Winter is one of my favorite times of the year to go RV camping. Yes, you read that right. If you thought camping was only a three-season activity, think again. Winter is actually one of the most unique and memorable times of year to RV camp. It’s a chance to discover charming towns that remind you of a Norman Rockwell painting. Cozy up with some hot cocoa in your RV and enjoy cold-weather outdoor activities like skiing and ice fishing.
Before you decide to take your RV on a winter camping trip, get your RV ready for the frigid conditions. The last thing you want are frozen pipes and a weak heating source in the middle of winter. Of course, if you’re headed down south to someplace warm, you won’t need to worry about the impact of freezing temperatures on your RV.
If you have an ice fishing house or fish house, you are set for some serious winter camping. Ice houses are RVs designed for ice fishing on the coldest days of the year. But you don’t necessarily need to ice fish to camp in one. You can take off the clunky winter boots and oversized parka because fish houses typically have winter-rated insulation and 25,000 to 40,000 BTU heaters. Frozen and bursting pipes and tanks are still an issue so follow the same winter water system tips as you would for a regular RV.
Ready to go winter camping? Check out some of the coolest, pun intended, small towns you can camp this winter. All of these towns have campgrounds that are open year-round or dispersed camping where you’re without electricity, water, or sewer hookups.
Grand Marais, Minnesota
Why not camp in one of the coldest parts of the country this winter? While it lacks skyscrapers and has only one traffic light, Grand Marais, Minnesota, makes up for it in ten folds with its beautiful views of Lake Superior, restaurants, shops, and access to the Superior National Forest. Take a right turn at the one traffic light, and you’ll be greeted by the World’s Best Donuts. Head north on the Gunflint Trail, and you’ll find opportunities for dog sledding at Gunflint Lodge or Bearskin Lodge. There are also frequent moose sightings on the Gunflint Trail. Glide across the groomed ski trails at Pincushion Mountain, and if you have a dog, you can skijor, which is basically skiing with your dog, on part of the trail system.
Lake Mille Lacs, Minnesota
When people visit Lake Mille Lacs in the middle of a Minnesota winter, it’s typically for one thing: ice fishing. Ice fishing and camping go hand-in-hand. If you drive by Lake Mille Lacs, you can’t miss the shantytown on the frozen lake filled with fish houses of all shapes, sizes, and styles. Everyone is fishing while camping on the ice. Mille Lacs is best known for walleye fishing. By January, the ice on the lake is typically thick enough for a full-size truck trailering an RV or fish house.
There’s no reservation required when camping on a lake, and people can spend as many nights on the ice as they want. You’ll typically pay an ice road fee from a local resort that maintains an access road onto the lake. Once on the lake, I like to find a spot away from other ice houses. I’ll look at a contour map to see where the structure on the lake is and park my ice house there. More often than not, that’s a winning spot for catching nice walleye. After you are parked, crank up the heater, drill some holes and prepare for a fun day of ice fishing. If you’re interested in a fish house but want to rent one before committing to buying, many resorts offer rental services.
Madeline Island, Wisconsin
Did you ever think you could bring your RV to an island? Big Bay State Park is located on Madeline Island in Northern Wisconsin, one of the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior. There are two plowed campsites with electric hookups available for RVs in the winter. Getting there is an adventure of its own. You’ll have to either drive your RV onto the Madeline Island Ferry for a 3-mile trip or, if the bay freezes over and the ferry can no longer run, you can contact the park office to see if the ice roads are open. The 2-mile ice road is monitored for safety and is clearly marked with evergreen trees so that drivers can follow the correct route.
Around 250 people live on Madeline Island in the winter months, so it truly is a small town. There is plenty to do including cross country skiing, fat tire biking, at Big Bay Town Park, snowshoeing, and wildlife viewing at the Wilderness Preserve. There are also restaurants, shops, and grocery stores on the island open in the winter. If conditions are just right and it gets cold enough, you’ll want to visit the mainland ice caves in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. It’s a sight to see!
Munising in the Upper Peninsula is a popular camping destination during the warmer months, but winter is one of the best times to visit to avoid the crowds. It’s also the perfect time to put on the boots, ice cleats and go for a wintry hike to a frozen waterfall. Munising Falls is an easy-to-access waterfall, and the ice formations are spectacular. While Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a stunning national treasure in the summer, it becomes a premiere snowmobiling destination in the winter because of all the snowfall created by the lake effect. Over 300 miles of groomed snowmobile trails lead to lakes, streams, waterfalls, forests, and other scenic views. Munising is also home to the largest ice climbing festival, Michigan Ice Fest. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to try something totally new, talk to local guides to help you climb your first ice wall.
Three campgrounds are open to RV campers in the winter at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore including Hurricane River Campground, Twelvemile Beach Campground, and Little Beaver Campground.
Brevard, North Carolina
If you don’t want to worry about winterizing your RV, then the Land of Waterfalls in Brevard, North Carolina, is a quaint, scenic city to explore. Brevard is known for its 250 waterfalls surrounded by forests and hundreds of miles of biking and hiking trails that can be enjoyed in mild winters. Even though it’s mild, the weather can still be cold, which means better trout fishing conditions. So pack up the fly rod, put on the waders, and hit up some rivers and streams. While you’re at it, grab a beer at a local brewery and learn how to tie a fly at a local fly-tying event. Brevard is also a great arts and culture community, so if you want to do something indoors in this charming town, check out the art galleries and discover the local music scene.
Mild winters mean most Brevard campgrounds are open year-round. Adventure Village and Lodgings offers full hookups, 90 acres of hiking trails, a stocked fishing pond, and a playground and swimming area for families to enjoy.
Concan, Texas, is small but mighty. This unincorporated community has a population of around 200, but there’s much to see and do. Snowbirds or “winter Texans” who want to escape the city and spend more time in nature can camp next to the scenic Frio River. The Frio is a clear, spring-fed river that runs through the heart of town and the Texas Hill Country. Several campgrounds are directly along the Frio so that RV travelers can enjoy river views during the day and the sound of rushing waters at night.
During the coldest months, temperatures are typically between the 40s and 60s. It’s the perfect time to grab a blanket and cozy up by the bonfire. If you’re feeling more adventurous, layer up, and go kayaking or fishing on the Frio, hike several different trails at Garner State Park or take part in the deer, dove, and turkey hunting season.
If you’re one of the million RV travelers looking to explore warmer destinations in the U.S. Sunbelt, check out Good Sam’s Collection of snowbird-friendly RV resorts along America’s Sunbelt.