Make sure you bring the gear you need to stay warm and safe.
- Bring headlamps, skis, snowshoes and some fun indoor games to play too. Prepare to relax.
- Be ready to arrive at a VERY cold cabin in the winter. When you start a fire, it takes some time to not only warm up the air, but also all the furniture inside the cabin that has gotten cold.
- Reserve ahead — cabins are booked for holidays and school vacations many weeks (or months) in advance.
We often have taken advantage of Forest Service cabins in the winter and hope to do it more in the coming years. We spent our honeymoon in one in April and took our kids back to one last winter. It never fails to provide a little adventure and a lot of quality time as a family. It's another great way to get out!
-Amelia lives with her husband and two young boys in Yellowstone National Park. She writes over at Tales of a Mountain Mama and tweets, too, about their attempts to continue an active, outdoor lifestyle now that babies and kids are in the mix while hiking, camping, biking, skiing and doing plenty of exploring. She shares her triumphs, lessons learned (often the hard way) and best picks for gear to help get families outside.