Winter Camping with Kids on a Budget: Saving Money and Making Memories

Winter Camping with Kids on a Budget

Winter camping with kids can be an unforgettable adventure, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. In this article, we’ll explore how to save money on winter camping with your little ones while ensuring they have a fantastic experience. We’ll cover affordable winter camping gear, cheap winter camping destinations, and budget-friendly tips to help you make the most of your outdoor family getaway.

Affordable Winter Camping Gear for Kids:

When embarking on a winter camping trip with kids, having the right gear is essential. Here are some budget-friendly options to consider:

Layered Clothing: Dressing your kids in layers is crucial for winter camping. Look for affordable base layers made from materials like polyester or merino wool. Fleece jackets, pants, and sweaters are great mid-layer options to trap warmth. Many budget-friendly clothing stores offer these items.

Second-Hand Gear: Consider buying or renting second-hand winter camping gear for your kids. Check out local thrift stores, outdoor gear consignment shops, or online marketplaces for gently used clothing, sleeping bags, and gear. This can significantly reduce costs while still providing quality equipment.

Discount Stores: Shop at discount stores or budget-friendly retailers for winter clothing and accessories. You can often find affordable winter hats, gloves, and scarves that will keep your kids warm without breaking the bank.

DIY Gaiters: Instead of buying expensive gaiters to keep snow out of your kids’ boots, you can create simple DIY gaiters by using old socks or even duct tape. This homemade solution can be both functional and cost-effective.

Thrift Shop Snow Boots: Children tend to outgrow their footwear quickly, so consider checking out thrift stores for snow boots in good condition. Winter boots can be one of the most expensive items to purchase, and finding them at a lower cost can save you a lot of money.

Affordable Sleeping Bags: Look for budget-friendly sleeping bags suitable for the season. Make sure they are rated for the winter temperatures you expect. Sleeping bags for kids can often be found at more reasonable prices compared to adult-sized ones.

Discounted Winter Accessories: Keep an eye out for sales and discounts on winter camping accessories like lanterns, headlamps, and hand warmers. Retailers often offer deals on these items, especially during the winter season.

Multi-Use Gear: Choose gear that serves multiple purposes to save money and pack lighter. For instance, a sleeping pad can double as insulation beneath a sleeping bag and as a comfortable sitting pad around the campfire.

DIY Hand and Foot Warmers: You can make DIY hand and foot warmers using rice and socks. These can provide an affordable alternative to store-bought disposable warmers and keep your kids’ extremities warm.

Cheap Winter Camping Destinations for Families

Choosing the right camping destination can make a huge difference in your budget. Here are some affordable winter camping destinations to consider:

National and State Parks

Many national and state parks offer budget-friendly camping options, especially during the winter months when visitor numbers are lower. These parks often have well-maintained campsites with basic amenities such as restrooms and water sources. Fore intance:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee and North Carolina): Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers beautiful winter camping opportunities for families. Campgrounds like Elkmont and Cades Cove provide affordable options, and the park’s winter scenery is breathtaking. Enjoy hiking trails, waterfalls, and wildlife sightings in this budget-friendly destination.

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia): Shenandoah National Park is a cost-effective winter camping destination with several campgrounds, including Mathews Arm and Big Meadows. The park boasts scenic drives, hiking trails, and ranger-led programs, making it an excellent choice for families on a budget.

Olympic National Park (Washington): Olympic National Park offers diverse camping experiences, from coastal campgrounds to those in the rainforest and mountains. Campgrounds like Kalaloch and Hoh are affordable options for families. Enjoy exploring the park’s unique ecosystems, hot springs, and stunning coastline during the winter months.

Joshua Tree National Park (California): Joshua Tree National Park offers winter camping options at campgrounds like Jumbo Rocks and Cottonwood. While it can get chilly at night, the park’s unique desert landscapes, rock formations, and stargazing opportunities make it a memorable and budget-friendly destination for families.

Badlands National Park (South Dakota): Badlands National Park provides an affordable winter camping experience with campgrounds like Cedar Pass. Families can explore the park’s distinctive geological formations, hiking trails, and wildlife, including bison, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs, making it an exciting destination for nature enthusiasts on a budget.

Forests and Public Lands:

Explore nearby forests and public lands that permit camping. Some areas allow free or low-cost camping, known as dispersed camping, where you can set up camp in designated areas without amenities. Be sure to check the regulations and obtain any necessary permits, as this can be an economical and adventurous option for winter camping. Example:

George Washington and Jefferson National Forests (Virginia and West Virginia): This expansive forest offers numerous free or low-cost camping opportunities. Families can enjoy primitive campsites, hiking trails, and scenic vistas. With budget-friendly options and a variety of outdoor activities, it’s an excellent destination for winter camping.

Green Mountain National Forest (Vermont): Green Mountain National Forest provides affordable camping options amidst the stunning Vermont landscape. Families can explore snow-covered trails, enjoy cross-country skiing, and experience the peaceful ambiance of the winter forest. Several dispersed camping sites offer a budget-friendly camping experience.

Mount Hood National Forest (Oregon): Mount Hood National Forest offers budget-friendly camping options in winter. Families can enjoy snow sports, such as skiing and snowshoeing, along with picturesque winter landscapes. Campgrounds like Lost Lake Campground provide affordable accommodations for families looking to experience the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests (Colorado): This forest in Colorado offers a range of camping options, from developed campgrounds to dispersed camping areas. Families can enjoy winter activities like sledding, ice fishing, and hiking. The affordability of camping in this area makes it an attractive choice for budget-conscious families.

Superior National Forest (Minnesota): Superior National Forest offers winter camping options for families seeking a budget-friendly outdoor experience. With snow-covered landscapes, frozen lakes, and abundant wildlife, it’s a picturesque destination for winter camping. Campgrounds like Isabella Lake Campground provide cost-effective camping facilities for families exploring the winter wonderland of Minnesota.

Campgrounds with Amenities:

Look for campgrounds that offer essential amenities such as restrooms, potable water, and firewood for purchase. While these campgrounds may charge a modest fee, the convenience of having facilities on-site can enhance your family’s camping experience. Additionally, some campgrounds offer group sites, allowing multiple families to share expenses and create a communal atmosphere.


Lake Tahoe KOA Holiday (California/Nevada): Lake Tahoe KOA Holiday offers winter camping with amenities like heated restrooms, hot showers, and laundry facilities. It provides a comfortable camping experience for families while being budget-friendly. The campground’s proximity to Lake Tahoe allows for various winter activities, making it an ideal destination for families.

Smoky Bear Campground & RV Park (North Carolina): Smoky Bear Campground offers affordable camping with amenities such as full hookups, Wi-Fi, and clean restrooms. It’s located near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, providing families with access to both natural beauty and modern conveniences.

Mammoth Mountain RV Park (California): Mammoth Mountain RV Park is a winter-friendly campground with amenities like electric hookups, heated restrooms, and a dump station. Its location near Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort offers families the opportunity to enjoy winter sports and explore the surrounding wilderness.

Lake George RV Park (New York): Lake George RV Park provides winter camping options with amenities including full hookups, cable TV, and heated indoor pools. Despite its luxurious offerings, the campground offers competitive rates, making it a cost-effective choice for families looking for a winter camping getaway.

Beaver Lake Campground (Colorado): Beaver Lake Campground offers winter camping facilities with amenities like hot showers, laundry facilities, and spacious campsites. It’s conveniently located near Pikes Peak and Colorado Springs, providing families with a budget-friendly option to explore the region’s winter attractions.

Beaches and Lakesides:

Some beach and lakeside areas permit winter camping, providing a unique and picturesque setting for your family adventure. While these locations might have minimal facilities, the natural beauty and tranquility can compensate for the lack of amenities. Camping near a beach or lake can offer opportunities for various activities, such as fishing, hiking, and birdwatching, making it a memorable experience for the whole family.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Nevada/Arizona): Lake Mead offers camping opportunities along its shores. While winter camping can be chilly, the scenic beauty of the lake and surrounding desert landscape make it a unique experience. The camping fees are relatively affordable, and families can enjoy activities like hiking and birdwatching.

Gulf Shores State Park (Alabama): Gulf Shores State Park offers camping near the Gulf of Mexico. Although winter temperatures are milder here, it’s a budget-friendly option for families looking to camp near the beach. The park provides amenities like restrooms, showers, and picnic areas, making it convenient for families with children.

Myrtle Beach State Park (South Carolina): Myrtle Beach State Park offers camping sites within walking distance of the beach. While winter camping allows for a quieter experience compared to the busy summer months, families can still enjoy the beauty of the coastline. The campground offers reasonable rates and provides necessary amenities for a comfortable stay.

Assateague Island National Seashore (Maryland/Virginia): Assateague Island is known for its wild horses and pristine beaches. While winter camping can be rustic, the island offers a unique experience for families seeking seclusion. Campers can enjoy beachcombing, wildlife observation, and stargazing. The camping fees are budget-friendly, making it an attractive destination for families on a budget.

Jekyll Island Campground (Georgia): Jekyll Island offers a campground with proximity to the beach. While the winter weather is mild, families can enjoy the tranquility of the beach and explore the island’s natural beauty. The campground provides amenities like restrooms, laundry facilities, and Wi-Fi, ensuring a comfortable camping experience for families.

Wildlife Management Areas:

Many wildlife management areas allow camping and are often more budget-friendly than established campgrounds. These areas are ideal for families who enjoy wildlife observation and birdwatching. Make sure to research the specific rules and regulations of the area you plan to visit, as they may have restrictions on camping and campfire use.

Blackwater River State Forest (Florida): Blackwater River State Forest offers affordable camping opportunities within its Wildlife Management Area. Families can enjoy camping near the river and explore the diverse ecosystem of this Florida wilderness. With activities like hiking, birdwatching, and fishing, it’s an excellent destination for families seeking a budget-friendly winter camping adventure.

Talladega National Forest (Alabama): Talladega National Forest includes Wildlife Management Areas that provide rustic camping options for families. While amenities may be limited, the forest offers beautiful natural surroundings, making it an ideal spot for families interested in winter camping, hiking, and wildlife observation.

Chickasaw Wildlife Management Area (Tennessee): Chickasaw Wildlife Management Area offers primitive camping sites for families looking to experience winter camping in a secluded natural setting. Families can enjoy hiking, birdwatching, and observing various wildlife species in this area.

Shawnee State Forest (Ohio): Shawnee State Forest encompasses Wildlife Management Areas that offer affordable camping options. Families can camp amidst the forested hills and explore hiking trails. During winter, the forest transforms into a serene and peaceful destination, making it suitable for families seeking a quiet camping experience.

Ouachita National Forest (Arkansas/Oklahoma): Ouachita National Forest includes Wildlife Management Areas with camping opportunities for families. While camping facilities may be basic, families can immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the forest. Hiking, fishing, and wildlife watching are popular activities in this area.

Community Campsites:

Some communities set up temporary campsites during the winter months to promote outdoor activities. These sites are usually affordable and offer basic facilities. Check with local community centers, outdoor clubs, or tourism offices to find out if there are any community campsites in your area.

Pisgah National Forest Community Campsites (North Carolina): Pisgah National Forest offers several community campsites that are often managed by local organizations or communities. These sites provide basic amenities, picturesque surroundings, and affordable camping options for families. Families can explore nearby trails, enjoy outdoor activities, and experience the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Greenbelt Campground (Maryland): Greenbelt Campground, located near Washington D.C., is a community-managed site offering affordable camping options for families. It provides a convenient base for exploring the nation’s capital while enjoying a budget-friendly camping experience. The campground offers amenities such as restrooms, picnic areas, and hiking trails.

Valley of Fires Recreation Area (New Mexico): Valley of Fires Recreation Area, managed by the Bureau of Land Management, offers community campsites amidst ancient lava flows. The site provides a unique camping experience for families at a reasonable cost. Families can enjoy hiking, stargazing, and exploring the lava fields during their stay.

San Juan National Forest Community Campgrounds (Colorado): San Juan National Forest features several community campgrounds managed by local communities or non-profit organizations. These campgrounds offer affordable camping options with basic amenities. Families can enjoy winter activities such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and winter hiking in the beautiful Colorado wilderness.

Hannibal Community Park Campground (Missouri): Hannibal Community Park Campground provides budget-friendly camping options for families visiting Mark Twain’s hometown. The site offers a quiet and scenic environment, making it a suitable choice for families seeking a peaceful winter camping experience. Families can explore nearby attractions and enjoy outdoor activities in the area.

Backyard Camping: If you’re looking for the most budget-friendly option, consider camping in your own backyard. While it may not provide the wilderness experience, backyard camping can be a fun and low-cost way to introduce your kids to camping. You can use this opportunity to teach them essential camping skills and enjoy quality family time without spending a dime on accommodation.

How to Save Money on Winter Camping with Kids:

Saving money on a winter camping trip with kids requires careful planning and resourcefulness. Here are some tips to help you stick to your budget:

Meal Planning and Preparation: One of the most effective ways to save money while winter camping is by planning and preparing your meals in advance. Pack non-perishable, easy-to-cook items and plan simple yet nutritious meals. Avoid buying expensive camping food items; instead, opt for budget-friendly staples like pasta, rice, canned goods, and dried fruits. Bring a portable camping stove to cook meals, allowing you to avoid costly restaurant or campsite store expenses.

DIY Snacks and Drinks: Prepare homemade snacks and drinks before your trip. Trail mix, granola bars, and energy bites are easy to make, inexpensive, and provide quick energy during outdoor activities. Bring reusable water bottles and refill them at campsites or natural water sources to avoid buying bottled drinks.

Rent or Borrow Gear: If you don’t camp frequently, consider renting essential winter camping gear, such as tents, sleeping bags, and camp stoves, from outdoor gear rental shops. Alternatively, borrow gear from friends or family members who camp, reducing the need to invest in costly equipment that might only be used occasionally.

Group Camping: Camping with other families can significantly reduce costs. Sharing campsites, gear, and food expenses among multiple families can make winter camping much more affordable. Plus, it creates a sense of community, making the experience enjoyable for both kids and adults.

Use Budgeting Apps: Utilize budgeting apps and tools to keep track of your expenses during the trip. These apps can help you monitor your spending in real-time, allowing you to stay within your budget. Set a daily or overall trip spending limit and stick to it to avoid overspending.

DIY Activities: Plan activities that don’t require additional expenses. Nature hikes, scavenger hunts, storytelling sessions, and stargazing are all engaging and educational activities that can be enjoyed without spending extra money. Encourage your kids to explore the natural surroundings, fostering a love for the outdoors.

Opt for Free or Low-Cost Entertainment: Research the camping area for free or low-cost entertainment options. Some parks offer ranger-led programs, wildlife presentations, or educational workshops for kids, often at no additional charge. Take advantage of these opportunities to enrich your children’s camping experience without increasing expenses.

Pack Wisely: Make a comprehensive packing list and stick to it. Bringing all necessary items from home ensures you won’t have to purchase overpriced essentials at the campsite store. Don’t forget to include items like extra batteries, first aid supplies, and repair kits to avoid unexpected expenses.

Plan Off-Peak Trips: Consider scheduling your winter camping trip during off-peak times. Campsite fees and accommodation costs are usually lower during weekdays and outside holiday seasons. Additionally, popular camping destinations may offer discounted rates for visits during less crowded periods.


Winter camping with kids on a budget can be a wonderful family experience. By carefully selecting affordable gear, choosing budget-friendly destinations, and implementing money-saving strategies, you can make it a memorable adventure without breaking the bank. So, start planning your winter camping trip with your little ones and create lasting memories while staying within your budget.

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